Our 5 senses give us the means to know the world around us. And although some of us make do with less than all 5, our very survival is linked to the use of our senses. We share this trait of being sensate beings with every other moving creature on the planet, all of us operating our bodies and navigating our world via the use of some or all of these senses. Without utilizing our vision, our hearing, our fingers & toes, our tongues and our nose we would be literally and figuratively lost in an atmosphere of blankness.

Fortunately, our world is not a blank canvas as we have been provided with a cacophony of sounds, a rainbow of sights, a perfumery of aromas, a banquet of flavors and textures galore. Our senses fully engaged, we now have a million thoughts which we are ready to communicate to ourselves and anyone else who will listen.

Take away our 5 senses and doctors/scientists would agree that although the vital signs of breath and heart beat can be sustained, there is no vitality. A blanket depression sets in, digestion shuts down, nervous system shuts down, immune system becomes weak.

To a small degree, this shutting down is what occurs when humans spend too much time in a routine of driving, doing rote tasks on the computer, watching TV, breathing stale air in sealed buildings and eating synthetic food or food that isn’t fresh. When our reality becomes stagnant, we become less alive.

To quickly bring the vitality back, you can employ the art of aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is the art and science of using plant chemicals (from plant essences) to bring about a positive change in the body. Plant essences are the volatile plant oils (usually extracted via steam distillation) that contain a variety of chemical components which have certain effects on the body. These chemical components give clues as to their usefulness. For instance, terpenes are extremely anti-viral (i.e. limonene found in lemon oil) and anti- inflammatory (i.e. chamazulene found in chamomile). Esters are sedative and anti-fungal (i.e. found in chamomile and lavender), alcohols are anti-septic, anti-viral and uplifting (rose and lavender). Phenols are extremely strong smelling, stimulating to the central nervous system and anti-bacterial (i.e. oregano, clove), oxides are expectorant (ease congestion – i.e. eucalyptus, rosemary). Aldehydes are mood balancing. Uplifting yet sedative. Essences containing these seem to “feel” just right. (Lemon verbena, lemon balm, lemongrass).

Many plants already have a synergistic blend of phytochemicals within them that make them perfect for certain uses. Other herbal essences can be made more effective by blending two or more plants together to boost a desired effect. For instance, to boost the expectorant action of eucalyptus, add rosemary. To boost the sleep-inducing effect of lavender, add chamomile. Complicated blends are not necessary and unless you are extremely adept at what you are doing, the more essences you add, chances are some of them will arbitrarily cancel out some of the intentions of the formula.

The History of Aromatherapy is the History of Phytotherapy
Aromatherapy has this in common with pharmacy and modern medicine. Both sprung from man’s use of plants to nurture and heal himself. Although some uses of aromatherapy (and modern medicine) were employed back in ancient Egypt, the word “aromatherapie” was coined by Dr. Rene Gattefosse in 1928. While studying the chemical components of essential oils, the French scientist suffered a lab burn and was able to quickly and thoroughly heal it with pure lavender essence. Aromatherapy was employed in ancient China and became part of Greek medicinal practices. Hippocrates (who should be viewed as the founder of “holistic” medicine) was quoted not only as saying “First, do no harm” but also “the way to health is to have a scented massage and an aromatic bath every day”. Still, we have the French to thank for most of the scientific research that has enlightened what once was a mostly intuitive art. Paul Belaiche, MD (Chief of Phytotherapy at the University of Paris) studied with Jean Valnet (World War II Army Physician) and published a three volume clinical study on the medicinal uses of aromatherapy to combat a wide range of infections and degenerative diseases. Finally in 1977 Robert Tisserand published the first English language book on aromatherapy bringing to light a practice that was well-known in Europe to the States for the first time.

