This article is from the Alternative Medicine Therapies guide.
Has the scent of lavender ever made you sleepy? Does the aroma of warm apple pie bring back sweet memories of autumn afternoons in your grandmother's kitchen? If so, then you instinctively understand the basic principle of aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils, extracted from plants, trees, and herbs, for therapeutic purposes. Although aromatic plant oils have been used to treat various conditions for thousands of years, the term aromatherapy wasn't coined until 1928, when Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist first used it. Gattefosse had earlier witnessed the curative capabilities of essential oils when he used them to treat wounds during World War I. After the war, he continued to experiment with various oils, and eventually classified them according to their "healing" properties: antitoxic, antiseptic, tonifying, stimulating, calming, and so on. In 1937, he published Aromatherapie, which remains a classic book on the subject (it is available in English).
Marguerite Maury, who built on Gattefosse's work in the 1950s, is credited with developing aromatherapy as a holistic therapy. She was also the first to tailor specific oils to an individual's health needs.
Today aromatherapy utilizes approximately 40 different essential oils, singly and in combination. Generally, they are helpful for treating stress and stress-related ailments, for invigorating the body, and for promoting general well-being. The oils are used in a variety of ways: They can be mixed with a bland carrier oil (such as a vegetable oil) and applied to the skin during a massage; they may be inhaled; or they can be added to your bathwater. You can do aromatherapy at home by buying the individual oils (they're commonly found at health-food stores and pharmacies) or you can visit a trained aromatherapist, who will probably mix up a blend of oils customized especially for you and your condition.