Your sense of smell is your most primal sense and exerts surprising influence over your thoughts, emotions, moods, memories, and behaviors. Scents are experienced long before words.
This is why it’s nearly impossible to describe them with language. Olfaction is different from your other senses, processed through different pathways in your brain.
For other sensations such as sounds and visual images, sensory input is delivered straight to your thalamus, which you can think of as “the big switchboard” in your head. From there, data goes out to your primary sensory cortices.
But smells are different. Before reaching your thalamus, they first wind their way through other regions of your brain, including areas controlling memory and emotion. So with scents, you have all this extra processing even before you have conscious awareness of the scent.1
For this reason, scents can have a powerful influence over how you think, feel, and behave. Aromatherapy allows you to harness the olfactory power of plants for healing, or simply to enhance your state of well-being.
Essential oils carry biologically active volatile compounds in a highly concentrated form that can provide therapeutic benefits in very small amounts. Please understand that I am referring to pure, therapeutic grade essential oils from plants, NOT synthetic fragrances and perfumes, which can be toxic and are typically loaded with allergenic compounds.
Aromatherapy Was Used to Treat the Plague
The use of fragrances has been around for thousands of years, although traditions and methodologies have changed through the ages. According to “The Smell Report,”2 the process of extracting and preserving a flower’s scent using alcohol distillation was discovered by Avicenna.
Avicenna was an 11th century Arabian alchemist and physician, who sort of stumbled upon it while “trying to isolate for Islam the soul of its holy rose.” Before this, perfumes consisted only of thick resins, gums, and gooey unguents.
Back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, physicians promoted the therapeutic use of scents, including Hippocrates, Galen, and Crito. Even the plague was treated with fragrances!3
It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that the medicinal use of aromatics was largely discredited by scientists who favored drugs. Fortunately, aromatherapy is now making a strong comeback, moving steadily in the direction of mainstream.
How Essential Oils Can Help with Several Common Maladies
There are probably as many uses for aromatherapy as there are essential oils, but research shows particular promise in relieving stress, stabilizing your mood, improving sleep, pain, and nausea relief, and improving your memory and energy level.
An important element of aromatherapy is synergy, which is why using a combination of oils often creates a much more powerful effect than any one particular oil. With a skilled aromatherapist, the possibilities are nearly endless!
In order to give you an idea of the versatility of aromatherapy, the following table lists some of the therapeutic uses of several oils for a few of today’s most common complaints. As you can see, there are some real “multitaskers,” like lavender andpeppermint—oils that treat more than one problem.4
Many of these are discussed in an excellent article in The Huffington Post5 about scents that can enhance your well-being. For further information, refer to the resource section at the bottom of this article.
Written by Dr. Mercola
Read more at Mercola