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A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.

Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is a very old healing art using essential oils, which was used by the Chinese as early as in 4,000 B.C. In all probability, the Chinese were the first to make use of essential oils for remedial purposes. It is also known that the ancient Egyptians used aromatics during their rituals as well as for curative purposes, counting various forms of massage. In addition, they also employed aromatics as cosmetics and for embalming. In fact, it has been possible for us to learn about the extensive essential oil use by ancient Egyptians, because they had carved several formulas used by them on the walls of their stone temples. However, it was as late as the 17th century when the very first medical manual describing the several use of oils derived from plants was published. By the time we progressed into the 19th century, use of chemicals that replaced the plant oils became very popular and this nearly brought the use of unadulterated natural oils to a halt.

It may be noted that aromatherapy or healing with aromatic essential oils helps to enhance the life's quality on physical, emotional as well spiritual levels. In effect, aromatherapy is based on the use of the fragrant essential oils - the crucial essence of life of sweet-smelling plants as well as flowers, which are present in a pure and intensified form.

Before we delve deeper into this topic, it is worth mentioning that all plants do not enclose essential oils; it is found in just about 20 per cent of all plants. And the over 150 plants that do have essential oils or the concentrate enclose it in particular glands found in the flowers, foliage or other materials. Precisely speaking, people have used all plant parts, including the leaves, stems, roots, bark, blossoms, flowers, fruits, seeds, nuts and even resins to acquire the essential oils. For the plants, their essential oils are an element of their individual immune system. When these oils disperse or evaporate, they build a sort of barrier covering the leaves or the other parts of the plants and, hence, help to lessen the water loss by means of evaporation inside the plant. In reality, essential oils seem to offer the plants some kind of protection against infections, reinforce their immune system, in addition to drawing insects that are crucial for pollination.

It has been found that plants containing essential oils mostly grow in environs that are hot and dry. These essential oils are present in the plants in maximum amounts during particular points in time during the daytime and at specific periods every year. Therefore, that particular time is most suitable for extracting as well as distilling the essential oils. The precise amount of essential oil made by any plant is greatly dependent on the prevailing conditions in the place where it is growing - for instance, the soil type, rainfall and also the total sunlight received by the plant. As the essential oils are produced in very tiny amounts, it usually requires several plants to obtain just an ounce of the oil - as much as six pounds (about 2.72 kg) of lavender blooms are required to produce just as little as one ounce (28.35 grams) of essential oil, whereas 300 pounds (136.08 kg) of rose petals are needed to make only one ounce of rose oil.

Majority of the essential oils are acquired by means of a process called steam distillation. This process entails packing big containers with plant parts that are subsequently steamed at extreme pressure. The hot vapour makes the plant materials to exude the essential oils, which are not water soluble and, hence, would eventually drift to the surface of water. Next, the essential oils are scooped from the top of the water. Eventually, these unadulterated plant 'essences' are made available for use in several dissimilar means.

Essential oils are present in an extremely concentrated form and are constituted exceptionally comprising plant hormones, vitamins and antibiotics. Compared to dehydrated herbs, the essential oils are about anything between 75 and 100 fold additionally concentrated. As essential oils form the most powerful constituents of the plants, they are required in just a tiny amount to be effectual.

The consistency of essential oils is akin to the stability of water, and majority of them are usually lighter compared to water. Basically, essential oils are different from the vegetable oils and they are not at all greasy. Majority of them are colorless, but volatile, denoting that they evaporate very rapidly when they come in contact with air.

The essential oils have a holistic action on our body, blending the physical and psychological aspects of an individual. In fact, they work in tandem with the entire facets of our body - reinforcing, instead of debilitating it with a view to make them competent to assist in the curative as well as recuperative process.

As far as the application of essential oils is concerned, they are very flexible. They possess the aptitude to have an effect on individuals at several different levels - physical, psychological and emotional. This is something that is lacking in other curative arts. You may include them in several of your routine activities without any difficulty. In effect, unadulterated essential oils are useful in all homes as well as in every lifestyle. Essential oils are basically the alternatives provided by nature to several man-made chemicals that have actually overrun our homes and lives on the pretext of health, vigour, hygiene as well ecological improvement.

Improving health and well being

Essential oils are made naturally from hydrocarbon molecules. The variety of impacts of using an essential oil depends on the nature of molecules it is composed of. There are number of essences that contain as many as 250 dissimilar elements that make it impossible to duplicate them by synthetic means. When applied, the fragrant molecules of these essences get in touch with the sole part of the brain which is outside the body and open to the elements - the olfactory bulb. In fact, the olfactory bulb is responsible for our awareness to odour and is 10,000-fold further sensitive compared to all our other senses.

