(Investigator 150, 2013
of plants, herbs,
roots, bark and their derivatives for cures, balms, the alleviation of
disease, complaints and conditions, dates back to ancient
naturalist, Li Shin-chen, listed over 1800 different kinds of medical
materials in his (1578) Chinese Pharmacopoeia, including 1000
medical prescriptions, some still in use today.
Similarly, the ancient Greeks, Romans and early Middle Eastern
civilisations, all recorded the balms and remedies they derived from
local plant life.
The natives of the two Americas and India also developed sophisticated
herbal remedies, and made their contribution three millennia ago. Some
of these ancient discoveries such as quinine, rauwolfin (snake root),
iodine, curare, and morphine have become an accepted part of the
mainstream medical profession.
advocates believe that the vapours from some plant oils contain
therapeutic properties. When inhaled, these exert curative powers — a
metaphysical concept. The vapours are considered to be the odic force,
life energy or elan vital. These can, it is believed, affect the psyche
of the patient effecting cures for ailments other than those of an
intestinal origin such as heart and liver diseases, and fractures.
practice of aroma therapy consists of a massage using the vaporous oils
of selected plants rubbed into the body to relieve muscular tensions
caused by mental or physical stress. The vapours can also be inhaled or
the oils used as an additive to bath water.
the claims made
by aromatherapists are causally confused, dubious and typically vague.
For example: A few drops of a particular oil in your bath water will
leave you pleasantly refreshed and relaxed. But was it the warm bath
water or the additive that did the trick? To make unsafe water potable,
boil it and add rosemary. But what made it safe, the boiling or the
additive? A little jasmine massaged into the groin will promote sexual
stimulation. I suggest a massage in that area with or without jasmine
would have the same result.
is a favourite
tactic used by aromatherapists. Frawley, in Herbs and the Mind,
quotes one practitioner as saying, "incense cleanses the air of
negative energies". But what are negative energies? Another "keeps the
nerves in balance". What is an "unbalanced" nerve? Benzoin resinoid
will "drive out evil spirits". Have you ever seen an evil spirit? And
so on, ad nauseum.
various vapours are
certainly pleasant to smell, and a massage in oil can promote
relaxation and a feeling of wellbeing, there is no scientific evidence
in support of other unwarranted claims made by most aromatherapists.
H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing,
Australian Skeptics Inc.