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Does it Really Work?
Member Name: zebra
Date: 11/05/02, updated on 11/05/02 (799 review reads)
Advantages: Smells nice.
Disadvantages: May not always be the best way of using plants therapeutically.
As I was gathering a few herbs to combine in some incense I was inspired to write an opinion (first one in ages) on aromatherapy. I have read through many of the opinions on aromatherapy and although there are lots of claims that it works nothing that I have read has convinced me that it is as good or better than using herbs in the more traditional way. My daughter in law is totally convinced that it works and has invested in loads of books by experts such as Julia Lawless and has used many of the oils. In spite of this the children still have eczema and more than their share of coughs and colds, my son still has psoriasis and she still suffers from depression and a host of other ailments.
In theory, however, I would expect aromatherapy to work. I have long been a believer in natural remedies wherever possible and have dabbled in herbs for several years. While I am happy to use some of the oils regularly, such as lavender and tea tree, I can't see any particular benefit in using an oil in the bath when I can use the herb.
One oil I know that has the same properties as the leaves but in far more potency is Melissa. Melissa is very expensive and as a pure essential oil it is rare. I thought it was quite ironic to find this explained on a web site offering pure Melissa oil for £5.77 for 10ml. Cariad, who are a reputable supplier, sell 2.5ml for £32 and it may cost up to £250 for 10ml. There is no such thing as a bargain priced oil if it is cheap it will be at the very best a blend but may be synthetic. There are few of us who would be prepared to lay out even £32 for an oil but Melissa, which is excellent for depression among other things, is a very common garden herb - Lemon Balm. It grows like a weed in my garden and drinking an infusion of the fresh leaves will work but will be much cheaper - in my case free.
If people use inferior oils or worse still synthetics this will not only give aromatherapy but herbal products in general a ba
d name because they won't work. It is a shame but this is one industry where there are an awful lot of what can only be called fake products around. For example, as I write a beautiful scent permeates the room. It is sweet and uplifting offering a promise of summer but has a darker headier underlying perfume. Introductions to aromatherapy explain how we are attracted to certain smells and warned off by others with the tacit assumption that nice smells, as in aromatherapy products, indicate that a product is good for you. The perfume wafting around me comes from just six stems of Lily of the Valley which is potentially a beautifully scented killer. Lily of the Valley is used, only by qualified practitioners, as a therapeutic herb for the heart, the essential oil is used in the perfume industry but never for aromatherapy. However, a search on the internet found plenty of lily of the valley aromatherapy products. I sincerely hope they are synthetic.
Many books maintain that aromatherapy, although a modern term, has been practised for thousands of years. This again I believe is a misleading statement. It is true that the botanicals, the herbs, roots, wood and resins have been used for thousands of years but not in precisely the same way as modern aromatherapy uses them. The most commonly cited example of the use of 'aromatherapy' in ancient times is the use of frankincense.
Frankincense is the most well known resin used as incense and this has long been recognised as purificationary. The Egyptians used it in sickrooms, it has been used to fight the Black death and although the C of E does not use it in service there is plenty of evidence that it was used to fumigate churches in times of sickness.
Frankincense is used in medicine in many ways throughout the world but most commonly by burning as incense. Different properties may be released by the different methods but in the slow burning of incense a magical cocktail of up to 86 ch
emicals are released which the ancients recognised as very special.
Incense is very much associated with religious ceremonies and apart from the purification property it is used as an aid to meditation. Research has shown that frankincense has the ability to increase the oxygen around the pineal and pituitary glands which therefore stimulates this part of the brain (associated with 'third eye' and 'so-called' god spot). This may account for its use in religious ceremonies.
It may not be possible to explain how it works but ancient wisdom has proved that it does. It is not the aroma itself that produces the results but the chemicals released into the atmosphere when it burns. I have only ever used frankincense and other incense ingredients in a traditional charcoal incense burner ( because incense cones and sticks often contain some quite nasty additives).The essential oil may operate in a different way and it is possible that the aroma itself may trigger an individual's brain into action but I'm inclined to think that using it as incense may give the best effects.
Perhaps you might think that I am too pessimistic but I am not saying that aromatherapy doesn't work only raising the concern that the medical and therapeutic claims for the use of oils by massage, vaporisation and bathing may be exaggerated. I do believe in the therapeutic properties of plants and regularly use them for everyday illness in whatever form best suits, e.g. as an oil, inhalation, compress, as a tea, infusion or tincture. But if I need something a bit more substantial I consult a qualified herbalist.
As with all natural products and the 'drugs' taken from them some of the essential oils are potentially dangerous. I do not think that all the books give adequate warnings. Perhaps again I am over cautious but my herbal advises against the use of two commonly used oils during pregnancy. It says avoid chamomile oil completely and a
void high doses of lavender both are uterine stimulants but none of the three aromatherapy books I have mention these among the oils to avoid in pregnancy.
Aromatherapy obviously does have some very real benefits though. The greatest benefits seem to be in reducing stress, aches and pains and as aid to relaxation generally. But realistically a warm, wonderfully scented bath or a slow sensual massage would go a long way to destressing, relaxing or turning one on with or without using essential oils. It is well known that stress and tension can cause all sorts of stress related disease so reducing stress will invariably aid health and well being.
Aromatherapy was discovered as a side product of the perfume industry. At the time the use of herbs and plants for healing was a bit out of favour. If aromatherapy has helped awaken awareness of the beneficial use of plants then it has done a great service. But perhaps aromatherapy as it is popularly sold would be better handed back to the perfume and beauty industry who have done their best to cash in on it anyway.