Aromatherapy Fact or Fad?
We all search for the “elixir of life,” the “magic pill,” or at the very least something that will help us with our daily physical and emotional challenges. All the alternative choices claim “optimal health”: herbs, homeopathy, vitamin supplements, or an altered diet. But most of us may not look to the world of aromatherapy as an option. I mean how can a pretty scented oil help me with my family's everyday needs? Isn't it just a perfume type fad? It can't be anything of "real" importance.
When I first began my oily journey back in the '90s I had no idea what I was doing, I just wanted to make my home smell good, cover up any odors the cat left behind, or cooking smells I didn’t want lingering. I even put a few drops of a sweet-scented oil in a light bulb ring and waited for the bulb to heat up in order to scent the room. I was desperate. I thought it was way better than potpourri. Knowing what I know now, I cringe at the idea of ever inhaling all that stuff and the ill effects it may have had on my respiratory system. About 10 years later after I had finished playing with "recreational" oils, an acupuncturist introduced me to an oil blend named Joy from a company called Young Living. That's right...Joy was supposed to make me...joyful...eh hem. Naturally I was skeptical but what I didn't realize at the time was I had stepped into a 5,000-year-old history of healing that had me diving into a pool of research.
According to The Essential Oils Desk Reference by D. Gary Young, “Plant extracts have been woven into history since the beginning of time and are considered by many to be the missing link in modern medicine.” That's quite a claim so I needed to take a closer look.
When you think of lavender what comes to mind? Peace, relaxation, a spa treatment, running through lavender fields singing "the hills are alive"... yes all that, but, where do you think Lavender got that reputation?...Chemistry. Yep, there's actual science behind them thar essential oils, down to its smallest molecule. Take for instance esters. That’s a scienc-y name for a naturally found chemical in the lavender plant. It also makes me sound smart when I say it. Esters are known for their calming effects both physically and emotionally. And that’s just a small portion of this very complex, intelligent design. The chemistry of an essential oil like lavender is in fact so complex and consists of hundreds of different and unique chemical compounds, we couldn't possibly understand it unless we really studied it. And I don't know bout' you but I've got a pile of laundry waiting for me, so getting certified in aromatherapy is not high on my to do list. But if you touch on a few reference books, you'll find that plants have been here long before you and me. They have survived a host of diseases that circle the globe over millions of years. And it makes sense when you consider our body is from the earth and plants are from the earth and that the two recognize each other's language instantly igniting a ripple effect of coding when they meet. Man-made chemicals try real hard to do that, but will never reach that type of brilliance. Personally, I'll take the intelligence over the chemical side effects.
To even start understanding essential oils efficacy, you need to understand purity. You can’t find a pure essential oil anywhere, not the kind that brings results. Especially if you're looking in the mall. You have to search for it, but don't go looking on the health food store shelf either. Most essential oils here in the US are governed by the perfume industry. This allows the essential oil company to put 5 percent pure oil in the bottle and fill the rest with fillers and synthetics (ie: chemicals), then put it on the shelf for a small price and still call it 100 percent pure (sigh). Unfortunately this gives essential oils a bad rap let alone being potentially harmful. Imagine trying to use a perfume grade oil for boosting your immune system during winter time's cootie fest. It won’t work. So, there ends most people's journey with aromatherapy.
That is unless you find pure grade A oils. Then a whole world of possibilities open up. Since the plant kingdom has a plethora of life sustaining properties and I only have this one page to bust a myth or two, I'll stick with lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia) the "swiss army knife" of the essential oil community.
Linalool is a chemical compound found in the Lavender plant. Inhaling linalool reduces the activity of more than 100 genes that ‘go into overdrive’ in stressful situations.”
Lavender was responsible for uncovering aromatherapy and bringing it to the labs of modern medicine. Try googling 1910 French cosmetic chemist Rene Maurice Gattefosse. He's just one page in a library of information on the subject. Today you will find that essential oils are widely used by European doctors and hospitals. This oily subject goes far beyond using them to cover litter box smells. It will take you as far back as the bible, robbing the dead during the plague, and discovering alabaster jars of Frankincense in Tut's tomb.
But all that doesn’t really matter to someone who passes by a cool lookin' lit up diffuser at Bed Bath & Beyond with the scent of what appears to be Lavender wafting out of its nozzle. Most of the time they just want the ambiance, or their favorite scent, or the trend of diffusing in the home for as little money as possible. Like me, they don't realize the potential of what they could really get their hands on. Their lack of education on the subject is actually doing more harm than good. The perfume industry is sure glad they don't know the difference though. Thing is, they've missed the opportunity to step into a world of empowered self-care for their respiratory, digestive, muscular/skeletal, and hormonal health. Lavender and its essential oil counter parts can be game changers in the household tool box.
Education is key in understanding the plant kingdom around us. It's easy to be fooled by all the essential oil companies that are popping up everywhere wanting to jump on the band wagon. The fact is, plants are here for you to use and obtain optimal health when grown and harvested for their highest potential. Why do you think they jumped on the band wagon in the first place? Low grade oils lead you into believing the essential oil movement is a myth, but after 15yrs of oiling myself and my family with the best quality oils, you'll be whistling a different tune.
So here's a quick tip: It's vital to find a company that owns their farms and grows their plants so quality control is maintained and is seen as the number one priority in production. When a company outsources oils, they don't see what goes on behind closed doors, therefore you, the buyer, becomes the company's guinea pig. No thanks.
In summary, what may appear to be a fad with essential oil companies and home decor chain stores, is a whole different ballgame when steeped in the science of the plant kingdom, and those dedicated to seed to seal efficacy. And gauging from our planet's history, I suspect dropping oils on yourself will be around for a LONG time. At least 5000 more years.