Aromatherapy – more than oils
It is difficult to know why people start working with aromatherapy. I couldn’t really explain this myself but I suppose it is some sort of love affair with the idea of aroma or fragrance which does appeal to some old instinctual behaviour. It’s hardly surprising then that the study of aromatherapy is mainly about essential oils yet there is more to aromatherapy than these exciting substances.
If you look through the best professional catalogues for therapists you will soon come across other ideas and materials that are used in therapy. Some of them maybe initially in conflict with ideas put forward in primary education in aromatherapy, such as absolutes. Others at first glance may be quite meaningless, perhaps even sounding a long way from true aromatherapy such as bio-amino complexes. Yet all these different materials have come about through the development of aromatherapy, the needs of the therapists, the exploration of patient or client needs. Indeed there seems to be different forms of aromatherapy.
So what are some of these practical and useful materials beyond essential oils? It is more than ten years ago that I first said publicly in my lectures that hydrolats, or floral waters cum hydrosols, were at least as useful as essential oils and very under utilised. I have long promoted their use in skin care and have found them beneficial in every sort of skin condition. My original thinking has not changed in that an essential oil is really an extract of the aromatic principals of the plant which arrives in two forms – the essential oils and the distilled water used to extract the non water soluble components of the essential oil. Some aromatic components of the plant are actually weak acids and these of course dissolve into the hydrolat. The are therefore by definition skin friendly and very useful. I have used them as sprays, as therapeutic baths, for foot care and so on. There is nothing nicer when you have been really ill than being sponged down with ward floral water geared to your condition. They are an education in themselves and becoming increasingly popular in the US.
The humble vegetable oil has grown too. When I first started aromatherapy there was just vegetable oil, a massage medium. In my opinion massage itself is very important in the aromatic experience but the vegetable oil should not just be considered a slippage medium. Vegetable oils have many properties. One of my most popular lectures has been Vegetable Oils in Practice where we demonstrate the values of different vegetable oils and discuss at length their uses. Macadamia oil, for example, if of the correct quality contains a fatty acid that is exceptionally useful in skin care for those past the menopause. For years I have promised a book on the subject but was beaten to it by Len Price along with Shirley and Ian Smith and their book “Carrier Oils for Aromatherapy and Massage” is a must.
Put essential oils, water and vegetable oil together and you have a powerful therapy. But how best to apply these materials? Massage of course, burners and fragrancers but have you ever considered a nebulising diffuserwhich pumps essential oils in a micronised form into the atmosphere, ionising the essential oils molecule and making for a fresher feel and therapeutic effect. This is as close to natural dispersion as is possible and such nebulising diffusers have very beneficial results if used correctly. Oil and water do not mix yet the aromatherapist if trained properly uses materials to make a variety of lotions and potions.
This brings us to the subject of bases. Practitioners and their clients or patients alike want to send folk home with something to apply to themselves. Many practitioners build their own skin care ranges or design a custom programme for a specific client. In medical practice, some do not want to use an oil or it may be inconvenient to use an oil. For example when wearing long sleeved blouses, shirts etc. applying oil to the wrists is plainly inconvenient. Aromatherapy has therefore developed its own range of bases, usually divided into creams, milks or lotions and gels. As with anything else, quality varies. A little tip to watch out for is to be wary of brands that consistently tell you what they don’t contain rather than emphasising what they do contain! Also look out for products that make miracle claims such as “our cream contains no preservative and doesn’t go off”! natural always goes off. It is part of nature’s way of breaking things down and recycling. Examine claims carefully – often there are hidden preservatives like alcohol or urea. Bases can be very useful and those that are flexible enough to be mixed with each other or take 20% plus volume are not only versatile but enable the therapist to create texture, touch and performance equal to the very best that can be found in the market.
If aromatherapy is anything, it is supposed to be a natural therapy. I define it as being based upon aromatic plants – to me the plant is king or queen, the plant is everything. So I am very happy to use aromatic principals from the plant in many forms. For example the vegetable oils we spoke of earlier are excellent at extracting aromatic components from the plants. When processed properly and not cheaply a very good herbal oil. The commonest one available is St John’s Wort, renowned for its wound healing properties. But calendula, or pot marigold, is just as interesting and exceptionally soothing. Yes, they do have to be made properly and it does taker time and they are relatively expensive. Cheap versions are made by screw expellers, with very little actives and poor performance so can be disappointing. If you do not afford the best (and if you don’t you may question ethically why, especially in medicine) then why not make your own. It’s perfectly possible to do over the summer time by packing the jars with herbs in a good quality oil.
These are just some of the more common reminders about the wide variety of materials to be used in aromatherapy. We haven’t touched on aromatic vinegars, we haven’t discussed aromatic honeys or such exciting materials such as propolis. After all propolis is perhaps the most natural of aromatherapy products going, collected by bees, using the aromatic resins of trees for disinfecting and protecting the hive. What could be better? And yes, what about absolutes, so useful in psychotherapeutic work if not in body work. And then there are plant milks, and then there are ……….
So much to learn but very enjoyable and beneficial. Education and knowledge are the key so look out for those courses and companies who are able to take you further and broaden your horizons, empowering the therapist to not only help their clients and patients but to make a decent living as well.