Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils, the aromatic principles of plants, as smelled from a crushed mint leaf or a lavender blossom rolled between the fingers.  They are the very essence of the plants from which they originate, extracted and concentrated mostly by distillation.  From some plants the yield of essential oil can be as low as 0.01%, and the oils are often costly; however, the fragrances are so intense that a single drop is enough to scent a room. 

Essential or Volatile Oils

Aromatherapy is effective for several reasons:  the molecules of essential oils are generally very small and light - hence their highly aromatic quality and the “volatile” moniker - and are able to penetrate the skin and underlying tissues with ease.  They then enter the bloodstream and exert systemic effects.  More locally, oils can have antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and pain-killing actions.  Some oils are also used for their direct effect on the skin, for example when treating persons with eczema. 

Essential oils also, of course, smell good, and in this way improve one’s mood and mental state.  As the aromatic compounds come into contact with the olfactory nerve in the nose, they act on the emotional system, which lies in the same area of the brain as the olfactory centre; there is an often observed link between scent and memory.  Aromatherapy makes use of this biological relationship when helping people suffering from stress, anxiety, and insomnia.


Aromatherapy improves upon the benefits of massage, which is well known, but essential oils can also be used to improve the benefits of other remedies.  They are often employed in salves or ointments, creams, and liniments, as well as massage oils, sprays, gels, baths, and as additions to some tinctures.  The essences help to reduce pain, increase circulation, soothe skin complaints, relax the mind, lift the mood, encourage sleep, lower blood pressure, and ease digestive problems.  They should not be used neat on the skin - some of them can cause blistering, and never ingested unless prescribed by an Aromatherapist or herbalist trained in their internal use because of the strength and concentration of chemicals the contain.