Aromatherapy is yet another example of a centuries-old remedy that is finally making its way into mainstream medicine. Used by the ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians for more than 6,000 years aromatherapy is a holistic medicinal treatment that incorporates essential oils. The oils are derived from plants, flowers, trees, barks and grasses and have specific therapeutic properties ranging from anti-fungal to relaxation.

The essential oils used in aromatherapy may be inhaled or applied to the skin through massage, lotions or bath salts. An aromatherapist may direct you to breathe essential oils directly from a piece of cloth or indirectly through vaporizers or sprays.

Once shunned by traditional medicine, aromatherapy is now widely used in clinics and hospitals for a variety of applications including pain relief, easing the side effects of chemotherapy and for stress reduction.  Aromatherapy massage is a popular way of administering essential oils because it allows your skin to absorb oils while you are also breathing in the scents.

Studies suggest that aromatherapy works by sending signals to the olfactory nerve that are then directed to the nervous system. The olfactory nerve is so closely associated with memory and feeling that it is often called the “emotional brain.”  By using certain aromas in conjunction with activities such as reading, massage therapy or meditation, you can actually influence your brain’s chemistry to boost your mood or sharpen your mind in a way that is safe and natural.

Some of the most commonly used aromatherapy essences include:
Rosemary: Essential oils containing rosemary stimulate the brain and improve mental clarity.

This refreshing scent relieves mental fatigue, promotes alertness and enhances memory. Researchers have also found peppermint to be helpful for dieters because it helps reduce food cravings.

Extracts of eucalyptus are used to open up the sinuses and bronchial passages. Eucalyptus is also used to relieve headaches and reduce mental fatigue.

Lavender: One of the most popular essential oils, lavender is used for relaxation and to induce sleep.

Thyme: The essential oil of thyme improves memory and concentration and relaxes the nervous system.

It is important to use high-quality essential oils that are derived from 100% natural ingredients. Some mainstream companies market “aromatherapy oils” that contain dangerous chemicals such as benzene derivatives, petrochemicals and other toxins. These chemicals have been linked to anaphylactic shock, migraines and allergy attacks and may increase cancer risks. Check labels carefully to be sure you are purchasing pure, natural essential oils.

Essential oils are considered safe for most people and have no adverse side effects when used as directed. Talk to your holistic practitioner about ways to incorporate this centuries-old remedy into your stay-well plan.