Essential Oils


The History of Aromatherapy

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The History of Aromatherapy

Originally, the oils were produced for the flavour and fragrance industries were the only ones available for the practice of aromatherapy. Such oils were routinely standardized, diluted , or otherwise treated with the goal of meeting the industrial user's needs, which is uniform quality at the lowest possible price. This "doctoring" of essential oils was not carried out with deceitful intentions but was a response to the needs of the fragrance industry.

Standardization is not only desirable for the fragrance industry, but it is actually required by certain pharmaceutical manuals which set standards for minimum concentrations of active ingredients, unfortunately, with no criteria for purity. The criteria established by the pharmaceutical manuals are misleading for the purposes of aromatherapy. How many of us have come to assume a certain standard of quality and purity when we see the abbreviation U.S.P (United States Pharmacopoeia)? Nevertheless, with pharmaceutical grade, quality is definitely not what we are getting.

These manuals only state the minimum concentrations required of certain substances; it makes no difference if these substances are of natural origin or not. Even worse, if these should happen to be synthetic materials, the pharmaceutical manual is ominously silent where impurities or by-products are concerned. Entries appearing under the heading of essential oils in the pharmacopoeias are from another age. When what was good for the manufacturer had to be good for the consumer.

In Rene-Maurice Gattefosses original work, a reductionist conviction was conveyed with no critical distance. Active ingredients in the oils should be enriched and less desirable components removed. To ensure the effects of the oils, minimum concentrations of active ingredients were proposed. For decades, Gattefosses book found few interested readers. Only in 1964,when Dr Jean Valnet published his book, did aromatherapy become more well known. Gattefosse made aromatherapy into a discipline whereas Valnet's work led to its increasing popularity.. But even Valnet still reflects the reductionist  spirit of his time is there is a clear emphasis  on the pharmacologically known components.

In 1978 Paul Belaiche published his three volumed study on clinical aromatherapy for treating a wide range of infectious and degenerative illnesses. As a result, aromatherapy began to achieve  a certain level of acceptance by conventional  doctors in France, and insurance companies even paid for treatments . As aromatherapy slowly gained acceptance by conventional medicine, Henri Viaud made new demands for the purity of essential oils. Viaud, a highly important pioneer of French aromatherapy, catalogued the conditions which essential oils had to fulfill to be fit for medicinal use.

He also introduced the basic terminology: Oils for medicinal purposes should be genuine(absolutely unchanged through any type of manipulation) and authentic( only the oil from a specific type of plant). In retrospect, it is clear that the greatest advance made in the development of aromatherapy was the return to genuine oils derived exclusively from one species of plant. Only then did some producers in France begin to manufacture oils according to these requirements. This was the birth of modern aromatherapy.

Reference:Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy:Kurt Schnaubelt, Ph.D. 

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