Introduction to Aromatherapy

Healing with Essential Oils

A Self Directed Home Study Course on the Use of
Plant Aromatics for Health and Well-being

By KG Stiles, BA, LMT, CBT, CBP
Certified Clinical Aromatherapist

Class 2: Aromatherapy: How It Works

“Before we can make friends with anyone else, we must first make friends with ourselves.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Topics at a Glance
MOVIE: How Aromatherapy Works
How Aromatherapy Works
2 Reference Charts:
Aromatherapy Delivery Pathways
Electro-chemical effects of Aromatherapy
Why GC/MS Testing – the Gold Standard of Purity
Twelve (12) Chemical Families (alchemical allies) – Archetypal Pattern & Elemental Power
MOVIE: Alcohol Family Aromatic Plant Images
Introduce Alcohol Chemical Family – The Lovers: Incite Passion & Enthusiasm
Alcohol Family Properties, Actions & Effects
Alcohol Family plant identification, distillation method & best locations
YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Aroma Soul Journey “Self Love & Acceptance” guided empowerment meditation MP3 podcast and/or experience a pure essential oil from the Alcohol Family
Aromatherapy Supplies – from the very Basic to a Complete Healing System
BONUS: Brief History of Aromatherapy

MOVIE: How Aromatherapy Works

Click play button below to watch video

Photo Credit: Public Domain Images and Aromatherapy Graphs ©KG Stiles.

Aromatherapy: How It Works

More and more research and case studies are being recorded proving the effectiveness of aromatherapy for therapeutic use. The increasing respect that aromatherapy commands from the general public, hospitals, and medical centers around the world speaks for itself, as more and more people benefit from this gentle and subtle, yet highly effective therapy.

Essential oils are highly aromatic and research shows that most of the therapeutic benefits are obtained simply by inhaling their aroma. Research shows that through inhalation essential oils will remain for a longer period in your cell tissues (4-6 hours) than through any other means of application.

A Glimpse into the Mystery of Aromatherapy

Vapor, or the spirit life essence of a plant, carries its soul ‘signature.’ At the energetic level this ‘signature’ resonates with a particular sound frequency and vibration; this is the plant’s song. Everything in nature, including humans, resonates with a particular frequency of energy, and is sounding or singing itself into creation.

Each aromatic vibration is aligned with a particular element or in some cases elements as with Lavender or what are known as the Holy Oils, i.e. Frankincense, Myrrh, Spikenard, and Sandalwood which have a universal signature and resonate with all 5 elements. The 5th element being the etheric space/time continuum required in order to experience the 4 elemental compounds that make up all of physical creation, or the material plane of existence:

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the Five Elements are:

Metal (Air)

In Ayurveda, an ancient system of healing practiced in India for more than 5,000 years, the five (5) elements are paired to make up individual doshas which can be used to determine the unique bio-energetics for balancing one’s psycho-physical nature:

The THREE (3) DOSHAS and their paired elements:

KAPHA – water and earth
PITA – fire and water
VATA – air and ether or space

The elements of heat, light, air and moisture activate the release of the aromatic vapor from its home in the plant. It is important to note that your logical brain is not involved in your sense of smell. You actually “feel” aromatic scents as vibration.

For example the inhalation of Lavender oil triggers the release of Serotonin from the raphe nucleus in the brain and produces a calming effect. Unless there is a learned, or conditioned, odor response, an imbedded neuro-association, that triggers a negative reaction to the aroma of Lavender.

A learned conditioned response of aversion to Lavender may occur if its aroma is strongly associated with a past negative memory. For instance if you had a caretaker who was abusive who always wore a Lavender scent you might develop a conditioned response which would block Lavender’s action to trigger the release of neuro-chemicals and their absorption in the body, or conversely you had a caretaker who showed unconditional love who often wore the scent of Lavender you might develop an automatic trigger that would enhance Lavender’s action and enhance its effect.

The molecules of your Emotion are powerful chemicals and can easily block your natural response mechanism to an aroma! Your conditioned or learned response mechanism to scent explains WHY single oils and aromatic formulations known to have certain properties and actions aren’t effective for everyone. A “Signature Blend” can be helpful in these instances for finding the essential oil or aromatic blend that will be most effective for promoting balance and healing.

