Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils in a therapeutic manner to promote relaxation, reduce the effects of stress, and to alleviate the symptoms of many of the complaints that plague today’s harried populations.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are the pure concentrated aromatic oils extracted from certain plants, generally by a process of steam or water distillation.

Due to their highly concentrated nature, essential oils should be used sparingly and are almost always diluted in some manner before application.


Plant oils have been used medicinally for centuries. A process for the distillation of these oils was recorded by the Arab physician, Avicenna, as far back as the 10th Century. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all used fragrant plant essences therapeutically.

The modern era of aromatherapy dates from 1937 when the French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, published his book, Aromatherapie.

Gattefosse became interested in the properties of essential oils after he famously burned his hand and treated it successfully with lavender oil.

During WWII essential oils were used by the French army surgeon, Dr. Jean Valnet, as antiseptics.

In latter days essential oils and the practice of aromatherapy have become one of the most popular branches of holistic therapy.

How Essential Oils Work

Though the mechanism by which essential oils effect change in the body and mind is not fully understood, it is thought that the scents are picked up by the olfactory cells in the nasal cavity, translated into electrical impulses and sent to the brain. The brain then interprets these signals in a manner that causes particular beneficial physical or emotional responses.

A Versatile Treatment

Essential oils can be used in a number of different ways. They can be diluted with a little water and vaporised in an oil burner, mixed with a vegetable oil and used in massage or added to baths, or inhaled by adding 2-3 drops to a bowl of hot water.


Essential oils are employed in aromatherapy to treat a wide variety of conditions including:

  • Depression.
  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Headaches and migraine.
  • Acne and eczema.
  • Fungal infections.
  • Colds, flu and other respiratory problems.
  • Insomnia.
  • Digestive imbalances.
  • Muscular aches and pains.

Essential oils can be used singly, but often combinations of several oils are used to bring about a more holistic healing result.

A qualified aromatherapy practitioner should be consulted for serious or chronic conditions as the effects of essential oils can be complex and a potted summary in a leaflet on the counter of your local health food store may not adequately reveal the full impact of an oil. Particularly, the interactions of one essential oil with another should be taken into account if a combination oil is used.

Examples of popular essential oils and the ailments they are used to treat.

  • Rosemary – enhances memory and mental clarity. Useful for muscular pain.
  • Lavender – burns, stings, headaches, insomnia.
  • Sandalwood – depression, anxiety.
  • Peppermint – digestive ailments, indigestion, nausea.
  • Eucalyptus – coughs, colds, flu, fever.
  • Clary sage – menstrual and menopausal problems, anxiety


Though essential oils are of natural origin, they should still be treated with care. They are potent substances and generally should never be swallowed. Neither, as a rule, should they be applied undiluted to the skin (lavender is one of the exceptions here). Certain oils may be toxic in small amounts and many essential oils can have undesirable effects if overused or applied incorrectly. Professional advice should be sought before using essential oils if you are pregnant as certain oils can trigger menstruation and uterine contractions.

A Most Pleasant Method of Treatment

As long as essential oils are used correctly, aromatherapy can be a pleasant and effective approach to a range of physical and emotional problems. Essential oil fragrances can be soothing, uplifting, invigorating and restorative. Used in an oil burner they can work subtly in the background as you go about your daily life, and when combined with massage they become part of what surely must be one of the most pleasant methods of treatment available.

Learn more about aromatherapy and essential oils in this video.

Aromatherapy and Essential Oils – the Scent of Health, 3.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings


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