Heliotrope San Francisco

In every culture and society around the world, fragrance has been used for thousands of years. Fragrance has served many purposes. It has been used as medicine, to sanctify or clean a space, as an offering to the local deities as part of a religious ceremony and as a symbol of status are a few of the many ways aromatics have been used throughout history.

Ancient China is thought to be one of the first cultures to use fragrant plants to promote well-being. In China, fragrance was imparted by burning incense or using fragrant ingredients in a special room. Scent was used to purify or disinfect as it was believed that certain scents could dispel diseases. In medieval Europe, scent was also used to eradicate illness as it was thought that many diseases were suspended in foul smelling, unhealthy air. Certainly, the practice of using plants for their fragrance extends back in time beyond the written record.

FrankincenseBoswellia sacra - frankincense

Valuable perfume ingredients were among the first goods traded between cultures as nobles competed to find and make the best scents. Until about the 1800s, personal perfume was the province of nobility and the well-to-do. In general, most people did not have access to perfumes for personal use. I speculate that most people were familiar with aromatics but they might not have had access to a lot of fragrant plant materials beyond those which grew wild in the fields and woods around them.

An aromatic ingredient is where aromatherapy begins. You may have examples of aromatics in your house, especially among your herbs and spices. Aromatherapy developed because people appreciated a scent and attached importance to it. The plant itself may have played an important role in the life of the community, perhaps it has healing properties, perhaps it grew in a site found sacred.

Aromatics - rose buds, star anise and other seeds and leaves in Marrakech market

The word aromatherapy was coined in 1928 by a French chemist named René-Maurice Gattefossé. He accidentally discovered the benefits of lavender essential oil when it sped up the healing of a burn on his hand. He began doing experiments with essential oils to treat other wounds or burns on the skin. His goal was helping the returned wounded soldiers of World War I.  

In short, the definition of aromatherapy is using parts of a plant - the flowers, the bark, leaves, root, etc -  to promote emotional, spiritual and physical health.  The part of the plant itself can be infused into an oil or an alcohol like vodka, or an essential oil might be made from it, or the leaves or flowers might themselves be used for aromatherapy.

 Essential oils have become one of the most common tools in aromatherapy. The distillation process was first developed in ancient Egypt to distill cedar, and was improved upon in the 11th century when a man named Avicenna invented the coiled tube.  In 2005 a clay alembic still was discovered in Crete, that is approximately 4,000 years old. The bowls indicate that the still was used to distill rosemary, lavender and other herbs. Despite the fact that the technology of the still existed, in most places, the healing properties of herbs were extracted through infusions either in oil or into water.

In the distillation process, the healing properties of the plant are concentrated into the essential oil. It takes many pounds of plant material to make a few ounces of essential oil.

In the 20th century, synthetic forms of plant properties were developed for both medicinal and use in the perfume industry. In the 1980s, essential oils started to gain more popularity as aromatherapy became more widely practiced.

According to Jonathan, the founder of Heliotrope, there are at least two ways to approach adding aromatherapy to Heliotrope products. The first is that you want a particular benefit from a plant. For example, lavender is known to help calm stress and to promote relaxation, so you might want to add a bit of lavender essential oil to the lotion you use just before going to bed. Conversely, you might want to add an energizing essential oil, such as peppermint, to the hand cream you use at your desk at work.

 

The second approach is simply that you like a certain scent or blend. Scent is powerful because of what it evokes. Although liking something may seem like a simple criteria, pleasure is a powerful force and it can influence both mood and outlook.

Heliotrope SF essential oil vials

Most of our body care products are unscented allowing you to customize and find your own signature scent! In the shop, you can customize using the range of single essential oils and blends.

Jonathan worked with our aromatherapist to develop the blends so that they correspond with different moods or concerns. For example, the Relieving Blend combines eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary and geranium and provides relief from muscle aches. Add this blend to a massage oil or body cream or lotion and use it to massage away your tension. Traditionally, eucalyptus has also been used to relieve congestion. During cold season, you could add a few drops of this blend to a bowl of hot water and create a steam bath for your sinuses.

When ordering on-line, if customization is possible, the available aromatherapy blends appear in the drop-down menu.

When customizing, the selected aromatherapy oils are thoroughly mixed into the product and care is taken to ensure that the scent is correct. If you are able to come into the shop, you can make sure that the scent is to your liking and add different scents. It's a bit hard to subtract if you go too far!

All of our oils and blends can be combined combined with a body care product or used in an aromatherapy diffuser. A diffuser can also be as simple as a few drops of essential oil put into a cup or bowl of water.

Drops of oil on the surface of water

 If you are curious about exploring aromatherapy I suggest that you start with a scent you know you like. Perhaps from there, try a combination, either through one of our blends, or based on a mood or concern you'd like to address. Aromatherapy is open for experimentation and personalization.

Written by Jen Bator — May 14, 2017

Mailing List

We promise to only send you good things, like sales and party invitations.