The Origin and History of Aromatherapy
The Origins of Aromatherapy
Since the beginning, humans have been using herbs for healing. The Rig Veda, written in India more than 5,000 years ago, is one of the oldest human records. It describes the healing power of herbs. Several subsequent volumes comprise the textbooks of the ancient healing art of Ayurveda, which is still in practice today. These textbooks are full of herbal recipes. As it was in ancient times, so it is today: almost all medicinal plants are aromatic plants. Ayurveda, like almost all healing arts that have endured through the centuries, was fascinated by the aromas of plants and developed procedures to extract the aromatic substances from them. The ancient Ayurvedic texts describe sophisticated methods of concentrating the aromas. At an unknown time in history, the extraction method was perfected in the form of steam distillation.
Today, the most concentrated, potent aromatic plant substances are gained through steam distillation and are available to improve health, emotional well-being and beauty. They are called "essential oils," referring to their ethereal, volatile nature and the subtlest, most characteristic aspect of the plant.
From a scientific point of view, essential oils have been researched since the beginning of this century. Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, analyzed the chemical composition of essential oils and wrote Aromatherapy, which was the first book on their pharmacology. He described numerous properties of essential oils, such as the ability of Lavender oil to heal burns. Since that time, numerous studies have confirmed the healing properties of essential oils. Over the last 10 years, aromatherapy has become mind-body medicine. The direct neural influence of the sense of smell on the limbic system makes aromatherapy an ideal tool to improve the emotional situation of the patient, alleviate insomnia and correct many other stress-related imbalances.
What is the difference between authentic, medicinally oriented aromatherapy and the large number of "aromatherapy" products currently found in the mainstream market?
It is important to note that the term aromatherapy implies a health-related therapy. The way Gattefosse understood the term, it did not necessarily involve the sense of smell. Natural essential oils have pharmacological effects, like healing burns, killing bacteria, etc., that are independent of their fragrance.
The word aromatherapy has been widely misused in advertising to promote products that simply "smell." There are many artificial, laboratory-produced, inferior fragrance products on the market that have no therapeutic value whatsoever.
Only essential oils from plants grown and harvested with care--organic or wild-crafted where possible--and distilled under expert supervision maintain nature's balance of chemical constituents. High-quality essential oils have the balanced chemical profile that exactly matches nerve receptors in the human body, making it possible for the body to use the information for health and well-being.