The Essence of It All
The dictionary defines 'essential' as a basic thing that one cannot live without. Modern brands and companies selling essential oils often market their products in a way to reflect this definition, wanting you to believe that it's a necessity that one cannot do without! But the truth of the matter is that essential oils actually derive their name not because of their necessity but because of their essence or smell.
The human olfactory receptor genes are geared to detect fragrances, and our sense of smell can play an important role on our moods, stress, and ability to live and function well. So, for example two of the most common oils used in spas and wellness treatments - lemon oil (with its citrus notes) can be very uplifting, while lavender (which has sweet, floral smells) promotes relaxation and can help in stress reduction. Aromatherapy may be a term that we have come to understand as a natural plant based therapy more recently from our exposure to western, alternative, wellness knowledge systems. However, from religious purposes to healing the sick and uplifting spirits, essential oils derived from plants have been used in many different ways for centuries by ancient cultures and civilizations.
In Ayurveda, essential oils have been used as a way of balancing the three doshas that make up any person's constitution - Vata, Pitta, Kapah. The astonishingly large armoury of aromatic plants and trees that exist in this ancient science offer their flowers, roots, leaves, bark or seeds to be distilled, cold pressed or steamed to extract medicinal oils. The sweet notes of sandalwood, fennel and mint bring about cooling of the aggravated heat that Pitta dosha brings. While pepper, ginger, cinnamon oils bring much required warmth and stimulation to a predominantly Kapah constitution. Not just classical traditions, but plants and their oils (both wild and cultivated) have played a critical role in the lives of the Himalayan tribal communities too, providing for medicinal and wellness remedies. The rich knowledge of the ethnomedicinal flora in other parts of India like the states in the North-East as well as down South (particularly in Kerala and Tamil Nadu) are handed down generationally in local indigenous communities to treat everyday ailgnments.
So what can essential oils do for us in our modern lives today? There is enough evidence, through western science and classical and indigenous medical traditions, of the ability of plant derived essential oils to soothe and gently heal the body and calm the mind. When used in carefully moderated quantities for oral hygiene, hair and skin health, overall body rejuvenation and pain relief, everyday use of essential oils can help us live a life of natural wellness.