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Aromatherapy for Moods, Healing & More



By Susie Cortright

Contemporary healers, therapists and marketing gurus are grabbing hold of a phenomenon that insects and animals instinctively understand: the power of aroma. Scientists pursue aromachology (the study of scent and its ability to change human behavior) for its role in everything from medicine to marketing, migraines to memory loss and relaxation to revitalization.

The ancestry of aromatherapy

The ancestry of aromatherapy goes back some 4,000 years. Ancient Egyptians used aromatic botanicals for massage, embalming, medicine, and cosmetics. Hippocrates himself might have been aromatherapy’s first spokesman 2,000 years ago, as he touted the benefits of aromatic massage for physical and emotional well-being.

In the 10th century, the Arabian world invented the process of distillation, which allowed more efficient extraction of essential oils.

For centuries, cultures around the globe inhaled aromas, drank potions and wore aromatic amulets to protect them from harm. In the early 1900s, France and England attempted to re-introduce these ancient remedies and help them gain acceptance in the more traditional medical community.

This trend continues in France today. Many French doctors prescribe aromatic remedies, pharmacies stock essential oils and insurance companies pay for the treatment.

In the United States, aromatic healing is gaining ground.

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Aromatherapy defined

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to treat ailments. These conditions range from physical conditions to emotional problems, from headaches to herpes, dry skin to acne and arthritis to asthma.

The essential oils of aromatherapy are extracted from aromatic plants and herbs — from the flower, bark, root, twig, seed, berry, rhizome or leaves — generally through a process of steam distillation. These oils may be inhaled or massaged into the skin, after combining with a vegetable, nut or seed oil.

Massage with essential oils is most commonly used to alleviate skin ailments and muscle pain or tension. Lavender, orange, marjoram and chamomile are particularly effective aromas in the use of massage.

Essential oils can be inhaled with the help of a vaporizer, an electric diffuser or an aroma lamp.

How does it work?

Our sense of smell is more complex than you might think. Your nose contain thousands of olfactory nerves. While your tongue has the ability to taste sweet, sour, salt and bitter, it is your sense of smell that creates all the delightful flavors you experience.

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The olfactory bulb is part of your brain’s limbic system, which is not under conscious control. The limbic system controls digestion, libido and emotions. So, it’s not your imagination that scents evoke emotion. Aromas actually trigger the release of chemicals in the brain that create a feeling of well-being. Scientists say your body’s response to an aroma takes just four seconds.

Which essential oils are right for you?

Essential oils are available in natural and synthetic forms.

Natural essential oils are not oils but non-oily, non-water-soluble substances that dissolve in alcohol and combine with true oils. Pure, natural essential oils may be as much as 70 times more potent than the plant source itself.

Some synthetics are derived from natural products. The exact formulation of an essential oil is virtually impossible to reproduce in the laboratory. Even the smallest variation can produce significant changes in the oil’s effect.

Some synthetic oils fall into the category of artificial fragrances, entirely made of petroleum products. These products generally do not produce the same therapeutic effects as essential oils.

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Each essential oil is comprised of different hormones and vitamins, which combine to create different effects. Furthermore, the effects of each essential oil can vary depending on the botanical species and where it is grown.

The effects of particular aromas also vary among cultures and individuals, so the results of aromatherapy are not universal. Still, aromatherapists have developed a roster of scents with relatively predictable effects:

jasmine, ylang ylang, patchouli

lemon, basil, bergamot, sweet orange, peppermint, eucalyptus, tangerine

Hair care
cedarwood (dry hair); lavender and ylang ylang (normal hair); rosemary and lemongrass (oily hair)

cedarwood, clary sage, fennel, geranium, nerali, Roman chamomile

lavender, myrrh, cardamom, cedarwood, German chamomile, clary sage, frankincense

Skin care
lavender, geranium, ylang ylang (all skin types); rosemary, rosewood, carrot seed, sandalwood, peppermint, rosemary (dry skin); basil, eucalyptus, cedarwood, cypress, lemongrass, ylang ylang, sage (oily skin)

© Susie Cortright

Susie Cortright publishes Momscape.com, a website devoted to helping busy women find balance. The site features resources for conscious living and soul-based parenting, including Susie’s popular “Soul Snacks”: creative ways we can nurture ourselves — and others — in 15 minutes or less. Susie is also the author of More Energy for Moms, a mind-body-soul fitness book, program and community, and Rekindling Your Romance After Kids. Susie lives in Breckenridge, Colorado, with her husband and three young children.

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