Synthetic oils rely entirely on your learned response to an odor for stimulating an effect in your hormonal and nervous systems, not to the triggering of neuro-chemicals as released by a pure essential oil!


1 – NEURO-CHEMICAL DELIVERY PATHWAYS for your Nervous & Hormonal systems. Please review this chart Electro-Chemical Effects of Aromatherapy.

Your Limbic System – Control Center for Emotions and Memory

The Vapors from an essential oil enters through your nose and immediately stimulates your Olfactory nerves which then signal your Limbic system (the control mechanism in your brain for emotions and memory).

Through your Limbic system, the Amygdala (control center for emotions) and Hippocampus (control center for memory, learning and emotions) are stimulated.

Your Limbic System also sends a neuro-chemical signal to your Cortex (control center for intellectual processes) and your Hypothalamus gland, located at the base of your brain, the Reptilian or Old Brain (regulates many body functions, including appetite, thirst, temperature, sleep and mood).

The Hypothalamus Gland is a KEY player in that it orchestrates the play between your nervous and endocrine systems. It is at the juncture of your Hypothalamus Gland that a signal is sent to your Pituitary gland (the Master controller for your entire endocrine system).

This neuro-chemical signal and response mechanism culminates at your Adrenal glands (your fight or flight, response to stress mechanism which controls aggression and sexual response).

2 – AROMATHERAPY DELIVERY PATHWAYS for your Organs and other systems. Please review to this chart Aromatherapy Delivery Pathways.

Your Blood Circulatory System – Delivery to Organs and Systems

The Aromatic Vapors entering through your nose go immediately into your Lungs from where they enter your Bloodstream.

Through your Bloodstream the oils are delivered to your Heart, as well as all your Body tissues and Organs, the Liver and Pancreas, your Reproductive organs, Skin, Kidney and Bladder. The oils then circulate back to your Lungs where they are excreted.

HOW TO SELECT OILS with chemical properties for therapeutic results. This is a brief introduction to the twelve (12) chemical families in aromatherapy. These ‘alchemical allies’ are elemental forces or powers that express as particular constellations of archetypal energy, and literally make the magic happen at the cellular level for shifting consciousness.

Twelve Chemical Families – Archetypal Pattern & Elemental Power

1) Alcohol – Lovers: Incite Passion & Enthusiasm

2) Aldehyde – Cleaners: Renew & Freshen

3) Ester – Protectors & Nurturers: Mother, Family, Tribe & Community

4) Ether (Phenylpropanoids) – Transformers – Clear & Restore

5) Ketone – Service Workers: Can Do

6) Lactone – Spiritual Directors: Motivate, Clarify, Inspire & Encourage (Coumarins & furocoumarins)

7) Monoterpene – Athletes: Masculine Power, Strength, Courage, Endurance & Stability

8) Monoterpenol – Athletes: Feminine Power, Strength, Courage, Endurance & Stability

9) Oxide – Liberators: Create Openness & Freedom

10) Phenol – Warriors: Aggressive, Powerful Defenders

11) Sesquiterpene – Wise Elders & Compassionate Ones: Grandparents, Guardians, Teachers, Ground, Soothe & Comfort

12) Sesquiterpenol – Wise Elders & Compassionate Ones: Grand Mothers, Guardians, Teachers, Ground, Soothe & Comfort

Let’s explore another of the twelve (12) chemical families:

MOVIE: Alcohol Family: Archetype of The Lovers

Click play button below to watch video

Photo Credit: Public Domain and Wiki Creative Commons GNU Free License as noted for each image.

ALCOHOL – Alchemical Family of Lovers: Incite Passion & Enthusiasm

ALCOHOL PROPERTIES – Actions & Effects include:


Essential Oils in this class include:
Preferred distillation method, part of plant used, and some of best locations for production.

