Q. What is aromatherapy, and what is its medicinal value?
A. Aromatherapy is the science of using the essential oils of plants for physical and emotional well-being. Scents from plants have been used for centuries for these purposes; they are mentioned in the Bible, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and the Hindu vedas. Today, it is thought that some plants produce essential oils to protect themselves from plant-eating insects and animals.
In humans, scents can have a powerful effect on emotions because the olfactory nerve, which is responsible for the sense of smell, has a direct connection with the limbic center (or emotional center) of the brain.
According to the November-December 2004 issue of American Scientist, “scents have a way of jolting us into recalling deeply seated memories. The whiff of a plant’s fragrance might bring to mind childhood experiences, evoking a sense of time and place more powerful than any other stimulus.”
Scents may also have calming effects on the nervous system, and potent medicinal properties as well. Because essential oils are concentrated extracts (they can be 75 to 100 times more concentrated than the plant they were derived from), they can have strong therapeutic effects when used correctly.
They can be used to benefit the respiratory system, assist digestion, help heal skin conditions, decrease joint pain, and alleviate depression. The following are some of the most commonly used therapeutic aromatherapy oils and their uses.
• Lavender oil is used for anxiety and insomnia. It also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
• Rose oil is used for grief and depression. It can also soothe and moisten the skin.
• Peppermint oil is used to help relieve digestive problems such as nausea, bloating and gas. It can also be used for achy joints, or as an expectorant for congested sinuses.
• Tea tree oil is used for its antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties.
Essential oils can be applied in many ways. You can use an atomizer to disperse them in a room, or add a few drops to your bath. You can do a steam inhalation with essential oils such as peppermint for respiratory conditions. Essential oils can also be applied directly to your skin after diluting them (for example, mix 15 drops of essential oil in one ounce of almond oil). An excellent resource is the book “Aromatherapy: A Lifetime Guide to Healing with Essential Oils” by Valerie Cooksley.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com