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What is Aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is defined in the dictionary as the therapeutic use of plant-derived, aromatic essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being. It is sometimes used in combination with massage and other therapeutic techniques as part of a holistic treatment approach.


The term aromatherapy was coined in 1928 by a French chemist, René Maurice Gattefossé, to describe the therapeutic use of aromatic substances (essential oils) in wound healing. Gattefossé discovered the healing properties of essential plant oils accidentally; after burning his hand in a laboratory accident, he found that lavender oil healed his burns in a very short time. He then experimented with plant oils in treating soldiers wounded in World War I, and found that there were several essential oils that speeded up physical healing. As the practice of aromatherapy expanded, it came to incorporate a holistic emphasis on healing or invigorating all levels of a person's being.


One could say that aromatherapy is as old as man’s relationship to the plant kingdom and so the beginning of aromatherapy is shrouded in the mists of time. No one knows the identity of the first person to recognise the healing properties of plants but detailed recipes using aromatic compounds are given in the Old Testament and well sealed urns filled with aromatic resins have been unearthed in the tombs of Pharaohs. Extensive therapeutic use of essential oils is recorded in ancient China and India and much of the Middle East. Roman soldiers on campaign had their wounds treated with honey and myrrh.

The concept of aromatherapy involves the use of oils extracted from certain plants, known as essential oils. These oils are extracted from various parts of aromatic plants and trees, using a variety of methods namely steam distillation, cold expression, and solvent extraction. Essential oils are highly volatile and evaporate quickly if left in the open air. When left in the open air, the oils create an aromatic scent, as reflected in the name aromatherapy.


When used in its therapeutic sense aromatherapy is the holistic art and science of choosing, blending and applying essential oils to heal disharmony and imbalance in an individual patient after a duly conducted consultation and assessment. Holistic aromatherapy recognises that the various aspects of a person – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social – cannot be understood in isolation from each other, nor from the environment. Furthermore holistic aromatherapy recognises the importance of wholeness with regard to its material for example it uses the whole essence extracted from a plant.


In conclusion aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that treats the individual as a whole using volatile liquid plant material, known as essential oils and other aromatic compounds from plants for the purpose of affecting a person's mood or health. The knowledge used has been refined over the centuries from ancient times and aromatherapy is used to promote wellness in the body rather than be specifically used for when problems occur and throws the body out of its homeostatic state.



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