The term “aromatherapy” was coined by the French Chemist, Gattefosse, in the 1930’s. It has since become a popular complementary therapy all around the world. It is a natural and holistic therapy, which uses essential oils to treat the mind, body and spirit. The essential oils have chemical properties which in turn have certain effects on the body, and its various systems.
Most essential oils are extracted from plant material by a process known as distillation. Specific parts of the plant are used for different oils. In some cases only the seed, flower, leaves, bark or root may be used, and in other cases the entire aerial plant is used (leaves, flowers and stem).
The term “Aromatherapy” is somewhat misleading, as it implies that treatment or healing is done through scent or smell alone. As well as the aroma, essential oils have therapeutic properties. Some oils have anti-viral, antibacterial, antiseptic, or anti-inflammatory effects, while others may work hormonally, or even act as styptics, stopping external bleeding. Whilst a certain percentage of the volatile properties are absorbed through inhalation (via the olfactory nerve), the greater proportion of essential oil molecules are absorbed into the blood stream through the skin.
Therapeutic aromatherapists, through their knowledge of the properties of the essential oils and carrier oils, are able to select the correct essential oils for the needs of an individual. The aim of an aromatherapy massage is to aid the essential oil penetration, relax the body and to improve the function of the circulatory and lymphatic systems. The essential oils are carried through the circulatory system to all the cells and organs of the body, where what is needed is absorbed and the rest is eliminated. This allows the body to use its natural healing potential.
In South Africa the public needs to be aware that therapeutic aromatherapists are obliged to be registered with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa. More information can be found on aromatherapy on The Aromatherapy Association of South Africa, AromaSA’s website: www.aromasa.org