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Those who believe in the healing powers of aromatherapy will tell you it is more than just the ingredients in those yummy-smelling candles and lotions you find at your local drug store. More specifically, it is the use of liquid from plants, known as essential oils, and other scented plant compounds for the purpose of improving a person's health. Aromatherapy is a general term that refers to any of the various traditions that use essential oils to help boost your mood, relieve stress, give you energy, and encourage better overall health.

Some of the most commonly used materials in aromatherapy include:

  • Essential oils (fragrant oils extracted from plants)

  • Absolutes (fragrant oils extracted primarily from flowers or delicate plant tissues)

  • Phytoncides (various organic compounds from plants that kill microbes)

  • Herbal distillates (byproducts of the extraction process, such as rosewater)

  • Infusions (extracts of various plant material, such as chamomile)

  • Carrier oils (typically oily plant base triacylglycerides that are used to dilute essential oils for use on the skin, such as sweet almond oil)

The use of aromatic oils is believed to date back to ancient times, but it wasn't until the twentieth century that the term "aromatherapy" was first used to describe it. During the early 1900s, a French chemist named René-Maurice Gattefossé became interested in the use of essential oils for medicinal use. In 1937, he wrote a book called "Aromathérapie: Les Huiles essentielles hormones végétales" that was later translated into English and named "Gattefossé's Aromatherapy." It is still in print and widely read today.

Since the early days of aromatherapy, scientific evolution has had a hand in reducing the popularity and use of essential oils in our everyday lives. But the growing desire to use more natural products as we learn more about their potential benefits has refueled the use of essential oils for a long list of purposes.

In some countries, aromatherapy is incorporated into mainstream medicine. In France where it originated, for example, some essential oils are regulated as prescription drugs and are only available through a physician. Some of the most commonly used oils and their medical benefits are listed below.

  • Basil - known for its clear, sweet and mild spicy aroma; believed to sharpen concentration, relieve headaches, and provide an uplifting effect on a person's mood

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