Discovering the Medicine of Essential Oils

By Harriet Bliss

Known for Centuries, Unknown to Me

I consider myself fairly well- educated and read intelligent magazines and newspapers, but for some reason, I have had little acquaintance with aromatherapy, or aroma-botanicals as my friend prefers to call them. I have spent many university classroom hours reading about the interactions between plants and insects, plants and other plants and of course plants and humans. Yet, what was not offered in all the lectures I attended and books I read were the wide-variety of medicinal properties of aromatherapy. Below is brief synopsis of my discovery of aromatherapy and the science that confirms what has been right under our noses for centuries.

Going Beyond Scent

I have been using natural and alternative wellness treatments for my health for years, yet I had only associated aromatherapy with getting a massage or putting lavender on my pillow for a better night's sleep. Unbeknownst to me, aromatherapy has been used for centuries and currently used in medical facilities in France. Now, with a rising interest and even demand for alternative and complementary medicine (CAM), research is being conducted on the benefits of aromatherapy for infections, psyche, nerves, hormones and to some extent inflammation, allergies and metabolic conditions.

New Meaning and Association for Aromatherapy

Contrary to my own vague association, aromatherapy is more than smelling certain scents. Jane Buckle, RN, Ph.D. concludes that there are four main types of aromatherapy: clinical, stress management, beauty therapy and environmental fragrancing. I think many of us have an association of aromatherapy when it comes to beauty therapy and good smelling fragrances from the aroma of essential oils, yet the clinical and stress management aspects of aromatherapy have been hidden from view.

To wrap my investigative mind around what truly is aromatherapy, I needed to get more of a simplistic definition. The general idea of the meaning of aromatherapy is that it is therapeutic uses of essential oils from aromatic (fragrant) plants. These oils are usually extracted from plants using water or steam distillation and typically used in diffusers as well as topically. Once the aromatic essential oils are extracted, the oils are rather unstable in nature - when the oils are exposed to air, they change from a potent liquid into an aromatic vapor within seconds.

In ' Advanced Aromatherapy', the author explains that the main chemical component of essential oils are terpenes and it higher homologues as well as phenylpropane derivatives. Yet it must be pointed out that the synergy of each oil has it own unique qualities as well as specific chemical components.

Nature's Own Synergies

The affects of this high-tech civilization that we live in are far reaching. Yet, one that is often overlooked or forgotten is the loss of nature - both in our surroundings and in personal knowledge and interaction. In this modern age, it seems that humans have separated mind from body and body from soul. Aromatherapy simply is nature in a bottle.

Probing into my biology textbook, I read about plant defenses in a whole new light. Plants produce chemical compounds, mostly terpenoid compounds, in order to defend themselves against predators such as insects and animal herbivores as well as against fungai and other microbes. These terpenoid compounds also are used in plant to plant competition, where established plants inhibit germination of other plants. And of course plants use scent in attracting beneficial insect and bat pollinators. (4) (5) Thus, it is evident that the role of essential oils is vital to the continual establishment and growth of plants.

Creatures and Aroma

Remembering my general observation of various animals, I wonder now why the usage and medicinal properties of plants is so unfamiliar in our culture. I have known for years that horses select various plants to facilitate detoxing of metabolic toxic buildup, as well as select certain plants for antiviral and antiparasitic uses. I remember in learning in one of my graduate classes about Chimpanzees eating certain plants to cleanse their accumulation of internal parasites.

I also know from my graduate work in entomology that insects have fairly well developed chemoreception and some are attracted to plants by their scents. It seems strange thinking about it now (the light bulb just turned on) why plants and their essential oils are not more widely used in everyday life, but as I have pointed out above that is now changing. In part two of this paper, I will investigate the physiological pathways of absorption into the human body and the current research on clinical and stress management uses of aromatherapy. - 30540

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