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The Scent and Sense of Aromatherapy

Posted Oct 03 2008 11:32am
By Dr. Christine Gonzalez (PharmD, HHC)

How timely that my weekly herbal study group lesson was on peppermint-an herb praised for its essential oil! Prior to this, most of my experience with aromatherapy was based instinctually on whatever smelled nice and made me feel good. But after this week’s lesson, a whole new world has opened up. I was pleasantly surprised to learn how easy it is to make a facial mist with some water, alcohol or glycerin, and a few drops of essential oils! After sampling this concoction, I was immediately refreshed and awakened by the stimulating scents. This was exactly what I needed for a long drive home.

Aromatherapy is inhaling the scent of essential oils for therapeutic purposes. Lavender, lemon, peppermint, rose, and clary sage are just a few of the common oils used. The history of aromatherapy goes back to the Egyptians, Chinese, Indians (from India), Greeks, and Romans for use in embalming to massage. Today, most of us practice it daily from burning a scented candle to using fragrant cosmetic products. I even carry a bottle of lavender essential oil in my purse for a quick calming boost.

There is no question about the importance of the sense of smell and how it can create strong emotional and physical responses. Essential oils work by stimulating the olfactory receptor cells in the nose, which send a message to the limbic system. This is a complex set of structures that are responsible for emotions and other bodily functions. So it makes perfect sense (no pun intended) that aromatherapy can be a powerful healing tool.

I found a timely article in the May 2008 edition of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch entitled "Aromatherapy's Benefits Limited to Mood Improvement", discussing an Ohio State University study on lemon and lavender oil. While the results were less than expected, it does set a standard for further research on the subject. This article also mentions other studies with positive results, affirming the value of aromatherapy. As I continue to inhale an occasional waft of my lavender oil while I type this, I am feeling quite relaxed and ready for bed. But I am curious to hear what scents awaken your senses...
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