All Words and Graphics by Darcy Bucci Keverian
Aromatherapy is based on the usage of aromatic materials, dominantly essential oils and other aromatic compounds, with claims for improving psychological or physical well being. The evidence surrounding this alternative and arguably holistic treatment is profound, dating back centuries to that of the Mayan, Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Asian and earliest Christian cultures. The adoption of this alternative medicine has becoming largely popular in Western Civilisation as a result of bad Pharma and increasing cases of clinical negligence, leading many individuals to seek out other means of treatment and becoming their own advocates for their conditions.
Aromatherapists are people who specialise in the practice of aromatherapy, utilising blends of supposedly therapeutic essential oils which can be used as topical application, massage, inhalation or water immersion for internal ingestion. Though the speculation surrounding whether there is adequate medical evidence to prove that aromatherapy works and can prevent, treat or cure a disease, based solely on the individual reports and personal experiences of using the aromas, the general public act as significant and substantial proof outweighing that of data sheets and documented statistics.
Going back historically for a moment, the use of essential oils has stemmed dominantly from Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks and The Romans, who would utilise the various blends or singularities of oils in therapeutic, spiritual, hygienic and ritualistic purposes. Oils were often used for aesthetic pleasures, such s cosmetics and perfumes, but through topical application and ingestion, these civilisations quickly learn that they had further value to them, other than making themselves smell good, improving the taste of food and drink, or to look more pleasing to the eye.
Egyptians were the first people in the world to invent extraction of floral essences, and are credited as some of the first perfumers in history. SO, it is the ancient Egyptians you have to thank for the numerous bottles upon your vanity case should you be swayed by perfumes from the likes of Dior, to Chanel and even drug store aerosols. Their goal initially when extracting these flowers was to master and empower themselves in topics of beauty, magic and medicine. This trio came hand in hand and were not segmented branches of human existence: where there was magic, there was medicine. Where there was beauty, there was magic. And where there was medicine, there was beauty and magic alike. Unpleasant smells where considered to be symbolic of impurity, whilst fresh scents insinuated health and radiated belief and presence of the sacred.
In no other country or continent across the glove was the concern with the body and beautification so extensive and profound - so much so that in Ancient Egyptian culture, the value of beauty even transcended into economic status. Body care was a prerequisite for all Egyptians and a practice for both men and woman of all classes; oiling their bodies as a daily form of moisturization and protection from the hot arid conditions within which they inhabited.
The methods in which Egyptians adopted and cultivated when extracting fragrances came in three forms: 1) Burning: perhaps the oldest method still used today, this technique is evoked in the modern word perfume, which literally means ‘through smoke’. 2) Animal fats and pastes: Evidence of this can be found in the enfleurage technique to extract the essence of jasmine, tuberose, etc. 3) Oils: Blending with botanical plant oils of moringa and almond oil to combine the conditioning effects of the plant, with the fragrant scent of the essential oils they discovered.
During the third dynasty (dating approximately at 2650-2575 BC in Egypt), the process of embalming and mummification was finally developed, in search for immortality, which included preservation of the body of the deceased in extracts of frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, cinnamon, cedarwood, juniper berry and spikenard, as the earliest recognised and most widely used aromas. One of the first ever floral extractions was from that of the lotus flower, which was rife in Egypt, particularly along the River Nile. It fast became a symbol of rebirth, hence its hefty popularity and usage in cosmetics, fragrances and after life rituals. Evidence of this has been found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen, where the funeral furniture displays the pharaoh’s wife wrapping his body with the lotus oil. Further archaeological expeditions unveiled a host of tombs, many of which were abundant with alabaster air tight jars, which upon being opened, still lingered with the faint scent of the oils present within them. It is from the Ancient Egyptians that further cultures grew to explore and continue the perseverance of essences and aromas, such as the Greek intellect Hippocrates, who was dubbed ‘the father of Medicine’. The Greeks gained a lot of their knowledge about aromatic plants from the Nile Valley in Egypt. It is from this desert landscape that the Greeks pursued their want to harness the skills of aromatherapy, subsequently leading to the first medical school established on the Greek island of Cos and this eventually became famous through the patronage of Hippocrates. It is Hippocrates archive of written works that detailed the properties of plants and herbs, with effective recording of all the knowledge that had been gained from the Egyptians. His treatments would include massage with infusions, the internal use of herbs, baths and physical therapies. Surgery would only be used as a last resort and he regarded the entire body as an organism – the concept of holism. The foundation of Greek medicine was based on mental, emotional and physical balance. Disease was viewed as a disturbance of this balance, with the route back to health being a re-balancing of these three – in other words, holism. Today, Hippocrates is probably better known for the Hippocratic Oath that all newly qualified doctors must swear allegiance to, thus, to claim that aromatherapy has ‘no medical evidence’ is foolish in itself. To combine aromatherapy, with the acknowledgment of its rich history and ancient efficacy as a complement to modern traditional means of therapy (i.e. CBT, DBT, administration of psychiatric drugs), should be a point of place and want for all psychological and psychiatric specialists.
