Category Archives: History of Essential Oils

Facts, Fiction and Limitations: Is Aromatherapy worth all the hype?

Aromatherapy is the practice of using volatile, aromatic and absolute plant oils in the physical and psychological well-being of people. Though aromatherapy has been prevalent for centuries, it has received great attention in the recent times. Only in the 20th century, the very term aromatherapy was coined by a French chemist. However, in this short time span, aromatherapy has gained enormous reputation as an alternative medicinal system. It has been proven that essential oils benefit people in numerous ways without any disturbing side effects. All popularity apart, the question remains the same: Is aromatherapy worth all the hype it is being given? What is so special about aromatherapy that it gets a lot of press these days? This article is an answer to these questions.

Aromatherapy – Fact, fiction and Limitations:
Like with every other system of medicine, there are a lot of myths about aromatherapy. People tend to be carried away by the cures promised by aromatherapists and believe that treatment with essential oils can cure every other disease in the world. This is not true. Aromatherapy is not a cure for every other disease. It can treat only certain ailments and is not a complete alternative to the existing system of medicine.


Below are a list of myths, facts and limitations of aromatherapy as a system of medicine:

1. What is it and what is it not:
Aromatherapy is the use of volatile, aromatic essential oils (plant extracts) in the treatment of physical conditions. Owing to the aromatic and healing effects of the oils, aromatherapy helps in the psychological and physiological well being of individuals. Some media reporters, marketing people and vendors claim aromatherapy as a new system of medicine and thus give it a false hype. It is not a complete system of medicine and neither it is new as it has been prevalent right from the times of Egyptian civilization and Ayurvedic medicine.

2. Fragrance oils are not essential oils: Fragrance oils or oils used in perfumes and air fresheners are different from essential oils. Any unnatural product is not part of holistic aromatherapy. But unfortunately several vendors project their medicines as aromatherapeutic cure. Beware of such medicines.

3. Aromatherapy is not a cure for major illnesses: Aromatherapy cannot definitely cure major illnesses like cancer or AIDS. It can neither relieve one from depression or stress completely. However, it can help in alleviating the symptoms of such disorders and help in the treatment process. It can enhance a cancer patient’s quality of life by changing his mood, calming fear and giving temporary pain relief. Similarly, essential oils can improve an AIDS patient’s immune system and thereby, reduce the symptoms. But aromatherapy cannot treat major diseases.

4. Aromatherapy is complementary: Aromatherapy is what is called a complementary, alternative health modality. It cannot replace standard medical care but can only complement it. It can offer alternative choices and help you avoid prescription or over the counter drugs, but it cannot replace standard medical system. It can offer practical cure to a variety of ailments like cuts, wounds, PMS symptoms, bruises, inflammation, insomnia, anxiety, fear, depression, pain, rheumatism, hair loss, acne, skincare, menstrual problems, and so on.

5. Labels on medications: Some marketers use the label “Made with essential oils” even if the medication has other ingredients in it. Since the U.S. does not regulate the use of the word aromatherapy on product labels, many marketers use it to create a false hype. As a buyer, you should know to sieve fact from fiction when it comes to aromatherapy.

Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: A historic overview

The history of Essential Oils is as old as the history of civilization. Essential Oils have been in practice in almost every ancient civilization known to the human race. Before we proceed to chart a historic timeline about the usage of essential oils, we need to know what exactly does the term “essential oil” means.

What are Essential Oils?
Essential Oils are basically extracts from flowers, plants, seeds, leaves, stem, bark, roots of herbs, bushes, shrubs and trees. They are volatile and aromatic liquids which are used in various treatments as healing oils. An essential oil is the soul or blood of a plant. It takes a whole plant to create a single drop of an essential oil. Highly concentrated, they protect plants from diseases and cankerous attacks and are expected to do the same in humans. Essential oils are indeed the oldest form of medication known to man and were considered more valuable than gold or gems by the ancients.

Historic Timeline of Essential Oils:
The history of essential oils dates back to 4000 B.C., though the term ‘Essential Oils’ and ‘Aromatherapy’ are pretty modern (coined only during the 20th century). The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Chinese and Indians were known to have practiced aromatherapy using essential oils in their medicines for centuries.


Egyptians: Ancient Egyptians were one of the first practitioners of essential oils. They used plant extracts in cosmetics, for relaxation, for embalming their bodies and for their mummies. The Egyptians kept a gradually-melting cone in their headdresses that released oils into the head and also kept the fragrance of people alive. The Egyptians used distillation methods to extract plant oils.