The different fragrances directly bind to the brain's neo-cortex - the portion of the brain which deals with emotions and memory and also the place where the stimulation of basic drives takes place. Therefore, when you inhale the essences, you bring forth different types of reactions that encourage a feeling of health as well as well-being. The molecules making up the essential oils are also understood to seep into the skin from where the circulatory and lymphatic systems transport them to our internal organs. Irrespective of whether you inhale the essential oils or they are soaked up by the skin, when their reach the body fluids and the bloodstream, the essences have a therapeutic effect - provided you use them in small doses.

Chemicals present in these essences work to release the ability of our body to heal itself. In fact, the essential oils can have an influence on every aspect of the functioning of our body - including the tissues, organs, cells, body fluids, in addition to our emotional condition and our spiritual facet.

It is worth mentioning here that aromatherapy produces very individual results and it has a very unique effect on each individual. In addition, it is also possible that an individual will experience different effects using the same essence subject to the environment, his/ her mood and at the precise time during the day.

The concept of aromatherapy entails first finding the aromas that are unique for every individual and stir up helpful physical sensations as well as emotions and, subsequently, introducing the particular aromas to our daily life with a view to augment our health and well-being. In fact, the natural aromas help us to remain grounded - an attachment with the earth, scintillating our emotions as well as memories and, at the same time, curing the inner self.

The essence

We mainly use most essential oils in the form of flavouring agents for foods and aromatic substances. Although they are also used by the pharmaceutical industry, they are only of interest to the chemists who work to segregate the 'active principle' of these essential oils. Nevertheless, a number of essential oils are still used in their normal condition by aromatherapy experts as well as practitioners of herbal remedies.

Essential oils are often also referred to as 'volatile oils' or 'essences', potently aromatic liquids present in fragrant plants, grasses and trees. It is worth mentioning here that the expression 'essential' has been drawn from the term 'quintessence', which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is 'something drawn out from any material enclosing its principle in the most intense state'. In primeval alchemical or philosophical terminology, the word quintessence was associated with ether (also known as the fifth element) and it was believed that quintessence is actually the spiritual trait of any substance. In addition, it is fascinating to note that occasionally essential oils are also referred to as 'ethereal oils' - a Germanic expression that appropriately depict their apparent features, because essential oils evaporate when they are exposed to air, similar to vapour disappearing into the ether.

Where are they found?

Essentials oils are not enclosed by any particular part of the plant but they may be found in various parts. Usually, they are present in the leaves (eucalyptus); flowers (rose); bulbs (garlic); rhizomes (valerian); bark (cinnamon); seeds (caraway); citrus rind (lemon); heartwood (sandalwood); resin (frankincense); the aerial parts of a plant (marjoram) and even the roots of grasses (vetiver). While essential oil is obtained from the leaves as well as the flowers of lavender, orange trees yield three dissimilar aromatic oils having different therapeutic attributes - an identical, but not as superior fragrance as that of petit grain (leaves); the invigorating sour-sweet neroli (blossoms); and the cherry orange scent (from the fruit's rind).

While occasionally the essential oils are belittled as the 'wastes' produced during the metabolism of plants, findings of several researches have revealed that they actually help the plants in their reproductive as well as protective activities. In effect, plants generally use their essential oils for drawing insects to help in pollination; shielding them from ailments and also to keep away predators. Nevertheless, in general, the essential oils are not crucial for the survival of the plants - something contrary to the meaning of the term 'essential'. While it is a fact that majority of the plants have some kind of smell - you can sense it provided your nose is sensitive, all plants do not produce essential oils. Only a small fraction of plants yield essential oils.

It has been found that the essential oils build up in particular tissues of the plants that possess oil glands. In effect, the number of oil glands possessed by a plant is directly related to the amount of essential oils produced by it. Specifically speaking, a plant having relatively more oil glands will produce additional amounts of essential oils, making its price cheaper, while plant having lesser oil glands will yield comparatively less volume of its essence, making it quite expensive. For example, while just about 1/2 litre essence is obtained by stem distilling 100 kg rose petals, it is possible to produce about three litres of essential oil from 100 kg lavender.

As essential oils are extremely concentrated, they are seldom used undiluted. However, there are specific essential oils like tea tree and lavender which are occasionally employed neat in the form of an antiseptic. Nevertheless, when essential oils are used for aromatherapy they are always used after diluting them in compatible 'carrier' oils like olive or sweet almond. In addition to dissolving in common vegetable oils, the essences are also soluble in other substances such as egg yolk, alcohol and waxes (for instance, jojoba or thawed beeswax). On the other hand, essential oils dissolve partially in water and somewhat more in vinegar.

