If you are familiar with aromatherapy then you will understand the fundamental role that essential oils play in its practice and success. And because essential oils are derived from plants, learning about the botany of aromatic plants can be extremely useful if you want to understand more about how essential oils work and what they consist of chemically. So what exactly is botany?
Botany is described as the scientific study of plants, and covers such subjects as their classification, physical appearance, function, chemistry, ecology and even economic importance. Botany seeks to understand how a plant is structured and how it relates to both the environment and its interactions with other plants and organisms.
Although botany is a vast subject, learning just a few of the basics principals will help you in choosing the correct essential oil for a particular condition and give you a deeper insight into how essential oils work than can be learned from many aromatherapy books.
The definition of aromatherapy is often described as 'the art and science of using the essential oils derived from plants in a variety of therapeutic applications.' The natural essential oils produced by plants are what give them a recognisable and characteristic aroma, and these healing olis can be found in flowers, leaves, fruits, woods, barks and roots.
Essential oils are located in the tiny glands, hairs, veins or sacs of the various parts of a plant and are extracted by a variety of methods according to the type of plant concerned. Oils from leaves, herbs, roots, woods, barks, spices and some flowers are obtained by traditional steam or water distillation, whereas fruits are cold pressed. Many delicate species of flowers require a more sophisticated process using solvents that produce what is known as an ‘absolute’.
As plants evolved they developed several strategies to help them survive and compete with the surrounding world. One of these strategies was to produce chemical agents that could both attract pollinators and repel predators, thereby ensuring the continuation of the plant species. Often when an essential oil is located in the root, bark or leaves of a plant it is to defend against predators, whereas the essential oil found in flowers and fruit is produced to attract pollinators.
It is not only the aroma of a plant which draws pollinators to it; color and shape often play a role too. Not all aromas are pleasant, unlike those which we use in the practice of aromatherapy; for example, rotting fruit is attractive to tropical bats just as the seductive scent of night blooming Jasmine (Cestrum noctiflorum) is to hawk moths.
Essential oils evaporate at or above room temperature so, on a hot day, the essential oils contained within a plant are released into the air; in this instance, the essential oils are acting as a defense mechanism. The leaves of a plant often contain lethal chemical compounds such as terpenes and any predator that eats the leaves will either become sick or die. Terpenes also restrict the growth of neighboring plants if they enter the soil on watering.
The aromatic molecules in a plant are a by-product of the process of metabolism, and are stored in several parts of the plant, depending upon the species:
This is just a very basic insight into the role in which essential oils play in plants and how it is important - especially as an aromatherapist - to understand the interconnection between botany and aromatherapy. If you are serious about understanding the fascinating complexity of essential oils you should take a more serious look at the vital role that botany plays in aromatherapy.
I promise you it will be time well spent.
Copyright © Quinessence Aromatherapy Ltd 2012. Written by Geoff Lyth
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The Greek physician Hippocrates wrote,
'The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day'.
He also practiced fumigations for their medicinal benefits, and is said to have saved Athens from a plague by burning large fires of aromatic woods in the streets.
This remedy would be employed again almost 1,000 years later in Europe during an outbreak of the plague.
Nothing beats a relaxing aromatherapy massage for maintaining health and wellbeing.
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