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Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Is Aromatherapy?

We hear the term bandied about, but what is aromatherapy exactly and where did it originate? The first use of aromatherapy by homo sapiens has been traced to the Neolithic Period (7000- 4000 BC) when Stone Age people made scented oils by combining olive and sesame seed oils with fragrant plants. Since then scented oils have been used by people all over the world throughout history.

Egyptians used aromatherapy 5000 years ago. They used fragrant oils for massage, bathing and medicine; they burned incense in religious ceremonies and used aromatic cedar oil to embalm their dead. Cleopatra used aromatherapy to make custom-blended perfumes that were the secrets to her seduction abilities.

Ancient Chinese civilizations also used forms of aromatics. Shen Nung's herbal book containing detailed information on more than 300 plants and their uses dates back to approximately 2700 BC. The use of aromatics in China is linked to other ancient therapies such as massage and acupressure.

Aromatherapy has also been used for many centuries in India. The traditional medical system of India, Ayurveda, uses fresh and dried herbs and aromatic massage as important aspects of treatment.

The Greeks acquired knowledge of aromatherapy from the Egyptians then used it to further their own discoveries. They found that the fragrance of some flowers were relaxing while others were stimulating. They used olive oil as a base oil to absorb the aroma from herbs or flowers. The perfumed oils were used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes.

The Romans learned about aromatics from the Greeks and became well known for their scented baths and aromatic oil massages.

The use of aromatics declined with the fall of the Roman Empire and was almost lost in the Dark Ages. Traditional forms of healing, such as aromatherapy, were pushed aside with the rise of modern medicine and synthetic drugs in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The tradition of healing with aromatics was revived in the 1920s and '30s in Europe, when Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, first coined the term aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy became popular in Europe again for many years. Essential oils were available in many French drug stores and pharmacists were often trained in their uses, but it wasn't until the 1980s that Americans began to discover this fragrant medicine.

Today fragrances and essential oils are used in many cosmetics and household products. Scientific research has been and continues to be performed that verifies the emotional and physical benefits of aromatherapy.

With rising health care costs, dangerous side effects from prescription medicines and the impersonal quality of conventional medicine, more people are turning back to nature to seek answers and treatments for illnesses. Judith Jackson, an aromatherapist and author of Scentual Touch: A Personal Guide to Aromatherapy, said, "People are feeling the need to take their health into their own hands. They're looking for ways to help themselves that are natural and without side effects. And if treatment has an element of pleasure as well, so much the better."

Therapies and medicines that were once viewed as alternative have risen from the shadows and are becoming more mainstream. They are now being used alongside conventional medicine.

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