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Aromatherapy 101

Learn which scents make sense.

| September/October 2005

The scent of a rose, a freshly baked cinnamon roll, mint tea brewing or an orange as it’s peeled — all of these are distinctively delightful and all come to us thanks to herbs. When you stroll through an herb garden or open a bottle of herbal lotion or shampoo, the fragrance is often what most captures your attention and imagination.

Our sense of smell is powerful, yet underappreciated. Rudyard Kipling wrote, “Smells are surer than sounds and sights to make the heartstrings crack.” However, most of us aren’t very attuned to how important our sense of smell is — studies have shown that most people consider smell to be the least valuable of the five senses.

Researchers are now finding that essential oils have measurable effects on both the body and the emotions. Use the suggestions in this article to help you get reacquainted with your all-important sense of smell.

Learn the Essential Facts

Essential oils are the source of herbal aromas. Formed in all fragrant plants, essential oils are as medicinal as the herbs from which they emerge. These oils provide most of the taste in herbs and spices used to flavor food. And they add their scent, as well as their healing properties, to cosmetics and body-care products. Considering all they offer, it’s no wonder that essential oils are the basis of the healing art known as aromatherapy.

Each type of essential oil has a unique chemistry that dictates its medicinal properties. Some of the most common aromatherapy remedies treat indigestion, swelling and infection. For example, adding eucalyptus to a steaming pot of water and inhaling the steam helps combat a bacterial or viral sinus infection. Peppermint in a liniment warms muscles and eases away pain. The essential oils of many herbs, such as peppermint and chamomile, are used to cure indigestion. Essential oils also penetrate through the skin easily, so applying a lotion that contains an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic herb, such as lavender, is an effective healing method.

Even more intriguing is how the various aromas of essential oils affect emotions. Potent scents produced by various herbs can act on the brain to relax us, energize us or even treat depression. Herbalists have long known of these qualities — John Gerard, in his 17th-century herbal, observed that the fragrance of certain herbs increased feelings of happiness and well-being. Lemon balm was said to cheer the heart, and basil “taketh away sorrowfulness, which cometh of melancholy, and makes a man merry and glad.”

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