Aromatic Medicine

Aromatic Medicine, also known as Scientific Aromatherapy or Aromatology, refers primarily to the use of essential oils, administered via a range of clinical applications, to affect physiological health. Practitioners of integrated aromatic medicine however interface two complementary paradigms, namely holistic aromatherapy and aromatic science, which spans both methodologies, embracing the best of both approaches in order to initiate healing.


The term “Aromathérapie” was coined in 1928 by René Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist, to describe the therapeutic use of essential oils. Although modern aromatherapy practice initially encompassed human pathology and the use of essential oils in the treatment of various physical and emotional conditions, it has subsequently developed into a more holistic practice, which embraces all aspects of being – body, mind and spirit – to facilitate physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Fundamentally, aromatic medicine is underpinned by science. However, the very nature of essential oil molecules, with their complex chemical structure, achieves both the subtle effects – profusely described in modern aromatherapy literature, concurrent with clinical effects validated by current scientific research.

Initially aromatherapy gained popularity in English-speaking countries like the UK, USA, Australia and South Africa, primarily as “feel good”, anti-stress, or beauty/cosmetic treatments. These “soft” methods of delivery usually refer to massage application of essential oils that have been significantly diluted in vegetable oils, creams etc., as well as ambient fragrancing via vapourizing lamps and air sprays. However, the increasing recognition by orthodox and integrated medicine practitioners, of the therapeutic potential of essential oils, is slowly changing the perception that this is the norm. This evolution is attributed to the influence of the European approach, which highlights clinical application of essential oils, underpinned by scientific rigour. There are a number of erudite health professionals and academics from countries such as France, Germany, Belgium and Turkey, amongst others, who have pioneered this development. Aromatherapy therefore means different things to different people. Whichever method of practise is preferred; good quality essential oils are imperative.


The oils, which work by either stimulating or depressing biochemical/physiological functions, as well as suppressing or destroying pathogens, are the volatile, odiferous elements of vegetable matter that are stored within specialized structures of aromatic plants. They are classified as phytochemical components that arise via the secondary metabolism of plants, which have numerous properties e.g. antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiparasitic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, decongestant, neurotonic, hepatostimulant, immunomodulant, etc.

One of the major advantages when using essential oils clinically is the fact that they are not only effective in treating microbial and other pathologies, but also highly effective at stimulating the body’s own inherent immune defenses. When it comes to infections, for example, homeopathy is excellent medicine for treating the terrain, but it is not always the most effective option for acute infections. In some respects various essential oils may be compared to the polycrests of homeopathy. Conversely, allopathy [conventional medicine], while usually powerful on the microbial front, often has many side-effects. Aromatic medicine however delivers the same power as allopathy, without the side-effects, plus they actively sustain immune integrity.


Essential oils are predominantly extracted/produced by steam or hydro-distillation. Citrus oils are however the exception, being mainly produced via mechanical cold pressing of the fruit rinds. Some citrus oils that are potentially photosensitizing are however also produced via distillation. Important points to observe for optimal distillation of oils to be used medicinally include: time of harvesting – to ensure optimal chemistry and yield; regulation of distillation temperature and pressure – to avoid oxidation phenomena; and sufficient distillation time – to obtain all the different aromatic molecules, including those that appear only at the end of the distillation process. There are several other methods of production, but the bulk of essential oils available for clinical use are produced via steam or hydro-distillation.


The following critical factors need to be taken into account when essential oils are used clinically:

  • 100% purity

  • freshness

  • botanical family, and it must be wholly derived from the named botanical species

  • part of plant from which oil is distilled

  • chemotyping – main chemical constituents [with analysis to prove it]

  • and production by purely physical means is required.


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