Colour and consistency

In theory, the essential oils are categorized as oils; but the plant 'quintessence' or essences are somewhat unlike the 'fixed' vegetable or fatty oils; such as the oils derived from sweet almond; corn or sunflower seed. These oils are extremely unstable or 'volatile' and they are exposed to the atmosphere; they disappear rapidly without even leaving a mark. Essential oils are found in a number of colors - mostly colorless (peppermint); while some have a greenish hue (bergamot); others are yellowish (lavender); amber colored (patchouli) or deep brown (vetiver); there are some that have unique or strange colors. For instance, German chamomile has a wonderful deep blue hue; whereas tagetes are found to have yellowish or deep orange color. While most essential oils evaporate when exposed to air, many essences like lavender, rosemary and peppermint have a same consistency similar to alcohol or even water. Other essential oils like vetiver and myrrh are glutinous or sticky; while rose otto is partially firm when it is kept in normal living room temperature but it turns into liquid when warmed even slightly.

Most commonly used essential oils

Carrier oils types

As discussed earlier, essential oils need to be diluted by adding well-matched carrier oils when used in aromatherapy. Some of the widely used carrier oils are discussed briefly below in their alphabetical order.

  • Apricot kernel oil: This carrier oil can be used effectively for any skin type, particularly skin that is aging and sensitive. Apricot kernel oil is among the lightest oils used in the form of carrier oils in aromatherapy and is excellent oil for application on your face.
  • Avocado oil: This base oil is rich in nutrients having elevated amounts of vitamins, lecithin, and proteins in addition to essential fatty acids. It is useful for all types of skin, particularly for dry, wrinkled, itchy and mature skins.
  • Evening primrose oil: This base oil is very costly, but excellent for nurturing your skin, because it not only enhances and safeguards the functioning of the skin cells, but also works to revitalize the skin. This oil is especially beneficial for people having dry skin and also for treating psoriasis and eczema. Evening primrose oil should always be stored in a refrigerator, because it may decompose very quickly. You may include a very small amount of it in your skin lotions and creams with a view to augment their value.
  • Grape seed oil: This is pleasant, light and odourless carrier oil, which, by itself, is fine massage oil. Grape seed oil and sweet almond oil may also be in a combination. It not only suits every skin type, but the skin also soaks it up easily.
  • Jojoba oil: This base oil not only nourishes the skin, but the hair too. As it contains elevated levels of vitamin E, jojoba oil may be used independently and also in combination with other carrier oils. It is excellent for every skin type and possesses antibacterial attributes and, hence, is excellent for treating acne. Jojoba oil is basically a wax and, therefore, dissimilar to many different types of vegetable oils, it is not likely to decompose soon.
  • Sweet almond oil: It is wonderful base oil for incorporating in products meant for massage, skin care, body, and bath, as it is nourishes the skin excellently. Sweet almond oil encloses an assortment of minerals as well as vitamins, especially vitamin D. This carrier oil suits every skin type, particularly dehydrated or inflamed skin.
  • Wheat germ oil: This oil possesses antioxidant properties. You may add a little amount (for instance, one tablespoon to each two ounces of a body or massage oil) to any basic blend with the purpose of retaining the combination's freshness and also to enhance the shelf life of the product. This oil is rich in vitamin A, B and E content, in addition to protein and minerals. While wheat germ oil is especially useful for mature and dry skin, it also aids in healing scarred tissues; smoothing stretch marks, and alleviating burn injuries.

Blending

Combining or balancing different essential oils is an extremely vital element of aromatherapy. In fact, it is the innovative side of this healing art. While all essential oils have their individual quintessence, when they are blended with other companionable essential oils, the blend is all the more potent compared to the total of each of their attributes. To be precise, the combination of two or more compatible essential oils result in a synergy - creation of a compound chemical that is further powerful compared to any essential oil used independently and even without enhancing the dose; the combination can yield far superior results. It is vital to understand the therapeutic attributes of all the essential oils with a view to attain such a combination. However, there are a number of parameters that assist you in carrying out tests to prepare your personal blends. A few of the guidelines are mentioned below.

First and foremost always combine essential oils having the same attributes (for instance calming; stimulating and others). While developing your own blends, it is advisable that you use three essential oils at the most till you are familiar with the fundamental principles. In addition, at one time you should only blend one drop of an essential oil as just one drop has the aptitude to change any blend. It is advisable that you blend the essential oils in bowls, glass cups or bottles as it will help to avoid any chemical reaction. It is also important that you only produce little amounts of the blends unless you are certain that you would be requiring the blend more often.

Most importantly, you need to note down all the blends as this will help you to successfully prepare the blend while avoiding combination of the essential oils that failed to yield the desired results.

Compared to unemployed base carrier oils blends, aromatherapy blends will last for a longer period but would eventually go past their sell-by date. Hence, to ensure that they remain usable for a minimum of six months you need to store them appropriately. It is advisable that you store these blends in glass bottles that are opaque and label them suitably mentioning their constituents, proportions and others. Also mention the date of preparing the blend and seal the bottles tightly.

Last but not the least, never be afraid of experimenting with essential oils. (Aromatherapy safety)

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