Greeks:
The Greeks learned about healing oils from the Egyptians. They used herbs and therapeutic oils for healing, relaxation and even in surgery. Asclepius in 1200 BC and Hippocrates in 400 BC were the famous physicians to have used plant oils in aromatic baths, remedies and healing therapies.

Indians and Chinese: Ancient Indians used aromatherapy in surgeries, for healing diseases, wounds and other injuries. Essential oils are an integral part of the age-old Indian medicinal system called Ayurveda. The Chinese too, on their part, is believed to have used healing oils in their medicinal practices.

Romans: After the Greeks, it was the Romans who took up the practice of healing oils in medicine. They borrowed medication practices using essential oils from Egyptians and Greeks and then, developed techniques to extract and distillate plant oils. Claudius Galen (150 AD) is said to have treated hundreds of wounded gladiators using healing oils and botanical remedies. He was also the personal physician of Emperor Marcus Aurelius to whom he advocated essential oil treatments.

Persians: Though the Persians borrowed essential oil practices from Romans and Egyptians, Persian physician Avicenna (1000 AD) is the first world physician to have discovered a steam pipe to distillate plants and produce essential oils instead of floral waters.

Dark Ages: During the dark ages, the Catholic Crusaders brought healing oil practices to Europe. However, there was no significant progress as the Church ruled out disease as a punishment of God and those who were diseased as sinners. Owing to this, essential oil practice did not see any growth during this time. When Black Death wiped out half the population of Europe, botanical remedies were used but without much success.

Later periods: After Europe started exploring the East, they once again started practicing aromatherapy. Many wealthy people in Europe used aromatic handkerchiefs to ward off unpleasant smells and for microbial protection. Sometimes essential oils were used to fumigate hospitals and keep germs at bay. Apothecaries and herbalists engaged in formulation of pharmaceutical remedies, essential oils, fragrances and herbs. These remedies treated people of several ailments from headaches to injuries.

Aromatherapy: French chemist Rene Maurice Gattefosse was the first person to coin the term ‘Aromatherapy’ in 1928. Following him, French army doctor Jean Valet used essential oils to treat wounded soldiers in the Second World War.  An Austrian biochemist named Marguerite Mary used essential oils for cosmetic benefits whose research results are still considered the basis of aromatherapy all over the world.

First book: The first book in aromatherapy and essential oils was written by Robert B. Tisserand in 1977. Titled ‘The Art of Aromatherapy’, the book details on the basics of aromatherapy and the therapeutic value of several herbs. From then on, aromatherapy and essential oils have become popular worldwide as an alternative medicinal treatment.

Aromatherapy and Native Americans: Smudging rituals to keep bad spirits at bay

Ancient rituals used aromatherapy as a means to fight against negativity and evil. Our ancestors believed that good aromas ward off evil beings and keep bad creatures at bay. Essential oils were used to eliminate things that were not good for health or human well being. It was strongly opined that aromatherapy had a profound effect on one’s life and hence should be mandatory in all kinds of cleansing – physical, emotional, spiritual or psychic. Right from the ancient Egyptians to Greeks, Hindus, Romans and Persians, everyone advocated aromatherapy as an alternative kind of medicinal system.


Native Americans and Aromatherapy: Native Americans, like the ancient civilizations, have been using essential oils in their daily routine and spiritual/domestic rituals for a long time. They possess a respect for mother earth and use everything natural in their day to day life. They believe that essential oils, with their strong aromas, can fight against evil spirits and enhance their well-being. Native American practices use fragrant herbs and oils for cleaning a space. They have faith in aromatic herbs like Sage, Sweetgrass, Juniper, Cedarwood, Pine/Pinion needles to help cleanse and clear the air of negative influences and attract positivity into life.

But why should we talk about the Native American way of aromatherapy? Reason: It is simple, useful, primitive and natural. They have a wider sense of aromatherapy than most aromatherapists and know which oils or herbs are the best to ward off intense emotions, mental havocs and other bad energies from life. Most of the herbs/oils used by the Natives are common to all and can be purchased from aromatherapy stores or online. Though they do not make attractive blends (like popular aromatherapists do), they use herbs in their most natural form – as herbs with aromas. Below are a list of herbs preferred for use by aromatherapists.

Native American essential oil recipes: The natives do not follow any particular recipe except the use of smudging sticks or what is called the smudging ritual. Tying together sage sticks into bundles, the Natives use them as smudge sticks. As sticks, Sage is often used as a form of incense. The aroma of Sage cleanses the space and frees the air of negativity.

