Aromatherapy is not a new concept nor is it a new discipline. It is not “mumbo-jumbo” or pagan ritualistic Spiritism. As a matter of fact, if you need references to dispel such an inaccurate concept, read “The Song of Solomon” in the Torah/Old Testament. Read its references to myrrh, aloes, lilies, the rose, and other aromatic flowers and herbs to prove such. That is not to say that oils and scents were not used by nations for purposes less than “above board,” however, the scope of this article is not didactic in nature. We are addressing aromatherapy from a naturopathic and scientifically-based standpoint as a holistic discipline.
Aromatherapy is based on the concept that healing can occur with the introduction of therapeutic aromas as passively or actively inhaled. Essential oils are volatile, odorous oils extracted from plants; “volatility” here meaning that with the introduction of air, they evaporate easily and quickly. Essential oils contain alcohols, aldehydes, esters, ketones, and terpenes. The plant’s leaf structure contains chloroplasts, and it is here that odoriferous materials are obtained.
In the chloroplasts, the odors combine with glucose, and the resultant mixture is glucosides. These then are passed throughout the entire plant in the manner that red blood cells circulate throughout the human body. Steam distillation is the preferred and most effective method for extraction. The concentrations of essences vary as per the plants themselves. Roses, for example, have a very low concentration of essence, and a ton of petals (2,000 lbs.) may be needed just to produce a 16 fluid ounce bottle of oil. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a lot of roses!
In the year 1527, a book was printed entitled “Banckes’ Herbal” by Richard Banckes, with the collaboration of Anthony Askham, a physician. It entailed many practical remedies used with herbs and aromatics, with rose oil being one used to treat liver problems. In the middle ages, aromatherapy saw widespread use and practice, although the true science behind microbes and microscopy was as yet unknown and undiscovered.
Smells and aromas are very important to us as a species. Smell is an extension of taste. Do you know that retching around rotten meat is a protective mechanism of your olfactory (sense of smell) processes? There are certain chemicals in rotten meat that cause the gagging (and sometimes vomiting) when a person is exposed to the sickeningly nauseating smell of rotting flesh. This protective response is…you guessed it…your olfactory processes warning you not to eat it…that it is unsafe.
Massage, skin care, and aromatic baths are just a few of the uses to employ essential oils. Aromatherapy may be applied externally or internally, depending on the type of herb used, the malady it is used for, and the concentration of the essential oil. Many essential oils applied externally have a deep penetrating effect on the skin’s tissues and act on the organ systems closest to the topical (external skin) application. It is not a thing to be taken lightly: you can seriously hurt or injure yourself if you do not know the herb type and its concentration (strength) as an essential oil. Consult with an Herbalist or an Aromatherapist for potential use of essential oils, and before using them consult with your family physician to see that it meets with his or her approval.
There are many reference materials out there to choose from. One of the difficulties with aromatherapy is that it isn’t as easily quantified as the more conventional herbalism as practiced by Herbalists. The healing that occurs with the uses of essential oils is as different for people as people themselves differ. The modalities and paradigms are different, as well. The Russians and Germans are light years ahead of the United States, with extensive publications available on multi-tiered and in-depth research they conducted. As mentioned earlier, this is just an intro to give you some food for thought and consider picking up a book on aromatherapy.
In future articles we’ll cover some methods of steam distillation you can employ to make essential oils and flower essences in your home. We’ll also give a short “Materia medica” list for you as a first-aid kit of oils you may either want to make or gather for your supplies. History is replete with examples of how this discipline holds efficacy and a truly worthwhile place within the disciplines of holistic medicine. It is worth looking into and conducting research on, to use as another tool in your survival kit. Fight the good fight, study hard, and keep your eyes and ears open! JJ out!