Aromatherapy in the Market Place:
While in the “pharmacies” of England, France, Germany, China and India, both herbal and aromatherapeutic products are widely available, in the U.S., they are not. But wait, you’ve seen the word aromatherapy in every drug store, bath store and candle store you’ve stepped into. That doesn’t mean they are aromatherapeutic and the majority of them are not. Many mainstream cosmetic companies are cashing in on the trend and the word aromatherapy has become nothing more than a marketing term. So, the “All Natural Aromatherapy Bath Gel” you just purchased at the Bath Store at the Mall should actually be called the “Sort of Natural with chemicals and some plant essences but also synthetic fragrances” and the disclaimer should read: Petroleum based oils and waxes in this product may or may not be blocking the entry (ingestion) of the herbal essences in this blend, therefore this product is not therapeutic.

Synthetic Fragranced vs. Plant Essence:
If the label on the bottle says “fragrance”, you are bathing with a man-made odor cocktail that may include up to 4000 different chemical components including “phthlates”. Phthalates have been removed from children’s plastic toys because studies show that they adversely affect reproductive organs (VERIFY). Phthlates are still found in women’s hair coloring, nail polishes and in some fragranced toiletries. Products containing synthetic fragrances cause more registered complaints in terms of allergic reactions and skin irritation than those without synthetic fragrance (although some essential oils also cause allergic reactions).
While there are some “psychological” studies that have included synthetic fragrances in their findings, all the medical, botanical and chemical findings to date are based on pure plant essences. We know the chemical breakdown of many plants and how they interact with our human body chemistry. We do not know how they change when mixed with synthetics or how our bodies react to a mix of chemicals or a mix of chemicals with plants. The most effective aromatherapeutic products will contain natural ingredients along with the essences.

Natural vs. Chemical and Modern Inventions vs. Mother Nature

Plants have been ingested for thousands of years. Man-made chemicals have only been ingested since about 1820. In the past 75 years we have introduced tens of thousands of brand new chemicals into our environment and into our bodies (100,000 new chemicals generated by Dow Chemical Company alone Sometimes, we find that the chemical or chemical combination should not have been sold for human consumption (as was the case with Dursban agricultural pesticide and Vioxx arthritis medicine).

The purpose of discussing these “unpleasantries” is to point out that maybe aromatherapy is no more controversial than pharmacy. Maybe for all the science and control we exercise over our environment, it can’t really be “controlled”. Maybe human beings aren’t as smart as we think we are. Maybe FDA regulations and teams of corporate scientists backed by corporate funds don’t come up with a products that is any more exact or careful than the products that Mother Nature is providing. Maybe natural solutions found outside of a laboratory are not always harmful. Maybe the health of our environment (our planet) is completely entwined with the health of our own bodies. Maybe we should slow down and go backwards a bit before it’s too late. Herbs have been used as medicine for 5000 years. In the 1990’s when the world’s population was estimated at 5.8 billion, it was also estimated that 3 billion were dependent on plants as their chief form of medicine.

How to Utilize Aromatherapeutic Essences

Plant essences should never be consumed by mouth. But they can be “ingested” through the skin or via inhalation into the lungs and into the bloodstream from there. Aromatherapy is usually provided in the form of a scented massage (Aromatics are added to vegetable oils (i.e. sunflower, almond, grapeseed, jojoba, coconut) to create a beneficial massage oil. Essences can inhaled from a cotton swab or diffused into the air via a heat diffuser or candle, steam diffuser, fan diffuser or via a nebulizer. Adding essences to a warm bath is a quick way to get them through the skin and into the bloodstream where they will mix with your body’s own chemistry creating balance. Healing plant essences can also be applied via a compress or in an ointment or cream. These methods of delivery are in line with the types of tasks a nurse (and not a typical doctor) would perform. Therefore, aromatherapy is a perfect tool for nurses, therapists of all kinds, mothers and all the caretakers of the world.

Author's Bio: 

Laura Davimes is an herbalist and aromatherapy specialist living in Richmond, VA where she runs an herbal Tea Bar (the Green Lemon). Laura also makes her own line of herbal products and offers herbal lifestyle education through her website