It’s simple really: Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils for their curative properties. Essential oils are the aromatic oils distilled from plants —or, to put it in scientific terms, oils containing volatile aromatic molecules. (“Volatile,” in this case, is not as dramatic as it sounds. It simply means the aromatic molecules have a tendency to dissipate quickly once applied.) Those molecules are the essence in essential oils. And while they generally smell quite pleasant, we don’t refer to these oils as “fragrances” because we aren’t using them to perfume ourselves. Well, not strictly speaking.
When essential oils are inhaled through the nose, aromatic molecules are carried through the lining of the nasal cavity via tiny olfactory nerves, located in the roof of the inner nose, to the part of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system in turn influences the endocrine system and the autonomic nervous system.
The endocrine system is a major regulatory force in the body. It consists of glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream; these hormones act as chemical mediators to regulate many bodily functions including mood, metabolism, and growth and development.
The autonomic nervous system operates, for the most part, below the level of our awareness. It connects the brain and spinal cord to the limbs and organs and directs, via electrical impulse, basic instinctive bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiration rate, salivation, perspiration, and sexual response.
While it may seem counterintuitive, inhalation can be the most direct method of delivery for the healing components in oils. Through the nasal cavity, the chemical messengers have direct access to the brain and can go straight to work on the systems that moderate the body.