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Scents & Scentuality
Essential Oils & Aromatherapy for Romance, Love, and Sex
By Valerie Ann Worwood
New World LibraryCopyright © 1999 Valerie Ann Worwood
All rights reserved.
What Are Nature's Essential Oils?
The most obvious thing about nature's essential oils is that they smell divine. This could lead you to assume that they're just perfume — sweet-smelling substances that make our lives more pleasurable. This is, of course, true, but it's only the beginning.
Essential oils are extremely complex substances that are rich in energy. They are produced by certain varieties of plant life and, depending on the variety, are stored in the petals, leaves, stalks, seeds, roots, wood, or bark. They come from the tiniest flowers and from the highest trees. In some plants, different oils come from different parts of the plant. All the essential oils are unique, and their chemical complexity baffles scientists.
Even with our sophisticated methods of analysis, it will still be some time before science can give us the definitive explanation of what, exactly, essential oils are. We know they contain terpenes, alcohols, esters, aldehydes, ketones, and phenols, but some essential oils contain over a hundred compounds and isolating them all is not easy. The gas chromatograph can separate out some components by looking at the "chemical fingerprint" produced, but there are unknown compounds, too, and it's useless having a fingerprint when you don't know who or what it belongs to because their details aren't "on file!"
Essential oils are chemically very heterogeneous, and very diverse in their effects. This gives them a paradoxical nature that can be difficult to grasp until we compare them to another group in nature that is also paradoxical — human beings! For example, one woman can be an accountant during the work week, a violinist in her spare time, a volunteer with the local paramedical group on alternate weekends, a charity worker on an occasional basis, and a mother of three at all times! She's capable of many roles, and so too are nature's essential oils. For example, the same bottle of rosemary oil could be used to treat rheumatism in your grandma, sinusitis in your husband, and acne in your teenager.
Plants in general are chemical factories. They inhabit the interface between light and dark, sun and earth, taking energy from both and synthesizing it into molecules of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These are the "crude fuels" that we, the walking chemical factories, break down to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), our "high-grade fuel."
Certainly the human organism has an affinity with nature's essential oils, which absorb into and pass through the body with great ease. Many scientific experiments have shown the relative speed with which the oils penetrate the skin when applied through massage or osmosis (water). The molecules of essential oils are tiny and can penetrate the fatty layers of the skin into the interstitial fluid (which surrounds all body cells), the bloodstream, and the lymph system. Also, those essential oils with smaller molecules may travel transcellularly, i.e., directly through the cell. The lipid solubility of certain essential oils may also be a factor in their penetrative ability. One hypothesis is that because the essential oils are not soluble in water their ability to penetrate is related to the fact that water constitutes so much of our organism. The human male's weight is 60 percent body fluids, the woman's is 50 percent, and the child's 65 percent. About 55 percent of a person's body fluid is contained within the cell; the lymph and interstitial fluids account for 20 percent; the blood plasma, 7.5 percent; bone water, 7.5 percent; connective tissue water, 7.5 percent; and the cerebrospinal fluid and eyes and ears account for the last 2.5 percent. It's important to realize too, that the essential oils are soluble in fats, of which, of course, we are also made.
Dr. Heinz Schilcher of Freien University, Berlin, found that the essential oils enter the bloodstream quicker by inhalation than by oral application. Indeed, oral application has been found to be the least effective method of use. Their high electrical resistance means they are noninvasive to the body in the heat, electrical, and magnetic senses, in addition to their usual noninvasive chemical sense.
All the above faculties mean that essential oils can easily connect with the area that needs realignment and healing. This has not gone unnoticed by the pharmaceutical industry, which hopes to harness the energy of the essential oils as a delivery system for its chemical drugs.
Millennia before people needed "scientific proof" of a thing before they would believe in it, the essential oils were being extracted for medicinal purposes. The aromatic plants of the world are humanity's oldest and dearest friends. Sixty thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, yarrow, groundsel, and grape hyacinth were used — possibly for medicinal purposes — as they are used today in the same region. In caves in southern France that were inhabited thirty thousand years ago, juniper was burned in the fires — and not just for heat. The oldest-known medicinal oil was perhaps that extracted from the neem tree of India. Many parts of the tree itself have been used since at least 4000 B.C., and the spiritual association made with it is clear from the Harappan seals of the Indus Valley civilization. In 550 B.C. the "father of medicine," Hippocrates, classed essential oils as medicines. When everyone was dropping like ninepins during London's great plague in 1665, the only group of people not affected were those working in the perfume houses, which, in those days of course, used only the natural essential oils. And the spice wars of history weren't just about gourmands adding spice to their food or perfume to their powdered wigs, but about people trying to get hold of the raw materials that would prevent them from dying.
