What are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are the volatile substances extracted from aromatic plants by steam distillation, expression, maceration or solvent extraction.
For example Lavandula augustifolia's volatile oils are extracted through steam distillation.
How does Aromatherapy work?
Aromatherapy is a type of herbal medicine. It is the essential oils from the plants that have a therapeutic action on the body. The essential oils bring with them a vital force, and it is this force, as well as the active constituents that interact with the body.
Essential oils interface with the body through three different pathways.
- The skin is semi-permeable to water and lipid-based substances, and basically any substances that can dissolve in fat. Essential oils travel across the dermis and into the blood. They are then circulated around the body. In this way their chemical composition can have a direct effect on the biochemistry of the body.
- Essential oils also travel into the body through the respiratory system. The molecules penetrate the mucous membranes of the lungs and pass into the blood.
- The active constituents of the oils also have a direct effect on our olfactory senses (smell). The volatile oils stimulate the olfactory bulbs at the top of the nose and this messaging system carries the odorant towards the limbic system in the brain. This part of the brain is responsible for basic emotions and memory and it effects our behaviour, mood and capacity to learn.
Within Aromatherapy there is a traditional Materia Medica that identifies the unique action of each botanical, firstly we look at the symptom picture of the body and then we match this with essential oils that have the appropriate therapeutic action. The traditional ways of ingesting the essential oils for therapeutic use are by diffusing the oils in an oil burner, by inhaling the oils directly in a steam inhalation or by dispersing the oils into an environment as a room spray. These methods enable the oils to be ingested via the respiratory system and by the olfactory senses. The oils can also be ingested by applying to the skin through massage or topically applied creams or compresses. There are certain areas of the skin that are more permeable such as pulse points on the wrists and temples, so drops of diluted essential oils can be applied here for effective absorption. Essential oils need to be diluted in a carrier oil when applied directly.