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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Alternative System of Medicine

The word aromatherapy means treatment using scents. It refers to the use of essential oils in Holistic healing to improve health and emotional well being, and in restoring balance to the body.


The word aromatherapy means treatment using scents. It refers to the use of essential oils in Holistic healing to improve health and emotional well being, and in restoring balance to the body. Essential oils are aromatic essences extracted from plants, flowers, trees, fruit, bark, grasses and seeds.

There are more than 150 types of oils that can be extracted. These oils have distinctive therapeutic, psycho-logical and physiological properties that improve health and prevent illness. All essential oils have unique healing and valuable antiseptic properties. Some oils are antiviral, antiinflammatory, pain relieving, antidepressant, stimulating, relaxing, expectorating, support digestion and have diuretic properties too.

Essential oils get absorbed into our body and exert an influence on it. The residue gets dispersed from the body naturally. They can also affect our mind and emotions. They enter the body in three ways: by inhalation, absorption and consumption.

Chemically, essential oils are a mixture of organic com-pounds like ketones, terpenes, esters, alcohol, aldehyde and hundreds of other molecules which are extremely difficult to classify, as they are small and complex. The essential oils molecules are small. They penetrate human skin easily and enter the bloodstream directly and finally get flushed out through our elementary system.


A concentrate of essential oils is not greasy; it is more like water in texture and evaporates quickly. Some of them are light liquid insoluble in water and evaporate instantly when exposed to air. It would take 100 kg of lavender to get 3 kg of lavender oil; one would need 8 million jasmine flowers to yield barely 1 kg of jasmine oil.

Some of the common essential oils used in aromatherapy for their versatile application are:

1. Clary Sage (Salvia scared)

2. Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)

3. Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)

4. Lavender (Lavendula limon officinalis)

5. Lemon (Citrus limon)

6. Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

7. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Origin of Aromatherapy


The title Aromatherapy was coined by Gattefosse, a French chemist in the year 1928. He identified the use of aromatic oils accidentally, when he burned his hand while working in his lab, and immediately he pooled his hand inside a bottle containing lavender oil. The burn healed quickly due to lavender oil and left little scarring. The use of aroma oil is known to be as old as 6,000 years back, when the God of Medicine and Healing, recommended fragrant oils for bathing and massaging. In 4,500 B.C., Egyptians used myrrh and cedar wood oils for embalming their dead and the modern researchers after 6,500 years proved the fact that the cedar wood contains natural fixative and strong antibacterial and antiseptic properties that preserved their mummies.


The Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates, recom-mended regular aromatherapy baths and scented massages. Romans utilized essential oils for pleasure and to cure pain and also for massages. During the great plague in London in 1665, people burnt bundles of lavender, cedar wood and cypress in the streets and carried poises of the same plants as their only defence to combat infectious diseases.


Aromatherapy has received a wider acceptance in the early twentieth century. Dr Jean Volnet, French army surgeon extensively used essential oils in World War II to treat the injured warriors. It was Madame Morquerite Murry (1964), who gave the holistic approach to aroma oils by experimenting with them for individual problems.


Today, researches have proved the multiple uses of aroma oils. Medical research in the recent years has uncovered the fact that the odours we smell have a significant impact on the way we feel. Smells act directly on the brain like a drug. For instance, smelling lavender increases alpha wave frequency in the back of the head, and this state is associ-ated with relaxation.


Mode of Action of Aroma Oils


Dr Alan Huch, a neurologist, psychiatrist and also the director of Smell and Taste Research Centre in Chicago says, ‘Smell acts directly on the brain, like a drug’. Our nose has the capacity to distinguish 1,00,000 different smells, many of which affect us without our knowledge regarding the same.


The aroma enters our nose and connects with cilia, the fine hair inside the nose lining. The receptors in the cilia are linked to the olfactory lobe which is at the end of the smell tract. The end of the tract is in turn connected to the brain itself. Smells are converted by cilia into electrical impulses that are transmitted to the brain through olfactory system. All the impulses reach the limbic system. Limbic system is that part of the brain, which is associated with our moods, emotions, memory and learning. All the smell that reaches the limbic system has a direct chemical effect on our moods.