ROSE – ( Rosa damacena ), steam distilled flowers, Turkey or Bulgaria
NEROLI – ( Citrus aurantium var amara ), steam distilled blossoms, Tunisia
GERANIUM – ( Pelargonium graveolens ), steam distilled leaf, Renunion Islands, Madagascar or Albania.
CYPRESS – ( Cupressus sempervirens ), steam distilled leaf, Crete, Mediterranean region
JUNIPERBERRY – ( Juniperus communis ), steam distilled berry, Bosnia
PEPPERMINT – ( Mentha piperita ), steam distilled flowering tops, USA
MARJORAM – (Origanum marjorana), steam distilled flowers and leaf, Egypt
CORIANDER – ( Coriandrum sativum ), steam distilled seed
PALMAROSA – ( Cymbopogon martini ), steam or hydro distilled grass, Nepal
PINE – ( Abies siberica ), steam distilled needles
MYRTLE – ( Myrtys communis ), steam distilled leaf
FIR, White (Silver) – ( abies alba ), steam distilled needles
ROSEWOOD – ( Aniba rosaeodora ), steam distilled wood, Peru (endangered species)

GC/MS ANALYSIS – The Gold Standard of Purity

In order for essential oils to have a therapeutic effect they must be pure plant extracts. The best way to assure purity and quality of each batch of oil is by 1) knowing and trusting your source and 2) testing the oil with Gas Chromatography/ Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS). Every batch of oil that a retailer or wholesaler of pure essential oil purchases directly from a distiller must be tested with GC/MS to ensure purity.

Gas Chromatography (GC) is a method of separating the volatile compounds in essential oils into individual components and produces a linear graph that charts these components.

Mass Spectrometry (MS) identifies each of these components and their percentages. This process is used to identify any adulteration, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers of the essential oil tested. Adulterated oils or perfume oils will not stimulate therapeutic effects and may in fact cause allergies, headaches and chemical sensitivities. Different MS tests are run to thoroughly analyze an oil to assure its purity.

In order for essential oils to have a therapeutic effect they must be pure plant extracts. The best way to assure purity and quality of each batch of oil is by 1) knowing and trusting your source and 2) testing the oil with Gas Chromatography/ Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS). Every batch of oil that a retailer of pure essential oil purchases directly from a distiller must be tested with GC/MS to ensure purity.

The GC/MS analysis report must be analyzed carefully and scrutinized by a qualified and experienced aroma chemist to know the exact chemical profile of an oil, as well as discern possible adulteration. The precise breakdown of the chemical components in individual oils given by GC/MS reports are important as the therapeutic benefits and safety issues of essential oils are, in large part, determined by their chemical makeup.

PLEASE NOTE: Your own personal knowledge and experience of an essential oil can and should be relied upon when purchasing from a retailer or wholesaler. Collecting aroma samples of pure essential oils as benchmarks for selecting and purchasing your oils is strongly advised.

BLOTTER TEST – A simple blotter test of a drop of your pure essential oil is an easy and simple way to test for oil’s purity. A pure essential oil will dry without leaving a telltale “oily” stain. However oil that has been adulterated or extended with synthetic fragrance oil will not dry clean and will leave an oily residue after drying. Some pure essential have a longer dry out period, so allow up to 24 hours and re-test if there is any doubt about purity. This is a fairly accurate test for essential oil purity though if expensive pure essential oil like Rose or Neroli has been extended with a less expensive pure essential oil you won’t be able to detect by an oily residue stain. However, this is where your experience and development as an aroma connoisseur comes in as adulteration of expensive oils are aromatically usually quite discernable.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Enjoy Aroma Soul Journey “Self Love & Acceptance” guided empowerment meditation mp3 podcast (click below to play or download, right click and ‘save target as’ for PC)and/or experience a selected pure essential oil from alcohol family. You may wish to journal about your experiences with aroma and your explorations within yourself during your meditation.



Prehistoric Times
The historic use of aromatic plant substances has been around since the Neolithic period. Herbs and plants were used in cooking and medicine, as well as buried with the dead. Deposits of medicinal plants have been found inside graves dating back eighty thousand years ago. However the use of pure essential oils has only been available since the creation of distillation. It is thought that “smoking” or “smudging” was the earliest type of aromatic treatment. Shamans and Priests were the first aomatherapists and perfumers. Early use of aromatic plants linked ritual and medicinal uses, and perfumes were seen as having medicinal value.

The ancient Babylonians used plant aromatics as shown by records found on clay tablets with orders for plant aromatics like myrrh, cypress, and cedar. Prescriptions with pine resin for treating ulcers were found among others.

