Welcome , today I will be writing about the history of aromatherapy, the main functional groups of aromatherapy, essential oils to avoid and incense sticks.
The TLDR History of Aromatherapy
Using oil from plant extracts for the purpose of medicinal, relaxation or aromatic applications seems like common sense as around 30% of pharmacuetical medications in the U.S are based on naturally occurring compounds from plants, but has its roots going all the way back to ancient times with archeologists discovering and identifying an array of plants from the fossilized pollen that are known for their healing properties in burial chambers and ancient living areas.
Wealthy Egyptians would indulge in scented baths, fragrant massages and perfume their bodies with enchanted oils. The priests would prepare scented blends for kings, queens and high dignitaries of governments and temples, making them the first perfumers and healers to dispense aromatics. Using them for religious rituals, in annointing baths or burning incense to ward off evil spirits. To prepare a Pharoahs body after death they were wrapped in fabric containing cinnamon, myrrh, cedarwood and other oils and resins.
Rome, the bathing capital of the world, with over 1000 bath houses, would use scent on just about anything. From walls in houses, military flags or applied to the oil for a massage after bathing.
Egyptians were the first to extract the oil from plants, heating them up in clay containers. A couple of centuries later, Greek alchemists came up with the distillation process which underpinned the use of essences for therapeutic and religious uses. Then around 1000 A.D, Avicenna, an Arabic physician introduced a cooling system into the distillation process of essential oils, increasing the potency and strength of the oils.
The great plague during the 14th century was a very dark time indeed, especially in Europe and Asia, killing millions of people. But it was common to see thyme, rosemary, pine, sage, cypress, cedar and clove burnt in a desperate attempt to control the spread in the streets, hospitals, sickrooms and schools. To try and ward off and help contain the spread of the epidemic. Funnily enough, people that closely worked with the oils and aromatics like perfumers were protected and were less likely to get the plague.
During the 1920’s, a French cosmetic chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, further advanced the study of the therapeutic effectiveness of essential oils while working in his laboratory. It all started when Gattlefosse accidentally burned his hand and in
desperation, reaching out for the closest cold liquid, immersed his hand into lavender oil… or was it that he ran outside rolling on the grass after burning his hand and then coming inside to treat it? ( I’ve read conflicting stories in reputable books)
Regardless, he saw, first hand of what the lavender essential oil could do. His hand healed rapidly and was left with no scar. This is when he coined the term “aromatherapy” and started writing about the powers of essential oils.
Today, many people seek to get back to nature, turned off by the toxicity and side effects of synthetic chemicals and processed medications. Using essential oils for medicinal, cosmetic and therapeutic purposes. The idea of being able to use something natural without the negative side effects.
Of course aromatherapy can be used by itself or in conjunction with typical medication treatments. An example would be using aromatherapy after surgery to help ease the pain.
Main Functional Groups of Aromatherapy
There are two clear groups that serve to form pure essential oils:
1. Hydrocarbons :
Terpenes; Monoterpenes, Diterpenes, Sesquiterpenes
Monoterpenes-Antiviral – Antiseptic – Bactericidal – Stimulating
Found in most essential oils and have many different actions. A lot
help with toxins from the liver and kidneys. A high proportion of
turpines are found in conifer oil and citrus oils except bergamont.
* Can cause skin irritaion when not used correctly
– Found throughout a lot of essential oils. Some of their stronger
healing properties are anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. Can enter
brain tissue by breaking the blood-brain barrier.
Found heavily in sandalwood, ylang ylang, vetiver, ginger and myrrh
2. Oxygenated Compounds:
Esters, Aldehydes, Ketones, Alcohols, Oxide, Phenols
Esters – Esters are made by a reaction of alcohol with an acid called esterification. Calming and relaxing compounds, nearly completely free of toxicity.
Fungicidal – Sedating – Pleasing aroma – Anti-Spasmodic
Lavender – Clary Sage – Bergamont
Aldehydes – Aldehydes play a major role in the fragrance of an essential oil. Also calming to the nervous system through their powerful aromas. The heath benefits of aldehydes have a wide range including anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, dilate blood vessels. Can cause irritation when applied topically, irritants found in high citral essential oil can be negated by mixing equal parts of d-Limonene.
Sedating – Antiseptic
Melissa – Lemongrass – Citrone – Cassia – Cinnamon
Ketones – Ketones help stimulate cell regeneration, good for dry asthma, colds, flu, dry cough. Found in abundance in oils that help with the respiratory system. Ketones are found in abundance in rosemary.
Ease Congestion – Mucus Relief
Fennel – Hyssop – Sage – Mugwort – Tansy – Sage
Oxides – One major player of the oxide family is 1,8 Cineol or Eucalyptol. Helps with mucus and is also an antiseptic and anesthetic. Been shown to help with asthma in human studies and reduce pain in animal studies.
