Have you ever walked past a plant or flower and caught a breath of something wonderful that reminded you of your grandmother or a trip you took? Do some odors drive you crazy, in a good way? That's because our noses are intricately intertwined in the way we experience life. The smell of cinnamon might take you back to cold winters spent sitting by the fireplace with your family during the holidays. If smells can trigger such vivid memories, it's not such a stretch to connect healing to scents. And the best part about it is that there's real science to support it. We're talking about aromatherapy here.
Modern Medicine and Plants
Plants are the basis for much of modern medicine's pharmacologic advances. Plants have hundreds of chemical compounds that can be isolated and used to create pharmacologic drugs. For instance, the salicylic acid found in willow bark is the foundation of aspirin. Poppies are the source of codeine. And foxglove is where the heart medication digoxin is derived. Undoubtedly, plants harbor so much energy and healing in them, and humans have been benefiting from them since the beginning of time. From the root to the flower, plants are truly amazing creations.
Aromatherapy works by isolating the volatile oils of a plant, its essential oils. These are the chemical compounds that give plants their aroma and some of their potency. Once the essential oils have been distilled from the plant material, and bottled, we can use them to inspire our bodies and spirits to repair themselves. For instance, camphoric plants like mint, eucalyptus, tea tree and fir balsam can penetrate deep to open up the airways and soothe muscles. Think about the popular chest rub and arthritis cream. Both of these products make use of lessons learned from plants.
Why Aromatherapy Works
Aromatherapy isn't a magic healing modality. It doesn't cure the ills of individuals or the world. Think of it as a type of support. Lavender essential oil won't cure depression or make you grieve less, but it can lessen symptoms and support you on your road to wellness and acceptance. Your nose and its olfactory receptors are tied into your nervous system, so when these scents (created by the plants volatile oils) attach to your olfactory receptors, they send signals to your brain via your nervous system--your hippocampus and amygdala more specifically. Your brain interprets these signals and responds accordingly. The reason why aromatherapy works is because it acts strongly on the nervous system, a whole body system.
Reasons to Try Aromatherapy
1. It's a Complementary Therapy
Aromatherapy can be used in conjunction with your current health care regimen. Remember, you're mainly smelling them. Essential oils can also be mixed with a carrier oil to be applied topically to the skin. For instance, ginger, cardamom and peppermint essential oils have been shown to help alleviate some of the side effects and discomforts that accompany chemotherapy and radiation. You should still consult with your medical care provider before starting aromatherapy.
2. Pain Relief
Some essential oils are great at relieving pain. Lemongrass, lavender and cinnamon are just a few essential oils that can reduce pain quickly. You can diffuse the essential oil, add it to a carrier oil like olive oil, add it to bath salts or add it to a DIY personal care item like a lotion bar. Once your tissues absorb the chemical compounds in the essential oils, you will likely begin to notice.
3. Support Your Immune System
Many essential oils are antimicrobial, anti-fungal and antibacterial. These actions make them great for giving your immune system a little help. They may even help clear the air of pathogens when diffused in a humidifier or diffuser. Frankincense, lemon and eucalyptus are just a few favorites to give your immune system a boost. You can also use essential oils like eucalyptus and peppermint to relieve nasal congestion.
There are a lot of reasons to start using essential oils and get into aromatherapy. You don't have to go big. You can start with a few staples and grow from there. Lavender is a favorite in my home. I dab a drop or two on the temples to relieve headaches and inspire sleep. I also use a drop on the lymph nodes at the base of the lower jaw to banish sore throats. What are some of your favorite essential oils? And how do you use them?