Aromatherapy is the medicinal use of essential oils extracted from plants. Plants have played a role in human health throughout history, and they contain properties that can positively impact your physical and emotional health.

Aromatherapy aims to extract the healing and curative properties inherent in plants through a distillation process, and then capture them in the form of essential oils. These oils carry therapeutic agents that can be used medicinally to kill bacteria, fungi and viruses, open air passages, relax muscles, aid digestion, and more. In addition, the fragrances released from these various oils are used to balance moods, calm nerves, invigorate the mind, stimulate a romantic mood or prompt other beneficial physical/emotional responses.

These oils can be present in various plant parts such as leaves, seeds, flowers, roots and bark. The distillation process (often a steam extraction) is the key to retaining efficacy and potency of essential oils, along with how and when the plants are harvested.

Aromatherapy uses therapeutic-grade oils and should not be confused with perfume. Ancient cultures made perfume from authentic essential oils, but modern perfumes are primarily chemical imitations of the oils. In fact, any skin or beauty product that lists the word “fragrance” without specifying where the fragrance comes from is a chemical imitation, or has chemical boosters to “stretch” the scent. These boosters often include dangerous chemicals, such as phthalates, that are known endocrine system disruptors.

The quality, purity and authenticity of essential oils should be of prime importance. This control starts with the plants themselves, which must be strong, healthy and thriving in their natural habitat. They should be harvested at the right time of year and even the ideal time of day.

The best extraction process needs to be determined for each type of plant. The oils must be carefully stored – bottled in glass and protected from heat and light. Pure, undiluted oils can be kept for years if properly stored in a cool, dry place and kept tightly capped. Oxidation is the most common reason that oils go rancid, and utilizing these storage methods can keep oils from oxidizing.

Essential oils made and stored using these methods will be more expensive but far better in quality. We carry Oshadhi, a brand that implements only the highest standards.

Quality essential oils are very concentrated, and a “less is more” attitude should be adopted when using them. Certain natural chemical constituents of essential oils, including phenols and ketones, can be hazardous if used incorrectly. Phenols are powerful antiseptics, and bactericides and oils containing them should be used in small amounts for short periods of time. Some oils that contain phenols are basil, clove, oregano and thyme.

Ketones are cell-regenerative and break up congestion and fats. They also should be used in small amounts and not during pregnancy. Some oils that contain ketones are sage, cedar leaf, peppermint and fennel. Oils can be very potent. Always keep them out of reach of children and away from the eyes. Avoid using essential oils around small animals in the household.

Essential oils can be used in a variety of ways. You can disperse the aroma with a diffuser that has a cool stream of air or that gently warms the oil. Oils can also be directly inhaled from the bottle. If the oil is not too strong, put a few drops on a cotton ball, place the cotton ball in a baggie, and open the baggie to sniff the oil when needed.

The oils will retain their potency for about a week on the cotton ball. Eucalyptus, effective in opening the airways, is one oil that works well in this method. Some oils can be applied directly to the skin, but consult a knowledgeable source prior to application.

Aromatherapy is effective, valuable and fun to use. Stop by Walsh to experiment with our testers and learn more about how essential oils can contribute to your life.