Healing Scents

Seventy-five years ago, French fragrance chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse was in his lab hard at work on a new perfume. Lost in thought while blending some mixtures of essential oils over heat, they suddenly exploded and he burned his arm­­ a frequent occurrence for an absent-minded professor type such as he. Frantic with pain, he plunged his arm into the nearest cold liquid­­ which happened to be a bowl of lavender oil.

Almost immediately he noticed surprising pain relief and instead of requiring the extended healing process he had experienced during recovery from previous burns, this burn healed quickly with minimal discomfort and little or no scarring. He began to form hypotheses about the oil and went on to devote his life to studying the influence of essential oils on health and healing and is known as the "father" of modern day aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is actually a very ancient art. Mary Magdalene anointed Christ's feet with a jar of expensive oil. Known as the perfumers in the pre-renaissance and renaissance times, perfumes were used to cover up body odors. It was noted that during the time of the Black Plague in Europe that perfumers seemed to contract less severe cases, or were not sick at all. Most medicine of the day was seen as magic and little was understood about why or who survived. Perfume, or essential oils were not necessarily used as medicines or as a healing art; they were just common to most households, like hand creme or lip balm would be to our households.

Today aromatherapy is almost a household word. You can buy aromatherapy kits in health food stores, bookstores and gift shops everywhere. Some oils are quite expensive and some are very affordable. Aromatherapy oils, or essential oils, are extracts from woods, leaves, seeds, skins and flower petals. Oils such as peppermint, extracted from the leaf and easily cultivated and grown cost from $5 to $8 for one-third ounce. Other oils like rose, where the oil is extracted from the flower petal, are very expensive­­ costing almost $l00 for a one-third ounce. The reason: it takes 2,000 pounds of rose petals to make one kilo of rose oil. That's a lot of petals! Neroli made from the orange flower petal can cost over $200 for the same small quantity.

Valerie Worwood, British aromatherapist and author of The Fragrant Mind suggests that the average person does not have to have a lot of oils­­ or those which are the most expensive­­ to benefit from their regular use. She suggests that the ten most useful are chamomile, clove, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, peppermint, lemon, rosemary, tea tree, and thyme. You can buy and use a diffuser if you want. Some of the simpler ways of using these oils would be to drip a few drops in your bath water and leave the water sit. Or drip a few drops in a pan of water and sit over the register in the winter or steep on the stove. You can fragrance your candles with these oils, although be careful not to drip them over an open flame and be careful when lighting the candle as some of the oils are quite volatile.

Aromatherapy oils are best used for chronic recurrent ailments­­ such as minor headache, PMS, stress, depression and skin ailments such as athlete's foot, minor abrasions, cuts burns and scrapes.

In my practice of massage I use a fair number of oils for my clients but I do have my favorites. I use tea tree oil for any kind of sinus or upper respiratory infection, peppermint for sore muscles aches and pains, lavender to help people relax and unwind along with chamomile, and lemon or grapefruit to help rejuvenate. The Galesburg Public Library currently has several nice books on the uses of essential oils if you would like to further investigate the growing field of aromatherapy.

Till next time, Rebecca.

This article posted to Zephyr online January 10, 1997
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