|AN INTRODUCTION TO AROMATHERAPY
Aromatherapy is one of the many complementary ways of caring for ourselves that has grown up in the last twenty years alongside conventional medicine. Its popularity is undoubtedly due to the fact that it works, but also to the fact that it is pleasant and easy to practice oneself. Unlike other complementary therapies which require long training (such as acupuncture) or have to be done by someone else (such as chiropractic), aromatherapy appears to be instantly available to anyone who can afford a few bottles of the oils.
Photograph on left shows a Comfrey plant and on the right a Ylang Ylang plantation
We say "appears" because the reality is of course a lot more complex. On the one hand you can go into a department store (or Web Site!) and buy a bottle of "aromatherapy bath oil" and on the other you can spend up to three years of hard work to get a diploma with "aromatherapy" in the title. Or you can go to one of the many written introductions to aromatherapy, or to a Web Site like this one, and read that such and such an oil is "good for" something, and set about making yourself a reasonable strength blend.
We think the latter approach is a good way to start. Have a look at our safety recommendations page and possibly look at some other useful Web Sites. All of the oils listed in our on-line catalogue have a short description and if you want something in more depth have a look at our list of books for sale.
The basic raw materials of aromatherapy are essential oils. These are volatile aromatic oils obtained from plants and flowers, usually by distillation. Not all plants have them, and those plants that do keep them in varying amounts in their flowers, their bark, their roots and their leaves. Some essential oils are very expensive, but this is usually directly related to the yield. For example about a hundred times more essential oil can be extracted from a given quantity of lavender blossom than from the same weight of rose petals.
Aromatic plant oils have been used at least since the time of the ancient Egyptians, to fragrance houses, in baths, to provide flavouring in drinks and cooking, in cosmetics, by adding to vegetable oils for massage, and in a number of medicinal ways. Some of them work directly on the mind, calming or stimulating it for instance, while others have a more physical effect such as reducing inflammation or cleansing the skin of harmful bacteria. Because essential oils are so strong, it is not recommended that they are used directly on the body. They need to be diluted in a "carrier". This carrier can be a vegetable oil or lotion (when using the oil in massage), a skin cream (for skin care), water (when using the essential oil in a bath), or air (when vaporising an oil for pleasure or to clear a congested head).
METHODS OF USE
(Essential oils should not be applied neat to the skin nor taken internally except on the advice of a qualified
aromatherapist. They are extremely concentrated and if in doubt use just one drop instead of the four or five recommended below)
In the bath
Add up to five drops of essential oil to a hot bath just before you get into it, agitate the water vigorously, and soak for at least fifteen minutes. Essential oils do not dissolve in water so you may prefer to dilute them first in a dispersing bath oil or in alcohol or milk.
Put up to five drops in small bowl of warm water by a radiator, or in an aromatic oil burner, or diffuser.
Add four or five drops of essential oil to two teaspoons (10mls) of a vegetable oil such as sweet almond. This is a 2% dilution. For massage with young children or if your skin is broken it may be better to use a 1% dilution
(ie two to three drops to 10mls). It is obviously better if you have had some instruction in massage techniques, but don't worry too much if you haven't. A gentle massage of the hands or feet even when given by a complete beginner is very comforting and is especially good when done to a child or old person. A strong dilution (4%) of oils such as patchouli, rose or jasmine makes an excellent perfume.
Put one or two drops of essential oil in a basin of near boiling water or in our purpose built inhaler. Cover the basin and your head with a towel and inhale deeply until the water cools.
Put two or three drops on a pillow (at night) or on a tissue and then breathe through it but don't let the oil actually touch your face.
Skin creams and lotions
As with massage oils, the usual dilution is a 2% one, although in some circumstances a stronger or weaker blend may be needed. Essential oils may be added to any neutral skin cream, gel, or cleanser.