Sweetgrass is another commonly used herb/oil by Native Americans. They believe that Sweetgrass will cleanse a room, scent and purify a space. Unlike smudge sticks, Sweetgrass is generally made into a braid of about 12 inch thickness. Several other herbs or oils are also used by Native Americans, but most of them are burned raw, without addition of any other synthetics. Another way to use Sweetgrass or Sage or Juniper etc. is to use them as hydrosols. This not only saves money, but also reduces the intensity of the aromas. On the other hand, such hydrosol usage should be checked for any additional synthetic additions.

Aromatherapy101: 24 common aromatherapy terms you MUST know

Aromatherapy is a vast medicinal system comprising of many terminologies, extraction procedures and blending methodologies. Though not everyone can know everything about aromatherapy (but for an expert and licensed aromatherapist), as a beginner, you may need to know certain things about the science. This article will explain in brief the common terms used in the world of aromatherapy and essential oils.

Aromatherapy is a science of essential oils. As you know, there are many different kinds of essential oils in vogue right from the ancient times. Most of these oils are extracted by several types of methods. Some oils are called by unique names based on their properties or components. Here’s a glimpse of all of them:

1. Absolutes or concretes: Absolutes are essential oils in their pure form. They have strong aromas and are highly concentrated.

2. Botanical Names: A botanical name is the Latin name given to a plant species. Since there are  millions of species, botanists use botanical names to identify one species from another.

3. Common Name: The name in which an oil is addressed in common practice. Lavender, Basil, Bay, Hyssop etc. are common names.


4. Carrier Oils: Carrier oils or base oils or fixed oils are vegetable or plant oils that are used to dilute pure essential oils.

5. Hydrosols or Flora waters: These are by-products during extraction of essential oils. They too have medicinal properties and are used for general, less-severe treatments.

6. Dram: Unit of measurement which equals 1/8 of an ounce, used in aromatherapy.

7. Fragrance oils: Called perfume or potpourri oils, Fragrance Oils contain artificial fragrant substances, whereas essential oils contain only the pure essences of plants.

8. Infused oils: Carrier oils into which few medicinal herbs are infused (for extra therapeutic effects) are called infused oils.

9. CO2s: Oils which are extracted by using carbon dioxide are called CO2s.

10. Orifice reducer: A small, clear insert-like dropper used in essential oil bottles for easy dispensation of oil.

Essential oils are often referred to as stimulants, analgesic agents and ones with diuretic properties. Though these are medicinal terms and can be guessed by most of you, when it comes to aromatherapy, it is better not to make assumptions. Here are a few terms that describe the properties of essential oils:

11. Abortifacient: An oil which can cause abortion in a pregnant woman. Toxic oils are often abortifacients.

12. Analgesic: Oils that relieve pain and cause a soothing effect are analgesic

13. Anodyne: Oils that calm restless mind and iron out disturbed feelings or emotions and also offer pain relief are said to have anodyne properties.

14. Aphrodisiacs: Certain oils are used to arouse sexual desires. Such oils are referred to as aphrodisiacs.

15. Carminative: Carminative oils relieve gas in the digestive tract and also reduce bloating of stomach

16. Cicatrisant: Is an agent for healing wounds, cuts, gashes etc.

17. Depurative:
Depurative oils are highly efficient in cleansing the blood. They combat and eliminate impure elements and toxins in the blood.

18. Diuretics: Used in people who have problems with urination. Diuretic essential oils increase discharge of urine.

19. Emmenagogue: Essential oils that assist with PMS, menstruation or menopausal symptoms are referred this way.

20. Expectorant: These expel phlegm and mucous from the body

21. Febrifuge: Some oils are successful in combating fevers and are referred to have febrifuge properties.

22. Parturients: Oils which ease symptoms of pain in pregnant mothers and also aid in childbirth are said to have parturient properties.

23. Stimulants:
Essential oils that invigorate or energize a body are called as stimulants.

24. Tonics:
Essential oils which have a restorative and replenishing effect on the body are called tonics.

Healing aromas and olfactory nerves: Aromatherapy as alternative medicine

Years ago, alternative medicine meant something that was below-the-average, that was not-that-effective and that which was crippled all over. It was something that was frowned upon by traditional practitioners and their loyal followers. Only a few innovators were interested and only a very few knew the benefits of alternative medicinal systems. But things have changed now. Alternative medicine is no more looked down upon. Alternative medicinal systems have evolved as full-fledged systems with capabilities to operate on their own. Aromatherapy is an alternative system of health care which uses essential oils in curing ailments, skin disorders and other ill-health conditions.

