Therapeutic use of natural and organic essential oils for medicinal purposes is just now on the verge of being recognized as a valid tool to compliment the diverse tools of natural healing. A significant amount of resistance is still apparent, perhaps due to the pervasive image of aromatherapy being “feeling nice from smelling something pleasant.” Most degreed aromatherapists do not even consider this the most important function of healing with essential oils! Their use in treating infectious illness is considered the realm of medicine of where they may be of greatest importance—and the fight of their image may be one behind the scenes. Big pharmaceutical companies are under pressure to continually develop and market new drugs—many with questionable safety and efficacy—to meet the demands of stockholders. At the same time, many bacteria and viruses are becoming resistant to these companies’ products, with alarming results. Essential oils offer inexpensive, effective treatments to which microbes do not apparently easily develop resistance to. Whether the very limited and somewhat skewed presentation of aromatherapy in the mainstream media is related to the pharmaceutical companies’ demands remains to be clarified; in the meantime, you have the ways and means to include essential oils in your own natural health and wellness program.

The term aromatherapy was coined by a French scientist after accidentally discovering the remarkable healing effects of lavender oil on burns sustained in the lab. He had thrust his burning hands into a vat of lavender oil, finding the wounds to heal extremely quickly. Further investigation lead to his book, Aromatherapie, and the modern medical use of essential oils began. Aromatherapy refers simply to the branch of medicine utilizing volatile aromatic compounds naturally distilled from plants. Essential oils can be as effective as any other natural remedy when employed with proper knowledge and skill. In fact, many pharmaceutical drugs are plant extracts manipulated to give the inventor patent protection on their formulation. But essential oils cannot be patented—anyone with the right tools and know-how can produce them. At the same time, there is no major lobbying effort under way to educate the public about their medicinal properties—likely the reason America has not gone beyond “aroma” to “therapy” with essential oils.

The education seems inevitable, however. As more folks get fed up with the costs and red tape of our allopathic medical system, they are paying more attention to reports on the efficacy of natural remedies. The use of essential oils has been shown as, if not more, than any other available medicine in certain instances. For irritable bowel syndrome, a painful and debilitating condition, peppermint essential oil taken during and after bouts of the disease has profound effects on pain, duration and recurrence of the illness—more so than the most commonly used modern medical treatment. Patients using peppermint oil felt better than those using conventional treatments, in part because the natural antibiotic effect leaves much needed intestinal flora in balance. It is this balance that is inherent in knowledgably practiced natural medicine; a facet which occurs with essential oils and many other so-called alternative therapies.

Another well-documented treatment using essential oils is the use of Melissa essential oil on Herpes Simplex viral legions. The legions are outbreaks of the virus during times of undue stress; the virus is typically under control of the immune system and remains dormant in nerve endings of the skin; and the disease is considered incurable by conventional medicine. A great many university studies have evaluated Melissa (and other essential oils containing similar molecular components) and its efficacy in treating Herpes, and the results have been astounding. A majority of study participants have less pain, along with shorter and less-frequent outbreaks. One professor claims the disease has gone into complete remission in some study participants with regular use of Melissa oil; no more outbreaks at all! Further, Melissa is very well tolerated, has no known toxic effects and is readily available. This is true aroma “therapy” taking its place in the world of natural health, wellness and fitness.

Then, of course, there is the “aroma” therapeutic aspect of essential oil use. The hard facts show the olfactory sense of the brain is wired directly to vital control centers of the gray matter, particularly those governing emotions and stress levels. And with acceptance of the importance of one’s mental health relating to their physical well-being continuing to grow, aromatherapy may eventually find its place in hospitals and doctor’s offices alongside stethoscopes, syringes and cotton swabs. Many studies have shown the self-evaluated improvements in mood and stress levels when inhaling particular essential oils—and because stress is considered by many health professionals as the number one cause of disease, it’s a short leap to believe the inhalation of spirit-lifting aromas can result in improved states of health.

Aromatherapy in a natural health, wellness and fitness regime is not a cure-all, miracle path to health, however, like any other medicine or treatment, it has its place and should be used when it provides the best combination of safety and efficacy. How do you find out if essential oils can help you, your friends or your loved ones? Educate yourself! There are several wonderful books available on medical and clinical aromatherapy. Some will deal mostly with the psychological aspects, some mainly in treatment of infectious illness and others touch on every conceivable application. Buy them, get them from your library, borrow them from friends, but educate yourself as much as possible and find a degreed practitioner if need be. But most of all, give aromatherapy a chance. The particular class of plant compounds called “essential oils,” which just happen to smell nice, have as much validity as any other field of medicine and deserve to be appreciated with the same respect. Whether they work for you is up to your own knowledge and dedication to the practice.

Tarah Michelle Cech is a natural health professional utilizing vibrational medicine in her personal and professional practice. She is the co-owner of the Ananda Apothecary, specializing in wildcrafted and organic essential oil and synergistic essential oil blends.