What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is an alternative field of medicine which is gaining popularity. Aromatherapy practice is predominantly based on the use of essential oils. Herbs are also used at times for aromatic and therapeutic effect. The discipline of studying herbs for the purpose of establishing their medicinal value dates back to the prehistoric era. The tradition of using herbs for the creation of medicines – including recreational mood-altering drugs – is in vogue today1. It involves use of herbal oils. Aromatherapy activates the limbic system and emotional centers of the brain; activates thermal receptors; and kills microbes and fungi2.
Aromatherapy is the practice of using naturally extracted essences of aromatic plants to promote the health and well-being of your body, mind and emotions. These essences, called essential oils, contain the vital life force of fragrant botanical plants. Pure essential oils are the key to success with aromatically. They can restore balance and harmony to your body and mind, while adding depth, dimension and definition to your life3.
The history of aromatherapy dates back to more than 3,500 years before Christ’s birth, to a time when the use of aromatics was recorded for the first ever instance in human history. The truth is that the history of aromatherapy is deeply linked with the progress of aromatic medicine, which in its initial stages was typically combined with religion, mysticism and magic. In India, around 2000 BC, various writings mention the role of “perfumers” and “incense sellers.” The word “aromatherapy” was used for the first time in the 1920s by French chemist Rene-Maurice-Gattefosse, who dedicated his life to researching on the discipline of aromatherapy.
Materials in aromatherapy
•Essential oils: These are fragrant oils extracted from plants mainly through steam distillation (e.g. eucalyptus oil).
•Absolutes: These are also fragrant oils, but extracted from flowers or delicate plant tissues through solvent extraction (e.g. rose absolute).
•Phytoncides: These are volatile organic compounds obtained from plants that destroy microbes.
•Hydrosols: These are aqueous by-products of distillation (e.g. rosewater). Many herbs are used to make herbal distillates. They have culinary, medicinal as well as skin-care uses.
•Infusions: They are aqueous extracts of various plant materials (e.g. infusion of chamomile)
•Carrier oils: These are oily plant based triacylglycerides used to dilute essential oils for use on the skin (e.g. sweet almond oil) so as to avoid irritation4.
Principle of aromatherapy5
Aromatherapy works by synergistically using the properties of all the chemicals in essential oil for their correct application.
Aromatherapy works through:
a) Inhalation- The vapor formation of an essential oil is very minute and passes through the lungs from where they diffuse across tiny air sacs (alveoli) into the surrounding blood capillaries and eventually find their way into the systemic circulation from where they exert their therapeutic effect.
b) Skin absorption- The skin is a two-way road capable of both absorption and excretion; for example, rub a small piece of cut garlic on the soles of your feet, and within five minutes you will have garlic breath. The tiny molecules of essential oils pass through the hair follicles, which contain sebum, an oily liquid to which essential oils have an affinity from here, the oils diffuse into the blood stream or are taken up by the lymph or interstitial fluid to other parts of the body.
Medicinal herbs used in aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is used in the treatment of various diseases such as bronchitis, fatigue, migraines, respiratory ailments, acne, arthritis, muscular aches and pains, cystitis, cold and flu. Aromatherapy also encourages emotional peace and calm with a gently calming effect on mind, body and emotions2. Aromatherapy is a holistic treatment that works as a natural stress buster that can be easily fused into your work environment with immediate positive benefits for conditions such as lack of concentration, depression, agitation and, of course, stress. Essential oils that form the basis of this treatment are derived from flowers and have calming effects on the central nervous system, thereby relieving you of stress and increasing concentration levels. Some of the aroma oils that work best to relieve office stress include the following6:
Lavender Oil: It can be used in a diffuser, which heats the oil and allow its molecules to harmonise with the atmosphere to keep you relieved. If a diffuser is not available, then put just a drop or two of lavender oil on a cotton bud or tissue paper and place it near your work station. Soon you’ll find the fragrance working for you. Not just this, studies show that scenting your office with Lavender essential oil can even reduce computer errors by at least 25 percent.
Quantity: 1-2 drops
Neroli Oil: The best time to use Neroli oil is the moment you lie on your bed. Just put a drop of the oil on your pillow and let it work to give you a soothing sleep.
Quantity: Less than 1 drop
Geranium oil: The best way to use geranium oil is to create your own spa with it. Add it in a tub full of lukewarm water and soak yourself in it for 20 to 30 minutes before going to bed.