Egypt – 3000 B.C.
Five thousand years ago the Egyptians used aromatic plant materials in all aspects of their life, and began the healing arts of cleansing and healing baths, massage, reflexology, and cosmetology. Priest healers used aromatics in religious ceremonies. The Papyrus Ebers, a medical document written in 1550 BC and preserved at the University of Leipzig describes the use of aromatic plant remedies for treating internal and external conditions. As this was before distillation they used the effleurage method and infused aromatic oils into ointments and perfumes.

The Egyptians practiced the science of embalming their dead with aromatic blends, and wrapping them in linens soaked with aromatics. The anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties of these plant aromatics were so powerful that some of these mummies can still be seen today. The tombs of the Pharaohs were filled with alabaster jars and ebony coffers. Egyptians believed the aromatics would be used by the Pharaoh to restore youth and vigor in the next world. The quality and expense of the aromatics used in the burial chamber are said to symbolically represent the wealth and status of the dead. Probably the most well known purveyor of plant aromatics in Egypt was Queen Cleopatra who became famous for her use of perfumes, healing balms, and beauty treatments.

China – 2700 BC
For the Chinese there was little distinction between treatments for the mind and body. Substances that nourished and promoted healing for the mind were also used for treating the body. The Chinese considered perfumes as medicine. The ancient herbal traditions practiced today, including acupuncture, began with the publication of The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine by Huang Ti. This ancient text primarily deals with the causes and treatment of disease.

Ayurveda East India – 3000 BC
Terra cotta distillation devices and perfume containers were found in the ancient Indus Valley dating back to 3000 BC. The use of plant aromatics in the Indian culture is vast. Aromatic plants and oils have been used in every aspect of their lives, including beauty treatments, perfuming, medicinal practices, cleansing and ritual bathing, and religious ceremonies. Indian tantric practices anoint the body with oils to seduce and arouse the passions. The Vedas, the most ancient sacred texts known, contained formulas for aromatics. The Rig Veda contained instructions for the uses of over 700 plants, including spikenard, myrrh, sandalwood, ginger, cinnamon, and coriander. The human was seen as part of nature and the preparation of medicinal plants was considered a sacred practice. Ayurvedic medicine is one of the oldest forms of medicine practiced continuously since ancient times.

The Bible
Considered as, or more valuable than gold, plant aromatics were rare and highly prized in the ancient world. The Bible makes numerous references to the use of aromatic oils in both the New and Old Testaments. The ancient Hebrews valued plant aromatics for medicinal, perfume, and religious practices. In the Bible Moses received an anointing oil formula for consecrating men into the priesthood which was practiced for generations. The formula included myrrh, cinnamon, frankincense, and olive oil. Mary Magdalene anointed her Master Jesus feet with the rare and expensive Spikenard oil. The Phoenician merchants introduced aromatics from the Orient to the West, and helped establish large trading routes for aromatics.

Greece – 500 BC
The Greeks furthered the knowledge of the Egyptians, and began recording and classifying the properties and actions of plant medicinals. It was Marestheus who first identified the stimulating and sedative properties of plant medicinals. Herodotus has been credited by some with creating the first distillation method, by recording the method of distillation of turpentine around 425 BC. The Greek surgeon Dioscorides wrote his five volume herbal text, Materia Medica in 78 AD. The book described the properties and uses of around 600 plants. This text became the main herbal reference used, and was translated into Latin, and became the standard medical text for the next 1,000 years. The aromatic plants section gave treatments for ointments and massage oils for every known condition. It also referenced important details for harvesting when a plant’s active properties were most powerful. Dioscorides discovered that plant chemistry changes depending on the time of day, year, and stage of development. Plant harvesting practices continue to follow these same practices discovered by Dioscorides in today’s modern essential oil industry.

The father of holistic medicine Hippocrates was an advocate of massage and recommended a scented bath and daily massage. Theophrastus of Lesbos, a pupil of Plato at the medical school in Athens, took over the school, and studied herbal medicine, aromatic plants and resins extensively. He noted that some ancient perfumes like “rose perfume” did not contain any rose at all; and the so-called “perfume of Marjoram” from Egypt contained no sweet marjoram. Even in ancient days expensive botanical preparations were adulterated. In his publication “Concerning Odors” he reports many of the physical and emotional effects of fragrance. He recognized that aromas have medicinal value.

