Aromatherapy is a modern name for the ancient knowledge of healing and improving health using fragrant, natural ingredients. These ingredients, called essential oils, are found in herbs, plants, flowers, fruits and the bark, roots or resins of some trees.

Essential oils give the aroma to the plant, but they also contain dozens of complex chemicals that seem to do everything from beautifying skin to numbing a headache or speeding healing. Even if you think that you have never come across the oils before, all of us are affected by them each day. Every time that you peel an orange the essential oil squirts out of the tiny pockets in the skin, and because it is so volatile it evaporates into the air, releasing it's bitter sweet, tangy, citrus smell. Whether you notice or not, the orange has a refreshing but relaxing effect. When you take flowers to someone who is ill, you are using aromatherapy to help them feel better. The essential oils of Rose, Jasmine, Geranium, and Lavender which might be contained within a spray of flowers are all relaxing oils that settle the nervous system and instantly improve the spirit. When you use pure essential oils though, the beneficial properties are concentrated, and have an even greater effect on! body and mind rather than you just get from sniffing a spray of flowers.

Essential oils are so complex and magical that no-one really knows what they are. Enthusiasts and romantics say that they are the life force of a plant, similar to the human spirit. Researchers say that they are a mixture of organic compounds, such as ketones, terpenes, esters, alcohols, aldehydes, and thousands of other molecules, many too complex or small to classify under a microscope. What they do rather than what they are, is much easier to understand. The molecules of oils are so minute that they can penetrate human skin and enter the bloodstream and organs, before eventually being excreted. Scientists have found that the same oils gather in the same parts of the body time after time, within a few hours of being massaged into the skin. This is what makes them unique and very therapeutic. Very few things can penetrate human skin. The fact that essential oils have healing properties is beyond doubt. Botanicals are found more and more in everyday life. Aspirin comes from th! e Willow tree, the Australian tea-tree contains a germ killer a dozen times more effective than carbolic, and carrots contain beta-carotene, now known to be an important weapon in the fight against Cancer. The more that scientists study plants and their properties, the more benefits they discover from every organic compound in nature. Everything is there for a reason, it seems. The most interesting discovery of all though is that the latest research confirms the herbal traditions healers have practiced for centuries.

There are many ways of using the oils. One method is particularly appropriate for this time of year, Inhaling, it can be beneficial to all of us. When you smell an oil it affects you in many ways. Firstly, the aroma itself immediately registers in the limbic area of the brain where we also store memories and emotions. A whiff of antiseptic can make you think of hospital and possibly afraid, if that is what your memory of antiseptics is. The smell of lavender can make you think of your Grandmother and having a cuddle, if she used it as a perfume, as well as safe and happy. That is why you love or hate a smell and why we are all different in our interpretations of aromas. The miniscule chemical elements that make up each molecule of an oil are absorbed through the nasal membrane and can for instance relax the nervous system, make you feel more alert or change your mood. Inhaling a relaxing smell can lower the blood pressure and slow the heartbeat. Inhaling oils is a quick and ea! sy way of enjoying their therapeutic properties. You can improve your sense of well-being and anyone who enters your home will benefit too !!

Inhalation.

Inhaling the oils with warm steam in a small space means that you get maximum benefits in minimum time. It is ideal for treating coughs and colds, or for treating your skin to a steam facial. The best method is to place 1 litre of boiling water in a heat retaining bowl, add five drops of essential oil to the surface of the water. Bend forwards over the bowl and drape a large towel over your head to trap the evaporating oils and steam. Inhale the vapours for a few minutes, then add a little more boiling water to evaporate off any remaining essential oil. You may also inhale undiluted oils from a tissue or handkerchief, but only in moderation. Two drops of iol tipped directly onto the fabric is enough to last for several hours. Place it on your pillow at night or in your breast pocket or bra during the day.

The best oils for inhalation are:

chamomile for sleeplessness
eucalyptus for chest/nasal congestion
frankincense for depression and anxiety
myrrh for sore throats and coughs
peppermint for energy and concentration,nausea too.
Room Vaporisers.

You can buy essential oil burners which have a candle holder under a saucer like structure. Fill the saucer with hot water and add up to 8 drops of essential oil and light the candle to keep the water hot enough to make the oil evaporate. They scent the room quickly and only need to be placed on a steady, safe surface out of the reach of children or pets. Top off with water and oil every three to four hours. You can make your own version by standing a saucer of hot water on top of a central heating radiator, although this does not evaporate the oils as quickly as a candle, it has more direct heat. You can also buy a ring made of metal, porcelain or compressed card which will sit on a lightbulb and gently heat the 4 or 5 drops of oil placed on them. They scent a room quickly and almost as effectively as the burners. Electric diffusers (known as nebulizers) are useful as oils can be diffused without heating and thus altered. It is better to use only a single oil to scent a room, as the combination of more than one in this instant don't keep their individual aroma's very well.

The best oils for vapourizing are:

bergamot; uplifting,refreshing and deodorising.
eucalyptus; chest/nasal congestion,mental alertness.
geranium; energising yet relaxing.
jasmine; euphoria,confidence,dinner parties.
lavender; tension,nerves,tiredness.
mandarin; sleeplessness,soothing,calming.
neroli; calming,soothing,sensual.
peppermint; energy,alertness.
sandalwood; relaxing,mellowing,romantic.
ylang-ylang; hypnotic,sensual,uplifting.
rose; balancing,uplifting.

Not only can you make your house smell fresh, but you can also purify the air by adding essential oils to the dustbag of your vacuum cleaner. Place five drops of oil on a cotton wool ball inside the cleaner, against the exit filter where the air blows out of the machine. To replace or refresh the fragrance, just replace it with a new cotton wool ball as often as you wish. The best oils to use in this manner are:

bergamot, citronella, lavender, lemon, peppermint, pine, rosemary, tea-tree.

Just as we all develop favourite foods, we also have favourite smells. These stay with us wherever we go, evoking memories both good and bad. I wonder how many of you have memories from your childhood which can be triggered by an aroma? Aromas have been known to stir the most beautiful poems and stories within the minds of us mere mortals !!

Author's Bio: 

?2000 Kim Newman Kim Newman is a registered R.N. in the UK, and has been studying aromatherapy, natural skincare products and holistic health for many years. She can be reached at
http://www.geocities.com/naturesskincare2001