The Magic of Aromatherapy Angela H. Penn © September 2012

I would imagine the people that first discovered what we now call aromatherapy had really no idea what they had found.  To them it was like finding a magical remedy to treat whatever ailed them.  We now know that aromatherapy is helpful in calming one’s body and mind and can be instrumental in the treatment of pain management, boosting our immune systems along with a long list of other maladies.  Some people use aromatherapy during prayer or meditation and in rituals such as the Native Indians and other cultures.   I have personally witnessed the use of sage in a healing ceremony as well as enjoyed using lavender oil in my bath water before I retire for the night.  Scents can uplift us, or calm us down.  This article examines the history and the dynamics of aromatherapy; I have included suggestions in the treatment of stress/tension, for aches and pains, for boosting one’s immune system to treating bacterial/ fungal infections.

History of Aromatherapy:

The history of aromatherapy dates back as far as 6000 years, although the term aromatherapy (“aroma” meaning fragrance, and “therapy” meaning treatment) wasn’t used until the 20th Century.

The ancient Chinese, Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all used aromatherapy oils.

The ancient Chinese were using some form of aromatherapy at or around the same time as the Egyptians. They used herbs and burned aromatic woods and incense to show their respect to God. The oldest surviving medical book in China, (dated around 2,700BC and written by Shen Nung, contains cures involving over three hundred different aromatic herbs.

The Greeks continued the use of aromatic oils. They used them in medicines and cosmetics. Aromatherapy came of age when they took medicine into a new light 2000 years ago. The earliest known Greek physician was Asclepius who practiced around 1200 BC combining the use of herbs and surgery with previously unrivalled skill.  His reputation was so great that after his death he was deified as the god of healing in Greek mythology.

Hypocrites (400 BC), who were commonly known as the “Father of Medicine”, were the first to study essential oils’ effects. He believed that a daily aromatic bath and scented massage would promote good health.

Theophrastus, a physician, wrote of the healing properties of “aromatic” plants. For at least 1200 years, a book written by a Greek physician named Pedacius Dioscorides about herbal medicine was the Western world’s standard medical reference.  Many of these remedies are still being used in Aromatherapy today.

The Romans built upon this knowledge and became well known for their scented baths followed and aromatic oil massages.

The ancient Egyptians used plants for religious rituals; it was believed that certain smells could raise higher consciousness or promote a state of tranquility. They used the fragrant oils from plants (essential oils) for embalming.  Oils such as myrrh, frankincense, cinnamon, cedar wood, and juniper berry are all known to have been used in the mummification process to preserve the bodies of their loved ones in preparation for the after-life.  As time went on, the Egyptians continued to refine their use of aromatics in medicine, cosmetics, incense and perfumes.

It was during the 19th century that scientists in Europe began researching the effects of essential oils on bacteria in humans.

Rene Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist, began research into the healing powers of essential oils in the early 1900’s after he accidentally burned his hand in his laboratory. On reflex, he immersed his burned hand in the closest liquid which happened to be lavender oil.  He was quite impressed by how quickly the burn healed without infection and with no visible scar. Gattefossé is credited with coining the word “aromatherapy”.   In 1937, Gattefossé wrote a book called Aromathérapie: Les Huiles essentielles hormones végétales which was later translated into English and renamed Gattefossé’s Aromatherapy.

There have been numerous studies and books published on aromatherapy and the healing powers of essential oils since the late 1970’s / early 1980’s when aromatherapy became a major part of alternative and holistic healing across the world.

Aromatherapy uses volatile oils (scents) of the plant for external applications (in massage oils, bath water, humidifiers, vaporizers and diffusers, etc.)  These scents have a variety of healing powers which work primarily on the emotions and mental processes and can have strong physical effects.

It should be noted that the major form of communication among mammals is scent.  Most mammals send out and excrete in urine what we refer to as pheromones, which are hormone- like scents.  Humans also communicate via scent at either a subconscious or conscious level.   We attract mates through pheromones and certain scents can bring back pleasant memories.  The smell of apples and cinnamon bring back memories of Mom’s homemade pies to the smell of lilacs or vanilla can take us back in time to when we were children.

The beauty industry utilizes our strong sense of smell to invoke various moods through scents that encourage us to buy their products.  In recent years,( in my travels to the US and locally) I have noticed the use of scents in stores I frequent to create a certain ambience that encourages the shopper to relax and thus stay longer and buy more to fruity scents that make me feel energized.

Aromatherapy has come under scrutiny as a complementary treatment, yet research continues to prove its undeniable value. Topically, many solutions composed of essential oils used in aromatherapy massage are being used today in oncology units, children’s specialty medical centers and for sporting injuries.  Better Health Channel of Canada suggests that with the right aroma therapist, there is significant evidence linking low risk with benefits to improved health conditions and prevention. Aromatherapy is not appropriate for all medical conditions.  Expert advice from a qualified practitioner or licensed health professional such as an herbalist is strongly encouraged.