What is aromatherapy, what are essential oils: Aromatherapy is all about essential oils or plant oils extracted from various plants or parts of a plant – from bark, stem, wood, resin, spices, herbs, seeds, kernels, flowers etc. The life-blood of plants, essential oils are the immune-shields which protect plant life from all types of infections. When extracted and used, they do the offer the same protection in human beings. Essential oils have a strong aroma and are often inhaled through the nose in aromatherapy. Sometimes, they are mixed with carrier or base oils and used for massaging or other topical applications.


Do essential oils work? Yes, they do. They have been in practice for 4000 years though only in the 20th century, the term aromatherapy came into being. Essential oils work because they contact the brain directly. The aromas inhaled by the nose reach the limbic system of the brain through the olfactory nerves. Since the limbic system is directly connected to parts of the brain which control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels and blood circulation, the aroma of essential oils affect all these parts to a great extent. Scientists have discovered that essential oils are the easiest and quickest ways to galvanize physical and psychological changes in the body. For instance, oils of lavender, rose, orange and jasmine have a tranquillizing effect (as they regulate the brain waves to form a rhythm), while that of basil, peppermint and cardamom yield a heightened energy response.

Aromatherapy origin and existence:
Essential oils existed right from the ancient times. It is considered as the first of medicines, and was prevalent even before the use of herbs. The French chemist Rene Gattefosse was the first one to coin the term ‘Aromatherapy’ in the 20th century. The medicinal practice was widely used in ancient civilizations like Egypt, Greece, Rome, India, Persia and China.

Types of aromatherapy: There are no distinct types, but commercialization and modernization has brought in two different kinds of aromatherapy – essential oils for therapeutic purposes and essential oils for fragrance, pleasure, recreation or hygiene. Essential oils can be fragrances or perfumes and still lack in therapeutic value. For an essential oil to be therapeutic, it has to be within the therapeutic grade of aromatherapy. Also, an essential oil has to be extracted, prepared and stored well to be therapeutic.

Uses of aromatherapy: Aromatherapy has emerged from a fledgling science to a fully-developed system of alternative medicine. Essential oils are used in pain relief, as stress de-busters, in treating skin infections, in hair care, in several ailments and inflammatory conditions, as antivirals and in reducing symptoms of chronic diseases. Since the work of any aromatherapeutic product depends on the molecular structures of the oil used and its absorption into the body cells, aromatherapy works only if you use the right oils in the right measures. The whole science of aromatherapy is natural and herbal, hence, side effects are out of question.

What can ruin aromatherapy? Aromatherapy is a complementary form of medicinal system that treats symptoms of diseases. It cannot cure major illnesses like cancer or AIDS. Commercialization of all fragrant products as aromatherapeutic is abuse of the very term of aromatherapy. Any practitioner or user of aromatherapy should understand the limitations of the system of medicine and act accordingly, instead of being carried away by false promises of companies.

Pharaohs, cosmetics and essential oils: Egyptian influence on aromatherapy

Aromatherapy has a history that is as old as the history of medicinal practices itself. Though no one is certain as to when aromatherapy was first used, the fact that it has a revered history dating back to 4500 years is accepted by all. Experts believe that aromatics were the first medicines and they pre-dated even the use of herbs for medicinal treatment.

If one has to go to a recorded time when one can be sure of the prevalence of aromatics, one has to time travel to ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians were the first (in recorded history) to have widely used aromatherapy in their daily life, religious rituals and medical substances. The Egyptians were the first to discover that fragrances are effective and can be used for religious practices, illness treatments and other physical and spiritual needs. They used essential oils, herbs, perfumed oils and spices extensively in skin care, body massage and to cleanse physical impurities.


Egyptian cosmetics: Perfumes, sunscreen lotions, exfoliants, depilatories, lip-glosses, anti-wrinkle creams etc. may sound like a cross-section of the current cosmetic and skin care industry. But the ancient Egyptians too knew about all these. They used a lot of skin care products and fragrances to keep their bodies clean, fragrant and to ward off diseases. In no culture or civilization has cosmetics played a vital part in social living like in Egypt. And the source of all this cosmetic industry were the essential oils. Egyptians transported valuable, aromatic and healing herbs and spices from other lands (like Persia) to be steam-distilled into essential oils.

