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Unless you have experience of aromatherapy and the use of essential oils, you may not be familiar with some of the terms or expressions of aromatherapy. The aromatherapy glossary is a quick guide and introduction to some of the more common aromatherapy terms, essential oils and aromatherapy words.
The aromatherapy glossary is not intended to be a fully comprehensive guide to aromatherapy and essential oils but I hope that it will help clarify any misconceptions or lack of understanding you may have when trying to understand the basics of aromatherapy. However, many of the essential oils and carrier oils listed in the aromatherapy glossary link through to full essential oil and carrier oil profiles for a more detailed description.
A Adulterated - pure essential oils are used in aromatherapy for their healing properties and therefore pure essential oils should have no artificial substitutes or additional ingredients added to them. As some essential oils are difficult to extract, and thus costly, some aromatherapy suppliers are tempted to ‘add’ or ‘substitute’ (i.e. adulterate) another essential oil or fragrance oil in place of it to increase profits. Common adulterated essential oils include Rose Otto (Rosa damascena) and Melissa (Melissa officinalis) which may be adulterated with similar (but cheaper) alternatives which do not possess the same propertiesor, in the case of fragrance oils, any properties. The price usually dictates an essential oil's authencity - if it seems too good to be true it probably is!
Aldehydes - one of the chemical components which make up an essential oil. Aldehydes usually have a powerful aroma and are therefore an important ingredient to a perfumer. Some aldehydes are a skin sensitizer in certain people. Aldehydes are anti-infectious, tonics, anti-inflammatory and calming to the nervous system.
Antiseptic - preventing infection. Some essential oils are more effective in helping to prevent the spread of infection and are used specifically for this purpose; examples include tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).
Angelica (Angelica archangelica) - an ancient aromatic herb, native to Russia, Iceland and Lithuania. Angelica essential oil is steam distilled from the root, fruit or seed of the plant. It is digestive, expectorant and diuretic. Angelica essential oil is used to treat a number of skin problems, indigestion, muscle pain, coughs and colds and stress.
Aphrodisiac - increases sexual desire.
Almond (Sweet) (Prunis dulcis) - a carrier oil which helps heal and nourish for dry skin. Almond oil helps soothe inflammation and can help health conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, sunburn and dermatitis. Caution: some people may be allergic to sweet almond oil.
Apricot Kernel (Prunis armeniaca) - a carrier oil which is useful for the management of pain and, in skin care; Apricot kernel oil is nourishing for sensitive, mature and dry skins.
Aromatherapie - Aromatherapy in its original (French) form.
Aromatherapist - a person who practices aromatherapy. A qualified, or certified, aromatherapist will have haven taken a course in aromatherapy and may be registered with a professional organization to gain accreditation.
There are no set requirements for a person to set themselves up as an ‘aromatherapist’ in the USA and there is a huge variation in the courses available from online courses, one day seminars to one year diploma courses. The more in-depth a course a person has studied, who they studied with, length of experience and whether they belong to a professional organization should give you some idea of their expertise.
The U.K. has stricter guidelines and is more 'advanced' than the U.S. in aromatherapy legislation but it still pays to check all of the above criteria too.
Aromatherapy - Aromatherapy, in simple terms, is a therapy using the 'aromas' (essential oils) of the plants, and not the use of the plants themselves, to help ‘heal’ any number of ailments (such as back pain, asthma, arthritis, PMS etc) and induce certain moods. There are different types of aromatherapy including clinical/medical aromatherapy, cosmetic aromatherapy and aromatology.
Astringent - causes contraction of organic tissue.
B Bactericidal - preventing the growth of bacteria. Some essential oils have greater potential than others to prevent the growth of some bacteria and may be useful as a ‘defensive’ mechanism in preventative medicine.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) - an essential oil which is native to tropical Asia; Basil is now found throughout the Mediterranean region in a number of different species. A name familiar to people for its use as a culinary herb, basil essential oil is distilled from the flowers of the plant, for aromatherapy purposes. Basil essential oil is used for digestive complaints, skin care (including bites), respiratory ailments and is also good for headaches and mental fatigue.
