History reminds us that essential oils have been used for different purposes over the years.
Pure “essential” oils, which contain the essence of the plant from which they were extracted, were first isolated by Avicenna, an 11th century Persian scholar who discovered steam distillation.
A French surgeon named Jean Valnet pioneered their use as an antiseptic during World War II, discovering that the essences of cinnamon and cloves were particularly useful against the cultures of tuberculosis bacillus. He singled out eucalyptus, cloves, thyme, garlic, lemon, lavender, camomile and peppermint for their antiseptic qualities, too.
In more recent times, essential oils have become popular as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, conventional medicine. Aromatherapy is often used to aid respiratory ailments and skin conditions, to treat wounds and relieve nervous tension.
Eileen Mallard, an aromatherapist from Good 4 You Aromatherapy in Montmorency, Victoria, says qualified aromatherapists use their skills and knowledge to select the most appropriate essential oils for their clients’ needs by mixing and applying the essential oil blend using different methods.
This may be in the form of an aromatherapy massage or aroma inhaler, a pure essential oil blend for diffusing in the home or office, or in a lotion or balm for topical application.
“Essential oils are used by hundreds of thousands of people around the world every day, to help maintain and improve their health,” Eileen says. “And, if used correctly, there are few reports of adverse effects.
“It is prudent, however, to remember that essential oils are potent substances and one must take care when using them.”
In addition to use in the home, Eileen says aromatherapy is being used to good effect in workplaces.
“Using essential oils in the workplace provides a holistic treatment for work-related stress, as well as helping relieve the pain of arthritis and symptoms associated with the build-up of muscle tension.
“Aromatherapy can also cleanse and purify the working environment by using antibacterial and antiviral essential oils to ward off illnesses that can be contracted by working in heated and cooled closed environments. Essential oils with cephalic (meaning relating to the head) components can also help relieve mental fatigue,” Eileen says.
Lucille Wilson, an aromatherapy expert at Sydney Essential Oil Co, says Australian native oils are growing in popularity.
“Tea tree is the big seller because of its antiseptic characteristics,” Lucille says. “But if the aroma is too intense, there are other Australian native oils that have similar properties with a milder aromatic profile. Rosalina (Melaleuca ericifolia) has a gentler, almost rose-like scent.
“Another native oil that is very popular is Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) because of its appealing scent and its antibacterial properties. Also try fragonia for tired joints, blue cypress for inflammatory skin conditions, lemon myrtle for relaxation and eucalyptus for respiratory conditions,” Lucille says.
Good-quality oils are available from chemists and health food stores. Those listed with the Therapeutic Goods Administration are approved for their therapeutic claims.
Top six starters
Set yourself up with the basics
Tea tree – antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiseptic, useful for treating wounds.
Lavender – offers stress relief, relaxation and promotes restful sleep.
Sweet orange – has a natural antidepressant effect.
Eucalyptus – an antiseptic, antibacterial oil useful for respiratory support.
Peppermint – useful for clarity of thought and has a cooling effect on sunburn.
Frankincense – recommended for calmness and meditation.