History and the use of natural aromatics
From a traditional healing perspective (known as indigenous healing) the consumption and application of plants and herbs by indigenous people for medicinal purposes dates back thousands of years in the form of freshly harvested plants and their natural secretions. Dependent upon geographical location and cultural practices the use of herbs, aromatic plants, spices, resins, and woods have been incorporated into culinary practices, brewed as teas, turned into tonics, used as poultices, salves, balms, deodorants and perfumes.
Traditional healing also focuses on communication with 'spirit beings' in order to bring healing to the individual by balancing disharmony. Each person is unique and so too are their imbalances, therefore it is imperative to call upon spirit guides through prayer, song and ceremony.
Another aspect of ancient healing traditions is the burning of resins and woods (incense) at purification ceremonies, anointing rituals, as offerings to goddesses and gods, and in magical potions. These are important historical and cultural practices that fostered our predecessors with the desire to survive.
Image Description: Relief from the Great Temple of Abydos, King Seti I (the second pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt) offering incense to Osiris the god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the afterlife and the dead.
My Introduction to Aromatherapy
When I began my 'aromatherapy' studies thirty years ago I followed the premiss that was presented by numerous authors and by my instructors on the healing benefits of using essential oils. However, I began to question how is it at all possible that an aroma from a plant has the potential to boost the Immune system, reverse a health condition or prevent humans from developing a systemic disease by simply rubbing it onto the body.
Image Description: Photo capture of two pages in Wanda Sellar's 1992 book entitled The Directory of Essential Oils. I'm sorry Wanda but this information is very misleading.
The problem lies with the ways in which essential oils were presented in printed materials over the years and more so how that information has become even more convoluted. So many reference books and pretty potion books from 30 and 40 years ago presented essential oils as having the same properties or being even more potent as the herbs used in culinary practices or herbal extracts or tinctures used in herbology or from a nutritional perspective. I blame many of the writers of 'aromatherapy books and skin care potion books' for not clearly differentiating between folklore and traditional plant therapy, herbology and scientific phytotherapy. As a result there is now a tonne of miss-information purported on the internet, by laypersons and essential oil sales persons.
I have done a lot of reading and sifting through research and honestly there is very little scientific research indicating that essential oils are 'essential' to human health. I resonate with the teachings of Robert Tisserand and Dr. Maria Lis-Balchin due to the exhaustive amount scientific research that they have either conducted themselves or have complied on the bio-activity of essential oils.
With respect to the volatilization of essential oils from an inhalation perspective there does lie some evidence that some essential oils such as eucalyptus may have a positive effect on the respiratory system by causing a local reaction on the mucosa which may help to clear the pathways. Some essential oils possess anti-microbial properties when applied to surfaces and topically. However, most of the research has not made it past the petri-dish.
An area that I do find fascinating and which holds much scientific merit is how odours manipulate human behaviour by activating on the limbic system. Many essential oils (and odours in general) have an effect on the central nervous system with respect to the ability to perform certain tasks due to the fact that some aromas elicit different responses, for example some are relaxants while others are stimulants.
My Focus Today
Over the course of my career working with essential oils I have spent a great deal of time teaching folks how to use them safely and effectively while not relying on lofty therapeutic claims.
I remain a devout user of essential oils from the perspective that we humans resinate well with the natural environment and given the amount of synthetic substances and pollutants in our lives, I believe that the use of natural aromatics works in tandem with a healthy lifestyle.
In my opinion Traditional healing can and should exist side by side with Western health modalities, because it is important to consider the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical facets of a healthy life and to respect all people’s beliefs.