What is Aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils. Essential oils are highly concentrated substances, extracted from a variety of plants including herbs, shrubs, trees, spices and citrus fruits. Essential oils consist of tiny aromatic molecules that contribute to a plant’s unique aroma and therapeutic properties. It is thought that essential oils help to attract or repel certain insects or animals, and that they play an important role in the life processes of plants and help to protect them against disease.
Essential oils are extracted from various parts of plants, such as the flowers, seeds, bark, leaves, resin and roots. They can be used in many different ways, such as in massage, baths, skincare, oil burners and compresses. Essential oils work on a physical, emotional and spiritual level and may be used to help optimise health and wellbeing.
History of Aromatherapy
Aromatic herbs and oils have been used in healthcare and cosmetics for thousands of years. The origins of aromatherapy can be traced back to ancient times, when the Egyptians used aromatic substances such as frankincense and myrrh for religious and spiritual ceremonies. Avicenna (AD 980-1037), a highly gifted Persian physician and philosopher, wrote at least forty books on medicine. He discovered how to produce essential oils and flower waters through distillation; rose water became a very popular perfume in the East and later throughout Europe.
Herbs and aromatic plants were used in the Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance period to help ward off infectious diseases and epidemics. Over the next few centuries, pharmacists analysed and recorded the medicinal properties of a number of essential oils, including cinnamon, frankincense, rose, lavender, sage, juniper and rosemary. A growth in the perfume industry, as well as the identification of chemical constituents of essential oils by scientists, lead to a division between the use of oils in perfumery and in medicine.
The term ‘aromatherapy’ was coined in the 1920s by French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefossé. Gattefossé worked in his father’s perfume laboratory researching essential oils. An explosion in the laboratory resulted in the burning of Gattefossé’s hands, to which he applied lavender essential oil. Gattefossé noted that his hands healed incredibly quickly, with little scarring. He went on to work with a number of doctors, treating French soldiers for war wounds using lavender and other essential oils, and is today considered to be the ‘Father of Aromatherapy’.
Gattefossé’s work was continued by French doctor, Jean Valnet, who used essential oils to treat gangrene and battle wounds during World War Two. After the war, Valnet successfully used essential oils to treat other medical and psychiatric disorders, writing a book that was translated into English under the title ‘The Practice of Aromatherapy’.
Holistic aromatherapy, as it is widely practised today, was largely developed by Marguerite Maury, an Austrian biochemist. Maury emphasised the importance of essential oils in massage, and as therapeutic substances capable of bringing about emotional changes.
In 1977, Englishman Robert Tisserand wrote the very first aromatherapy book in English: 'The Art of Aromatherapy'. He is considered to be one of the world’s leading aromatherapy experts and continues to spread awareness of the science and benefits of essential oils and their safe and effective application.