Aromatherapy is the
use of selected fragrant substances in lotions and inhalants in an effort to affect mood, religious spirit, and promote health. It is a form of medicine that uses volatile plant materials, known as essential oils, and other aromatic compounds for the purpose of altering a person's mind, mood, cognitive function or health. The effectiveness of aromatherapy is in the process to be scientifically proven, however evidence for many decades exists that essential oils may have high therapeutic potential.

Since most essential oils such as tea tree have demonstrated anti-microbial effects, it has been shown that they are useful for the treatment of infectious diseases.


Aromatherapy has origins in antiquity with the use of infused aromatic oils, made by macerating dried plant material in fatty oil, heating and then filtering. Many such oils were used in Egypt and were described by the Roman doctor Dioscorides along with beliefs of the time regarding their healing properties, in his De Materia Medica, written in the first century. Distilled essential oils have been employed as medicines since the invention of distillation in the eleventh century, when Avicenna isolated essential oils using steam distillation.

The concept of aromatherapy was first rooted by a small number of European scientists and doctors, in 1907. In 1937, the word first appeared in print in a French book on the subject: Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles, Hormones Végétales by René-Maurice Gattefossé, a chemist. An English version was published in 1993. In 1910, Gattefossé burned a hand very badly in a laboratory explosion. The hand developed gas gangrene, which he successfully, and intentionally, treated with lavender oil. A French surgeon, Jean Valnet, pioneered the medicinal uses of essential oils, which he used as antiseptics in the treatment of wounded soldiers during World War II.


By universal consent, the physical faculties of man have been divided
into five senses,--seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. It
is of matter pertaining to the faculty of Smelling that this COURSE mainly
treats. Of the five senses, that of smelling is the least valued, and,
as a consequence, is the least tutored; but we must not conclude from
this, our own act, that it is of insignificant importance to our welfare
and happiness.

By neglecting to tutor the olfactory nerve, we are constantly led to
breathe impure air, and thus poison the body by neglecting the warning
given at the gate of the lungs. Persons who use perfumes are more
sensitive to the presence of a vitiated atmosphere than those who
consider the faculty of smelling as an almost useless gift.

In the early ages of the world the use of perfumes was in constant
practice, and it had the high sanction of Scriptural authority.
The patrons of perfumery have always been considered the most civilized
and refined people of the earth. If refinement consists in knowing how
to enjoy the faculties which we possess, then must we learn not only how
to distinguish the harmony of color and form, in order to please the
sight, the melody of sweet sounds to delight the ear; the comfort of
appropriate fabrics to cover the body, and to please the touch, but the
smelling faculty must be shown how to gratify itself with the
odoriferous products of the garden and the forest.

Pathologically considered, the use of perfumes is in the highest degree
prophylactic; the refreshing qualities of the citrine odors to an
invalid is well known. Health has often been restored when life and
death trembled in the balance, by the mere sprinkling of essence of
cedrat in a sick chamber.

Modes of application taught in this Course

The modes of application of aromatherapy include:

  • Aerial diffusion: for environmental fragrancing or aerial disinfection
  • Direct inhalation: for respiratory disinfection, decongestion, expectoration as well as psychological effects
  • Topical applications: for general massage, baths, compresses, therapeutic skin care
Some of the materials employed include:

Essential oils: Fragrant oils extracted from plants chiefly through steam distillation (e.g. eucalyptus oil) or expression (grapefruit oil). However, the term is also occasionally used to describe fragrant oils extracted from plant material by any solvent extraction.

Absolutes: Fragrant oils extracted primarily from flowers or delicate plant tissues through solvent or supercritical fluid extraction (e.g. rose absolute). The term is also used to describe oils extracted from fragrant butters, concretes, and enfleurage pommades using ethanol.

Phytoncides: Various volatile organic compounds from plants that kill microbes[citation needed]. Many terpene-based fragrant oils and sulfuric compounds from plants in the genus "Allium" are phytoncides[citation needed], though the latter are likely less commonly used in aromatherapy due to their disagreeable odors.

Herbal distillates or hydrosols: The aqueous by-products of the distillation process, the 'waters' (e.g. rosewater). There are many herbs that make herbal distillates and they have culinary uses, medicinal uses and skin care uses[citation needed]. Common herbal distillates are rose, lemon balm, orange, and chamomile.

Infusions: Aqueous extracts of various plant material (e.g. infusion (tea) of chamomile)

Carrier oils: Typically oily plant base triacylglycerides that dilute essential oils for use on the skin (e.g. sweet almond oil)

Vaporizer (Volatized) Raw Herbs: Typically higher oil content plant based materials dried, crushed, and heated to extract and inhale the aromatic oil vapors in a direct inhalation modality.