Aromatherapy is the art and science of healing common ailments using the almost magical curative properties of natural essential oils and massage. The techniques of aromatherapy, of massaging these oils into the body, have successfully been used for generations. Modern science has only recently rediscovered the powerful revitalizing effects of these natural oils on both the body and the mind.

This is a wonderful way of experiencing the many benefits of essential oils, but you may wonder what these little magic oils are. They are substances extracted from the roots, stalks, flowers, leaves or fruit of a plant and have numerous and powerful healing properties. Essential oils are also known as aromatherapy oils, so don’t be confused if you are looking for one and can only find the other- they are the same thing.

I know from several years’ experience of treating people just like you and how the stress and strain brought about by our hectic lifestyle can have a detrimental effect on our well-being.

Fortunately, this is where aromatherapy can come to rescue! Everyone from a tiny baby to grandma can enjoy the gentle experience of this therapy.

An ancient concept in modern age

The roots of this therapy can be traced back to the early Egyptian empire 5,000 years ago. Clay tables use to order the essential oils of myrrh and cypress, dated 1800 BC were found in Babylon. So although no one is quiet certain how or when this therapy originated it is definitely not a recent discovery.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest the ancient Egyptians used essential oils for embalming the dead bodies. All the oils have antiseptic properties and would have greatly slowed down the decomposition of the body. The Egyptians pass on their knowledge to the ancient Greeks, who used essential oils in their medical treatments.

The Romans used essential oils more lavishly to beautify themselves. They would rub them into their skins both before and after bathing, and use them to perfume their clothes and hair. Eventually the Romans brought their knowledge to Britain. During the great Plague of the Middle Ages people wore pomanders impregnated with essential oils, churches were fumigated with frankincense and pepper, and incense was continually burn in houses. Aromatic substances were used everywhere as they were the most effective antiseptic available at that time. Glove makers supposedly escaped the Black Death because they were protected by the essential oils they use to perfume gloves. Also, up until the nineteenth century physicians would carry little containers filled with essential oils on their walking canes, believing these would protect them from contagious diseases. Sadly, during the nineteenth century, essences were copied chemically to lower their cost. This resulted in the loss of their therapeutic properties.

In the early twentieth century, research began in earnest once again. One important person was the French scientist Rene Maurice Gattefosse, who discovered for himself just how healing essential oils can be. He badly burned his hand and quickly immersed it in lavender essential oil, the nearest available cool liquid. Amazed at how quickly the burn healed, with no sign of a scar, he continued to research the oils much further and also coined the term aroma therapy. During the First World War he experimented with essential oils on soldiers wounds and found that they accelerated the healing process. He continued to research into the healing powers of essential oils and classified their effects on the human nervous system, metabolism, vital organs and endocrine system.


Regular use of aromatherapy is a gentle, effective way of maintaining good health. In old Eastern medicine, people visited their physicians in order to stay well, believing in the old adage “prevention is better than cure.”

Today we can help our bodies to function more efficiently, and alleviate the effects of stress and tension, by using aromatherapy in a number of different ways. Most of the treatments are simple enough for everyone to try at home.


An aromatherapy bath is a lovely way to round off a tiring, stressful day. When essential oils are added to water they stimulate the skin and have a muscle relaxing effect. If you choose uplifting oil, an aromatherapy bath can be a great pick-me-up. I find lemon essential oil mixed with peppermint is good for this and helps soothe aching feet.

Aromatherapy baths can help:

Nervous tension



Muscular aches and pains

Colds and flu

Menstrual (period) pains


Few conditions respond extremely well to essential oil inhalation. I am sure we have all tried putting our head over a bowl of steaming water mixed with friar’s balsam to try to clear the stuffy nose. Well, we can use aromatherapy in the same way. There are many different oils to choose from and all of them are relieving and pleasant. Steaming with essential oils can also be used to deep-cleanse and moisten the face, helping to maintain a healthy, supple skin. The oils can also be inhaled from a handkerchief or tissue; very useful for carrying around to relieve a cold or headache. You can also try a few drops on your pillow. It is marvelous how this can give enough relief to allow you a decent night’s sleep.


Aromatherapy compresses can be helpful in the treatment of:


Muscular aches and pains

Irritated skin conditions

Add 10 drops of essential oil to approximately half pint (300 ml) of water. Soak the compress in this water and apply on the affected area. Occasionally neat oil on a small compress can be very effective, especially for abscesses and bruises.


Essential oil burners allow you to perfume a room and improve your well being at the same time. Depending on the oil you choose you can create a warm, relaxing atmosphere or a refreshing, zesty, uplifting one. Also, by using eucalyptus oil, say, in the burner you can relieve cold symptoms and help keep the germs at bay from others in your home.


This is the most relaxing and therapeutic way to experience aromatherapy by all. Essential oils are blended and then worked into the body using massage techniques that stimulate the whole system while improving the circulation and relaxing the nervous system. A professional aromatherapy treatment usually lasts for around one and a half hours and is a wonderful experience that I would recommend to anyone.


By now, you may be wondering how these potent little oils are produced. As I mentioned before, they are obtained from different parts of plants, shrubs and trees and the amount of essential oil in each plant is minute. Just imagine: it takes 2,000 pounds (900 kilos) of rose petals to produce just 1 pound (half kilo) of rose oil!

