​Why do I love Jasmine oil? (or Taking the "woo-woo" out of Aromatherapy)

Aug 1st 2015

​Why do I love Jasmine oil? (or Taking the "woo-woo" out of Aromatherapy)

A precious absolute that requires thousands of flowers to make a tiny amount (milliliters), Jasmine is always used in very small doses. There are lots of synthetic oils and blends that imitate or dilute the fragrance, but true Jasmine oil has no replacement.

This oil is a personal favorite of mine because, before experiencing real Jasmine oil, I had many doubts about the power of aromatherapy. When I smelled my first bottle of Jasmine absolute at full strength, the effect on my mood and general physical “comfort” (for lack of a better word) was immediate and unmistakable.

Once I had an experience of aromatherapy at work, I started to recognize the effects of other oils also. There is a subtlety to aromatherapy that gets lost in our overly done modern age that makes it difficult to recognize the true power of the natural world.

For me, the experience of recognizing an aromatherapy benefit can be compared to learning to waterski. You watch other people do it, you read about it maybe, you try it and it doesn’t work. But then, one day, you “get it”. You recognize the feel of the right balance, of using muscles in your core and legs that you never used that way before. Maybe you find that this “feel” translates to other activities, like snow skiing or ice skating.

I find that exercising the olfactory sense is similar. We inundate our sense of smell with all the daily good and bad chemicals in the air around us. When a true natural chemical hits our noses, it may be difficult for us to “get it”. Jasmine taught me how to put the sense of smell to better use than I ever had before.

Aromatherapy – What exactly is it?

Aromatherapy is a body of knowledge about the powers built into plants. More specifically, according to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy:

Aromatherapy, also referred to as Essential Oil therapy, can be defined as the art and science of utilizing naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit.

There are studies conducted regularly trying to confirm or debunk aromatherapy. For example, this article and this article seem to conclude there is some clinical evidence in favor of aromatherapy (I did not purchase the articles, but the abstracts summarize the findings).

In my personal reading, I also came across several texts that discuss how our brains work and the pathways that conduct messages to our nerve centers. One of the most primitive, directly connected, and least understood pathways is the one from the olfactory organ to the limbic system (the part that controls our fight or flight instincts).  See more brain info below.

What do smells do for us?

It is easy to imagine how a keen sense of smell could be a survival advantage to humans living a nomadic life. Each step forward carried unknown potential dangers. If smelling that predator triggered immediate defensive action, we lived longer. Being able to identify spoiled water or food as it is brought up to eat or drink could mean avoiding death by poisoning.

The scrunched up face of a bad smell is universal to humans. And we think things that are not good for us smell bad. For instance, rotten meat smells horrible to us. But to a vulture… that smell is dinner. Our sense of smell has helped us to survive.

It seems to me that there must be a corollary to the “warning” aspect of our sense of smell. Just as smells warn us of danger, they also invite us to benefits. 

What does modern science say about all this?

It has been shown that the substances in the herbs and oils in use in holistic healing and aromatherapy transmit chemicals to our bodies through the sense of smell. Literally, the chemicals in the plants enter our bodies through our noses. It is an intake mechanism, like drinking, swallowing a pill, or getting an injection. It is a  physical event.

Since a lot of the effect (although not all) of aromatherapy happens in the brain, there is a lot about the mechanics of the events that occur that are not well understood. Here is another excerpt from a scholarly class curriculum – scroll to the bottom to see the notes on the olfactory sense. There aren’t even words for some things in modern medicine, even though this sense is directly hardwired into our brains like the others.

However, as researchers understand more and more about the infinitely complex and dynamic organic machine that is the human brain – the evidence for mood enhancement and triggers for release of beneficial chemicals by our physiology are being discovered. I bet you didn’t know you had an “olfactory cortex”, did you? Google it.

But what about regular medicine?

There is much science around the chemical reactions in our bodies in Western medicine. This knowledge is good and deserves to be explored and expanded. It is a little known twist that many ideas for new drugs actually come from the effects of natural substances on the human body or its environment. The art of extracting the “active” ingredients from plants is an extreme benefit to humans worldwide.

On close inspection, one can find evidence that there is quite a bit of exploration still going on. There are examples of drugs that are advertised and prescribed for completely unrelated conditions – to the degree that they are marketed entirely differently with completely different target audiences. When you read the history of the studies that for these drugs, often it comes out in the clinical trials that unrelated beneficial side effects are found when testing for a certain improvement - anti-depressants that help with alzhemier's disease for example. These side effects are then exploited by the drug company – for the good of everyone in need of those benefits.

So the next time you read a list of benefits of a particular essential oil or herb and think “how can one plant do all that?” keep in mind, our modern medicine extracted from the same sources behaves the same way in some cases.

How does this affect us daily?

As Western medicine tries to identify the most beneficial medications of general usefulness, there are individual needs that can be met using the original substances found in the plants that populate the world. 

While it is true that modern medicine has improved our overall health and quality of life far beyond the medicine of the past, this does not mean that the knowledge of the past is useless. 

There are complex reactions inside the human body that no one understands. There is no “user manual” for people’s health and wellness. We are all on the same journey to take the best care of ourselves that we can. Aromatherapy is one tool.