Quantity: 3-4 drops in bath tub.
Basil oil: Take a bowl of water and put less than a drop of Basil oil in it. Now, soak a towel in it and then use it to wipe off your body, specially the exposed parts of your body before going to sleep.
Alternately, you can also put one tenth of a drop of this oil behind your ear and feel the fragrance giving you a relaxing effect.
Fennel Sweet Oil: Again, it can be used in a diffuser placed in the room or on a cotton bud.
Quantity: 1-2 drops
Rosemary oil: It can be used in a bath or in a diffuser.
Apart from these, if you have any other favorite essential oil, you can use it in the following ways in your office:
1. A few drops of oil on the cardboard tube inside a roll of toilet paper works well to ensure a nice smelling bathroom.
2. Want to spread the scent around? Simply keep cotton ball dipped in essential oil between your business card box and there—you have scented cards!
Herbs with their therapeutic uses in aromatherapy7
Ocimum sanctum Linn. (Basil)
Usage: Used for bronchitis, fatigue, migraines, and aches and pains.
Citrus bergamia (Bergamot orange of Europe)
Usage: Uplifting, refreshing and relaxing. Encourages cheerful emotions, ideal for depression. Used to freshen and uplift a room
Juniperus virginiana (Cedarwood )
Usage: Ideal for soothing, harmonizing and focusing the mind. Antiseptic and astringent properties beneficial to oily skin.
Anthemis nobilis Linn. (Chamomile)
Usage: Aids sleep and soothes tired muscles, encourages emotional peace and calm with a gently calming effect on mind, body and emotions.
Eucalyptus globules (Eucalyptus)
Usage: A Powerful, penetrating bactericidal and anti-viral oil for sickrooms.
Boswellia carteri (Frankincense)
Usage: Good for meditation, relieving stress, tension,anxiety; mucus conditions, aging skin. Aids in arthritis, rheumatism, joint aches, radiation burn.
Pelargonium graveloens L’Herit. (Geranium)
Usage: Relieves anxiety, hot flashes, palpitations, diarrhea, acne, dry, inflamed skin, minor surface burns.
Jasminum officinale Linn. (Jasmine absolute)
Usage: Good for easing trapped feelings of sadness, trauma and grief; anxiety, nervousness, apathy/withdrawal. Eases anger, aphrodisiac. Good for dry skin. Helpful for post-natal recovery and also a good skin tonic.
Juniperus communis Linn. (Juniper berry)
Usage: Purifying, eliminating with a clear woody aroma. This oil clears emotional overload and helps to cleanse the body of impurities. A great tonic for oily or congested skin.
lavandula officinalis Chaix. (Lavender)
Usage: Helps ease anger, anxiety, nervousness, stress, insomnia, headaches, neuralgia, wounds, burns, shock, thrush. Good for cravings, decreasing appetite, arthritis, rheumatism, joint aches and chest aches.
Citrus limon Linn. (Lemon)
Usage: Refreshes and cools bringing clarity to mind and emotions restoring vitality acting as a tonic to the circulatory system. Has beneficial effects on the immune system, is cleansing on the skin.
Citrus reticulata Blanco (Mandarin)
Usage: Fruity, tangy citrus perfume with a gently cheering effect, aiding youthful thoughts and feelings. Soothing effect upon the digestive system. Can be used in pregnancy with Neroli to avoid stretch marks.
Origanum marjorana (Marjoram)
Usage: A warm and spicy aroma with warm comforting tones. Eases loneliness and grief, relaxing for muscles especially after sport or work.
Citrus aurantium (Christm.) (Neroli)
Usage: Good for aging, dry and sensitive skin and balancing in times of shock and hysteria, aphrodisiac; calm and soothing atmosphere. Relieves depression, worry, stress, insomnia, mature skin, stretch marks.
Cymbopogon martini (Roxb.) (Palmarosa)
Usage: Refreshing and uplifting. Gently soothing whilst promoting clear thought. Helps all skin types especially dry skin.
Pogostemon cablin (Patchouli)
Usage: Deep earthy, sensual, grounding oil which uplifts the spirit whilst clearing the mind. Moisturizing for dry skin.
Mentha arvensis Linn. (Peppermint)
Usage: Clears the head and soothes the emotions, soothes the digestive system, relieves tired feet and mind.
Rosa damascena Mill. (Rose)
Usage: This oil is soothing and uplifting, great when sad or tired. A tonic for the female reproductive system. A sensual and delightful oil, romantic, creative, gently cheering.
