The Wonderful World of Herbs and Aromas
For centuries plants and herbs were the only source of medicinal treatment for any and all types of maladies. Herbal knowledge was passed down through the generations by gathering the individual plants, learning where they grew, how they looked and smelled, the different methods of preparing and using them for healing, and the numerous symptoms they relieved.
After the Renaissance, where common people began to learn to read and the age of discovery in scientific matters increased through technology, there was a separation of the old ways from the new. Science declared much of the herbal thought was without scientific basis, and as people moved away from the country and into the cities during the Industrial Revolution, uses of nature to cure began to wane.
In the late 20 th century people began to return to the natural methods of the ancient worlds. The Chinese and Native Americans had always held fast to the value of medicinal healing in nature. Even the Ancient Egyptians used plants and herbs in their preservation of the body, mummification, skin treatments and décor, as well as in making perfumes and aromas from plants. The oldest written record of medicinal uses and descriptions of plants, Vedas, came from the people of India over 5,000 years ago. People today can grow their own herbal gardens in their backyard.
Pharmaceutical actually means “medicine from plants.” Yet in the process of synthesizing these natural remedies, something is lost. There are numerous side effects in the drugs developed by drug companies. Often these side effects don’t show up for decades and their costs to consumers multiply beyond the initial purchase price of the drug itself.
The form in which any herbal remedy is applied is as important as the plant itself. An infusion is simply the steeping or simmering of an herb in hot water. This liquid form, like an herbal tea, allows for flushing of the kidneys and removes the build-up of toxins in the body.
Decoction is just like infusion, but as some herbal remedies require the bark or root of a plant, steeping a few minutes in hot water will not release the medicinal properties of the plant. Boiling water poured over the plant part and allowed to steep for 30 minutes or more is necessary for this herbal form.
A tincture is the use of fresh or dried herbs placed in a solution of alcohol (not isopropyl, but 90 to 100-proof spirits); vodka works best. Place the herb in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, let the mixture sit in a dark, warm place for two to three weeks, and shake daily. At the end of the soaking period, strain the liquid through cheesecloth and pour the mixture into a dark glass container. These tinctures can be used by putting a few drops in tea, diluted in water and used in a compress, or placed in oils or creams for use as a healing ointment. Depending upon the herbal plant used in making a tincture, this is one form where the aroma of the plant is important. Menthol, peppermint, lemon, and other such strong scents aid in the particular use of tinctures, such as clearing sinus passages and calming upset stomachs.
Another form for herbals is the syrup. There are several methods and ingredients in this category. Natural or raw honey can be used to absorb the vital oils and moisture from the plant and is best when it has sat for six weeks or more. Since herbal syrup is an infusion that is more concentrated, it requires reducing the original liquid by half and adding honey or real maple syrup as a sweetener. This reducing process can take quite some time, and the vapors coming off the herbal mixture, especially in cough and bronchial remedies, are quite potent. Much like a humidifier or steamer, this in itself is a natural way to absorb the medicinal properties of the herb through the mucous membranes.
An essential oil is highly fragrant liquid with the distinctive qualities of the plant used to make it through the process of distillation. It is very evaporative, so it does not last long, and it requires massive quantities of the plant. Infused oils use very little plant material and are safe for internal and external use.
The process in making essential oils produces strong aromas that have been found to be harmful in that they kill intestinal flora much like synthetic antibiotics do. Inhaling the steam during this process causes the oil to enter the bloodstream immediately and causes intestinal upset and contributes to poor immune systems. Use of the essential oils on the skin has been shown to cause irritation as well.
Infused Oils are safe and can be massaged into the skin to aid in healing muscles and when applied to a skin irritation, they are healing and soothing. Olive oil is the base and can be used for skin and scalp irritations and continual use on the body has been proven to maintain healthy skin and hair. Aromatherapy uses these and other forms of herbal plants to relax and restore not only the human body, but the mind and emotions. Fragrance oils like those created by Chanel,Hugo Boss, and Cid are made to duplicate the scent of essential oils.