The word "Aromatherapy" is thrown around a lot these days. You find it not just on natural products, but it can be seen on your bubble bath, washing powder, deodorant and even on floor cleaner. However, what really is Aromatherapy, where does it come from and how can it be used?
Over the coming months I'm going to go through the facts and myths about Aromatherapy and include a number of essential oil profiles that are a must for every household.
So let's start at the beginning.
What is Aromatherapy?
If we break the word down into 2 parts it gives us a clue: 'aroma' meaning scent or smell and 'therapy' meaning treatment or therapeutic.
So we could say that:
Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of aromatic substances. Therapeutic use covers both mind and body, and the aromatic substances tend to be the essential oils. As a treatment, it is usually combined with body-contact therapy in the form of massage. The nature of aromatherapy is as a holistic treatment, restoring balance to mind and body as well as its specific use in treating a wide range of symptoms.
Following on from this we can look deeper at these aromatic substances known as Essential oils.
What are Essential oils?
Essential oils come from plants and are held somewhere on the plant. Essential oils are pure, concentrated plant extracts obtained specifically for their fragrance and therapeutic value. The chemical composition of these oils is exceedingly complex - often tens or hundreds of constituent parts.
Any part of a plant may contain its essential oil - flowers, leaves, fruit, stems, wood, bark, seeds, resin, berries and roots.
It is the essential oil that gives the plant its characteristic smell and flavour.
The purpose of the essential oil in the plant is not yet fully understood as not all plants contain significant amounts of essential oil. There are, however, several theories:
- The oil's fragrance may attract or repel insects and other animals.
- Essential oils have anti viral and anti fungal properties for the plant and can be understood as part of the plant's immune system.
- They may act as plant hormones and as an internal transport system (as with blood in animals).
Examples of common essential oils include lavender oil, rose oil and peppermint oil.
The method of extraction used varies according to the type of plant and the part of the plant to be used. The quality of the oil will depend on the method of extraction and the quality of the plant. Major influences are the area where the plant is grown, and the weather during the growing season. These are reflected in the price of the oil as with any crop.