Rosmarinus officinalis Linn. (Rosemary)
Usage: A powerful mental stimulant which aids memory and concentration restores vitality and invigorates.
Santalum album Linn. (Sandalwood)
Usage: Helps aging, dry and itchy skin. Good for meditation; aphrodisiac. Aids in cystitis, venereal infections, chronic coughs, dry skin; anxiety, tension and nervousness.
Melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree)
Usage: Effective oil with powerful antiseptic properties benefits the immune system disinfects and deodorizes, strengthens especially during the winter months and convalescence.
Thymus vulgaris Linn. (Thyme)
Usage: A stimulating, protecting oil that has a strengthening effect on the the nerves. Ideal for the treatment of exhaustion both physical and mental. A help to the immune system.
Aromatherapy and herbs that promote wound healing8
As many diabetics can tell you, suffering from wounds that have poor or slow healing can become unbearable. If a cut or a wound heals slowly, it will increase the chances of becoming infected and spread. There are many natural herbs that will promote healing in various wounds and cuts, as well as carry antiseptic and germicidal properties. These ingredients mixed together are Mother Nature’s natural remedies to cuts and wounds. You can try products that carry one or two of these ingredients; however, direct application and aromatherapy methods will provide direct contact with these herbs therefore providing faster results. You may create an infusion by using fresh herbs, roughly one ounce of dried herb to one pint of boiling water that may be sipped or added to an aromatherapy bath. However, for many cuts and wounds, a salve or poultice may be applied as well. To prevent infection in slow healing wounds, you can use aromatherapy to clean and purify your air, thereby decreasing the chance of germs in your immediate environment.
Aloe Vera is an incredible medicinal plant that has been used for centuries. It is making headway in the realm of aromatherapy by being used as a base for essential oils. To make a wonderful aloe vera-based healing balm for wounds, add your choice of essential oils, such as: Black Walnut, Fenugreek, Comfrey, Calendula, Horsetail, Rosemary and Apricot Seed. All of these herbs also promote wound healing and help prevent infection in cuts and are a wonderful addition to your aloe vera-based balm.
Black Walnut may be infused with olive oil for a wonderful herbal remedy that prevents infection in cuts and wounds. Black Walnut also treats fungal infections as well. It has been used for many centuries and is also a great darkener for brunette hair. You can add a few drops of Black Walnut oil into your bath, but be prepared for a dark ring to be left in the tub. It can be mixed with tea tree oil for a healing salve that may be applied directly to cuts and wounds. The leaves, hulls and bark of the Black Walnut tree have all been used in various herbal remedies and formulas.
Fenugreek was used by the Ancient Egyptians to treat everything from coughs and colds to skin infections and irritations. It was also a main ingredient in many Egyptian beautifying regimes. The seeds of the Fenugreek plant are known for softening the skin as well as preventing infection.
Rosemary is known for its rich aroma that smells like Camphor. It has many antiseptic properties, which makes it perfect for wound and cut healing. Rosemary has also been used for treating headaches, coughs, cold, mental confusion and fatigue, to brighten drab hair color, in perfumes, and to improve circulation and fight cellulite.
You can make an infusion of Rosemary for your bath by using one ounce dried Rosemary to one pint of boiling water. Rosemary is also a stimulant, so make sure that you don’t use Rosemary before going to sleep, or you will find that it will keep you awake.
Precautions in aromatherapy5
a) Avoid essential oils deemed hazardous.
b) Keep flammable oils away from fire.
c) Always consult your health care professional before starting any therapies with essential oil.
d) Dilute essential oils as recommended to avoid irritation.
e) Always test essential oils on a skin patch first.
2) http://www.iloveindia.com/indian – herbs/aromatherapy.
3) Wilson R. Aromatherapy- essential oils for vibrant health and beauty. 2002: 5
5) Bharkatiya M, Nema RK, Rathore KS and Panchawat S. Aromatherapy: Short overview. International Journal of Green Pharmacy 2008; 2(1):13-16
7) http://www.circle-of light.com/Aromatherapy/aroma-remedies.html 8) http://www.bestaromatherapy.co.uk/Aromatherapy_and_Herbs_that_Promote_Wound_Healing.html
Author’s names: Sonia Singh1*, Komal Singh2
1) GLA Institute of Pharmaceutical Research, Mathura, U.P
2) Extol College, Bhopal, M.P