Try squeezing the peel of any citrus fruit, such as a lemon or orange, and you will extract a tiny amount of essential oil. This is called hand expression and it is still used today to extract citrus oil. The oil is collected into a sponge which is then squeezed into a container when saturated.

The most popular method of extraction nowadays is distillation. The oil bearing parts of the chosen plant, for example the flowers and leaves, are packed into a distilling vessel which is then closed and boiled with water. The boiling water causes the oil cells to burst. The oil and water separate and essential the essential oil can then be drawn off. There are different methods of distillation, including steam and dry distillation.

The water separated from the oil always carries the oil’s fragrance and is often sold as a separate product. You may have used rose water or orange flower water as a skin freshener, or perhaps even as a flavoring for cakes or desserts.

If you think about it, it is easy to see why the oils vary so much in availability and price. For instance, lavender is easy to grow and has a high yield of flowers, making lavender oil reasonably priced. On the other hand, roses have a very low oil yield, making rose oil one of the most expensive to produce. In fact, both rose and jasmine oil are truly worth more than their weight in gold!

The quality of the oil is also influenced by the climatic and soil conditions in which the plant has grown. French and English lavender therefore produce slightly different oils.


A selection of essential oils is now available from health food shops, chemists and by mail order. When you are buying them, be careful to choose essential oils, not perfumed oils. Although these may well smell delicious they are not beneficial for aromatherapy.

An essential oil is:

-Thin and watery rather than oily

-Swift to evaporate and it won’t leave a grease mark on paper

-Overpoweringly scented when neat, which can be quiet unpleasant

Perfumed oils will always smell pleasant whereas essential oils often have more of the effect of smelling salts.

All the essential oils fall into three basic categories:


These oils evaporate very quickly. They are generally uplifting and stimulating, with a greenish, fresh aroma.


These are used to help with most bodily functions and body’s metabolism.


These are extremely relaxing, sometimes sedative and generally have a lovely, warm aroma.

You will notice essential oils are always sold in tinted glass bottles (if not, be suspicious). This is because they are special oils that need a little care. They are usually damaged by light and should always be stored in a dark, cool place. Be careful to keep the lids tightly screwed on your bottles; otherwise you will be disappointed to discover your oils have been evaporated into thin air.


Pure essential oils are hardly ever used neat but instead are blended into carrier oil. This does just what the name suggests: it acts as a base for the essential oil and is a lubricant, so making massage easier and more effective.

Carrier oils are always vegetable oil in origin. They should be natural, unprocessed oils which have not been treated with chemicals. Any vegetable oil can be used as a carrier but some are more suitable than others. For instance, virgin olive oil could be used but its smell would overpower your chosen essential oil and also it is quiet expensive.

I suggest you try raiding your food cupboards! Look for oil which is fine textured with little or no color or smell. I find the following are ideal as general carrier oils and are all easily available in most supermarkets and health food shops.

Soya bean oil

Grape seed oil

Safflower oil

Sunflower oil

If your skin is very dry, richer vegetable oils can be mixed with any of the above oils. Avocado oil is very lubricating, or you could try sweet almond oil. Wheat germ oil is excellent for helping scar tissue healing or for very dehydrated skin.

However, it tends to have a rather bread like smell so be careful to mix it with one of the plainer carrier oils. Wheat germ oil acts as a preservative, too, so add a few drops of it when mixing a blend of essential oils into a carrier oil to prolong the shelf life.


A general rule of thumb for blending in aromatherapy is to use six drops of an essential oil to every 2 tsp (10 ml) of carrier oil. If blending the oils to use on your face I would suggest that you decrease the amount of essential oil to four drops.

Remember, essential oils are most potent in very small quantities. Adding more than a few drops to your carrier oil will not increase their beneficial effect. It could even do the exact opposite. A little essential oil will go a long, long way.

Blending is fun and there is no end to the experimenting you can do. Last winter I found a mixture of orange, cinnamon and clove oils gave a lovely, spicy Christmas aroma. So I used it as a room freshener scent during the festive season. It’s a good idea to label your blends once you have mixed them, as it is not easy to recognize the individual essential oils once several have been blended together. Also, you should date the bottle and try to use the contents within a couple of months while they are still fresh.

Actually, it is interesting to try to decipher the different aromas in a blend. Try it! Usually, the top note oil will be the one you pick out first as this is the most volatile. Middle notes can be harder to determine. Base notes come through last, and are heavy and warm smelling. In time you will find it easier to pick out the individual aromas, rather like a wine taster with various wines.

When I was training I remember one of the tutors chose oil to suit the personality of each student on her course. I found this quiet fascinating, and often now find myself doing the same thing. I was Melissa, by the way- a very cheering oil sometimes called heart’s delight or the elixir of life. It is a good general tonic that has been used medicinally for several hundred years. Once you have become familiar with the different oils, you might like to see which oil most matches your personality, and then go on to pair up oils with the characters of your family and friends. You will find it fascinating and so will they!


Aromatherapy FAQs

Aromatherapy during Labor

Aromatherapy during pregnancy

Aromatherapy Essential oils


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