Essential oils used in aromatherapy not only invigorate the senses, along with reducing stress and anxiety, but they also have antifungal and antimicrobial properties.   These oils are something only nature could inspire. Considered the life-force in every living plant, essential oils contain the soul, or essence, of the plant – the odor, taste and therapeutic properties. Extracted from the root, bark, wood, seed, flower, fruit, and leaf of freshly harvested plants, essential oils contain the plant’s powerful benefits – their uses have been well documented for centuries and throughout the world.  They can work topically and as an inhalant yet stimulate the immune system to attack harmful bacteria, virus and fungi and further promote healing.   According to “Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide” the use of aromatherapy is all natural and therefore lacks the harsh side effects associated with ingested antibiotics.”  One should note that medicinal herbs tend to take longer to work, compared to antibiotics.

Stress and Immunity:

**Be sure to use ONLY natural and pure oils.

You can use aromatherapy oils –

•As inhalers in your room or workplace: Feel the gentle aromas easing away your stress and tensions, making you feel relaxed and filling you with a sense of soothing calmness. You may like to put your favorite oil in aromatherapy diffusers and enjoy the sense of peace and tranquility in your room.

•As bath oils: Mixing natural aromatic oils to warm water provides a very relaxing experience, and is ideal after a hectic life that has left your nerves frayed and tired.

•As massage oils: Massage relaxes muscles and other parts of the body and leaves you calm and restful. Massage is often applied with the help of aromatic oils. These oils enter the blood stream and help in relaxing your body and mind.

One herbalist I know uses the oils on a handkerchief and waves it over her customers to create a relaxed atmosphere during consultations with her clients.

Some useful herbs for the reduction of stress and anxiety are:

Basil: It is useful during periods of stress, insomnia and mild stress. Promotes mental clarity, concentration and increases enthusiasm.  Caution: Basil should not be used during pregnancy.

Cardamom: Useful during mental stress, burnout and state of confusion. Cardamom oil helps in gaining clarity, concentration and enhances sense of motivation.  Some people claim that the scent of the cardamom herb aids in the process of praying or meditating.

Chamomile Roman: When you are beset by stress, anxiety, tension and worries then this is the oil that will bring you feelings of relaxation and stability.

Cinnamon: Useful aromatic oil for relief from stress and tension. It invigorates and helps in promoting a sense of well-being.

Clary sage:  is the most euphoric of the essential oils, and it can produce an almost drug like narcotic “high”.  Combined with its pronounced anti-depressant qualities, this euphoria makes clary sage a powerful aid to easing depression, anxiety and stress.   One must use Clary Sage with caution, only a minor amount is required to create relaxation.

Frankincense: Useful for curing stress, anxiety, confusion and sense of panic. Apart from making you relaxed it fills one with inspiration.

Geranium:  In vapor therapy, or in massage oil, or diluted in bath water, geranium oil can be used to help relieve stress and mild depression…

Ginger: Make use of this aromatic oil for burnout, anxiety and fatigue. It also helps in enhancing the sense of confidence.

Lavender oils: Very popular amongst oils used in aromatherapy for stress relief.  Helps in restoring a sense of balance, feelings of rejuvenation and helps bringing about clarity in thinking.  Lavender also seems to induce sleep in many people.

Rose: Useful in attaining temporary relief from stress, tension and headache.

Sandalwood: It helps in relieving mental tension and anxiety.

Yang Yang: This aromatic oil helps during periods of stress, anxiety and frustration, and helps in restoring feelings of calm and relaxation.

According to Salvatore Battaglia in The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy, the relaxing nervines include: Clary Sage, Roman Chamomile, Lavender, Geranium, Sandalwood, and Ylang Ylang. These aromas work by relieving stress and anxiety, whether applied to the skin, inhaled directly, or diffused. Lavender and Ylang Ylang can even reduce blood pressure, thanks to their high percentages of Linalool.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiovascular surgeon, studied aromatherapy to find alternative methods to expedite recovery time and reduce anxiety in heart patients. Dr. Oz and his collaborator, clinical aroma therapist Jane Buckle, PhD, recommend using 15 drops of an essential oil, such as lavender, chamomile or eucalyptus, diluted with 1 oz. (2 Tbsp.) of a “carrier” or neutral oil, such as almond, avocado or jojoba, dabbed directly on the skin. This means you literally have scented relief on you when you need it, says Dr. Oz.

Essential Oil Blends for Stress

This blend will help you to relax the mind and forget about things for a while   Add the following to 100ml of carrier oil (carrier oil is needed to dilute pure essential oils – you can use vegetable oil such as almond, olive or canola):

•10 drops of bergamot oil (bergamot should not be used if you are going out into the sun, as it can cause photo-sensitivity which produced brown patches on the skin).

