Extracted from Aromatherapy
What is Aromatherapy ?
Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of aromatic substances. Therapeutic
use covers both mind and body, whereas aromatic substances tend
to be the essential oils. As a treatment, it is usually combined
with body-contact therapy in the form of massage. Aromatherapy massage
is one of the most relaxing types of massage and is best done with
subdued lighting and gentle background music. The nature of aromatherapy
is as a holistic treatment, restoring balance to mind and body as
well as its specific use in treating a wide range of symptoms.
What are Essential Oils ?
Essential oils are pure, concentrated plant extracts obtained specifically
for their fragrance and therapeutic value. The chemical composition
of these oils is exceedingly complex - often tens or hundreds of
constituent parts. It is now thought that all of these parts play
a vital role in the effectiveness of essential oils and thus the
chemical synthesis of these oils has proved remarkably tricky.
History of Aromatherapy
Examples of common essential oils include lavender oil, rose oil
and peppermint oil.
Aromatherapy, while relatively new to the Western World, goes back
a long way. Although the term essential oil is a recent one,
civilisations have been using incense, perfumes and cosmetics for
thousands of years. Herbs and spices have been used in cooking for
a long time, but their use has often been linked to both religious
and medicinal purposes. Indian literature, dating from around 2000BC
mentions the use of cinnamon, ginger, myrrh, coriander and sandalwood.
The Chinese have a long tradition of alternative medicine. Aromatherapy
is just one of a number of treatments which include acupuncture,
reflexology and herbal remedies. The Egyptians were renowned for
their herbal potions and ointments. Temples were filled with incense.
Corpses were embalmed in oils of cedar and myrrh. Egyptian women
wore perfume. Greece and Rome were introduced to the riches of the
far-away places. Camphor from China, Cinnamon from India, Gums from
Modern Day Aromatherapy
Much of the knowledge gained by earlier civilisations was lost to
Europe during the Dark Ages. The Arabs excelled in the manufacture
of perfumes during the thirteenth century. During the Middle Ages,
infectious diseases such as the plague were fought off with aromatic
plants strewn across floors. Lavender water was available in the
sixteenth century at the local apothecary. It was a time of alchemists
embarking on mystical quests to turn base metals into gold, and
for others to distil the quintessence from aromatic materials.
Not until the end of the seventeenth century was the distinction
between perfumes and aromatics made clear, with alchemy giving way
to chemistry as more and more became understood about the nature
of matter. The scientific revolution of the early nineteenth century
saw the birth of the modern drug industry. During the twentieth
century, essential oils were moved away from therapeutic use into
perfumes, cosmetics and foodstuffs.
In 1928, René-Maurice Gattefossé used the term aromatherapy.
Although a French chemist working in the family's perfumier business,
he became aware of the power of lavender in treating his own severe
burns. He also found that synthetic oils were not as effective as
the pure essential oils found in nature. Even trying to isolate
the active ingredients did not prove very successful. The work was
continued by another French doctor, Dr. Jean Valet, who treated
specific medical and psychiatric disorders with essential oils.
The results were published in 1964.
Extraction of Essential Oils
Essential oils are just one of the products of natural aromatic
substances. There are other fragrance products used in the perfume
industry and these are extracted by other means. Essential oils
can be extracted by...
The aromatic substances are heated with steam and the water and
the oils condensed out in a cold water condensing tube. The oils
float to the surface and can be siphoned off. This method is used
for the majority of oils, for example, lavender, sandalwood and
cinnamon. Some essential oils are redistilled at different temperatures
to obtain further splits in composition. For instance, white, yellow
and brown camphor.
Expression is extraction by pressure. The oils are squeezed out.
Most of the citrus oils are extracted by this method, for instance
lemon and bergamot.
Extraction of Aromatic Materials
The following additional methods are used for the extraction of
Hydrocarbon solvents ( such as petroleum or hexane ) are used to
dissolve the aromatic material. The remaining residue is known as
a concrete and is usually solid in form. A further process
of solvent extraction using ethanol yields an absolute. A
small proportion of non-volatile matter ( wax ) usually remains
which can be removed by molecular distillation. Absolutes are usually
highly concentrated viscous liquids but they may contain up to 2%
of ethanol. Clary sage absolute is a semi-solid.
When the base material is organic but dead, the extraction yields
a resinoid. This base material includes balsams ( eg. benzoin
), resins ( eg. amber ), oleoresins ( eg. turpentine ) and oleo
gun resins ( eg. frankincense and myrrh ). Resinoids range from
liquids to solids. When the resinoid is sufficiently volatile, it
may be steam distilled into an essential oil. Benzoin is so viscous
that this is not possible and the oil is simply a resinoid that
has been dissolved in a suitable liquid.
Once a principal method of extraction from flowers, this method
is virtually obsolete today. The aromatic material is placed on
sheets of glass coated with an odourless fat ( chassis ). The fat
becomes saturated with the aromatic oils which can then be dissolved
out with alcohol. The fragrance-saturated fat is known as a pomade.
The alcohol extractions are known as absolutes.
Essential oils can be liquid, semi-solid ( rose ) or solid ( orris
). Liquid is the most common form at room temperature. Essential
oils dissolve in alcohol, fats and other oils but not in water.
Contrary to popular belief, they are not oily to touch. Being
of a volatile nature, they evaporate on exposure to air and do not
leave an oily residue.
Interaction with the Human Body
Essential oils can be absorbed by the human body in a variety of
ways. The vapour, once inhaled, can trigger neurochemical release
in the brain via receptors in the nose and mouth. Many people are
familiar with the phenomenon of a sudden awareness of past memories
after detecting a particular smell or taste. Although these memories
can be buried deep in the subconscious, they suddenly flood into
view. Of all the five senses, smell has the strongest link into
the subconscious. Vapour can also be absorbed by the blood once
it gets into the lungs. Once in the bloodstream, it can circulate
quickly to all the organs of the body, not just the brain. As a
liquid, essential oils can be taken orally ( not recommended ) with
direct action on the stomach and the small / large intestines. More
usually, oils form part of an aromatherapy massage, in which case
there is an immediate local action on the skin ( epidermis and dermis
) and from there into muscle tissue, joints and the bloodstream.