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Natural Health Glossary
Medical Terms, Therapies, Accreditation

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aromatherapy
Photo: aromatherapy The therapeutic use of aromatic substances to promote the health of body, mind and spirit (preferably essential or volatile oils or hydrosols from plants rather than synthetic fragrance oils). Generally a pleasurable way of caring for the body, mind, and spirit.

Treatment with essential oils typically takes one of three main forms:
  • inhalation - often through use of a diffuser (personal diffusers or for the entire room);
  • imbibing - certain oils can be included in drinks - exercise caution with the brands as well as the source herbs/resins;
  • topical application - using ointments, lotions, or in carrier oils.
Essential oils can be added to the bath (never use more than 4 drops of one specific oil or 6 total of blends; read the section for specific information on types and effects).

Compare: aromachology.

Aromatherapy's "official" beginnings are well-known at this point: Rene Maurice Gattefosse accidentally discovered the medicinal use of lavender oil when he burnt his hand in the laboratory, and plunged it into a nearby container. He found that it soothed the pain and sped up the healing process.

Long before this, however, the Egyptians used essential oils in ceremonies and everyday life, from the perfumed cones they wore on their heads, to the embalming ceremonies and canopic jars. The antibacterial and antiseptic properties of the essential oils helped preserve the bodies rather than merely decaying.

The Greeks improved upon the extraction method, acquiring the essential oils through a distillation process. Hippocrates was a proponent of the medicinal properties of many herbs and oils, creating a systematic analysis of the oils and their properties. Among his discoveries, Hypericum (St. John's Wort) for what he termed 'nervous unrest'. It is still used for that purpose today.

Essential oils are volatile and should be stored in dark airtight containers.
Warnings: Take care to select oils based not only on the desired effect, but also based on your activities. For instance, citrus oils are phototoxic, and should not be used before spending time in the sun.
Aromatherapy should be avoided or undertaken with special care by people with certain medical conditions including asthma, respiratory allergies, and lung disease. Pregnant women should also exercise caution in what oils are used.

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