•20 drops geranium oil

•10 drops ylang ylang oil

•5 drops frankincense oil

•5 drops cedar wood oil

Alternatively, you can use the following mix in order to relax aches and pains that are caused by stress.

•20 drops lavender oil

•10 drops rosemary oil

•5 drops peppermint oil

•5 drops cypress oil

Again, you need to add the essential oils to 100ml of carrier oil.

It is important to consult a qualified and trained aroma therapist as some essential oils are so concentrated that they have the potential to be harmful, and can burn the skin.  They may also be harmful if swallowed.

Bacteria, Virus and Fungi:

Geranium has been extensively studied for potent antimicrobial properties, and it is the organic Geranium x asperum from Egypt that is most potent for antimicrobial applications (the ‘x asperum’ meaning it’s a particular strain of Pelargonium graviolens). We also now have an incredible Geranium Absolute, with a deep, rich aroma.  This is an exquisite oil to experiment with as a perfume.

Although, the Tea tree oil has a harsh, medicinal smell, it is one of the most powerful immune system boosters in the world of herbology.   Its antiseptic properties make it perfect for topical applications for cleaning wounds and treating bacterial/ fungal infections.   Tea tree oil can be used for aromatherapy in simmer pots, diffusers, or steam therapy.

In England, hospital staff administered essential oil massage to relieve pain and induce sleep. In fact, “English hospitals also use a variety of essential oils (including lemon, lavender and lemongrass) to help combat the transmission of airborne infectious disease” (Alternative Medicine, The Definitive Guide).

Injury, Inflammation and Pain

As an arthritis or muscular treatment, the topical application of essential oils in aromatherapy can have both anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.  Clove, cinnamon and thyme generally carry anti-inflammatory properties.  The eucalyptus oil has analgesic qualities that may also double as an antiseptic.   In “Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide,” skin conditions benefit from the use of essential oils with anti-inflammatory properties as well, as they help reduce swelling, redness and tenderness.”

“We found that the smell of green apples reduced the severity and duration of migraine headache pain and may have a similar effect on joint pain,” says Dr. Hirsch. “The scent seems to reduce muscle contractions, which are the main cause of pain in migraines.”

Inflammation is a very common cause of pain. It generally involves swelling. To create a relaxing and inflammatory-busting effect, it is important to use more sedative oils than stimulant oils. The following essential oils can be helpful in alleviating painful, inflamed joints:  Chamomile, Rosemary, Marjoram and Turmeric.


The key to relieving muscular pain, including back pain, is to use an essential oil that is relaxing to start with.   Lavender and Chamomile are two such herbs, as they are both calming and help to relax the entire body. The following essential oils can be combined with lavender for a more muscle-relaxing effect.  When combining these, ensure that the lavender is always the dominant oil. They include peppermint, eucalyptus and Japanese mint oil, when combined together this preparation smells quite nice.  I have used this in a diffuser and steamer to also treat sinus problems and seasonal allergies.   One can also safely use a few drops of lavender, eucalyptus and Japanese mint oils in your bath water if you prefer rather than applying these herbs topically.

A good balance of these four oils would be six drops of lavender and just one drop of the other three.

It is wise to remember to use what works for you, as we are all individuals with different rates of recovery and we may differ on what scents we like.  If you don’t like one scent, try another.  Most people enjoy the smell of mint and eucalyptus while others may prefer to use lavender alone.   Even my animals relax and are soon to fall asleep after a lavender bath.

Look at aromatherapy as an adventure or experiment.   One will never run out of herbs to use, that is the beauty of using them.

  Angela H. Penn is a herbalist student, published author and freelance writer who lives in Canada.  This is her third article for the Mystik Way magazine @

You can read her blogs at : .  You can also find her on Facebook.


Willard, Terry, PhD.  Textbook of Modern Herbology. 2nd Revised edition. © 1998, 1993.

Salvatore Battaglia, The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy.  Perfect Potion; 2nd New edition edition (May 2004).

Aromatherapy for Pain Relief By Mary Margaret Chappell in Arthritis Today.  © February 20th, 2012.

Better Health Channel of Canada: Aromatherapy

“Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Second Edition”; L. Trivieri Jr. and J. Anderson (Eds.); 2002

“Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Aromatherapy”; K. Schnaubelt; 1995


4 thoughts on “The Magic of Aromatherapy Angela H. Penn © September 2012

  1. wartica says:

    I’ve never had a bad experience with aromatherapy–for whatever I was using it for–and suggest it to each and every person out there:)

  2. […] it was like finding a magical remedy to treat whatever ailed them. We now know that …See on Share […]

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