The use of aromatic oils as healing agents has been around for much of recorded history, but the term aromatherapy was first coined in the 1920s by René Maurice Gattefosse.
Gattefosse was a French chemist who became interested in the healing properties of essential oils after his arm caught fire in his perfume factory and he extinguished it in a vat of lavender oil. He noticed that the pain subsided and the wound healed quickly with no scarring. Ever since, there have been claims – some substantiated, but many not – of healing and therapeutic uses for a variety of distilled plant oils.
Depending on where you live in the world, aromatherapy is either seen as a valid branch of medicine or as a pseudo-science. In
France, for instance, some essential oils are regulated as prescription drugs and doctors use them in a variety of applications as antiseptics and anti-inflammatories. However, in the
United States, for example, the lack of substantial scientific studies leads many in the medical community to dismiss aromatherapy as a viable treatment option.
Essential oils and other aromatherapy compounds work in a few different ways. The scent alone – whether form incense or heating the oils – activates the limbic system and emotional centers of the brain. When these oils are applied to the skin – most commonly as massage oils – they can activate thermal receptors and kill microbes and fungi. French doctors use this application regularly by applying various essential oils to Petri dish cultures of patient infections to see which oils slow the spread of the infection the best.
- Basil is used to sharpen concentration, to help treat depression, and to relieve headaches and migraines.
- Bergamot, the flavor you taste in Earl Grey tea, may be beneficial to both the urinary tract and the digestive tract. It is useful for skin conditions linked to stress, such as cold sores and chicken pox, especially when combined with eucalyptus oil.
- Black pepper can be used to stimulate circulation and to treat muscular aches and pains. When applied to the skin, it can be a useful treatment for bruises.
- Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca Oil) can be used as a topical antimicrobial and as an antiseptic and disinfectant.
- Clove oil can be used as a topical analgesic especially useful in dentistry as well as an antiseptic.
- Lavender oil can be used as an antiseptic, to soothe minor cuts and burns, to calm and relax, and to soothe headaches and migraines.
- Yarrow oil is used to reduce joint inflammation and relieve cold and influenza symptoms.
- Jasmine, Rose, Sandalwood and Ylang Ylang oil are used as aphrodisiacs.
What The Critics Are Saying
In general, medical professionals in the U.S.A. and England concede that although pleasant-smelling oils can be relaxing and have therapeutic properties like lowering stress, the lack of scientific study and hard evidence makes it impossible to estimate the effectiveness of aromatherapy. Aromatherapy supporters are quick to point out that since essential oils cannot be patented and most medical research is funded in some way through pharmaceutical companies, there is little or no interest, let alone funding, to study these natural remedies.
Conspiracy theories aside, one very valid point that many detractors bring up is that some patients may be enticed to try aromatherapy alternatives in place of proven medical procedures or medications.
Is Aromatherapy For You?
Depending on your ailment, aromatherapy might be just what the doctor ordered. For mental applications such as stress reduction and alertness, many people swear by it. For more serious medical conditions, talk it over with your doctor first.