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The importance of synergy in aromatherapy

Did you know that the vast majority of people still rely on their indigenous system of medicine and uses of herbal drugs? It is only really the western world that relies heavily upon modern medicine as we have access to it. Medicinal plant drug discovery continues to provide new and important leads against various conditions.


Interest in herbal drugs and natural medicine is currently undergoing a renaissance. Science is catching up to what some spiritual civilisations have known for centuries. That is not to say there is not a place for the huge technological advances in modern medicine. We wouldn’t be here today without them.


It is an exciting time to be an aromatherapist, more and more studies and research are being done and giving us answers to back up the traditional use of our beloved essential oils. We have seen them working in treatments for clients for years but now we have journals and studies to support their efficacy.


The natural chemical complexity of essential oils derived from plants makes them an ideal form of pharmacological therapy. However more often than not researchers look at single chemical constituents for example limonene which is a terpene or linalool which is an alcohol. These studies are still being conducted with essential oils in mind but they are not using the complete essential oil that we do as aromatherapists.



This can still be useful research to us as it helps us to understand how and why an essential oil does what it does and help us predict the properties of an untested oil although this is an assumption we create. Also sometimes oils don’t always fit their chemical “family” so understanding a single component can help us find where they fit.


In the research process there is often a common mistake in assuming if substance A is biologically active on its own and achieves an action such as a successful anti-bacterial that it will continue to have similar pharmacological activities when blended with substances B and C. Some essential oils can have as many as 300 different chemical constituents and when these are all together within an oil they can act differently. Researchers and scientists don’t take into account the life force of the oil and its synergy.


The essential oil constituents possess synergy. Synergy is defined as the interaction of two or more agents so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects. This synergy if left in its natural state and not adulterated in anyway is how aromatherapists use essential oils and is directly what the plant created. There is no simple direct link between the constituents of essential oils and their actions and as therapists and consumers of essential oils we need to view an oil as a whole entity not just based on one of its components.

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