What is Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is the act of inhaling essential oils, and the topical application of essential oils. Since the beginning of Aromatherapy, the practice has encompassed human pathology and the treatment of different conditions (emotional and physical) with essential oils. As Aromatherapy developed into a practice it adopted an holistic approach which encompasses the body, the mind and the spirit (energy).
Aromatherapy is a natural, non-invasive treatment system designed to affect the whole person, not just the symptom or disease, and to assist the body's natural ability to balance, regulate, heal and maintain itself by the correct use of essential oils.
The French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefossé, is believed to have coined the term ‘Aromatherapie’ in 1928 and produced a Materia Medica of the therapeutic uses of the aromatic extracts. His story is now an Aromatherapeutic legend. It appears that he burnt his hand while conducting an experiment in his laboratory and as a reflex action he plunged his hand into a nearby container with essential oil of lavender. Gattefossé found the pain was lessened and the healing process more pronounced from this application of lavender. Gattefossé and a group of scientists began studying essential oils in 1907. He utilized the word to imply the therapeutic use of aromatic substances (essential oils).
In his 1937 book, Aromatherapy, Dr. Gattefossé told the real story of his now-famous use of lavender essential oil to heal a serious burn. The tale has assumed mythic proportions in essential oil literature. His own words about this accident are even more powerful than what has been told over the years.
Dr. Gattefossé was literally aflame - covered in burning substances following a laboratory explosion in July 1910. He wrote... "both my hands were covered with rapidly developing gas gangrene." He went on to say, "just one rinse with lavender essence stopped the gasification of the tissue. This treatment was followed by profuse sweating and healing which began the next day."
It must be pointed out for clarification and for your health, that the lavender Dr. Gassefossé is referring to is what is known today as a therapeutic-grade lavender essential oil, not a cheap novelty aromatherapy oil sold in many stores. Please do not use a non-therapeutic-grade essential oil the same way a high quality oil is used as they are known to cause harm.
Dr. Gattefossé shared his studies with a colleague and friend, French medical physician Jean Valnet practicing in Paris. Exhausting his supply of antibiotics during World War II in Tonkin, China, Dr. Valnet began using therapeutic-grade essential oils on his patients who suffered battle wounds. To his surprise, the essential oils exerted a powerful effect in combating and counteracting infection. He was able to save the lives of many soldiers who might have otherwise died. After the first world war, he wrote various aromatherapy texts and promoted the use of essential oils of rosemary and thyme as antiseptics and for the treatment of war wounds.
In 1964, inspired by Gattefosse's research, Valnet published, "The Practice of Aromatherapy." The scientific papers and books of Gattefosse, Guenther, Guildemeister & Hofman, Valnet and their disciples, confirmed the therapeutic value of essential oils.
The Ancient Roots of Aromatherapy
From the dawn of the earliest recorded history, man has been drawn to aromatics and fragrant resins (such as Frankincense, see historical story below). Evidence of resins and plant oils (essential oils) used for medicinal, ceremonial, or pleasurable purposes indicate most ancient civilizations practiced aromatherapy.
The most comprehensive early records of essential oil use were left by the Ancient Egyptians, who distilled essential oils for cosmetic purposes as well as to treat all manner of illnesses. Essential oils were used in religious practices and in preserving dead bodies for the afterlife. The Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest known medical texts describes the medicinal uses of essential oils - 877 prescriptions and recipes.
Perfumes and aromatic plants were also a primary means of commerce among civilizations in ancient Africa, Mesopotamia, Greece, Babylon, and China where they were used to create skincare products, cosmetics, fragrant natural perfumes, and incense.
The Greeks and Romans learned of – and bought – most of their essential oils from the Egyptians. Like the Egyptians, they ascribed the healing properties of the oils to the gods, and used the aromatic oils in their temples, political buildings, and bath houses. Recipes of medicinal essential oils were found inscribed in marble in the temples of Asclepius and Aphrodite. Galen, physician to the Roman Emperors contributed a great deal to the History of Pharmacology. The Galenics method of prescribing pays homage to its originator who 15 centuries ago provided a reference for the practising physician.
Hippocrates, considered as the Father of Medicine, recommended the use of aromatics as food and medicine, as well as a fragrant massage everyday for good health. He is credited with having said, "the way to health is to have an aromatic bath and a scented massage every day."
Some of the earliest documented uses of aromatherapy were in ancient Egypt. There, scientists discovered recipes for treating many types of illness with topical, aromatic and internal use of plant oils. And, one of the oldest surviving medical books in China, "The Chinese Yellow Emperor's Book of Internal Medicine" contains information on more than 300 plants and their properties.
In the 12th century, healers in Europe, particularly those in the monasteries, began to distill small quantities of their own healing herbs and plants for their oils. In medieval Europe, all literary knowledge was in the hands of the nuns and monks, such as Hildegard von Bingen, who studied and recorded the medicinal uses of plants, tinctures and essential oils.
Aromatherapy can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit.
"Aromatherapy is... the skilled and controlled use of essential oils for physical and emotional health and well being." ~ Valerie Cooksley
"Aromatherapy conveys the concept of healing with aromatic substances." ~ Robert Tisserand
"Aromatherapy is a caring, hands-on therapy which seeks to induce relaxation, to increase energy, to reduce the effects of stress and to restore lost balance to mind, body and soul." ~ Robert Tisserand
"Aromatherapy can be defined as the controlled use of essential oils to maintain and promote physical, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing." - Gabriel Mojay
Did Aromatherapy Exist Before Written History?
No one knows the identity of the first person to recognize the healing properties of plants but detailed recipes using aromatic compounds are given in the Old Testament. A primitive form of aromatherapy almost certainly existed before written history. Humans have always used plants – particularly those aromatic essential oils to treat illnesses and heal pain and wounds. But only with a certain level of technical sophistication could the ancient essential oil distilleries in Egypt, Israel, and elsewhere be built.
It has been during the past 30 years that Western medicine started recognizing this ancient healing art as an alternative and complementary therapy to traditional treatment regimens. According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, in the US, aromatherapy is more than a 1 billion dollar business with interest is widespread and expanding. In fact, there are a number of mainstream medical doctors who practice aromatherapy in Europe and most health insurance companies cover reimbursement for treatments.