History    Essential oils extraction     Essential oil properties     Essential oil uses     Essential oils in massage


The use of aromatic oils date back thousands of years to many of the ancient civilizations. The Egyptians burned plant material and oils as fumigants and to alter their mood state. They were blended into perfumes, incorporated into skin care preparations, and compounded into medicinal brews. Frankincense, Myrrh and Cedarwood were used for the embalmment and preservation of the Mummy.

The Greeks were seen to decorate their heads with fragrant flowers, chosen for their mood changing qualities. Some were known to invigorate and sharpen the mind, whilst others would calm and soothe.

The Romans, noted for their fondness of bathing, would be massaged with blends of aromatic oils.

Following the recommendations of Hippocrates, the Arab physicians used aromatic oils and floral waters to purify the air and protect themselves from disease.

The Persian physician 'Avicenna' perfected the art of distillation in the 11th Century. The apparatus that he constructed was so advanced, that it has barely altered since.

The perfumes of Arabia were brought to Europe by the Crusaders, along with the art of distillation. People soaked their bodies and clothes with 'perfume' and carried bouquets of herbs to prevent themselves catching infectious diseases and to mask the smell of the filthy streets.

In Medieval Europe, the floors were strewn with sweet smelling plants, such as Lavender, Thyme and Chamomile. Along with the pleasant smell that exuded when crushed underfoot, they helped to deter lice and fleas.

During the period of the Bubonic plague, perfumers, who were in constant contact with essential oils, appeared immune to this fatal illness. This discovery led on to the 'Four thieves vinegar', a mixture of Garlic, Rosemary, Camphor, Lavender, Nutmeg, Sage and Cinnamon, suspended in vinegar. The 'robbers' doused themselves with this concoction, before plundering the bodies of their victims. Other thieves wore an aromatic pomander in an attempt to quell the stench as they approached the bodies, this too however seemed to give some protection from the plague.

The word 'Aromatherapy' was first used in 1937 by a French cosmetic scientist 'Rene - Maurice Gattefosse', who discovered that the volatile extracts from particular plants had quite a profound effect on the skin. Although at this time his research was confined to the beauty industry, he soon realised these extracts contained therapeutic values too. It is reported that during a laboratory accident, Gattefosse burned his hand and plunged it into a vat of Lavender. It immediately eased the pain, and the wound healed quickly without infection or scarring. Gattefosse discovered that essential oils applied to the skin were absorbed into the blood stream, whereupon they interacted with the body's chemistry.

Inspired by Gattefosse's work, an army surgeon 'Dr Jean Valnet' used essential oils to treat battle wounds of soldiers during the Second World War. He later used the oils for their emotional effects to alleviate psychological conditions, such as depression.

It was in the 1950's that 'Marguerite Maury' an Austrian cosmetologist introduced the practice of applying essential oils through massage. She used what she called the 'Individual prescription' choosing and blending oils to aid both the physical and emotional requirements of the recipient.

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Essential Oils.

Essential oils are highly concentrated, odiferous, volatile plant extracts. They are found as tiny droplets in many different areas of the plant, the leaves, twigs, flowers, seeds, peel, root, heartwood, bark and resin may be used. The most common methods of releasing the essential oils are distillation, expression and solvent extraction.


With steam distillation, the cell walls of the plant material are broken down and the essential oil is discharged into the steam. The steam and essential oil are then condensed and the water and oil separated. During the distillation process the essential oil releases some of its fragrance into the water. These waters are then reserved and used as 'floral waters' or 'hydrolats'.


The essential oil of citrus fruits are found in the peel of the fruit and by applying pressure the oil is  released. For many years this simple method was performed by hand, compressing the fruit until the oil glands burst. The liquid was collected in a sponge and squeezed into a container when saturated. Nowadays this process is carried out by machinery.

Solvent extraction

Here the plant material is placed in a container and covered with a volatile solvent to extract the aromatic parts of the plant. After gently heating, the solution is filtered and the now semi-solid substance, is called a 'concrete'. The concrete is then agitated with alcohol to separate the aromatic liquid and wax. Finally the alcohol is evaporated to leave a high quality oil or 'absolute'. This method is used for the more delicate plant materials with a low oil yield, such as Rose, Jasmine and Neroli.

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Properties of Essential oils

Each essential oil has its own individual therapeutic qualities. Whilst all essential oils are considered to be antiseptic, some possess anti-viral, anti-bacterial or anti-fungal elements. Essential oils can be relaxing or stimulating, helping to reduce anxiety and stress levels or refresh and enliven a tired mind. Certain oils will help alleviate respiratory congestion, others may help settle digestive disturbances (Do not take internally) They can have a warming or cooling effect and may help relieve rheumatic conditions or aid in inflammatory problems.

While the use of essential oils are both safe and pleasurable for the majority of people, there are some conditions where caution may have to be observed. Certain oils used during pregnancy would be unsuitable for this period. There are a few oils that are best avoided by those who suffer from epilepsy, high or low blood pressure. Please check that your chosen oils are considered safe for your current state of health.

Ways to use Essential oils

There are many ways that you can use essential oils at home. Probably the most well known uses are in massage or in an 'oil burner'.

With the exception of Lavender and Tea Tree, all oils must be diluted first before applying to the skin. For massage, a maximum of 5 drops per 10ml of carrier oil may be used. This would be greatly reduced to 2 drops or less for pregnant women, children, some skin conditions, the chronically sick or frail. If in any doubt, please consult a qualified Aromatherapist or a good Aromatherapy book.

In an oil burner, fill the bowl with water and add 2 - 4 drops of essential oil. This will not only fragrance the room, but fill the air with the therapeutic properties of the oil. A few drops of oil in a radiator humidifier or on a special light bulb ring will warm and diffuse the oil.

Oils may be used in baths or footbaths, diluting first in either a carrier oil (Almond, Grapeseed etc) some dispersing bath oil or even some milk.

For chest or sinus congestion, add a few drops of oil to a bowl of steaming water. Lean over the bowl with a towel covering the back of the head and the bowl. Inhale the vapour for 5 - 10 minutes to loosen and ease blocked passageways. A few drops of a decongestant oil on a handkerchief or tissue can also ease stuffy noses. Whereas a relaxing oil such as Lavender or Marjoram on a pillow at night can help induce sleep.

A few drops of oil can even be added to base creams to use as skin preparations or moisturisers, adding oils particular to your skin type.

These are just a few ways you can bring essential oils into your life and home - Enjoy!

Essential oils in massage

Aromatherapy massage combines the healing power of touch with the therapeutic properties of essential oils. As the oils penetrate the skin, they have a balancing effect on the underlying tissues and organs. At the same time the aroma very quickly reaches the ‘Limbic system’ the emotional area of the brain. The Limbic system is also closely linked to memory. We've probably all experienced a time when a particular smell will suddenly transport us back to childhood or a particular place. A fragrance can evoke a pleasant (or equally unpleasant!) memory. Maybe one will remind you of a time when you felt happy and relaxed. In times of stress, introducing this fragrance again can rekindle that feeling of tranquillity.

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