Every plant, flower, spice and herb has an associated fragrance, usually from essential oils - the powerful oils found within that can evaporate into the air releasing their distinctive aromas.
Some botanicals hold this essential oil in such very small amounts making them highly prized and sought after - the very low aromatic content of a rose means that one tonne of petals will create 300g of rose oil, making genuine rose oil incredibly expensive.
These oils can be found in different parts of the plant - the root, the petals, leaves, seeds, wood, bark, sap and more. Oils from different parts of the same plant can create different aroma’s - petitgrain, orange oil and neroli all come from different parts of the bitter orange tree, and have a noticeably different aroma.
These powerful oils can interact with the body to create changes. These interactions are split into 3 routes - pharmacological (the oil enters the bloodstream and reacts with hormones, enzymes etc), physiological (how the oil affects the bodily systems, such as sedative or stimulating) and psychological (when an aromatic is inhaled and the individuals emotional response to that aroma).
Like many plant oils, essential oils have been used for thousands of years, in religious ceremonies, as incense, for perfumery, medicinally and cooking. There are archeological examples showing preserved distilling equipment from as far back as 3,000 BC - it really is an ancient practice.
Papyrus manuscripts dating back to 2,000 BC speak of the use of fine oils for religious rituals and the use of oils such as cedar and myrhh for embalming. The ancient Egyptian civilizations are well known for their skills in creating herbal preparations, not only for medicinal purposes, but also for perfuming and to aid sleep. “Kyphi” is a an example of this - a cure-all remedy that was both incense, perfume but also a poison antidote and anxiety aid.
The term “aromatherapy” was first used in 1928 by a French chemist, Gattefosse, who was working as a perfumer. He began to explore the therapeutic properties of essential oils after learning (accidentally) that lavender oil was able to quickly heal a burn on his hand. Whilst the use of essential oils is still present, there is still so much we don’t know about much of the planet’s flora and its benefits.
Thankfully, the benefits and use of many oils have been handed down over centuries, predominantly thanks to practices such as Ayurveda and Chinese medicine meaning aromatherapy is still something we can work with today.
Essential oils can be easily introduced into your self-care ritual in to reap the mood-boosting benefits. A good place to start is by adding a couple of drops of diluted lavender oil to a bath, blending a massage oil with coconut oil and cedarwood, or investing in a diffuser.