Updated: May 7, 2021
Aromatherapy is an ancient science packed with the wisdom of the therapeutic benefits of herbs, flowers and their essences. It is an integral part of established herbal remedies like TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Ayurveda since thousands of years.
What does Aromatherapy mean?
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils and allied products extracted from aromatic plants, for good health, beauty and a sense of well-being.
Aromatherapy is a Natural therapy, a part of Plant based herbal therapy/medicine
Aromatherapy is as ancient as Herb therapy, only in a cruder form! Finer techniques of aroma oil extraction developed much later.
Long before Allopathy (Modern medicine), Man'kind' used ‘kinder’(pun-intended) medicines in the form of herb oils (crude essential oils), resins, aromatic- balms, infusions, macerations and more; all mostly derived from plant parts relating to the famous Essential oils in use now like Sandalwood, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Tea tree, Frankincense, Myrrh etc
One peek into the history of pharmacopoeia, and you discover, how much it brims with plant medicine formulae and aromatherapy. There’s a decoction, an aromatic oil (crude essential oil), a fumigation recipe for almost every physical and mental illness ever known to man.
The Holy Hindu book, Atharvaveda are full of herbal prescriptions (Sandalwood, Turmeric, Eucalyptus, Peppermint especially) while the Holy Bible and the Holy Jewish book of the Talmud (Dimitrova,1999) refer to Aromatherapy plants like Myrtle and others for rituals and treatments.
The Egyptians extensively used Aromatherapy via aromatic plants (Oakes and Gahlin, 2003) as advised by their ‘God of healing’, Imhotep.
Aromatic oils protected their skin from the harsh, dry, desert climate. Cruder forms of Myrrh and Cedar wood Essential oils were used to embalm their dead, and their mummies were found well preserved even after 6500 years!
Fragrant ointments (of Aromatherapy) containing Frankincense were discovered in Prince Tutankhamen’s tomb dating way back to circa 1320 BC!
By the 19th Century, Modern medicine had started isolating the key constituents of natural substances and manufacturing chemical drugs. Popular with its quick efficacious prescriptions, Herbal / Aromatic science was soon touted as quackery, and looked down upon.
Modern medicine remained unchallenged for centuries and certainly did save us from critical diseases that, the ‘slow-to-act’ herbs couldn’t ever have. But many scientific studies brought to light, the environmental damage and the long term damage caused by chemical-based formulations. Their increasing contradictions led to a ‘Herb therapy’ renaissance.
People turned back to their roots, attempting to rediscover the age-old benefits of Aromatherapy, Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine.
Benefits of Plant based formulas v/s Modern Allopathy
1. Organic properties:
Plant based products are grown naturally, organically or wildcrafted whereas allopathic products are artificial, synthetic, chemically or genetically engineered.
2. Active Constituents
Modern medicine only has a couple of known active ingredients whereas plant products have hundreds of constituents that are yet to be fully explored by science.
3. Uniformity every batch
Every batch is an exact clone of the other in Modern medicine while in case of plant-products two similar herbal product batches could have mildly different constituents in their ingredients due to variance in climatic and harvesting conditions.
Modern medicine can be patented but the power of plants and aromatic herbs, a gift of Nature, cannot be patented.
5. Impact on the natural functioning of the system.
Herbs restore the natural functioning of the organs they impact whereas chemical based medicine try to suppress the ailment, in the process inhibiting other natural functions of the body.
6. Side Effects
Scientific studies have proved the long-term damage cum side effects of almost all chemical based formulations. Plant-based formulas rarely react unless taken in very high doses or made from ill-advised toxic plants.
7. Anti- viral properties
Plant based products especially essential oils are anti-viral whereas chemical based formulae are not so naturally.
8. Promoting a balance in the intercellular functions:
Natural plant products promote intercellular communication and harmony whereas chemical based modern medicine has a disruptive effect on the overall balance of the system.
9. Promoting cellular memory:
Natural plant medicine balances and restores cellular memory in the DNA whereas chemicals muddle up the DNA memory.
10. Cleaning up of Receptor sites:
Plant medicine cleans up the receptor sites, the proteins on the cell’s surface that help it recognize and bond to specific molecules. Chemicals block up the receptor sites.
11. Fortifying the Immune system
Plant medicine builds up the natural immune system of the body whereas chemical medicines render it weaker.
