Aromatherapy is a rage these days. Every so-called 'lifestyle' store and department store has a section that stocks scented candles, bath salts and vials of scented oils claiming that these products have therapeutic value. While a fragrant room or scented bathwater, undoubtedly make a person feel good, like most luxuries in life, these products may not have any therapeutic value that would fall within the definition of aromatherapy. Whatever the product, it is imperative that it contain natural plant essence that has natural, healing properties and not artificial, man-made petroleum based fragrances, which is more often the case. Even if these synthetic oils are chemically similar, they lack the vital 'life force' that makes essential oils so valuable therapeutically. Keep in mind that unless there is a declaration stating that the oils are natural and unadulterated, assume otherwise. 

Aromatherapy is the art, and science, of using oils extracted from aromatic plants to enhance health and beauty. A more precise definition would be that it is the skilled and controlled use of essential oils for emotional and physical health and well-being. The essential oils taken from plants and used in Aromatherapy have been described as their "life force" - they are essential to the plants' biological process, as well as being the substance which gives them their scent.

What are essential oils?

The practice of aromatherapy goes beyond smell, though. It involves "natural" essential oils that are believed to have a chemical effect on the body. People who practice aromatherapy believe that these essential oils stimulate the immune system and have anti-viral, anti- infectious, anti-bacterial, anti- microbial, antiseptic, anti-tumoral, anti-fungal and anti-parasitic properties. 

Essential oils are subtle, volatile liquids that are extracted from plants, shrubs, flowers, trees, bushes, herbs, spices, woods and fibres, usually by distillation, expression and solvent extraction. Solvent extraction is only acceptable for aromatherapy if the solvent used is completely removed after the manufacturing process.

The history

Aromatherapy has been practiced for thousands of years, though it may not have been called by that name in ancient times. You will come across the mention of plant oils in the Bible. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians had recognized the medicinal value of essential oils. Cleopatra used them as perfume. Of course, the Indians and the Chinese have also been aware of the therapeutic benefits of essential oils for centuries. 

The term 'aromatherapy' was coined Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist sometime in the 1920's. He discovered the healing properties of essential oils quite by accident. He burned his hand while performing an experiment in distillation. Desperate to stop the pain, he plunged his whole hand into a vat of natural lavender essential oil. He found that his burn healed over the next few days without developing any blisters, scars or infection. This prompted him to research the medicinal properties of essential oils and the rest, as they say, is history