The molecular sizes of the essential oils are very tiny and they can easily penetrate through the skin and get into the blood stream. It takes anything between a few seconds to two hours for the essential oils to enter the skin, and within four hours, the toxins get out of the body through urine, perspiration and excreta.


Aroma oils work like magic for stress-related prob-lems, psychosomatic disorders, skin infections, hair loss, inflammations and pains arising from muscular or skeletal disorders.


Essential oils are safe to use. The only caution being they should never be used directly because some oils may irritate sensitive skin or cause photosensitivity. They should be blended in adequate proportion with the carrier oils. A patch test is necessary to rule out any reactions.


Application Methods: Essential oils can be utilized in a myriad of ways, such as topically, ingesting or internal and the most common inhalations.


Topical Applications: When using natural products, only your body knows how it is going to respond; therefore, watch for any signs of skin irritation or side effects. Essential oils are soluble with the lipids found in the skin and can penetrate the skin surface and be absorbed into the lymph and circulatory systems. They may be worn as perfumes, ointments, cologne, and can be applied undiluted or diluted using a carrier oil or other base. As a rule, due to the con-centrated and potency of pure essential oils, dilution in a carrier is highly recommended for beginners or for those people with sensitive, fair skin, or applications of the face, neck and other sensitive areas and also if you are trying a new oil or blend of oils. Please be careful with children or infants as the dilution’s necessary are very minute. When in doubt, always consult.


Baths: Seven to eight drops of essential oil in 30 ml of carrier oil or honey. Add this to running water and mix well before getting in. Be sure to check the safety info for the essential oils that you choose.


Foot baths: Up to six drops in a bowl or footbath of warm water. Soak for approx. 10 minutes. This is great for varicose veins, swollen ankle or tired aching legs.


Compresses: Hot or cold. Five to eight drops of essential oil in a basin filled with either hot or cold water. Agitate the water and place a cotton cloth on top of the water to collect the floating oil. Gently squeeze excess water out and apply directly and immediately to affected area. Wrap another towel over the compress and leave until it reaches body temperature. This can be repeated over and over for relief of pain, headache or to reduce inflammation.


Massage: Add 15–22 drops of essential oil to a 30 ml of carrier oil for a full body massage. Always massage in an upward motion and towards the heart for best effect.


Inhalation Applications: This is one of the simplest and effective methods of dispersing essential oils into the air. Inhalations are a method of introducing essential oils to the lungs via the nose and throat. This can have great benefit for respiratory problems, sinus congestion, flu, coughs, colds, catarrh and sore throats. Use this method once or twice a day.


Facial Steams: Two to three drops of oil into a bowel of boiled water. Drape a towel over your head and lean over the bowl to inhale the steam deeply while keeping eyes shut. Inhale slowly at first, then breathe deeper and deeper. Breathe through your mouth for throat problems, and inhale through your nose for sinus congestion.


Atomizers: Add 12–20 drops of essential oils to distilled water in a spray bottle. Shake well before using and mist on face or into the air.


Vaporizers: 10–12 drops in the top of the vaporizer for a normal size room.


Nebulizers: This electrical unit is designed to disperse the essential oils in a micro-fine mist. This means that the molecules of oil will hang in the air for much longer due to the minuscule weight of the particles. Research has shown that diffusing in this way may help to reduce bacteria, fungus, mold and unpleasant odours. It not only makes the air fresh, but it also helps you to relax, relieves tension and creates an atmosphere of harmony and peace-ful tranquillity.


Direct Inhalation: Put 3 drops of essential oil into the palm of your hand and rub hands together briefly, and then quickly inhale deeply for greater inhalation. Relieves sinus congestion and is quite invigorating.


Essential oils have being used by the people for thou-sand years; it has great potential to use in modern days. Appropriate method of cultivation and distillation certainly yield good quality essential oil. The more an essential oil is interfered physically or chemically, the less clinical value it will have. This can be overcome by means of suitable evaluation technique.


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