Rome AD
The Romans used lavish and opulent means for plant aromatics with baths and massage being the most well-known. By 3 A.D. Rome was the bathing capital of the world. They especially loved roses and would plant herb and rose gardens in the foreign countries they invaded. The famous English gardens are the Roman’s legacy. Romans also used aromatic plants for beauty treatments, cosmetics, hygiene, and medical treatments. With the fall of the Roman Empire physicians fled to Constantinople with books containing the history of medicine which then passed into the Arab world. Europe entered the Dark Ages when advances in aromatic medicine came to a halt.

Arabia – 800-1400 AD
The Arab’s created advanced methods of chemical and pharmaceutical technology. As well they established extensive trade routes connecting India, China, the Mediterranean, and Indonesia with the Arab world in which spices and aromatic oils were traded and sold as precious commodities. Thus aromatic oils became available to the entire civilized world. It was through the Arabs that the medical knowledge of the Greeks and Romans remained alive. Arabic scientists made improvements in extracting aromatic oils and established a vast amount of research about oils. Between the 7th and 13th centuries, the Arabs produced great men of science, most notably Avicenna, the Great Physician, who is credited with the discovery of the refrigerated coil, a breakthrough in essential oil distillation. The Arabs revived the knowledge and use of aromatic oils and perfumery passed down from previous ages, so that it was not lost.

Plant aromatics and oils have been used in Africa for years primarily for protecting and softening the skin. The Africans are also known to have discovered methods for using oils to prevent skin disorders. As well, aromatic oils have been used in Africa for wedding and religious ceremonies.

Europe – Middle Ages 500-1300 AD
During the Middle Ages aromatic waters were used as medicines by monks and nuns who studied and copied scientific papers about useful aromatic plants. With the great plagues, like the Black Death, in the early 14th century which killed upwards of a half of the European population came an increase in the use of aromatic oils. Doctors wore elaborate masked hats with a beak that was filled with plant aromatics for protection from disease. By the late Middle Ages, apothecary guilds were established in northern Europe and essential oils from the East were used to improve European’s chance of survival. It has been reported that the apothecaries and perfumers were resistant to the plagues and epidemics, and there was recognition of a connection between plant aromatics and health. Each town had a large country house with a “still room” in which aromatic waters and remedies were distilled for the local peasants.

The Renaissance – 1400-1600
Italy became the leader in European aromatic oils. The Italian influence swept through France with the help of Caterina de Medici’s marriage to France’s Prince Henri II. At this time French aromatic oils and perfumes became popular and extravagant. The French used fragrance for everything. By the 16th century many of the essential oils in use today had been isolated and distilled for common use. At this time perfume and aromatic oils moved away from the original religious and medicinal practices and became a symbol of extravagance and luxury. During the 16th century Europeans believed bathing was unhealthy, and perfumes were used to cover offensive body odors. During the 18th century the French discovered that Tuberculosis bacillus could be killed by clove oil, and that thyme helped rid the Typhus bacteria so prevalent at the time.

Golden Age – 1600 -1700
Known as the Golden Age of the English Herbalists the 1600s gave us the great astrologer physician, Nicholas Culpepper, and herbalist, John Parkinson. During this time there was a split between herbalists and conventional medical doctors. Both were known to use essential oils though herbalists used essential oils less than herbs in practice. The dosage amounts for essential oils had been established by this time with the need for dilution, and the methods of application clearly known. The healing properties of essential oils were recognized.

Europe 1800-1900
The common use of essential oils and plant aromatics for health was established. With the return of the bubonic plague the demand for aromatic oils substantially increased. It was during the great plagues of Toulouse (1628-1631) that a formula was reported by four thieves (or Robbers) caught stealing from plague victims. This began the story of the Four Thieves which was reported to have been recorded in the archives of the Toulouse Parliament. As the story goes to have their sentence canceled the thieves reported their secret formula to prevent catching the plague after which they were hanged.

