Article contributed by Selena
The term “Aromatherapy” was coined by its originator, French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse who discovered the that use of essential oils found in plants could be used to enhance one’s health in a wide variety of areas, ranging from anxiety and acne to cellulite and more.
In addition to the unique aroma of each oil, certain therapeutic properties exist. Some are soothing and relaxing, others can be invigorating. In all cases, fragrance has an effect on your mental state. Peppermint, as an example, can enhance your level of concentration.
Essential oils can be used in several ways in order to reap the full benefits, but should be avoided altogether during pregnancy without proper supervision.
These oils are highly concentrated and if applied directly to the skin in its concentrated state they may sting or cause irritation, or you may experience an allergic reaction.
You should never swallow essential oils unless directed to do so by a practitioner who is skilled in the internal medical use of oils. There are, however, herbal decoctions and teas which are readily available.
Chemical Constituents of Essential oils:
from Selena’s notebook
Keywords: antiseptic, bactericidal, disinfectant, stimulant
Generally phenols have names ending with “ol” or “ole”. Examples: carvacrol in oregano, spearmint and thyme. Eugenol in basil, bay, cinnamon, clove, rose and ylang-ylang. Thymol in thyme.
Notes: As with all highly active Essential oils, it is important to use oils with a high phenolic content with care. Liver toxicity may occur if used above the recommended dose for more than four weeks. Even at the recommended dose, you should take a break from use after this time. Undiluted application to the skin is contraindicated since an allergic reaction of the skin or mucus membranes can occur.
Chemical Constituents of Essential oils:
Selena’s notebook (for Aromatherapists)
Hydrocarbons are made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms in a chain. Essential oils consist of chemical compounds that have hydrogen and carbon as their building blocks. When five carbon atoms join together as a branched chain to form molecules, it is called an isoprene unit. The atoms line up head to tail and have the appearance of a backbone. This is the principle building block of terpenes.
Generally have names ending in “ene.” For example: Limonene, pinene, piperene, camphene.
Keywords for Terpenes: anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, bactericidal
Terpenes can be further categorized into monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and diterpenes. Referring back to Isoprene units under the Hydrocarbon heading, when two of these isoprene units join head to tail, the result is a monoterpene, when three join, it’s a sesquiterpene and four linked isoprene units are called diterpenes.
Keywords for Monoterpenes: analgesic, bactericidal, expectorant, stimulant
Examples: camphene and pinene in cypress oil. Champhene, pinene and thujene in black pepper. Cymene and terpinene in thyme. Limonene in rosemary.
Keywords for Sesquiterpenes: analgesic, anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic
Examples: farnesene in chamomile and lavender. Beta-caryophyllene in basil and black pepper.
Keywords for Diterpenes: anti-fungal, expectorant, hormonal balancers, hypotensive
Diterpenes are made of up four isoprene units. This molecule is too heavy to allow for evaporation with steam in the distillation process, so is rarely found in distilled essential oils. Sclareol in clary sage is an example of a diterpene alcohol.
Keywords for alcohols: antiseptic, antiviral, bactericidal, germicidal.
Alcohols generally have names ending with “ol.” For example, linalool found in ylang-ylang and lavender. Geraniol in geranium and rose. Nerol in neroli. Alcohols exist naturally, either as a free compound, or combined with a terpene or ester. When a terpene is attached to an oxygen atom, and a hydrogen atom, the result is an alcohol. When the terpene is a monoterpene, the resulting alcohol is called a monoterpenal. These names also tend to end with “ol.”
Notes: Alcohols have a very low or totally absent toxic reaction in the body or on the skin. Therefore, they are considered safe to use for children, the elderly or the frail.
Some oils that have properties that will inhibit the growth of odor causing bacteria will have a natural deodorant effect. Such as bergamot, lavender or geranium.
Keywords for Aldehydes: antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, anti-viral, disinfectant, sedative.
Generally have names ending in “al”. For example: citral in lemon, lemongrass and lemon balm. Citronellal in lemongrass, lemon balm and citrus eucalyptus.
Notes: medicinally, essential oils containing aldehydes are effective in treating candida and other fungal infections.
Generally have names ending with “ic.” For example: cinnamic and benzoic acid in benzoin. Citric and lactic.
Notes: Organic acids in their free state are generally found in very small quantities within Essential oils. Plant acids act as components or buffer systems to control acidity.
Generally have names ending with “eel,” followed by the group attached to the ester. For example: linlyl acetate in bergamot and lavender. Geranyl formate in geranium.
Notes: Esters are formed through the reaction of alcohols with acids. Essential oils containing esters are used for their soothing, balancing effects. Because of the presence of alcohol, they are effective antimicrobial agents. Medicinally, esters are characterized as antifungal and sedative, with a balancing action on the nervous system. They generally are free from precautions with the exception of methyl salicylate; found in birch and wintergreen which is toxic within the system.
Keywords: anticatarrhal, cell proliferant, expectorant, vulnerary
Generally have names ending in “one”. For example: fenchone in fennel, carvone in spearmint and dill and menthone in peppermint.
Notes: Ketones often are found in plants that are used for upper respiratory complaints. They assist the flow of mucus and ease congestion. Essential oils containing ketones are beneficial for promoting wound healing and encouraging the formation of scar tissue. Ketones are usually (not always) very toxic. The most toxic ketone is Thujone found in mugwort, sage, tansy, thuja and wormwood oils. Other toxic ketones found in essential oils are pulegone in pennyroyal, and pinocamphone in hyssops. Some non-toxic ketones are jasmone in jasmine oil, fenchone in fennel oil, carvone in spearmint and dill oil and menthone in peppermint oil.
Keywords: anti-inflammatory, antiphlogistic, expectorant, febrifuge
Notes: Lactones are known to be particularly effective for their anti-inflammatory action, possibly by their role in the reduction of prostaglandin synthesis and expectorant actions. Lactones have an even stronger expectorant action then ketones.