12. Emotional balance:
Plants create a sense of balance and harmony in the emotions whereas chemicals are naturally inept at maintaining emotional equilibrium.
13. Long term dependence
Plants promote independence and wellness but chemicals create long term dependence on the medicines with decreasing effectiveness over the chronic ailment.
Philosophical difference in Plant medicine & Modern medicine
1. Self- healing
The fundamental difference in Modern medicine is the belief that the body and mind need external assistance to heal whereas plant medicine believes in the self-healing capabilities of humans
2. Wellness is natural
Plant medicine assumes wellness to be a natural state whereas allopathy assumes vulnerability to illness, a natural state.
3. Holistic approach
Plant medicine has a holistic approach. It assumes that mind and body are deeply intermingled whereas Allopathy treats each part of body and mind as a separate unit and has a scattered approach.
4. Defence mechanism
Plant medicine build the body’s defence mechanism and let the body deal with anomalies whereas Allopathy tries to attack the disease in isolation irrespective of the overall picture.
5. Working with Nature
Plant medicine tries to work in tune with the inherent intelligence present in the cells whereas chemical medicine focusses mainly on the symptoms of the disease.
6. Natural goodness
Plant medicine is rooted in the philosophy of being and doing good whereas modern medicine is rooted in materialism and profitability.
The Science of Scent and our Emotions. How does Aromatherapy work?
Why is it called ‘Aroma’- therapy?
Why is it touted as a science that can make you feel good, amp up your positive vibes, power up your immunity? To understand this, we must first figure out what aromatic herbs can do when we inhale them:
Our sense of smell is 10,000 more stronger than any other sense. The other senses like vision, hearing etc travel to the brain via the spinal cord. But the sense of smell hits us directly in the brain. Let's understand how...
Emotions, Neurology and Aromas
The limbic system is a complex set of structures found on the central underside of the cerebrum of the brain. Emotions depend on this system composed of amygdala, hippocampus, thalamus and hypothalamus.
The limbic system activates the unconscious component of emotions, sends impulses to the cortex and controls the physiological and behavioural components of emotional responses (Damasio, 2005), such as motivation, learning and certain aspects of memory.
Other sensations are handled in the thalamus, but the sense of smell is processed by our primary olfactory cortex even when one is asleep or in a coma.
Amygdala, an element of this limbic system, processes fear and aggression. It processes information from the thalamus and reacts rapidly, instinctively and not by cognitive processing of emotional sensations. The direct connection between smell and amygdala is important not only for emotions but also for learning and memory. LeDoux, 2000)
How the olfactory system and the limbic system are related
When a person inhales an aroma, that scent is carried by olfactory nerve cells in the nose to the olfactory system. This system then transmits the aroma to the brain’s limbic system (the house of emotions)
A foul smell will repel us from the source as the brain classifies them as either unpleasant or dangerous. But a pleasant smell will attract us to its source. The sense of smell also recalls memories from historic smells and scents and associates them with situations and emotions. We remember 35% of what we smell, 5% of what we see, 1% of what we touch and 2% of what we hear.
Which is how aromatic essences work through our sense of smell.
It accesses centres that control the emotional sphere whose importance, for both mental and physical health, is established (Levenson, 2018). Aromatic herbs have been attributed with healing powers for both physical as well as psychic problems.
Rosemary, is known for not only regulating our digestion and relieving headaches, spasms, rheumatic pains but also for enhancing the memory.
Rosemary influences learning, Basil increases concentration, Geranium and Honeysuckle, act on mood as an antidepressant and Chamomile and Mint, affect emotional states (Benjamin, Cristiano, 2008). Many herbs are known to be antifungal, pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory and muscle-relaxing all at the same time.
Origin of Aromatherapy; Intermingled with Plant medicine
Much of the vintage wisdom of the therapeutic effects packed in plant parts (that had been long buried) are being referred to again:
History’s most Famous Epics on Plant therapy 
Aromatic oils were used not just in Egypt but also in India/ China and Mesopotamian civilizations since thousands of years:
1. Traditional Indian medicine or Ayurveda (a 3000+ years branch of Indian medicine) incorporates over 1500 plant prescriptions right from nutmeg, pepper, clove to turmeric, sandalwood, peppermint etc.
Aromatherapy co-exited with Ayurveda, aromatic herbs being integral to healing remedies. Ancient Ayurvedic texts,  Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita are full of aromatic remedies.
