Healing with Fragrance
Written by Dr. Amrita Sharma   

Aromatherapy is the practice of using volatile plant oils, including essential oils for psychological and physical well-being. A form of alternative medicine that uses volatile plant materials known as essential oils and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering a person's mood, cognitive function or health
Essential oils, the pure essence of a plant, have been found to provide both psychological and physical benefits when used correctly and safely.
Aromatherapy may have origins in antiquity with the use of infused aromatic oils, made by macerating dried plant material in fatty oil, heating and then filtering. Many such oils are described by Dioscorides, along with beliefs of the time regarding their healing properties in his De Materia Medica written in the first century. Distilled essential oils have been employed as medicines since the invention of distillation in the eleventh century when Avicenna isolated essential oils using steam distillation. The concept of aromatherapy was first mooted by a small number of European scientists and doctors, in about1907.
A French surgeon, Jean Valnet, pioneered the medicinal uses of essential oils, which he used as antiseptics in the treatment of wounded soldiers during World War II.
Modes of Aromatherapy

• Aerial diffusion: For environmental fragrancing or aerial disinfection.
• Direct inhalation: For respiratory disinfection, decongestion, expectoration as well as psychological effects
• Topical applications: For general massage, baths, compresses, therapeutic skin care.
Materials used for Aromatherapy:
• Essential oils: Fragrant oils extracted from plants chiefly through steam distillation (e.g. eucalyptus oil) or expression (grapefruit oil). However, the term is also occasionally used to describe fragrant oils extracted from plant material by any solvent extraction.
• Absolutes: Fragrant oils extracted primarily from flowers or delicate plant tissues through solvent or supercritical fluid extraction (e.g. rose absolute). The term is also used to describe oils extracted from fragrant butters, concretes, and enfleurage pommades using ethanol.
• Phytoncides: These are various volatile organic compounds from plants that kill microbes. Many terpene-based fragrant oils and sulphuric compounds from plants in the genus "Allium" are phytoncides though the latter are likely less commonly used in aromatherapy due to their disagreeable odours.
• Herbal distillates or hydrosols: The aqueous by-products of the distillation process (e.g. rosewater). There are many herbs that make herbal distillates and they have culinary uses, medicinal uses and skin care uses. Common herbal distillates are rose, lemon balm and chamomile.
• Infusions: Aqueous extracts of various plant material (e.g. infusion of chamomile)
• Carrier oils: Typically oily plant base triacylglycerides that dilute essential oils for use on the skin (e.g. sweet almond oil)
• Vaporizer (Volatized) Raw Herbs: Typically higher oil content plant based materials dried, crushed, and heated to extract and inhale the aromatic oil vapors in a direct inhalation modality.
Two basic mechanisms are offered to explain the purported effects. One is the influence of aroma on the brain, especially the limbic system through the olfactory system. The other is the direct pharmacological effects of the essential oils. The effectiveness of aromatherapy is yet to be scientifically proven, however some evidence exists that essential oils may have therapeutic potential.
Popular uses: Lemon oil is anti-stress/anti-depressant. In a Japanese study, lemon essential oil in vapour form has been found to reduce stress in mice. Research at The Ohio State University indicates that Lemon oil aroma may enhance one's mood and helps in relaxation.
Precautions: In addition, there are potential safety concerns. Essential oils are highly concentrated they can irritate the skin when used undiluted therefore, they are normally diluted with a carrier oil for topical application. Phototoxic reactions may occur with citrus peel oils such as lemon or lime. Also, many essential oils have chemical components that are sensitisers (meaning that they will after a number of uses cause reactions on the skin, and more so in the rest of the body). Some of the chemical allergies could even be caused by pesticides. Hormone specialist at the University of Cambridge claimed "... these oils can mimic estrogens" and "people should be a little bit careful about using these products." As with any bioactive substance, an essential oil that may be safe for the general public could still pose hazards for pregnant and lactating women. Adulterated oils may also pose problems depending on the type of substance used.