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Aromatherapy: Titillating the Senses

Anish Chandy
Aromatherapy is a relatively recent technique, which uses natural oils extracted from various parts of a plant to improve your health through sensory stimulation. Learn more about the therapy and its benefits.
Aromatherapy literally means curative treatment by means of fragrance. It refers to a particular branch of herbal medicine that uses concentrated plant oils called essential oils to improve physical and emotional health, and to restore balance. Each of these oils, has its own natural fragrance and gentle healing action. This makes it one of the most pleasant and popular alternative healing therapies. The pure essences of aromatic plants have been prized for thousands of years for their health-giving properties and scents.


It was 4500 BC, when the Chinese discovered plants with medicinal properties; they extracted the oils from these plants and used it as offerings to the Gods. Other than religious purposes, it was also used for preservation of corpses to prepare them for the next world.

Early Use

The oils played an important role in the rise in popularity of baths and massage, and body culture in Greece. Around 1000 AD, Arabians successfully distilled rose essence and they became the world's center for production of perfume.
The medicinal properties of the oils were first highlighted in Western civilization in 14th and 15th century, when plague broke out in Europe and Asia. In order to disinfect various places, resins and oils of some aromatic plants were burned at these locations.
It was however a French chemist, Rene Maurice Gattefosse, who coined the word aromatherapy after being impressed by the way his hand which was accidentally burnt in the laboratory, quickly healed when he immersed it in lavender oil.

How Aromatherapy Works

Aromatherapy restores the harmony of the body and mind by working on the senses of touch and smell. Essential oils that are inhaled into the lungs are believed to offer both psychological and physical benefits; there is a dual action where the aroma of the natural essential oil stimulates the brain to trigger a reaction, and its natural constituents (naturally occurring chemicals) are drawn into the lungs.
Some of the common oils used are Lemon, Lavender, Bergamot, Juniper, Ylang-Ylang and Chamomile. It entails the passage of essential oils into the body to alter body chemistry, support body systems, and improve moods and emotions.

Effects of Aromatherapy

The oils can either be massaged or inhaled. Massaging oils into the skin ensures that the small molecules of oils get absorbed in the pores of the skin as well as into the bloodstream, and later on to every part of the body.

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Manipulating the soft tissues of the body has been shown to release emotional and physical tension, relieve pain, promote healthy circulation, and restore the balance to maintain a good state of health.
During inhaling, receptors in the nose convert smells into electrical impulses, which are transmitted to the limbic system of the brain affecting our moods and emotions, and improving mental alertness and concentration.

Essential Oil Sources

The oils are extracted from various plants and flowers processes such as Steam Distillation where steam is used to release the essential oils from the plants and then condensed to a liquid.
Another more expensive technique is the Carbon Dioxide Gas Extraction method where compressed CO2 gas is passed through the plant material, that converts the components into a solution. The most common practice is Maceration, where seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and fruit peels are pressed at low heat.

Modern Uses of Essential Oils

The prevalence of various lifestyle diseases coupled with the spread of information about aromatherapy through mediums such as the Internet, the number of practitioners is constantly rising. It is being used for skin care, hygiene, body treatments, mood enhancement, aphrodisiac, insect repellent, room freshener etc.


The use of aromatherapy for enhancing sex lives, has been well documented. It forms an integral part of massage rituals between couples. This is a time when both partners allow an intuitive choice to guide them towards a blend of oils that are most appealing to them.
They have a warming and enveloping quality, freeing the mind of the mundane and opening it to various exotic possibilities. Anise is a common favorite because of the licorice smell. Other choices are Cardamom, Cinnamon, Clove, etc.

Stress Busters

Oils such as Eucalyptus, Jasmine and Rosemary serve as mood enhancers and make the person cheerful and relaxed. Lavender, Marjoram and Peppermint are used when the muscles stiffen after a long day at work.
Orange, Geranium and Fennel ensure that dehydration is staved off. There are seasonal blends where different oils are blended together to provide warmth in cold climes.
However, one must be cautious in the choice of aromatherapy products. Not all ready-made products labeled are pure and natural. There are many myths that surround aromatherapy; some practitioners have called it the cure for AIDS and cancer.
It has not been conclusively proved that it can cure such serious diseases, however it can help enhance a cancer patient's quality of life by improving the patient's mood, calming their fears and help ease nausea during chemotherapy treatments.
Aromatherapy is a complementary alternative health modality. Its current use is not intended to replace standard medical care, but is meant to complement it.