The Therapeutic Use of Essential Oils
"The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and
scented massage everyday" thus spoke Hippocrates, the father of medicine,
as far back as the fourth century B.C.. He reported then that the medicinal and
healing qualities of essential oils protect the body from contagious disease
and other spirits.
Today we know that essential oils consist of chemical compounds that have hydrogen, carbon and oxygen as their building blocks. these can be subdivided into two groups: the hydrocarbons, which consist almost exclusively of terpenes, (monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and diterpenes); and the oxygenated compounds, mainly esters, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, phenols and oxides; acids, lactones, sulfur and nitrogen compounds are sometimes also present. It is worth mentioning here that whole natural essences are found to be more active than their principle constituents. Moreover, those constituents which form a smaller percentage of the whole essential oil are found to be more active than the principle constituent (an excellent example of synergy).
The blood and essential oils have a natural affinity for each other and are therefore very compatible. One could imagine that the spirit in the blood and the spirit in the plant enter into a polite and loving conversation, whereby the oil asks where it can best serve the body. The red carpet rolls out and off it goes to areas where it is most needed. There are seven areas of influence that essential oils have on the body. They are: skin, circulatory, respitory, digestive, genito-urinary, immune, nervous.
Because essential oils are so small molecularly, they have the ability to enter the blood stream via the skin and lungs, carrying valuable nutrients to every cell in the body, increasing cellular vitality and delivering valuable support to the immune system. In essential oils we find trace elements of nutrients, hormones, enzymes, minerals, antibodies, and anti fungal, antibacterial, anti-infectious, antiseptic and immune-stimulating properties.
Three Modes of Action
It is also important to recognize that essential oils have three distinct modes of action within the human body:
Pharmacological- concerned with the chemical changes that take place when an essential oil enters the blood stream and reacts with the body's hormones and enzymes, etc.
Physiological- concerned with the way an essential oils effects the various systems of the body, namely the seven systems listed above, and the physical changes that are brought about.
Psychological- effect takes place on the emotional level of the body, which has to do with moods and states of mind.
Have you ever experienced an aversion to a particular essential oil but with another oil you cannot get enough of the scent? Never under estimate the power of the nose. By your sense of smell, your nerve-sense faculty lets you know which oils will be most therapeutic and beneficial to the body - physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Furthermore, a scent can transport you, by associative memory, to a past experience when the same scent was present. Whether the experience was pleasant or not will influence how you feel when you smell the scent again. To change an undesirable response you can repeatedly smell the scent under different circumstances to have your desired emotional response. It wasn't until 1989 when it was discovered that a part of the brain, the amygdala, plays a major role in storing and releasing emotional trauma and only odor stimulation has a profound effect in triggering a response with this gland.
To have an inkling of just how complex our sense of smell really is, the nose and brain have the capacity to detect a hundred thousandth of a millionth of a gram of aroma substance. In each nostril there are 400 million nerve endings concentrated in an area the size of a tiny button each side behind the bridge of the nose, under the brain. The micro-fine, vaporized oil particles are received by the olfactory hair like nerves and transported to the olfactory bulb. The impulses are then carried to the limbic system and olfactory sensory center at the base of the brain and then the amygdala, which is the memory center for fear and trauma. The impulses the travel to the gustatory center where the sensation of taste is perceived.
Indeed when you say, "This tastes good," it would be more accurate to say, "This smells good," because your taste buds can only distinguish between salty, sweet, bitter and sour, while your sense of smell is at least ten thousand times more sensitive. It's your nose which distinguishes between mango's and limes- not your good taste!
Essential oils are extracted from plant material by two main methods: expression by pressure as in citrus rind oils such as lemon and bergamot (it is advisable to choose only organically grown citrus oils to avoid pesticides in the peel). The second method is by steam distillation, which isolates by heat only the volatile and water insoluble parts of a plant. The remaining flower contains often valuable water-soluble constituents such as tannis, mucilage and bitters and is sold commercially to the food and skin care industry.
For all its ancient origins and modern research, essential oil therapy, popularly called aromatherapy, is still in its infancy. Fortunately, more and more people are taking their health into their own hands and turning to a much more holistic approach, using essential oils for healing and self health care. The many uses of essential oils include air diffusion, bath therapy, body massage, face care and in certain cases, internal use.
Cherylynn Van Kirk
CEO Starflower Essentials