Aromatherapy is a holistic treatment based on the external use of essential aromatic plant oils to maintain and promote physical, physiological, and spiritual well-being. The essential oils may be used in massage, added to a warm bath, used to moisten a compress that is applied to the affected part of the body, added to a vaporizer for inhalation, or diffused throughout a room.
The term aromatherapy (aromatherapie in the original French) was coined in 1928 by a French chemist, René Maurice Gattefossé, to describe the therapeutic use of aromatic substances (essential oils) in wound healing. Gattefossé discovered the healing properties of essential plant oils accidentally; after burning his hand in a laboratory accident, he found that lavender oil healed his burns in a very short time. He then experimented with plant oils in treating soldiers wounded in World War I, and found that there were several essential oils that speeded physical healing. As the practice of aromatherapy expanded, it came to incorporate a holistic emphasis on healing or invigorating all levels of a person's being. In the United States and Great Britain, the contemporary practice of aromatherapy is often associated with naturopathy and Western herbal medicine. In Great Britain, aromatherapy is one of the most frequently used forms of alternative medicine; in the United States, many hospital-affiliated centers for the study of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) offer aromatherapy as well as other alternative approaches. Aromatherapy has also been added to holistic nursing board examinations in the United States within the last few years.
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