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The rising popularity of alternative or holistic therapy can be gauged from the fact that today the sense of smell is also being used as a therapy to treat an amazing variety of ailments including stress. Flowers, plants, herbs and spices, everyday items in our gardens or even our food, are natural antidotes to variety of ailments. Preventive treatments like aromatherapy are using a combination of modern science and ancient wisdom to produce curatives, which also double as cosmetic aids. In fact, the recuperative and soothing effects of flowers, plants and herbs have been known for centuries.

Rose petals were considered the secret of Empress Noor Jehan’s fabled beauty. Incense used in religious rituals also possessed the properties to soothe the mind, as did Indian myrrh and dhup made from juniper shrubs, used extensively in temples. All these performed a dual role – religious and therapeutic. Now, with a growing demand for natural cures and remedies, aromatherapy is flowering again, this time packaged in attractive tubes and bottles and promising to cure everything from rheumatism to diabetes and psychological problems.

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing process for the body and mind. The basis lies in the essential oils contained in plant materials. These can be found in leaves, flowers, roots, seeds, bark and resin. These oils are highly concentrated and when extracted, can either be used in a pure form or diluted / blended with other oils to produce the required strength. Essential oils are medicinal and fragrant and travel through the bloodstream reacting with hormones and enzymes. Physiologically, the oils sedate or stimulate the system. When the fragrance is inhaled, the nerve – ends in the nose transmit pleasurable signals to the brain which reacts to the positive power of the fragrant aroma inducing pleasant memorizes, restoring emotional balance and encouraging relaxation and energisation. Many of these fragrant oils have antiseptic and antitoxic qualities and often act as an antidote to viral infection, to inflammation, aches and pains.

In India, Ayurveda embraced herbs and aromatics as an important part of the philosophy of healing, using fresh herbs, dried herbs such s tea, or herbs compounded into pills, using fresh plant juices. In early times essential oil extraction involved pounding and grinding of fresh or dried herb and subsequent extraction to the essential oil.

Trade and wars brought many new herbs to India from the Far East, the Middle East, Egypt and Africa. Distillation expertise from Arabia allowed for the making of attars, using a co distillation method in which a very light volatile essential component, such as jasmine, could be distilled with a very heavy essential oil component like sandalwood, where the heavier component trapped the light flowery aroma. Today essential oil production continues to be an important industry in many small villages where distillation apparatus designs have not changed for 3,000 years.

Aromatherapy has regained popularity only two decades back. Various products based on essential oils and natural ingredients are available designed to alter or enhance moods and treat a range of ailments from migraine to hypertension and arthritis. At various beauty saloons a variety of creams, conditioners and moisturizers made from essential oils are used in beauty treatments.

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