Each essential oil has its own medicinal properties, often several. These have been proven over many years by practical application and, more recently, by scientific research. These properties also include (to name but a few) bactericidal, antiviral, antitoxic, antineuralgic, diuretic, antirheumatic, antispasmodic, and antivenomous. In a review of scientific literature, Dr. Schilcher reported that the particular oils studied have, among others, hyperemic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic/disinfectant, granulation-stimulating, deodorizing, expectorating, and circulation-stimulating qualities. Many doctors, especially in western and eastern Europe, use them to treat every kind of medical condition, including cancerous wounds, gangrenous wounds, skin diseases, burns, bronchitis, and glandular imbalances.
You're probably wondering by now, if they're so effective, why you have heard so little about them before. The answer is that you're probably using them already, because about one-third of modern drugs are based on them. You might not recognize them unless you looked them up in the medical dictionary, because they are hidden behind long, impressive names. But what is more impressive is their effect. Scientists have taken the typhoid bacillus and knocked it dead with cinnamon oil in twelve minutes. Clove took twenty-five minutes, while Indian verbena and geranium took a little longer at under fifty minutes. And there's plenty of work on bacteria by other respected scientists that shows equally impressive results. For example, as an antiseptic, oil of thyme is twelve times more effective than carbolic acid, but in a technologically arrogant age carbolic acid sounds more efficient than thyme.
The essential oils leave the body as peacefully and easily as they enter. Depending on the particular oil, they take the usual routes of excretion: urine, feces, perspiration, and exhalation from the lungs. Indeed, the essential oils are extremely effective in eradicating from the body all sorts of dangerous toxins, including heavy metals, free radicals, and viruses.
In the human body, balance is everything. For example, only one percent of the calcium in the body is "free roaming," while the other 99 percent makes up the bones and teeth. Yet this one pèrcent is vitally important to blood coagulation, controlling the permeability of the membranes, especially of the nervous system, and the action of the heart and muscle. Oxygen needs to be kept at a balance, as does the pH value, the activity of the enzymes and amino acids, among other chemical activities. The essential oils are, perhaps above all, natural balancers. They have the ability to effect changes in many different areas, maintaining the balance between oxidation and reduction, and because their pH value is usually acid, discouraging the proliferation of microbes.
The oils are, indeed, about checks and balances. According to Dr. Jean Valnet, a leader in phytotherapy in France, "the high resistance of essences ... discourages the diffusion of infections and toxins." Their well-known painkiller effect on, for example, arthritis, rheumatism, and menstrual pain could perhaps be explained by their ability to keep in check the enzymes that are responsible for breaking down the body's natural opiates, endorphins.
It has long been known that nature's essential oils modify the body's electromagnetic fields, and as we discover more about the body's electrical patterns this becomes an especially interesting aspect of them. According to the latest research, the body is a composite picture of electrical patterns, with each organ and area having its own unique pattern that becomes disturbed when the body is ill. Some of the most interesting research yet to be carried out on essential oils must surely be in this area. Perhaps the oils are attracted to particular organs by their vibrational pattern, or, by the body's electomagnetic fields?
There is also the possibility that essential oils are natural "capacitors" — able to store energy and release it when required. They could be found to be biological semiconductors — able to amplify energy — literally boosting the system back into operation. Because the oils appear to be little changed when they leave the body, it is possible to classify them as "biocatalysts." These are substances that aid or speed up chemical reactions in the body while remaining unchanged themselves. They may, in fact, be "superbiocatalysts," because of their electrical properties amplifying the effect of the chemical process.
There are many different areas in which essential oils should be further studied. To date, most of the research on them has been funded by the perfume or flavor and fragrance industries, which have been more concerned with the volatile elements — that is, those particles that float in the air — and to identify the molecules as "lavender," "jasmine," or "rose," for instance. This is what sells the product. In other words, they are more interested in what the oils smell like than what they are.
The positive effect of essential oils on blood circulation is well known (and not only related to their use in conjunction with massage during therapy). Increased blood flow improves the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and allows the efficient disposal of carbon dioxide and other waste products produced by cell metabolism. The immune system is improved by the general increase in movement, and blood viscosity is decreased. A good blood circulation is absolutely vital to good health as it affects the working of every organ of the body, including the brain. Oxygen also helps to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the body's fuel, by allowing glucose to be broken down into acetyl group molecules. The molecules are then carried off to the mitochondrion, the little power stations in cells, where they're subjected to the Krebs cycle to become pure ATP. Essential oils contain glucosides, which synthesize in the human body into glucose — the raw material of ATP. This may partly explain why some essential oils are so energizing. Another important factor in the efficacy of essential oils is their ability to reduce stress and tension, well-known suppressors of oxygen supply.
