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Aromatherapy Glossary


Aromatherapy articles and recipes can often contain many terminologies that may be confusing for someone new to the subject. Here are some definitions of commonly used terms in aromatherapy.

  • Absolute: a highly concentrated semi-solid or solid aromatic material, usually obtained by alcohol extraction from the concrete.
  • Adulteration: any material added to a pure, genuine essential oil which modifies its original composition or aroma.
  • Analgesic: an agent that reduces pain.
  • Anaphrodisiac: reduces sexual desire.
  • Antiseptic: an agent that inhibits the development of microbes.
  • Antiviral: an agent that prevents the growth of viruses.
  • Aphrodisiac: increases sexual desire.
  • Aromatic: a substance with a strong aroma or smell.
  • Astringent: causes the contraction of skin cells and body tissues.
  • Carminative: settles the digestive system and relieves flatulence.
  • Carrier oil: a vegetable oil used to dilute pure essential oils for application to the skin.
  • Chemotype: plants of the same botanical class which appear identical externally but have a variation in their chemical constituents, due to different climatic, altitude or soil conditions.
  • Cicatrisant: promotes healing by the formation of scar tissue.
  • Concrete: a concentrated, waxy, semi-solid or solid perfume material derived from plant material, usually by solvent extraction.
  • Depurative: an agent that detoxifies and helps combat impurity in the blood and organs.
  • Diuretic: an agent that promotes urination.
  • Emmenagogue: assists menstruation.
  • Emollient: softens and soothes the skin.
  • Essential oil: a volatile and aromatic liquid or semi-solid obtained from flowers, plants, herbs, leaves, fruits, woods and gums by steam distillation, expression or other methods of extraction.
  • Expectorant: promotes the removal of mucous from the respiratory system.
  • Expression: a method of extraction specific to citrus essential oils, carried out by mechanically pressing the fruit rind to release the oil.
  • Fixed oil: a fatty, non-volatile vegetable oil.
  • Hydrosol: a floral water recovered from the steam distillation process that contains most of water soluble molecules from the plant that did not filter into the essential oil.
  • Infusion: a herbal remedy prepared by saturating plant material in vegetable oil or water.
  • Limbic system: parts of the forebrain concerned with various aspects of emotion, behaviour, learning and memory.
  • Lymphatic system: a network of tissues and organs that help to remove toxins and waste from the body.
  • Maceration: a simple form of solvent extraction, involving the submersion of flowers in hot oil until the essential oil dissolves.
  • Olfaction: the sense of smell.
  • Photo-toxicity: a sensitising reaction on the skin when exposed to ultra-violet light due to a naturally occurring component in an essential oil.
  • Phytotherapy: the treatment of disease by plants.
  • Rectification: the process of re-distillation applied to some essential oils to remove unwanted constituents.
  • Resin: a solid or semi-solid substance of vegetable origin exuded from plants and trees such as pine, frankincense and myrrh.
  • Resinoid: a material prepared from natural resinous matter such as gum resins and balsams by solvent extraction.
  • Rubefacient: an agent that is warming and increases blood flow.
  • Solvent extraction: a form of essential oil extraction that uses solvents such as hexane, ethanol or methanol.
  • Steam distillation: the most common method of essential oil extraction, carried out by heating plant material to produce a vapour, which is then condensed into an oil and water solution before being separated.
  • Synergy: the effect of two or more agents working together harmoniously to produce an effect that is greater than the sum of its separate parts.
  • Tincture: a herbal remedy or perfumery material prepared in a base of alcohol.
  • Tonic: strengthens and invigorates the body.
  • Volatile: evaporates quickly.

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