In India, even now a therapeutic Ayurvedic massage is carried out with aromatic oils. Jasmine is a renowned body toner while Rose is used to raise the spirit, alleviate anxiety and strengthen the liver. Sandalwood oil is the go-to oil for beauty treatments.
A Sumerian clay tablet was discovered at Nagpur (India), carbon dated 5000 years old, inscribed with 12 plant-based recipes,ingredients from 250+ plants, such as poppy, mandrake 
2. The Papyrus Ebers, dating to circa 1550 BC, is the most important medical document of Egypt, and has recorded about 800 herbal remedies made from 700+ plant types such as coriander, juniper, onion, aloe vera, pomegranate, castor plant etc [4,5]
3. The Chinese Father of Medicine, Shennong ( 2500 BC) wrote Pen T’Sao, discussing 365 herbal recipes made of plant parts like camphor, ginseng, cinnamon etc [6,7]
4. The oldest aromatic oil distillation apparatus was found in Mesopotamia (today´s Iraq) dated to a period 3500 BC.
5. Another distillation apparatus found in Slovakia dates back to 1500 BC, the oldest in Europe.
The Greek Father of Medicine Hippocrates said
“The key to good health rests on having a daily aromatic bath and scented massage”
1. In the works of Hippocrates (460-370 BC), the Father of Medicine and an outstanding figure in the history of medicine, he listed down 400+ plant prescriptions (Hippocratic Corpus) [9,10]. He revolutionized Greek medicine establishing it as a profession. He was the pioneer of the 'Four Humour' theory.
2. Theophrastus, Aristotle’s disciple (371-287 BC) classified over 500 medicinal plants in his books, De Causis Plantarium and De Historia Plantarium. [11,12].
3. Dioscorides, the renowned Greek physician, wrote ‘De Materia Medica’, in effect creating a pre-cursor to all modern pharmacopoeias (Circa 77 AD).
This book became the most valuable medical reckoner for centuries to come, with 657 pure plant- based prescriptions containing chamomile, sage, cardamom, almonds, aloe, aniseed, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, juniper, lavender, rosemary, pine, frankincense, basil, marjoram, myrrh, olive oil, pepper, peppermint, sesame and thyme and others 
Aromatic oils/ointments were recommended for physical and psychological benefits. Myrtle, Rose and Coriander were hailed for their aphrodisiac properties while Myrrh and Marjoram were pronounced sedatives.
4. Pliny the Elder (23 AD-79), discussed over 1000 therapeutic plants in his book, Historia naturalis. He is also known for his pioneering research on wine.
5. Galen, the Roman physician, considered to be, one of the most accomplished medical researchers of antiquity (131 AD–200), for his contributions in the field of Human Anatomy and Blood circulation; consolidated the herbal prescriptions with alternate formulas in De succedanus.
Aromatherapy in the Middle Ages
1. The earliest distillation of Attar was mentioned in the Hindu Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita. The Harshacharita, written in 7th century A.D. in Northern India mentions use of fragrant agar wood oil. (Wikipedia, history of perfume)
With huge contributions to the field of aromatics, the Persians physicians became cult figures for the European and Hispanic physicans’ community.
2. Yuhanna Ibn Masawaiyh (CE 777 857) (also known as the ‘Prince of Medicine) was an influential figure in aromatics penned down many authoritative volumes describing the properties of over 1000 medicinal plants.
3. Al Kindi (801-873, Baghdad, Iraq) also known as the ‘Father of Arab philosophy) wrote a detailed book on distillation containing more than hundred recipes for fragrant oils, salves and aromatic waters.
4. Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā, 980- 1037, Persia, Afghanistan)
The Canon Medicinae, a medical encyclopedia written by this influential Persian physician was a cornerstone literature in the medical history. It summarized the Hippocratic, Galenic and Indo-Persian contributions in this field and became the most important medical guide for centuries to come.
The Great Plague, saw intense fumigation of Lavender, Cypress, Benzoin, Styrax, Frankincense and various spice oils across countries but nothing could stop the contagion. It is said that people employed in aromatics and perfumery rarely died of the plague, largely due to the germicidal and antiseptic properties of essential oils.