Their love for perfumery made them keep perfumed cones under their headdresses during festivals. The cones, consisting of aromatic oils, would melt into the head and release sweet fragrances. After bathing, they would anoint their bodies with oils to moisturize their skin cells and replenish dead cells. They had formulated eyeshadows, eyeliners and other cosmetics from essential oils way before the western world could pack them and give them names and labels.

Pharaohs and mummification:
In their quest for immortality, they buried their Pharaohs with lots of oils inside the pyramids. When the tomb of King Tutankhamen was explored in 1922, it contained about 50 alabaster jars designed to hold about 350 liters of essential oils. Thieves had looted all the oils instead of gold and stones, which show the value the ancient Egyptians gave to essential oils. Oils made from frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, cinnamon, cedarwood, juniper berry and spikenard were buried with the Egyptian dead. This was in practice from 2650 to 2575 B.C., illustrating the advancement of Egyptians in aromatherapy as a science.

Egyptian essential oils:
Myrrh was the most popular herb used for producing essential oils. Apart from Myrrh, other oils made from frankincense, spikenard, cedarwood, cinnamon etc. were also in popular use. Masters of cosmetics and perfumery, the Egyptians slowly brought aromatherapy into medicinal practice also. Ebers Papyrus (discovered in 1817 by Ebers), dating back to 1500 B.C., is a medical scroll that lists over 800 different medical remedies and prescriptions of which most of them used essential oils. Many mixtures used myrrh and honey with myrrh serving to alleviate skin and throat infections and for regeneration of throat tissue. The temple of Edfu has hieroglyphics depicting the use of Kyphi, an aromatic substance to induce sleep, alleviate anxieties and as an antidote of toxins.

In brief, Egyptians were first to master the art of aromatherapy. Many of the systems and methods followed by them have influenced aromatherapists down the ages.

Homemade Essential Oils: 5 essential materials and how-to-do tips

If you are an avid user of essential oils and know all about various carrier oils, absolutes, including their therapeutic properties and aromas, you can start making them at your home. By making homemade essential oils, you could save a lot of money and have loads of fun in knowing more about healing oils. Joys apart, essential oil making demands great patience and care. As a novice, you may have to have a few materials and know about the right measure of herbs, spices and oils you need to use.

Below are a few essential tips you need to know with regard to making essential oils at your home:


1. Learn about essential oils: You maybe an expert with regard to essential oil usage. But you can suck when you venture to make a preparation on your own. As a basic rule, get to know everything you can about essential oils. Know about the home preparation methods suggested and choose the best that you can afford. Instead of starting on a large scale, start with a small experiment. Try making small ounces of oil and test it to verify the results. You can even take it to a local aromatherapy apothecary to check the quality of your preparation.

2. Possible sources of essential oils: You need to know from where you can extract which oil. A general information search on the Internet or a trip to a local, alternative medicine library would help a lot. Since plant materials are the basic substances from which essential oils are made, parts of plants form the possible sources. Depending on the nature of your oil, you can extract from flowers, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, kernels, stem, bark etc. Possible flowers are rose, lavender, jasmine, neroli, marigold, lotus, vetiver, orange blossom etc. Possible sources of herbs are thyme, peppermint, basil, marjoram, rosemary, lemon balm etc. Coriander, cloves, cinnamon and cumin form the best kind of oil sources in the spices category. Even the zest of citrus fruits can be used in essential oil preparation.

Materials you may need: Essential oil preparation is easy if you have the right materials. Here is a list of materials you may require:

3. Measuring Devices: Must for any kind of preparation, more so for essential oils. Since essential oils are highly concentrated, you need to use the right measure of oils when mixing or in combination with carrier oils. If your measure exceeds the right dose, you may feel skin irritation or the oil may go rancid quickly. You may get a different aroma too.

4. Containers, jars, Vitamin E caps: This is required to hold the oil once extracted from plants. You will also need a tinted bottle with a tight lid to store the prepared oils. Vitamin E gel caps can be used as a natural preservative to prevent oils from getting spoilt.

5. Enfleurage:
Enfleurage and maceration are the processes by which oils can be prepared at home easily. Enfleurage is a method which involves steeping of essential oils in cool olive oil. The extracted oil is purified or heated to get the desired quality. Sometimes the enfleurage container is kept in hot water to speed up the extraction process. This is called maceration. Since enfleurage may involve repetition and take about 24 to 48 hours time, better to get the detailed measurements of the carrier oils and plant extracts you need to add.