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By Hedieh Ghavidel

Ancient Egyptians burned aromatic woods, herbs and spices in the belief that the smoke would carry their prayers and wishes to the gods.

Aromatics eventually developed into a form of medicine, which in its early state was combined with religion, magic and mysticism, laying the foundations for aromatherapy.

While in its 6000-year historical course the Greeks, Romans, Persians and Chinese each in turn influenced this healing art, it was not until the 1920s that a French chemist, René Maurice Gattefossé, accidentally discovered the pain-relieving properties of lavender and coined the word 'aromatherapy'.

Aromatherapy is the use of pure essential oils to enhance physical and mental health. Essential oils are concentrated, distilled essences of plants, which can be used as a substitute or natural adjunct for prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

The sense of smell plays an important role in how one reacts mentally, physically and emotionally to events. Different scents are said to help one orient oneself to the season of the year, location and situations of danger.

The inhalation of certain essential oils has been associated with the release of brain chemicals that stimulate various emotions; for example, lavender has the ability to evoke and increase serotonin release and thus produces a calming effect on the body.

Some essential oils have healing properties when applied topically to the skin.

Essential oils must be 100 percent pure botanical extracts and not chemical reproductions -- as they do not evoke the same biochemical response as natural and pure oils.

Things to know about essential oils:

Essential oils must be bought in small amounts as the oxygen in half-filled bottles deteriorates the oil.

Plant oils such as peach blossom and apple blossom cannot be extracted; therefore, oils with such scents are not true essential oil.

Using essential oils / How to get started:

To use essential oils, a small amount of the oil must first be diluted in a 'carrier' oil or base -- water or oil, depending on the intended use -- and applied or inhaled.

Carrier oils are vegetable oils commonly used in massage and found in skincare products. Water and floral water can also be used as dilutants.

Some of the best-known carrier oils used to dilute essential oils for topical application include almond oil, apricot oil, grapeseed oil, jojoba oil and olive oil.

For inhalation therapy, there are special devices available, such as diffusers, aromatherapy lamps and light bulb rings, which vaporize the oils.

Essential oils can also be directly inhaled from the bottle.

Essential oils can be used in household and laundry cleaners. Some oils act as natural insect repellents and pesticides.


The highly concentrated nature of essential oils makes them very potent and therefore:

- Always dilute for topical application. Oils should never be used full strength as some essential oils are toxic when undiluted.

- The face, mucous membrane, and other sensitive areas should not be touched if the hand has been in direct contact with the oils.

- Using essential oils on children or during pregnancy is not advised.

- Sun exposure should be avoided when using bergamot and other citrus oils.

Oils and their properties:

Bergamot: A balancing oil which lifts melancholy and depression.

Cedarwood: An antiseptic, astringent, expectorant and sedative oil good for bronchial problems and normalizing sweat glands.

Chamomile: An anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic oil good for headaches.

Cinnamon bark: An antifungal oil and a good air freshener.

Cypress: An antiseptic, astringent, antispasmodic and deodorant oil which reduces coughing and excessive sweating.

Eucalyptus: An oil with antiseptic, antiviral, decongestant, disinfectant, and expectorant properties.

It has a normalizing balancing effect and reduces fever. It can be used as an ointment for muscular pains and as a chest rub. It is good for use on insect bites and stings.

Frankincense: An anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, expectorant and sedative oil good for bronchitis and cellular regeneration as well as cleansing the home.

Geranium: An oil with antidepressant, astringent, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory deodorant, diuretic, fungicidal and stimulant properties.

It is good for menopausal problems, calming the nerves, sore throat, tonsillitis, acne, eczema, dermatitis, lice, ringworm, ulcers and wounds.

Jasmine: An antiseptic, antidepressant and sedative oil good for anxiety and emotional imbalance. Benefits scalp and skin.

Juniper: Anti-rheumatic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, astringent, sedative, and stomachic.

It is good for high blood pressure, indigestion, flatulence, diarrhea, insomnia, the flu, eczema, varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

Lavender: This oil is antiseptic, fights bacterial and fungal infections and boosts the immune system. It is also antispasmodic, anticonvulsive and sedative.

It eases depression and reduces inflammation. It is also good for acne, burns, eczema, sleep disorders and stress.

Lemon: Antiseptic, astringent and inhibitor of bacterial growth. It helps increase the body's defense against infection. It is good for varicose veins, stomach ulcers, anxiety, depression and wound cleansing.

Mandarin: This oil has a calming effect on the nerves, soothes muscle cramps and spasms.

Orange: This oil balances emotions and improves mood. It has regenerative properties and is used in skin care.

Peppermint: Antiseptic, antispasmodic, mental stimulant and regenerative. It is good for fever, headaches, fatigue, muscles soreness, and indigestion as well as sinus and stomach problems.

Pine: This oil is antiseptic, expectorant, antiviral, restorative, and stimulant.

Rose: An antidepressant, antiseptic and mild sedative, this oil is good for female complaints, nervousness and insomnia.

Rosemary: An analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, and mental stimulant which should not be used by individuals suffering from asthma, bronchitis, and epilepsy.

This oil is good for hair loss, memory problems, headaches, sore muscles and dandruff.

Rosewood: An antiseptic, and regenerative oil which restores emotional balance. It is good for PMS, depression, headaches, nausea and tension.

Sandalwood: An oil with antidepressant, antiseptic, expectorant, and aphrodisiac properties. It is used as skin moisturizer and is good for bronchitis and nervousness.

Tea tree: An oil that is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, antiviral, and fungicide. Effective for athletes foot, bronchial congestion, dandruff, insect bites, ringworm and yeast infection.

Vanilla: This oil is used in skincare products.

Ylang Ylang: This oil is antidepressant, anti-infectious, euphoric, aphrodisiac, relaxant, antiseptic, sedative, and stimulant.

It is good for calming the nerves, high blood pressure, acne, hair growth, insect bites, insomnia, and stress. 

Article originally published on Press TV (November 28, 2008), reprinted with permission.

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