1900 – Present
Medical doctors primarily used synthetic chemical drugs by the 1900’s, and aromatic oils had almost completely disappeared by the early 20th century. Herbal and aromatic medicine had lost its status as a credible method of treatment for disease. Healing left the hands of the individual and became the sole endeavor of a select group of trained professionals.

Over the next few centuries essential oils were analyzed and their properties and applications were recorded. In 1868 the first synthetic fragrance oils were produced. These synthetic fragrances were unsuitable for medicinal use. In 1887 Dr. Chamberland, a Parisian physician, published the first modern documented research of the antiseptic properties of essential oils. Chamberland’s research confirmed that essential oils kill viruses, bacteria and fungus. Before WWII essential oil research attracted as much research attention as conventional pharmaceuticals. Nobel prizes were awarded to Otto Wallach and Adolf von Baeyer for their contributions in essential oils research. Then chemists began to isolate the active ingredients within aromatic plants and manufactured them synthetically. As this science became more sophisticated herbs and essential oils were replaced by synthetic drugs. It was discovered that chemical drugs, which acted more powerfully, could be produced more easily and were cheaper.

In 1928 French perfumer and cosmetic chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse was involved in researching cosmetic purposes of essential oils. While working an explosion in his lab severely burned his hand and he immersed it in a vat of lavender oil. He was surprised his burn healed rapidly and with no infection or scar. Convinced that the antimicrobial properties of many essential oils was greater than the chemical pharmaceuticals being used Gattefosse turned his attention to researching the medicinal properties of essential oils and their benefits for treating skin conditions.

During WWI Gattefosse used essential oils with patients in military hospitals. He published his findings in his book Aromtherapie, and is credited with coining the term “Aromatherapy.”

By the mid-twentieth century essential oils were used as flavoring, perfumes, cosmetics, and household cleaning supplies. Until the 1950’s essential oils were commonly used in medicine, and used in a wide range of pharmaceutical products.

During WWII Jean Valnet, an ex-army surgeon, used essential oils for treating wounded soldiers, and found them to be highly effective for treating wounds and burns. Later he found them useful for treating psychiatric problems and renewed their credibility in the medical community of France. Many medical aromatherapists followed his practice in the use of essential oils, and today practitioners prescribe essential oils which are reimbursed by insurance carriers. Valnet published The Practice of Aromatherapy in 1964 which was written for lay people, as well as medical professionals.

A self help holistic approach of aromatherapy was introduced by Marguerite Maury in England in the 1950’s. Madame Maury was a biochemist and was influenced by the work of Valnet. She wrote The Secret of Life and Youth which applied Valnet’s research to her beauty therapy. While treating patients for skin conditions and cosmetic problems Maury discovered surprising results for improved sleep, reduced symptoms of pain, and increased mental awareness. Maury pioneered the use of essential oils in synergy as an “individual prescription” for massage purposes. An individual prescription was used to treat the body with touch and smell, and to stimulate internal organs and improve the skin.

Robert Tisserand’s book The Art of Aromatherapy was published in England in 1977. It was the first book to combine medical and esoteric approaches to aromatherapy. Aromatherapy now has branches in medical aromatherapy for internal application which is primarily practiced in France, esoteric or spiritual forms of aromatherapy, aromatherapy massage, and scientific studies in fragrance and its effects on mood and emotions. With the renewed interest now taking place aromatic oils and aromatherapy are beginning to enjoy increased popular interest and use by the general public. New research and studies for essential oils has increased, and hospitals and medical centers are beginning to introduce essential oils as a complementary form of health care to promote health and well-being.


In your next class (3) you will learn about Methods of Application & How to Use Essential Oils for Therapeutic Results, and be introduced to the Monoterpene Chemical Family. Monoterpenes represent the Archetype of the Athlete in its masculine form and its Elemental Power activates the principles of Strength, Courage, Endurance and Stability within you. Look forward to being with you again next week to share more wisdom from the world of aromatherapy. Until then enjoy your journey!

PLEASE NOTE: Holistic Mind Body therapies, including Aromatherapy and Energy Healing can produce satisfying results where other methods have failed. Please consult with your physician regarding serious health concerns and do not attempt to self diagnose.

ENDNOTES: ¹Sheppard-Hander, Sylla, The Aromatherapy Practitioner