Aromatherapy, which is also known as Essential Oil Therapy, utilizes naturally extracted essences from plants to promote spiritual, mental, and physical health through the enhancement of an individual’s healing processes.
Essential oils are selected based on their medicinal properties and are absorbed into the blood stream through application on the skin or inhalation which triggers the desired pharmalogical effects. Aromatherapy is believed to produce psychological benefits as well. A systematic review of studies involving aromatherapy identifying the clinical benefits older adults with dementia showed that aromatherapy had positive effects on reduction of Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia (BPSD), improvement in cognitive functions, increasing quality of life, enhancing independence of activities of daily living and so on.
The use of plant essences for healing date back to the beginning of recorded history. There is evidence that the ancient Chinese were using aromatherapy techniques as early as 3000 B.C. Shen Nung’s Pen Ts’ao from roughly five millennia ago, catalogs the use of over 200 botanicals. Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medicine dates slightly later, still utilizes botanical essences for holistic healing. Egyptians were known to utilize essential oils as early as 1500 B.C. The Romans and Greeks chronicled the use of botanicals ceremonially.
The Greeks displayed a growing awareness of the medicinal properties of herbs. Pedanios Dioscorides wrote a text De Meteria Medica circa 60 A.D. which was considered the standard for roughly 1500 years. Dioscorides chronicled the medicina; properties of over 500 plants with almost 5,000 holistic applications. The practice of using essential oils found its way into the Arabian world as well, the naturalist Avicenna documented his findings using essential oils as a healthcare supplement. In 1937, a French perfumer and chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse first coined the term aromatherapy. He first got the idea to use oils for healing when he accidentally burnt himself and used the closest liquid he had available on the burn, lavender oil. Gattefosse outlined his early clinical findings in aromatherapy for a range of conditions. Today, the use of essential oils has been extended to encompass a holistic understanding of the modality and there are oils used for specific outcomes.
Almost a decade later Jean Valnet, a French physician, used essential oil essence in treating WWII soldiers. In the mid-1960’s he wrote the book, Aromatherapie, traitement des maladies par les essences des plantes, that outlined the use of essential oils in medicine which helped to popularize the modality throughout France. The first English book published on the topic of essential oils in 1977, The Art of Aromatherapy, was written by Robert Tisserand and increased awareness of the modality in Great Britain. Today, Aromatherapy is practiced worldwide and the understanding of which oil produces a certain effect is well documented.