The use of essential oils derived from plants to help heal the mind and body is many centuries old. The Egyptians pressed flowers to make medicine around 600 BC. The ancient Persians used water from distilled roses to help treat illness. And in the eleventh century, the Arab philosopher and physician Avicenna developed the method of distillation to produce a more pure form of essential oils, and the Crusaders brought the idea back to Europe.
Since then aromatic oils have been popularly used down the centuries for their healing properties, for cosmetics and for perfumes. The oils are found in the tiny glands of petals, leaves, stems, wood, berries and bark and give plants and trees their powerful aromas, particularly if crushed. But in the nineteenth century, the pure oils were copied with cheaper, chemical versions, which led to a decline in their popularity. But now the pure essential oils have made a comeback in an age when the benefits of nature are being sought once again.
The resurgence started at the beginning of the twentieth century when French chemist Rene Gattefosse accidentally burned his hand at the family’s perfume house and soothed it by covering it with Lavender oil. He noticed how quickly the burn healed without blistering or scarring. Gattefosse went on to document his findings and the therapeutic use of other oils. His work was followed up by other French nationals, Dr Jean Valent who treated war wounds and other conditions such as TB, cancer and emotional problems; and the biochemist and beautician Marguerite Maury, who developed the use of oils for massage and beauty treatments.
Today, the use of essential oils is well known and well documented. Aromatherapy provides a holistic, non-invasive method for improving emotional and physical health by preventing, as well as treating, illness. There have been numerous world-wide studies into the efficacy of oils to treat a wide range of illnesses, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Aromatherapy is used widely in the UK in hospitals and establishments such as hospices by midwives, nurses and practitioners for many conditions. Many patients attest to the benefits in reducing stress and anxiety which accompany many serious problems.
Many oils have particularly beneficial therapeutic qualities. For instance, Tea-Tree oil, which comes from the Australian marshlands, is stronger than many artificial antiseptics, yet is totally harmless. It has antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties and can also help to boost the immune system, making it an invaluable natural remedy. Lavender is also well known for its medicinal qualities. A shrub that grows in many countries, it is also a natural antiseptic as well as a mood balancer, analgesic, antibiotic, and sedative and helps the cells to regenerate more quickly, making it particularly useful for skin problems.
How the remedies work
Many people still view aromatherapy as a nice smelly massage. But science has shown that essential oils do have a proven positive effect on us. For instance, it is believed that Lavender increases the alpha rhythms in our brains which induces calmness.
Aromatherapy is not just used in massage, although this is the most common form of use. Massaging means the oils penetrate the skin and are absorbed into the bloodstream, dispersing their effects through the body. But their scent can also be inhaled in a bath or a bowl of hot water, which is said to have an immediate effect on the brain. They can also be used in vaporizers, compresses and mouthwashes (if the child is old enough not to swallow).
Therapists say there are no side-effects (except, if relevant to a teenage girl, during pregnancy) and that even young babies can benefit from aromatherapy.
What to expect form a first visit
An aromatherapist should take a detailed account of your child’s general health, medical history (including any medication taken), family background, lifestyle, likes and dislikes. This may take about an hour. The information will enable them to choose the right oils to suit your child and be aware of any contraindications to certain oils. The aromatherapist will then blend the appropriate oils which may be used in massage or be given for inhalation, a compress, or vaporizer. They may also give you a blend to take for home use.
Depending on the ailment, only one session may be needed, but for more chronic problems, a course of treatment may be necessary. If a course is needed, the blend of oils will change according to the child’s physical and emotional progress.
Finding a therapist
Always ask the practitioner what experience they have of treating children as this is a specialist field and experience is advisable. Personal recommendation is also one of the best methods of finding a therapist. There are many different organizations in the UK which train aromatherapists. In 1991 the Aromatherapy Organization Council was formed as a governing body to unify the profession and set up common standards of training. Member organizations of the AOC must provide training which includes 180 hours in class involving 80 hours of aromatherapy, 60 hours of massage and 40 hours of anatomy and physiology.
What qualifications to look for
There are over ninety training establishments recognized by the AOC. If you contact an aromatherapist who has trained at one of these establishments they should be of a standard acceptable to the AOC and abide by their Code of Conduct and Ethics.
Use with other therapies
Aromatherapy works very well on its own, but can be used successfully with other therapies. Therapies that work on the body, such as reflexology, osteopathy, chiropractic and applied kinesiology can all gain from the added benefits of aromatherapy. Avoid use with homoeopathy as the strong scents can disturb the homoeopathic remedies.
Used properly, essential oils are very safe. If your therapist gives you oils to take for home use, they should warn that the oils are not to be taken internally, as they are potent. Unless otherwise stated, they should always be diluted with a carrier oil. If you are in any doubt about your child’s symptoms, always consult your GP. Some oils are contraindicated for babies and young children and during pregnancy.
Filed Under: Health & Personal Care
About the Author: Andrew Reinert is a health care professional who loves to share different tips on health and personal care. He is a regular contributor to MegaHowTo and lives in Canada.