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) - taking its name from an Italian town, from where Bergamot essential oil originated, the Bergamot tree is now to be found in Southern Italy and the Ivory Coast. It has been one of Italy’s best kept secrets, as little was known about this essential oil, outside of Italy, until recently. Bergamot essential oil is obtained from the rind of the Bergamot citrus fruit. It is a very useful essential oil for stress-related problems as it is a calming essential oil. Other uses of bergamot essential oil include skin care, digestive ailments and respiratory problems. It is also a photo-sensitive oil, so use with care in ultra-violet rays (such as sun light) because of this.
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) - used for centuries in the Far East, from where it is a native, Black Pepper is known for its culinary uses. The essential oil is extracted from its peppercorns and is useful in helping muscle pain and digestive ailments, in addition to combating colds.
Blend - although each essential oil carries its own unique therapeutic properties, a combination of essential oils ‘blended’ together increases the capacity to heal. Essential oils are blended together with carrier oils, bubble bath, lotions, water and other carriers to make an aromatherapy blend.
C Cacao - The kernel seeds of cacao produce theobroma oil (Theobroma cacao), also known as cocoa butter. The cacao tree is native to South and Central America and was first cultivated to make cocoa butter in 1695. Cacao seeds are fermented, washed, dried, hulled, roasted and hot expressed to make cacao oil, cocoa, cocoa butter - and ultimately chocolate!
Camphoraceous - clean and medicinal.
Carcinogenic - something which has the potential to cause cancer.
Cardomon (Elettaria cardamom) - an essential oil extracted by steam distillation of the dried seeds of the herb. Used extensively as a domestic spice, cardomon has a long history in traditional Chinese medicine. Current aromatherapy use of cardomon essential oil includes indigestion, vomiting, cramp, anorexia, colic, flatulence, dyspepsia, mental fatigue and nervousness. Cardomon is native to the tropical region of Asia.
Carrier - used to apply essential oils to the skin, as the majority of essential oils are too powerful to be applied directly to the body. Carrier oils have their own therapeutic properties; other carriers include shampoo, bubble bath, lotions and water.
Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) - an essential oil distilled from the wood of the atlas cedarwood tree. It is antiseptic, astringent, anti-bacterial and sedative. Cedarwood essential oil is used to treat eczema, dry skin, arthritis and asthma. Atlas cedarwood is native to the Atlas mountains of Algeria. It was used by the ancient Egyptians for embalming and for cosmetic use.
Chamomile - see Roman Chamomile
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) - there are two types of cinnamon essential oils - cinnamon leaf and cinnamon bark essential oils. Cinnamon bark essential oil is the more potent cinnamon essential oil, due to its chemical components. It is also a skin irritant, so it is more common to use cinnamon leaf essential oil for aromatherapy use. The Cinnamon tree is native to several countries including Sri Lanka, India and Madagascar. Cinnamon essential oil is known for its aphrodisiac properties as well as for digestive complaints, muscle pain, poor circulation, and infections and colds.
Cicatrisant - capable of healing scar tissue.
Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus) - native to Sri Lanka, citronella is now found in many tropical countries. Citronella essential oil is steam distilled from the tall, aromatic grass. It is antiseptic, a cicatrasant, bactericidal and an insecticide. Citronella essential oil is used to treat colds, flu headaches and to repel insects.
Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea) - not to be confused with common sage (Salvia officinalis) or Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulifolia), Clary Sage is the preferred essential oil for use in aromatherapy, due to its low toxicity in comparison to other sage oils. Clary sage essential oil is extracted from the flowers and leaves of the herb. Clary Sage is a popular choice for ‘women’s problems’, skin care, nervous tension and is also an aphrodisiac! In addition, it is a bactericidal oil. Do not mix clary sage essential oil with alcohol as it may produce a ‘narcotic’ like state with nightmares.
Clove Bud (Syzygium aromaticum) - the clove is thought to have originated from Indonesia. Clove essential oil is water distilled from the buds and leaves; clove is also steam distillation from the stalks and stems of the plant. Clove bud oil is the favored clove essential oil for aromatherapy use. It is used in skin care, digestive complaints and muscle and joint pain.
