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Sometimes known as essential oil therapy, aromatherapy is a holistic practice in which natural plant extracts are used to promote health and well-being.

It is uncertain just when the practice began, but it is thought to have its roots in China. The Egyptians developed what was perhaps one of the first distillation machines to extract oils from plants, such as cedarwood, clove, and cinnamon, which were used to embalm the dead. The Greeks also had a role in the early use of aromatherapy, and Hippocrates practiced aromatherapy for healing purposes. However, the term originated with the French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, in 1937, who used lavender oil to cure a burn. French physicians used essential oils to assist in the healing of wounds during World War II.

Aromatherapy is a method of using essential oils to improve the quality of life. The idea is that when the fragrance of the essential oil reaches the nose, microscopic particles of the oil are inhaled. These tiny droplets contain chemical components that are believed to relieve the symptoms of the common cold, ease tension, and have other therapeutic effects.

When blended and applied topically, these oils can provide relief from pain, assist in the healing of wounds, or discourage bugs from biting, depending on the oil and the blend.

Aromatherapy is used to provide natural, non-pharmaceutical relief for a variety of symptoms. For example, peppermint oil is used to relieve indigestion, ease cold symptoms, and provide relief from headaches. Rosemary can be used for a quick energy boost.

Essential oils from lavender are particularly versatile. It can be used to freshen a room, applied topically in the treatment of minor injuries and irritations, or used to discourage fleas.

Most aromatherapy recipes call for only a few drops of essential oil, and often less. Although essential oils are natural, they are highly concentrated, and, in some cases, the use of too large of an amount could be dangerous.

Essential oils that are commonly used at home include those derived from clove, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemon, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary, and tea tree. Others include clary sage, frankincense, grapefruit, patchouli, Roman chamomile, and thyme.

Essential oils are not as heavily regulated as prescription or over-the-counter medications. For this reason, products might contain terminology that doesn't necessarily mean what it might seem to mean.

For example, essential oils will often include an aromatherapy grade or a therapeutic grade. However, as there is no official grading system or oversight of the production of essential oils, manufacturers set their own standards. Similarly, there is no official certification process for essential oils, so indications that a particular brand is certified may have no comparative value in judging one manufacturer's product from another.

In most cases, an indication that a particular brand of essential oil is 100% pure would be accurate. It is reasonable for a customer to know that they are purchasing unadulterated essential oils, a false indication of this would be fraudulent.

Oils labeled as identical oil, perfume oil, or fragrance oil are not essential oils. These are likely to be a combination of essential oils, carrier oils, and chemicals, and are intended for making candles or other craft purposes, and are not suitable for aromatherapy.

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy defines aromatherapy as "the therapeutic application or the medicinal use of aromatic substances (essential oils) for holistic healing." In 1997, the International Standards Organization defined an essential oil as a "product obtained from vegetable raw material, either by distillation with water or steam, or from the epicarp of citrus fruits by a mechanical process, or by dry distillation."

Aromatherapy practitioners believe that a range of essential oils have various degrees of antimicrobial activity, as well as antiviral, antifungal, antioxidant, insecticidal, and nematicidal properties. Applications may include inhalation, topical applications, or massage.

However, essential oils can be hazardous if used incorrectly. Generally, the ingestion of essential oils is not recommended and may result in damage to the liver or kidneys.



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