THE WONDERS OF LAVENDERS!
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
Keesha Haorongbam, Mary Remedios, and Yagnit Vadhel,
St. Xavier's College (Autonomous),
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Are you tired? Bored? Not feeling well?
There are medicines but do you know what else is there? Yes, that’s right!
You can go for aromatherapy!
Don’t tell me you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard about aromatherapy until you saw this article. Everybody has heard of it at least once; but does everybody know exactly what it is?
Aromatherapy, as the name suggests, is a form of treatment to heal ailments and promote relaxation using aroma i.e, the fragrance of plant extracts. This form of therapy has been ruled highly effective for the mind, body, and soul.
These plant extracts, also known as essential oils, are a mixture of volatile compounds produced by the plants which are usually fat-soluble and non-polar. They can be obtained from a variety of sources: herbs, flowers, roots, stock, barks, etc. Essential oils can be applied to the skin, sprayed in the air, or inhaled.
#Funfact: Many massage therapists use it as a part of a therapeutic massage.
In a simple chain of occurrence, this is how aromatherapy is attained :
Plant ➡️ Plant Extract (essential oil) ➡️ used for aromatherapy.
Going back into the history of aromatherapy, we can safely assume that aroma treatments have been a thing even before 2000BC. The Egyptians utilized aromatic substances in medications. In the Greek system as well as in Ayurveda, plant extract and fragrances are used for aromatic baths and massages.
#FactsCorner: Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, also known as Father of Aromatherapy, a French chemist born in 1881 published a book in 1936 called “Aromatharapie”.
This is a corny way to state it, however, it is the ultimate truth; chemistry is involved in every minute particle and circumstance revolving around the living as well as non-living.
Hence, we now move onto the chemistry-related specifics of aromatherapy:
The association of chemistry in the therapeutics of aroma starts as early as in the initial stage i.e, the extraction of essential oils from the plants. There are various processes like- water distillation, solvent extraction, enfleurage used to extract the essential oils from the plants. The process of using animal fats and oils is also used in some cases.
The distillation process needs a set of parameters for pressure, duration, and temperature to extract the desired amount of product without deteriorating the chemical constituents during the process.
Once the first process is executed, the next task of chemistry comes into action i.e, determination of the constituent of essential oil using chemical analysis techniques such as mass spectrometry, gas chromatography, accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating, and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.
Extracted essential oils are mixed with another substance such as base oil or alcohol. It is then stored for future use.
After the successful extraction of essential oils, the final task of chemistry in the therapeutics of fragrance is the utilization of the product during the treatment.
This is how it works:
The endpoint of the olfactory nerve of the brain i.e, the nerve that controls the sense of smell, is in the nose. The endpoint of the nerve runs from the back of the nose to the brain. The part of the brain that connects to it is the temporal lobe. The temporal lobe has the hippocampus and amygdala.
#FactsCorner: The hippocampus plays the role in the memory of past experiences.
The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain.
When the volatile compounds present in the essential oils penetrate the body either through the skin or the olfactory nerve, they have a pharmacological effect on the brain. By inhaling the essential oils, it is sent directly to the emotional part of the brain and thus, triggering relaxation.
The compounds present in the essential oils being volatile is a vital part as it can vaporize and become a gas. As compared to intaking substances from the mouth, inhaling is considered to be the faster route that leads directly to the brain.
There are quite a few well-known essential oils used for aromatherapy (for more information on it, click here), but in this article, we will briefly look into one plant in particular from which the volatile oil is extracted. First, here’s a beautiful poem for you:
First Lavender II- by Jemverse
“Summer brings a fragrance, which is heaven in a scent
Sweet lavender, my saving grace
my senses to augment
Its aroma is quite gorgeous, and of it, I’ll never tire
to cherish and admire"
Yes, you guessed it! Lavender! Or should we call it Lavandula angustifolia? Because that’s the scientific name of Lavender. There are over 47 species of the genus Lavendula. Belonging to the family Lamiaceae, it is a beautiful herb you can add to your garden collection.
#FactsCorner: The lavender plant extract mainly contains:
(iv) 1, 8-cineole,
(v) linalyl acetate
The quantity of these constituents is said to differ with the difference in the species taken into consideration. The constituents linalyl acetate and linalool exhibit high absorbing tendencies in therapy sessions. Linalool exhibits sedative effects, whereas linalyl acetate exhibits narcotic effects. The essential oil of Lavender displays antifungal and antibacterial characteristics towards various bacterias, particularly when antibiotics are rendered incapable.
Please do refer to one of our partner blog articles on Lavender Plants written by Elizabeth Waddington on the website.