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Natural Medicine's New Frontier: Aromathearpy

Jul 13, 2008
As the field of natural health, wellness and fitness grows, the use of essential oils in supporting one's health is coming more into the mainstream. Quality essential oils can be found in health food stores and on the internet, along with a great wealth of information. But some folks just hearing of aromatherapy are wondering: Just what are essential oils, where do they come from, and what can they do for me? Well, here's a little primer that may help get you started.

Pure essential oils are distilled from oil sacs found in most structures of plants - the leaves, roots, flowers and more. Almost all essential oils are made up of several, sometimes hundreds of various molecular compounds. The combination and ratios of these compounds give each oil it's particular aromatic and medicinal properties. Essential oils are not just a by-product of plant growth; plants use these oils in a manner similar to those prescribed in medical aromatherapy: to fight infections from microbes, fungi and viruses; to protect themselves from animal invaders; and some suspect they may be used for chemical communication between plants of the same species. While essential oils come from the plant world, they are particularly suited to use in natural health, wellness and fitness programs as their chemistry is remarkably compatible with our own; they are easily absorbed into our bodies, even at the cellular level.

Producing essential oils of the highest grades is truly an art form. It takes a delicate balance of time, temperature and pressure during the distillation process to ensure the most complete range of molecular components is extracted. The finer oils will have the most wonderful aromatic bouquets for this reason - they contain a breadth of compounds when inhaled together give an oil a brilliant aroma. Relatively few essential oils are produced in this manner - many are destined for large manufacturing processes, and will not have the same aromas and therapeutic effects of the highest grade oils.

The use of essential oils by man dates back many thousands of years. Their earliest use is thought around 4500 BC, though it was the ancient Egyptian civilization that developed essential oil production on a grand scale. Roughly 350 liters of oil were found in King Tut's tomb, and essential oils played a significant roll in the embalming process. The Christian Bible contains hundreds of references aromatic oils and incense - perhaps the most well-known being the anointing of the feet of Jesus with Spikenard by Mary Magdalene before his crucifixion. Anointing for spiritual and purification purposes is often mentioned. Other references make note of these oils being used to heal the sick - a testament to the knowledge of the natural healing powers of essential oils.

Modern use of essential oils in natural health, wellness and fitness programs began with the discovery of Lavender's healing properties by a French scientist in the middle of the last century. Lavender was found to have effective healing properties for skin wounds, strong anti-inflammatory properties, and wonderful calming effects when inhaled. Further research has confirmed superior efficacy of essential oils for a broad range of physiological conditions.

Combating infectious illnesses like flu, bacterial and viral infections has been noted by medical aromatherapists as the most promising use of essential oils. Other applications include strong anti-inflammatory effects, powerful antioxidant properties, tissue regeneration, and cleansing of various organs and systems. Many psychological effects have also been studied, including sharpening of one's mental faculties and bringing calm in both adults and children. Here, it is important to find a qualified practitioner or trusted source of information to find the right oil and how to best employ it. Using the wrong oil will likely have no effects, and incorrectly using certain oils can be dangerous. There are many quality texts available online or at your library or bookstore.

Using essential oils is very easy, fun, and can be extremely rewarding. Employing oils is most commonly done using one of these methods: inhalation, topical application, and in certain instances ingestion. Diffusing essential oils with a cold-air nebulizer is best for inhalation, as these units make a fine mist of the oils which are easily absorbed in significant quantities. This method is effective both for psychological effects and support for the respiratory system. Topical application usually involved the dilution of essential oils in a carrier oil to a 5% or less concentration to be used with certain massage techniques. Massage is often used for relief of muscle and joint pain, and also with calming and uplifting psychological results. Topical application will frequently take the form of blends for healing various skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and even revitalizing aging skin. Finally, ingestion - which should only be done with very detailed knowledge from a qualified professional - is often used in the form of oil placed in gel capsules. Peppermint oil is frequently used this way for digestive complaints. There is such a wonderful variety of uses for essential oils; to get the most from them, educate yourself further through courses, texts and knowledgeable practitioners. Most of all, be safe, have fun, and welcome this new edition to your alternative natural health regimen.
About the Author
The author has made available much information about aromatherapy, such as using ginger oil and other therapeutic essential oils.
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