Aroma therapy is the use of volatile plant oils, including essential oils, for psychological and physical well being. Although the term aroma therapy was not used until the 20th century, the foundations of aroma therapy dates back thousands of years. The use of essential oils in particular date back nearly one thousand years. Aroma therapy can be the holistic approach for day-today problems.

The Chinese were one of the first cultures to use aromatic plants for well-being. Their practices involved burning incense to help create harmony and balance. Later, the Egyptians invented a rudimentary distillation machine that allowed for the crude extraction of cedar wood oil. It is also thought by some that Persia and India may have also invented crude distillation machines, but very little is known.

The trend today is going back to nature. People prefer to use natural, safe and effective products for holistic health. The pure essences of aromatic plants have been valued for thousands of years for their health giving properties. Essential oils are one of the great untapped resources of the world. By taking essential oils into our lives we find a way to provide our family and home with the protection and pleasure they need without polluting ourselves or our environment with chemicals.

Oils of cedar wood, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and myrrh were used by the Egyptians to embalm the dead. When a tomb was opened in the early 20th century, traces of the herbs were discovered with intact portions of the body. The scent, although faint, was still apparent. Although the cedar wood that the Egyptians used was distilled by a crude distillation process, the other oils they used were most likely infused oils.

The Egyptians also used infused oils and herbal preparations for spiritual, medicinal, fragrant and cosmetic use. It is thought that the Egyptians coined the term perfume, from the Latin word per fumum, which translates as “through the smoke”.

Egyptian men of the time used fragrance as readily as the women. An interesting method that the men used to fragrance themselves was to place a solid cone of perfume on their heads. It would gradually melt and would cover them in fragrance.

The Greeks learned a great deal from the Egyptians, but Greek mythology apparently credits the gift and knowledge of perfumes to the gods. The Greeks also recognised the medicinal and aromatic benefits of plants. Hippocrates, commonly called the “father of medicine” practiced fumigations for both aromatic and medicinal benefit. A Greek perfumer by the name of Megallus created a perfume called megaleion. Megaleion included myrrh in a fatty-oil base and served several purposes: for its aroma, for its anti-inflammatory properties towards the skin and to heal wounds.

The Roman Empire built upon the knowledge of the Egyptians and Greeks. Discorides wrote a book called De Materia Medica that described the properties of approximately 500 plants. It is also reported that Discorides studied distillation. Distillation during this period, however, focused on extracting aromatic floral waters and not essential oils.

A major event for the distillation of essential oils came with the invention of a coiled cooling pipe in the 11th century. Persian by birth, Avicenna invented a coiled pipe which allowed the plant vapour and steam to cool down more effectively than previous distillers that used a straight cooling pipe. Avicenna’s contribution led to more focus on essential oils and their benefits. Essential oils in aroma therapy are composed of tiny molecules, which are mixed with a base oil/gel/lotion to trap its effectiveness. When the oil/gel/lotion is applied to the skin its molecules penetrate the skin and enter the blood stream. As these highly volatile aromatic essences evaporate they are also inhaled.

The aroma then enters the body via millions of cells that line the nasal passages transmitting messages straight to the brain and working on the limbic system, which controls the major functions of the body. Essential oils enhance both your physical and psychological well-being. These oils are potentially powerful enough to activate the body’s own innate self-healing ability.

From the late 20th century and on into the 21st century, there is a growing resurgence to utilise more natural products including essential oils for therapeutic, cosmetic and aromatic benefit. The use of essential oils never ceased, but the scientific revolution minimised the popularity and use of essential oils in one’s everyday life. Today’s heightened awareness regarding the use of synthetics coupled with the increased availability of aroma therapy information within books and the Internet has refuelled the use of essential oils for therapeutic, cosmetic, fragrant and spiritual use.

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