Cold Expression - see distillation
Cold Pressed - the best carrier oils are cold pressed because of the absence of excessive heat in the extraction process. Heat often removes some of the 'natural' properties of a carrier oil.
Cornmint (Mentha arvensis) - a native plant of Europe and some parts of Asia, Cornmint essential oil is usually used in lesser preference to Peppermint essential oil for aromatherapy purposes. Cornmint essential oil is extracted by steam distillation of the flowering herb. It is usually dementholized (i.e. the menthol is removed), otherwise it would be solid at room temperature.
Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) - the needles and twigs of the cypress tree are extracted to produce cypress essential oil. In ancient times, cypress was of great value as a medicine. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region but can be found in various places in the world including England, France, Spain and North Africa. Cypress essential oil is useful for skin care, respiratory problems and nervous conditions.
D Diuretic - some essential oils may increase the need to urinate more often. The body tries to eliminate any unnecessary ‘waste’ through diuretic essential oils and therefore improves health. Examples of diuretic essential oils include cypress, hyssop and marjoram essential oils.
Distillation - a method by which the ‘essences’ of the plant are extracted and used to produce essential oils, flower waters or some other by-products. Methods of distillation include mainly steam distillation but some essential oils, such as those from the citrus family, are obtained by cold expression. In some instances, the stills used to distill the plants are really no different than those used centuries ago. Larger distilleries use more sophisticated equipment - but in either case the basic principles are still the same.
E Eczema - a disease of the skin causing itching and inflammation, resulting in irritated ‘red’ patches which are subject to forming sores. Some essential oils have properties which help relieve eczema, such as rose and lavender essential oils.
Emmenagogue - capable of aiding menstruation.
Emollient - smoothes and softens the skin.
Epilepsy - some essential oils are contra-indicated (i.e. advised against using) in the case of epileptics. The risk is minimal, in the majority of cases, but epileptics should consult a qualified professional before using. Rosemary essential oil is contra-indicated in epilepsy.
Epsom salt - a white crystalline salt which takes its name from the town of Epsom in England which is famous for its mineral waters.
Essential oil - the ‘life blood’ of a plant which is found in the glandular hairs, glands, vein or sacs. Extracted from flowers, leaves, trees, roots and fruit, it is these ‘essences’ or 'fragrances' which provide a plant’s ‘perfume’ or ‘flavor’ and, once distilled, the end product of an ‘essential oil’ contains the healing properties used in aromatherapy.
Eucalyptus - distilled from the leaves and twigs of the native Australian Eucalyptus tree, Eucalyptus essential oil comes in many different varieties, including Eucalyptus Smithii, Eucalyptus citriodora (lemon scented eucalyptus), Eucalyptus dives var. Type (broad leaved peppermint eucalyptus) and Eucalyptus globulus var. globulus (blue gum eucalyptus). Eucalyptus Smithii is perhaps the most gentle of the eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus essential oil is useful in treating colds and sinus complaints.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) - a carrier oil which is useful for dry skin, psoriasis, eczema and wound healing.
Expectorant - capable of clearing mucus from the respiratory system.
Extraction - the process used to obtain both essential oils and carrier oils for aromatherapy use. There are various methods of extraction. Essential oils are usually obtained through distillation and cold expression. Carrier oils can be cold or hot pressed.
F Febrifuge - combats fever.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) - a herb which is native to the Mediterranean region, and particularly at home near the sea, Fennel essential oil is distilled from the seeds of the plant. Fennel was used in ancient times to ward off evil spirits but it does have more scientific and therapeutic uses in the modern world. Fennel essential oil is used to treat skin problems, digestive disorders and is used to help disorders of the female reproductive system.
Fixed Oil - the name given to a vegetable oil used in aromatherapy. Fixed oils are non-volatile and non-soluble.
Fragrance Oil - a synthetic substitute which is not a true essential oil. A fragrance oil has no therapeutic properties for aromatherapy use, although fragrance oils are used frequently in the perfumery industry for their scent alone.