5. Hieronymus Brunschwig, a German physician wrote in detail about the process of Essential Oil distillation of Rosemary, Lavender, Clove, Cinnamon, Myrrh, and Nutmeg. His books were a runaway success and translated to every European language particularly the ‘Liber de arte distillandi de simplicibus’, (1950) widely regarded as a link between the Middle Ages and Modern times.
By 1880, Science had made great strides in recognizing and isolating the micro-organisms that caused diseases. Simultaneously, French botanical doctors established the germicidal and anti- bacterial properties of essential oils through lab experiments
France also discovered that there was a lower count of tuberculosis patients in parts of country that were into cultivation of aromatic flowers. Digging deeper they found that Oregano, Geranium and some aromatic plants were able to destroy the germs that caused yellow fever.
6. Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) the most influential herbalist along with Joseph Miller and John Parkinson left a rich legacy of herb-power education for the coming centuries.
Essential oil manufacturing took off and catered to the demands of the perfumeries and flavouring industries.
By the 19th Century, Modern medicine had started isolating the key constituents of natural substances and manufacturing chemical drugs on that basis.
1. The Father of Aromatherapy: ‘Aromatherapie’ was coined by a French chemist Rene- Maurice-Gatte Fosse (1881-1950). While studying essential oils for his perfumery business, an explosion in his lab burnt his hand. On an impulse he dipped the burnt hand in Lavender oil and was amazed to see it heal without any scarring.
Impressed, he undertook a detailed research and published the therapeutic and psycho-therapeutic properties of essential oils in his groundbreaking book ‘Gattefosse’s Aromatherapy’ (1937)
2. Dr. Jean Volnet, a French army surgeon used essential oils in World War II. After a first-hand experience of the using oils like Thyme, Lemon, Chamomile and Clove to treat gangrene and battle wounds, he continued to treat with these even after the war was over.
He was the pioneer who used Essential oils for treatment of his patients’ mental ailments too. Inspired, he wrote the popular 'Aromathérapie - Traitment des Maladies par les Essence de Plantes' (1964)
3. Madame Marguerite Maury (1895-1968), an Austrian born biochemist wrote 'The Secret of Life and Youth' (1964) that has been recognized for its huge contribution as a holistic approach to using essential oils for individual problems.
4. Gattefossé and Valnet’s work inspired Robert Tisserand, whose landmark book 'The Art of Aromatherapy'(1977) is unrivalled in its supremacy as the ultimate Aromatherapy reference guide since its release.
Plant based herbal products definitely offer a world of benefits for the psycho-physical well-being of users.
So why Essential oils? Why not use herbs directly?
Everything in this Universe is made of atoms that produce, emit and receive energies at certain frequencies. Our body, emotions and thoughts all have their own electromagnetic vibrations frequencies and so do the viruses and bacteria that cause diseases.
According to Bruce Tainio, (researcher and founder of Tainio technologies) a healthy human body resonates at a frequency of 62-78 MHz and diseases start when it drops to 58MHz. He developed a sensor to measure frequencies and this is what he found:
Canned/Processed food: Zero MHz
Dry herbs: 12 – 22 MHz
Fresh herbs: 20- 27 MHz
Essential oils: 52 – 320 MHz (320 MHz being Rose oil)
Why are Essential oils gaining in popularity?
Recent research has scientifically linked the reason how these oils have a profound effect on our body, mind and soul. People are increasing opting for natural alternatives and discovering ways to embed their favourite fragrances in every area of their life.
1. Essential oils are close to a 100 times more potent than dried herbs as they are highly concentrated extracts from plants, herbs and flowers.
2. Essential oils can be stored because of their longer shelf life as compared to herbs.
3. Essential oils have wonderful aromas that make them much easier to use often for their unique therapeutic, psychological and physiological properties.
4. Their valuable antiseptic, anti-bacterial, antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, hormone regulating, anti-depressant, stimulating, relaxing and expectorating qualities can be added effortlessly to just about every area of life, unlike herbs
“When molecules of these essential oils are inhaled or applied to the skin, they resonate with your bodily tissues at the frequencies intrinsic to their molecular spectrum as well as their resultant harmonic and beat frequencies. This increases your own natural electromagnetic vibrations and restores coherence to your electric fields to maintain wellness and produce healing.” (David Stewart- Chemistry of Essential oils)
Though Aromatherapy has immense healing powers it should not be used to fully replace Modern medicine but used alongside as a complementary therapy for strengthening the body’s immune system.
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