Let’s take the humble and worldly recognised rose as a prime example. In 2016, a study was conducted to observe the effect of aromatherapy on patients clinically diagnosed with anxiety. Anxiety, as we know, is a common psychological problem consisting of intense and unpleasant mental feelings of worry, and an ambitious tension along with genuine physical symptoms such s perspiration, headaches, restlessness, and heart palpitations. Normally anxiety can be rescuable, but in some occasions, anxiety becomes escalated and changes into a mental disorder that is debilitating and can impact someone to the extent of preventing them working or pursuing education, and participation in the community from a social standpoint.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), from the approximate 870 million people who live in Europe alone, about 100 million individuals suffer from anxiety and depression. The prevalence of 12-month anxiety disorder is 17.7% on average across both genders, whilst the battle of lifetime anxiety disorders in women is 30.5%, and 19.2% in men. There are several ways to treat anxiety, certainly, the most common method being that of anti-anxiety prescription drugs and other therapies that engage the individual in talking and identification of triggers, introspection and more. In addition to these common treatments however, complementary and holistic therapies are widely recognised and accepted as a part of nursing care in the United Kingdom, and a total of 30 countries have nurses who are licensed to perform complementary therapy as a means of medical treatment, which includes aromatherapy. Used in several formats, aromatherapy can be tailored to the individual patient through massage, inhalation, compresses, baths or topical application - though inhalation and massage tend to be the most widely used methods.
Returning back to Rose and why this specific essential oil was selected, it is because of its presence in mental and physical health since previously named ancient times. Specifically, it is the Damask Rose native to Iran which has been shown to aid in bladder health, control of pests, enhancing digestion, strengthening the nerves, and treatment of anxiety and depression. Rose water inhalation could be used as a safe, simple and low cost method in nursing care to reduce the presence of anxiety. With its tranquillising and anxiolytic effects that rose water beholds, accompanied by the fact that it has an unanimously appreciated scent, beginning introducing aromas into wards in both private and general hospitals should be a concept of focus. It is highly available and sustainable, which only further enhances the attraction to aromas as a point of treatment in psychiatric patients.
Every ward could easily be fitted with a diffuser, which are widely available online. With just a few drops of rose oil, or other complementary aroma that is hypoallergenic and non-disturbing to those with asthma or respiratory conditions i.e. orange, neroli, lemon balm, lavender), the vapour would diffuse through wards to restore calm, subconsciously enabling patients to relax more when being administered with treatments - of physical or mental evaluation.
The results of this study conducted (whereby rose water compresses and vapours were issued to patients in an undisclosed ward in the UK) clearly indicated the improvement of trade and state anxiety in patients. Confirmed efficacy was identified in the results showing a significant reduction in symptoms associated with anxiety, most notably irrational though patterns, intrusive thoughts, impulsivity, heightened senses and an irritability. Further studies have since been conducted from 2016 to present day, exploring the effect of different essential oils and how they compared to the Damask rose, such as lavender. The results were identical, or at least of some similarity. After inhaling lavender aromas, patients in various hospitalised settings were found to feel more at ease, less tense; relaxed despite their circumstances and settings. The anxiolytic benefits are evident, and so with this evidence, aromatherapy should be a compulsory part of treatment in patients with psychiatric disorders.
Below is a concept app design by Darcy Bucci Keverian which aims to educate, engage and guide people suffering with mental illness to try more holistic and alternative therapies, aromatherapy included. AROMAPP ™️ is a registered trademark concept, and all graphics and words are copyrighted.