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Making Scents of Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the therapeutic application of aromatic compounds extracted from plant material.
The fundamental tools of aromatherapy are knowledge of the therapeutic properties of the essential oil repertoire and the methods by which they are applied, both to the body and to your environment.


September 15, 2009
By Maggie Mann RMT Aromatherapist

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In many people’s minds aromatherapy is a form of massage treatment, therefore it is important to begin by stating an accurate definition.

Aromatherapy is the therapeutic application of aromatic compounds extracted from plant material.
The fundamental tools of aromatherapy are knowledge of the therapeutic properties of the essential oil repertoire and the methods by which they are applied, both to the body and to your environment.

Massage therapy and aromatherapy can have similar goals, i.e. reducing stress, relieving muscle pain, but have only one area in common, massage. Apart from that the professions are profoundly different.

Aromatherapy indicates a therapeutic objective, but it is somewhat limiting in its description.

It implies a therapeutic benefit from the smell alone. It is true that brain function is altered by the inhalation of aromatic compounds. Essential oils further benefit in that they interact with cells within the body, where the aroma is irrelevant. 

Therapeutic application: By using a variety of applications such as baths, steam inhalations, environmental fragrancing, massage or therapeutic creams we can achieve a variety of results. When essential oils are applied to the skin in a suitable carrier conditions such as psoriasis, eczema or sunburns are treated.  Baths can also be used to treat skin conditions, however they are used more often in larger effected areas for example muscle stiffness following strenuous activity.

By using an oily carrier (a carrier is any substance, such as oil, air, or water, that carries an essential oil into the body through the skin, olfactory tract or lungs) such as an oil rich massage lotion, or straight oil, essential oils are carried through the dermis by way of the sebaceous gland and hair follicle. It enters the bloodstream and the lymphatic system and is carried around the body. The various constituent parts of the essential oils then interact with the lipophilic cell receptors sites and cause a physiological change at a cellular level.

Research done by Dr. Christoph Streicher (Proceedings of the World of Aromatherapy II International Conference, St. Louis NAHA) indicates that Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) modulates and balances the control of muscle contraction because an ester contained within it acts in very a similar way to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter.  Aromatic compounds are the specific extracts that are obtained when a plant is processed, most often by distillation. It is the specific part of the plant that gives it its unique scent that is used. In some cases, however, the scent is incidental, for example using essential oils to reduce the inflammation of a recent injury.

Aromatic compounds
contain none of the water-soluble components of the whole plant, such as sugars and tannins. They are highly complex, and contain terpenes, sesquiterpenes, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, esters, acids and lactones all of which are themselves very complex and each have different effects on the body, mind and spirit. 

Essential oils are only derived from recently living plant material. The most common method of extraction is distillation and it is usually of fresh plant material. Sometimes the plant is dried, partly dried or slightly fermented such as patchouli. Essential oils are not extracted from long dead plant material such as amber or petroleum, from animals, such as musk or civet or ambergris, or from rocks or minerals. How, where and under what conditions the plant was grown is very important. 

There are many products available to the consumer that use the word aromatherapy, but are in no way therapeutic in the true sense of the word.  Scented candles, body creams and baths, may be enjoyable, but achieve little to no clinical benefit. 

In the next article I will define essential oils, their properties and therapeutic applications. 

Maggie Mann, RMT, Aromatherapist, Program Supervisor of Holistic Practitioners Program, Centennial College, and Aromatherapy teacher within the program. Product developer, quality control of Plant Life a company she founded.


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