However, as we have seen, nature's essential oils are composed of hundreds of compounds, and tiny quantities of trace compounds may be what makes them so very special. With these oils, as with the human body, one cannot detach the components from each other because they react together as an integrated whole. In human beings there are many additional constituents to the flesh and blood and bone and body fluid that together make us what we are — some known and some unknown. We are learning continuously of new, important elements that contribute to making us healthy and vibrant. It is vital trace elements like potassium, magnesium, copper, and zinc, among others, that maintain balance within the human organism, and only by understanding their individual roles and integrated action can we appreciate what a very sophisticated machine the human body truly is. Biochemical researchers must be encouraged to take seriously the challenge of identifying the trace compounds in nature's essential oils, because until such time as all the components have been identified, we cannot fully answer the question "What are essential oils?" Let's just hope it doesn't take a thousand years!
Harvesting the Prescious Crop
When harvesting the raw materials from which essential oils are extracted, timing is everything. Right now, somewhere in the world, an alarm clock is ringing to get the workers into the fields before dawn to pick the blossoms when the essential oil is most concentrated in their petals. It could be in Madagascar where they harvest the blossoms of the ylang-ylang tree, or in the south of France where they grow jasmine. They work between 4:30 A.M. and 9:30 A.M. at the foot of the Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria where they pick the damask rose. Outside this time span, the essential oil content of the petals can be reduced by as much as 50 percent.
Although most sweet-smelling flowers must have their petals processed immediately after harvest, many essential oil-producing flowering tops and leaves, such as lavender and chamomile, are dried and shipped to other countries for distillation. This is possible because although sugars and starches will return from the leaf to the main body of the plant before the autumnal shedding, essential oils remain in the leaf or flowering top once they have arrived there.
The essential oil moves around plants not only on a daily basis, but on a seasonal one, too. Palmarosa oil is made from a grass that must be harvested before its flowers appear, while clove oil is made from flower buds after they have been picked and dried; pepper oil is made from the unripe berries, while coriander is harvested when its fruit is fully ripe. The delicate, white jasmine flower is carefully picked before it is one day old. The sandalwood tree however, must be thirty years old and thirty feet high before its essential oil is fully developed and the government inspectors of the Indian province of Mysore decree it ready for pulverization and distillation into sandalwood oil. Some oils are as old as history itself, others are quite new. But whatever the oil, it is made from a particular part of a specific species of the plant and grown in very select areas of the world where the growing conditions are just right. This is a worldwide trade with oils coming from diverse destinations — China, Brazil, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, the United States, France, Réunion, Australia, Russia, Egypt, Zanzibar, Israel, Thailand, Java, Guatemala, Somalia, and Spain, to name but a few.
It takes eight million hand-picked jasmine blooms to make one kilogram of "absolute" from which the oil is made. There are only thirty harvesting days in Bulgaria, where about five-and-a-half tons of blooms produce one kilogram of oil. One good worker can pick about fifty kilograms of petals a day, enough to yield just a few precious drops of oil. Skill is required to coax the essential oil from the particular part of the plant in which it resides. Fennel and aniseed store their essential oil in the intercellular spaces in their tissue, and when the cells move apart from each other, minuscule canals form, full of oil. Some species have particular oil cells or resin cells, like cassia and cinnamon. Oranges and lemons form oil reservoirs when the walls of secretory cells gradually disintegrate. Other plants, like rosemary and sage, have glandular hairs, glandular cells, or glandular scales on their surfaces — single- or multi-cell pockets, full of oil.
When producers of essential oil have identified exactly where the oil is to be found, they decide on the extraction method. The most widely used is called distillation and involves putting the material (cedarwood chippings, or the flowers and leaves of lavender, for example) in a still and forcing steam in from below, which permeates the material. The volatile elements in the material rise together with the steam, and after condensation, turn into liquid form. Then, the water and essential oil must be separated — some essential oils are lighter than water and are siphoned off the top; some are heavier and are siphoned off the bottom of the water-oil mix. Historically, the first still we know of was invented by Maria Prophetissima. Maria worked in Italy during the third century and was known as Maria the Jewess. The bain-marie is named after her.
Excerpted from Scents & Scentuality by Valerie Ann Worwood. Copyright © 1999 Valerie Ann Worwood. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One: What Are Nature's Essential Oils?,
Chapter Two: How to Use Nature's Essential Oils,
Chapter Three: The Desire for Touch,
Chapter Four: Scentuous Woman,
Chapter Five: Scentuous Man,
Chapter Six: The Other Side,
Chapter Seven: Ambience and the Scentuous Aura,
Chapter Eight: Scentual Food and Wine,