Expectorant – Bactericidal
Rosemary – Tea tree – Eucalyptus
Alcohols – These molecules are found in nearly all essential oils besides birch, clove, white fir, cassia, grapefruit, oregano, wintergreen.
Antiseptic – Anti-viral – Uplifting Qualities- stimulates blood circulation
Rosewood – Geranium – Rose
Phenols – Some of most powerful anti-bacterial, antiseptic, anti-infectious compounds found in plants belong to the phenol group. Known to be beneficial for stimulating the nervous system and immune system and found to contain oxygenating molecules and anti-oxidant traits.
Caution must be taken when using phenol rich essential oils on your skin. They can be caustic so it is wise to dilute phenol laden essential oils and only used in short amounts.
Bactericidal – Beneficial for skin
Clove – Thyme – Oregano – Basil – Birch – Cinnamon – Mint – Wintergreen – Fennel – Peppermint
Some Types of Incense Sticks and Their Uses:
Amber – Helps stabilize imbalances in your system and calm disturbing conditions.
Indian Cedar – Used to help with depression
Jasmine – Helps stabilize hormones in both men and women.
Lavender – Relaxing
Lily – Mild Sedative, help slowing down the heart rate and calming the nerves
Patchouli – Similar to Indian Cedar and can help strengthen the nerves
Rose – Great for meditating, promotes spriritual healing and attunement
Sandalwood – Helps stimulate pituitary and pineal glands
These incense sticks usually come in sets. One packet contains around a dozen. But probably one of the best ways to get good value for money is to buy them in packs with 4 or 5 different types, it helps hone in on the ones you do like.
Hem Mixed Bulk Incense 10 Packets 200 Sticks Assorted (Amazon Link)
The Risks of Essential Oils
Essential Oils can be very powerful, undiluted. It’s a good idea to mix your essential oil with a carrier oil and to stay away from synthetic oils.
Organic essential oils are really the only way to get a therapeutic benefit out of aromatherapy, but on the downside they can get pricey, especially for the rarer plant essential oils.
Here is a list of HAZARDOUS essential oils and their associated risks:
If you have high blood pressure you should never use rosemary, thyme, hyssop and sage (common)
People with epilepsy should stay away from sweet fennel, rosemary, hyssop, sage (common)
Angelica should be avoided by diabetics
People who suffer from hypoglycemia shoud keep their distance from geranium
Juniper, sandalwood, coriander is no good for people with kidney problems.
Pregnant women should avoid wintergreen, rosemary, lemon verbana, lemon, peppermint, clary sage, hyssop, juniper, fennel.
Clary sage should be avoided if you are drinking alcohol. It intensifies the effects of alcohol causing it to display narcotic like traits.
If you are driving or planning to drive or need to stay alert, avoid chamomile and marjoram as the can cause drowsiness.
Some essential oils known to cause allergies are citronella, clary sage, ylang ylang and verbana oils.
Calamus and sassafras are believed to be carcinogens and everyone should avoid them
If you are taking aspirin you should avoid sweet birch. They both contain methyl salicylate and there is a chance you might overdose.
Oils that Should Not be used in Aromatherapy
Almond – Contains cyanide, which is a potent lethal poison
Aniseed – Irritates the skin
Arnica – Heart irregularities and can cause dizziness
Bergamont – Can cause severe sunburn due to phototoxicitiy when exposed to the sun (Beware of using ouside on skin)
Boldo Leaf – Can cause convulsions even with small amounts
Calamus – Can cause liver and kidney damage and has carcinogenic properties
Camphor – Taken orally can be toxic
Cassia – Can irritate the skin and mucus membrane
Cinnamon Bark – Irritate the skin
Costus – Irritate the skin
Elecampane – Can irritate the skin severely
Fennel – Can bring on epileptic episodes
Horseradish – Can irritate the mucus membrane, eyes, skin and nose.
Jaborandi Leaf – Toxic if taken orally, skin irritant
Mustard – Can irritate the skin and mucus membrane
Spanish Origanum – Can irritate the skin and mucus membrane
Dwarf Pine – Irritates the skin
Brazilian Sassafras – FDA has banned this carcinogen and is toxic in low amounts
Savin – Irritates the skin
Southernwood- Toxic if taken orallly or used on the skin
Tansy – Can cause uterine bleeding, convulsions, vomiting and even death, from respiratory or organ failure
Thuja Plicata – Neurotoxin
Wintergreen – Skin irritant especially for people that are sensitive to aspirin. The oil is poisonous
Wormseed – Supresses heart function, toxic to kidneys and liver
Wormwood – May cause convulsions and be a neurotoxins. Consuming can cause visual and auditory hallucinations.
Essential Oils to Completely Avoid
Hopefully this has provided you with some help. Please remember to consult a professional medical doctor about your health needs or when thinking about undertaking new therapies or supplements. There are a lot of medications that interact with other chemicals in that can cause serious health problems and it’s not worth the risk.
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