The history of essential oils significantly overlaps with the history of herbal medicine. Humans have always had some understanding of the idea that herbs could be useful for treating minor ailments and providing various life-enhancing benefits.
In fact, some ancient cultures believed that plants and herbs had magic properties and used them in religious rituals. Even the Greek philosopher Aristotle once theorized that plants had psyches.1
Though essential oils have recently become popular again, the idea that essential oils provide a range of health benefits is nothing new. Indeed, essential oils have been used extensively throughout history, especially in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
About Traditional Chinese Medicine
Herbs have been an important part of TCM for more than 2,000 years. Indeed, the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, an ancient treatise on medicine, describes them extensively.2
The treatise was supposedly written in 2,600 BCE, although most historians now believe that the author is a mythical figure and that the text is more modern, dating back to 300 BCE.
According to TCM, essential oils represent the “jing,” or essence, of the plant. The theory goes that essential oils contribute to spiritual, mental, and physical development because the jing of the plant resonates with the jing of the body.3
The theory also describes that essential oils are typically applied to mu-points, yuan-source points, and extraordinary channels or other meridians, where they can provide healing benefits.
In TCM, essential oil use help with placing an individual into one of five states:
- Healing and relaxation
- Help with non-healing wounds
- Improved sense of internal beauty and self-esteem
- Enhanced nobility
- Solitary, distraction-free state and milder temperament
How Does Aromatherapy Work
Based on current research, the health benefits of essential oils come from secondary metabolites, including terpenes, found in the plants from which the essential oils are produced. In addition to being aromatic, essential oils provide a range of health benefits either because they bind with receptors in the body (such as the CB1 receptors) or because they provide antimicrobial, antibacterial, or anti-inflammatory effects.4
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There are some generally-accepted rules when it comes to the properties of different essential oils. Oils with alcohol groups are thought to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, while ones with ketone groups can be mucolytic, and detoxifying. Essential oils containing ester groups have analgesic properties, while ones with phenol groups act as decongestants.
High, Middle and Base Notes
In TCM, everything is associated with one of five elemental associations, has nature or temperature, a relationship to neighboring plants, and a meridian. Oils also have noted, and these are important for their classification.
When a TCM practitioner creates an essential oil blend, they typically choose one or a few oils from each category. The top note is usually the first one that the patient smells, awakening the senses. The middle note will be used as a harmonizer, and the base note is the fixative.
High notes, or top notes, are oils that evaporate quickly, often lasting just a few hours. They are thought to influence the “Wei Qi,” which is the defensive immune system. They include citrus, mints, and eucalyptus essential oils. These oils are used mostly for acute conditions, and they are thought to awaken the senses.
Middle notes, in contrast, last longer than high notes, about five to seven hours and are used to treat “Ying-level” problems. Middle notes are thought to help with circulatory issues, digestive problems, and cognitive function.
Most middle notes are spices like fennel, dill, rosemary, parsley, oregano, and caraway essential oils. Some floral oils also count as middle notes including chamomile, geranium, lavender, lemongrass, neroli, and ylang-ylang count. You can find fennel in our Happy personal essential oil diffuser.
Base notes are oils that take up to 48 hours to evaporate, and they are used to treat “Yuan-level” issues, this refers to more chronic conditions. Base notes include frankincense, sandalwood, myrrh, and wood oils.
Essential Oil in the Modern
You may have heard of the Paleo movement as it pertains to nutrition, but some individuals are taking this idea to the next level with the concept of Paleo Air. Just as the Paleo Diet recommends eating foods that are more similar to the ones consumed during the Paleolithic, Paleo Air suggests that breathing in the air similar to the one Paleolithic humans breathed primarily through the use of essential oils—rich in secondary metabolites like terpenes—can improve the overall health and well-being of humans.
In recent years, researchers have conducted many studies about the benefits of essential oils. Additionally, individuals are increasingly using them at home to take advantage of the range of health benefits they provide. For example, aromatherapy can help people relax and unwind after a hard day at work, improve alertness, and protect against infection.
From going out into the forest, visiting the park, or enjoying aromatherapy at home with the use of essential oils, adding these practices into a daily routine allow you to breathe more beneficial Paleo Air every day.