An oil by any other name would smell as sweet - or would it? With all Samui's health centres/retreats extolling the virtues of essential oils in their massage and steam bath treatments - what, in fact, are essential oils?
Well, the essence of a natural, living substance is the undiluted matter which can be extracted from it. Essential oil is the resulting liquid. Herbs, fruit, flower-heads, petals, stalks, seeds, leaves, and tree bark, gum, resin and nuts are the usual sources. The oil is liberated from its origin in various ways.
...the Egyptians began using essential oils when mummifying their dead.
Distillation, maceration, crushing and pressing are the commonest and most effective methods of extraction. And have been since the earliest known use of essential oils, over 6,000 years ago. The Chinese are thought to have recognised their remarkable, medicinal qualities around 4,500 BC. Some time later, the Egyptians began using essential oils when mummifying their dead. The oil's natural anti-septic and anti-bacterial properties, which helped the process of preservation, were soon recognised and put to use on 'live' patients. The Greeks and the Romans widely used essential oils in their religious and political ceremonies - and more famously in their steam baths and massages!
Unfortunately, the fall of the Roman Empire (not solely because of their obsession for body-comforts) plunged Europe into the 'Essential Oil Dark Ages'. They weren't rediscovered until 1000 AD, when rose essence was distilled in Arabia. Crusading Knights took the recovered information back to Western Europe in the 12th century.
During the following 500 years, the use of essential oil for its powerful aroma became widely popular. Regular bathing then was unheard of – even for royalty – but perfumed oils managed to disguise most foul body odours! And there, it was even used in an attempt to combat the Bubonic Plague – with a fair amount of success.
...and itís no longer the exclusive domain of mystics and followers of new-age fashion!
Since those distant days, a lot has been learnt about the individual properties of each particular oil. Aromatherapy, as a holistic medical practice, has been with us since 1928 and was particularly effective in the treatment of soldiers during the second world war. Scientists are continuing to understand the physiological reasons behind its success.
The use of essential oils in massages, steam baths and aromatherapy in general, is now widespread. It's no longer the exclusive domain of mystics and followers of new-age fashion.
Thailand produce many essential oils from their diverse range of vegetation. These are amongst the most popular:
- - a natural coolant for the skin.
- - a small lime which is great for hair-care.
- - a stress-relieving oil, used in herbal-saunas.
- - this popular cooking additive can also aid clear breathing.
- - helps relieve muscle aches and pains.
- - a type of ginger, an anti-septic which doubles-up as a skin-beautifier.
- - also a ginger, it's a natural toner and cleanser.
These, and other imported essential oils, are all used locally in Samui's ever-increasing health industry.