Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings National

The Art of Aromatherapy: Making Sense of Scents for Holistic Healing

Mar 01, 2008 03:00AM ● By Lee Walker

Plant oils have a long history of contributing to our psychological and physical well-being. Ancient Egyptians extracted vegetable oils from plants by pressing them through cloth. The resulting ointments were used in their spiritual practices, cosmetics, medicines and for embalming the dead. We also know that the Greeks particularly enjoyed using essential oils in their bathing rituals.

The Romans added to the knowledge of essential oils by recording the beneficial properties of hundreds of plants. In the year 1,000 C.E., Avicenna came along to invent the basic distillation process that we use today. The use of essential oils then grew popular in France, England and Germany, where the scents were available from apothecaries by the 16th century. But it wasn’t until 1930 that French chemist Rene Maurice Gattefosse coined the term “aromatherapy” after he discovered that lavender oil had healed his burned hand without leaving a scar.

Current Applications

Today, the popularity of aromatherapy in the United States, combined with the influx of modern synthetic oils, creates a need to redefine its terms and practices.

“Unfortunately the word aromatherapy has become so commercialized that it tends to conjure images of scented candles, perfumes and cleaning products, rather than the incredibly natural therapeutic agents of essential oils,” observes Elizabeth Jones, director of the Botanical College of Healing Arts (COBHA) in Santa Cruz, California. In the emerging medical field of essential oil therapy, COBHA meets the certification standards set by the Association of Holistic Aromatherapists. Jones also supplies therapeutic-grade essential oils to hospitals and health care practitioners.

“Our oils originate all over the world,” says Jones. “We routinely test the chemical profile and, if there are any other substances present, the oils are returned as unsuitable for therapeutic purposes.”

Jones explains that the fat-soluble nature of essential oils accounts for their easy passage through the blood. During a massage, for example, fragrance molecules are immediately transported from the skin into the bloodstream to effect healing. They also translate into neuronal information through sensors at the back of our nostrils.

Different essences affect different parts of the body and mind. Often, the scent that a person finds most pleasing will prove to have the healing action that individual needs. Essential oils can remain in the body for between four and twenty-four hours before they are eliminated through the lungs and kidneys, and the healing effects may continue even after the substance has left the body. They leave no toxic buildup because they are natural substances.

“I love that essential oils are holistic,” says Jones, “acting on a physical cellular level, as well as on emotional, mental, spiritual and energetic levels. They have no unwanted side effects, like so many modern pharmaceutical drugs do.”

Aromatherapist Kimla Stewart is a board-certified holistic nurse and owner of Lavender and Quartz in Naples, Florida. She uses oils on herself each day and with her clients at work.

“My clients revel in the scents and physical benefits of the essential oils that I use on their hands and feet during our Healing Touch sessions,” Stewart says. Talking with clients before a treatment to assess their energy levels helps Stewart choose scents that are capable of eliciting the client’s deepest state of relaxation and encouraging a healing response. She says that her clients find oils like lavender and rosemary to be comforting. She, too, chooses oils based on her daily needs.

“I stand in front of the mirror in the morning and ask, ‘What do I need today?’” explains Stewart. “If I didn’t sleep well and need to be sharp, I’ll choose rosemary. If I need to be alert and relaxed, I’ll add peppermint, to provide an extra lift. The next day, I may feel like I want a bright and sunny day, so I’ll make a mist with lemon and lemon grass and spray it throughout my house.”

Like Jones, from whom she buys her oils, Stewart cautions that synthetic oils can cause negative reactions. She recommends that clients select and use only pure products.

Lavender & Quartz is located at 5051 Costello Dr., Ste. 226 in Naples, Florida. Contact Kimla Stewart at 239-298-0509. Visit them online at

For information about the oils distributed by Elizabeth Jones, visit or call 877-321-7346.

Join Our Community Newsletter