Aromatherapy—The Power of Nature in Just a Few Drops
While Tupperware parties were once popular gatherings, today aroma sessions, where methods and mixtures of essential oils (EO) are exchanged for health benefits or household cleaners, have become all the rage. The craze for these natural remedies with powerful properties is exponential, but as with any medicine, “precaution” is recommended.
Essential oils (EOs) are indeed to phytotherapy what antibiotic therapy can be to anti-infective medications—that is, real chemical bombs. However, the difference is that EOs—beyond their relative absence of side effects—are not affected by the resistance that germs have now developed, which is making the World Health Organization question the future effectiveness of antibiotic therapy.
Aromatic plants have proven their worth for 40,000 years. Sacred incense recipes discovered from ancient Egyptian excavations coupled with evidence of Chinese and Indian stone-age stills serve as a testament to the rich history of aromatic botanicals. French folklore further chronicles the synergistic action of cloves, cinnamon, mint, and lavender with the tale of “Four Thieves” vinegar sparing the lives of grave-robbing thieves during the bubonic plague of the seventeenth century.
Aromatherapy, thus named by the Lyon chemist Gattefossé in 1928, now boasts the status of EBM (evidence-based medicine), since there are indeed active molecules—and studies to prove it! Scientific aromatherapy, based on the properties of 16 biochemical families, helps provide specific, preventive, curative, and complementary care for a wide range of illnesses. For example, aromatic phenols (oregano, thyme, cinnamon, clove, and savory) are tonics and powerful, broad-spectrum anti-infective agents; coumarins (bergamot and lemon) are nerve sedatives, anticoagulants and hepatostimulants; terpene oxides (eucalyptus, ravintsara, laurel, and myrtle) are antiviral, immunomodulatory, and mucolytic. However, the properties of EOs (like those of plants in herbal medicine) are not limited to the major biochemical family; they are the result of a molecular synergy that gives EOs their effectiveness.
Hence their potential anti-infective capacity, unlike the sometimes random effects of crude compounds able to be synthesized by the pharmaceutical industry.
EOs, aromatic plant extracts subjected to steam distillation, have a molecular density that is at the top level of pharmacological activity. Vigilance is crucial, because they can, if misused, cause some toxicity. The golden rule is thus to never improvise! Infants, pregnant and lactating women, as well as the neurologically affected must be given special attention and systematically avoid EOs with ketones and terpene oxides (Eucalyptus globulus, menthol, rosemary cineol, etc.). That being said, with the guarantee that precautions are followed, these vegetable elixirs will be of great help to you in the case of accidents or acute affections which require the “atomic power of phytotherapy,” according to Dr. Jean Valnet, French father of phytoaromatherapy.
The therapeutic use of EOs can be achieved by various means: atmospheric diffusion, dermal, buccal and sublingual, rectal, vaginal, aural, or olfactory and respiratory (only the eyes are not routinely recommended, because their mucous does not tolerate EOs). The classic application ratio is 1 drop of EO to 2 drops of vegetable oil (up to 5 drops of vegetable oil for certain EOs).
At home, lemon or grapefruit EO added to white vinegar and water will provide a multipurpose cleaning and disinfectant solution; a few drops of lavender EO on the pillow will help your sleep; clove EO dabbed on your teeth will spare you pain and abscesses, and a few drops of peppermint on the neck and temples will provide soothing headache relief. For analgesic use, combine peppermint with lemon eucalyptus to treat tendinitis. Finally, some geranium EO will delight your senses and your skin with its anti-infective, decongestant, tonic, and astringent effects. Lastly, an example to use in the kitchen: A few drops of ginger EO in your cookie recipe will have them bursting with flavour. EO and their applications are numerous, so explore these fantastic remedies, but experiment with the utmost caution. Also, to ensure their quality, choose 100% pure and natural essential oils that specify the active ingredients (chemotypes) and geographical origin of the plants.
Soothe the winter blues with this comforting and warming blend of essential oils! Mix 10 drops of orange, 10 drops of lavender, and 5 drops of rosemary, turn on your diffuser, relax, and enjoy!
Guillaume Landry, MSc, Naturopath
A native of the Jura mountains of eastern France, he shares
his passion for the wonders of nature and natural medicine.