Frankincense (Boswellia carteri) - frankincense essential oil is extracted from an ancient tree. A favorite essential oil for meditation (due to its calming properties), frankincense is used in skin care particularly for the treatment of mature skin.
G Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) - a favorite essential oil used to substitute/adulterate the more expensive rose oil. Geranium is a very aromatic herb. It is a favorite essential oil for women, not just due to its scent, but because its healing properties help with a variety of ‘women-related’ problems as well as an excellent essential oil for skin care problems. Geranium is native to South Africa but it is now cultivated worldwide. The ‘best’ Geranium essential oil reputedly comes from Egypt, Reunion (Bourbon) and Russia.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale/officinalis) - Also commonly used as a spice, Ginger is a native of Asia. Ginger essential oil is extracted from the roots of the herb and is useful for digestive complaints, muscle pain and for colds. It has been used for centuries and is commonly used in Chinese medicine.
Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) - grapefruit essential oil is extracted from the peel of a citrus fruit which has essentially being cultivated as a hybrid (citrus maxima and citrus sinensis). California is now the main producer of grapefruit essential oil and it is gentle enough to be used with children. Grapefruit essential oil is used in skin care, depression and colds and it is a useful antiseptic and bactericidal oil. Unlike a lot of other citrus oils, it is not phototoxic.
Grapeseed (Vitis vineferia) - a versatile and popular carrier oil in aromatherapy due to its non-toxicity. However, grapeseed oil easily becomes rancid if not stored correctly; it is also a "hot pressed" oil and consequently may be refined. Grapeseed oil is excellent for skin care use and is relatively fragrance free.
Green - an odor which resembles grass.
H Hazelnut (Corylus avellana) - a carrier oil which is useful for dry skin, nourishment of the skin, astringent properties and stimulation to the circulation. It is thought to be absorbed by the skin very quickly.
Helichrysum (Helichyrsum angustifolium italicum) - cultivated in Italy, France and Spain, the flowers of the helichrysum herb are steam distilled to produce essential oil. Helichrysum essential oil is antiseptic, astringent and anti-inflammatory.
High Blood Pressure - some essential oils, due to their nature, may increase the risk of higher blood pressure. Although this risk is minimal, consult a qualified professional before using essential oils, if unsure.
Hot Pressed - some plants are hot pressed to extract the carrier oil. However, hot pressed carrier oils have often been refined and some of the natural properties of the plant's oil are lost in the process. Cold pressed oils are the preference for true aromatherapy use.
Hydrosol/Hydrolat - the by-product of the distillation process used in obtaining pure essential oils. Hydrosols/hydrolats are also known as flower or floral waters.
Hypericum (Hypericum perforatum) - also known as St John’s Wort. Hypericum is a carrier oil used in aromatherapy. Its therapeutic properties include use on burns and inflammations, nerve conditions, wounds involving nerve damage, sores and ulcers.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) - hyssop is a plant which is native to the Mediterranean region and parts of Asia. Hyssop essential oil is extracted by steam distillation from its leaves and flowers. It is useful for digestive and respiratory complaints and for skin care. However, it is a moderately toxic essential oil which is advised against in the case of pregnancy, epilepsy and with high blood pressure.
J Jasmine (Jasminum officinale) - often mistaken as an essential oil, jasmine is not, in fact, a 'true' essential oil. The flowers of jasmine are subjected to a process of enfleurage or solvent extraction, which involves chemicals; therefore jasmine is actually an absolute or concrete and not a steam distilled essential oil. Jasmine oil is expensive, due to the complicated method of extraction, and is frequently adulterated. It is calming, sedative, an aphrodisiac and good for skin care.
Juniper (Juniperus communis) - essential oil from the Juniper tree is obtained from its berries, needles (and wood, although not usually recommended for aromatherapy use). The Juniper tree is native to the ‘cooler climatic’ regions of the world (such as Scandinavia, Europe and Northern Asia). Juniper essential oil is useful as an antiseptic and diuretic, as well as an aid in detoxification. It has a number of other uses including skin care, treatment of colds and infection. Juniper was burned in French hospital wards to guard against disease and infection.
Making Scents of Words....