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Essential Oils and Aromatherapy in Nursing

Using Essential Oils and Aromatherapy in Healthcare

Return to Illness and Aromatherapy.

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Aromatherapy and essential oils have long been used in the health care sector, yet little is known about the origins of their use in this setting.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale, one of the founders of the modern nursing profession, was born on May 12, 1820. She was brought up in a religious household and on February 7, 1837 Florence believed she heard a calling from God, though at the time she did not know what this calling was.

Nightingale"s Nursing Training

In 1845, despite her family"s objections, Florence felt the need to get some hospital experience. Nursing was not considered a suitable occupation for a well-educated woman and nurses were considered coarse and ignorant and given to promiscuity and drunkenness. It was not until 1850 that she had the chance to start training as a nurse at the Institute of Saint Vincent de Paul in Alexandria, Egypt, a hospital run by the Roman Catholic Church. After training at various hospitals she returned to England and took an unpaid position as the Superintendent at the Establishment for Gentlewomen during Illness (Wikipedia and The Gap System).

Crimean War and the start of Aromatherapy

March of 1954 saw the start of the Crimean War and Nightingale was stationed in Turkey where she and her team of 38 nurses found the conditions to be deplorable. In addition to badly neglected patients, she found that medical supplies were in short supply and the hygienic conditions were so bad that mass infections were common. Soldiers were lying on bare floors, surrounded by vermin. Cholera and typhus were rife and soldiers were seven times more likely to die in the hospital than on the battleground. During Nightingale"s time at this hospital she managed to reduce mortality rates by 45% simply by ordering the hospital to be cleaned.

These are the conditions under which Nightingale first began to use aromatherapy and essential oils. She is credited with putting lavender on the brows of injured soldiers, believing correctly that the lavender would soothe them and she believed that “modifying the noxious aspects of the critical care environment” was very important. (McDowell B. Nontraditional therapies for the PICU, part 1. J Spec Pediatric Nursing 2005). According to a letter she sent on April 7, 1856, a week after the Crimean War ended, Nightingale ordered six bottles of tincture of myrrh from the principal medical storekeeper at the Balaclava General Hospital.

History of Essential Oils and Nursing

Nightingale"s lasting legacy on the profession of nursing is widely known. What is not as well known is her use of aromatherapy in the nursing profession. According to Nursingcentre.com, “the most prominent nurse aromatherapist was Madame Marguerite Maury (1895–1968)”. Mme Maury is credited with classifying essential oils and it is believed that she established the first aromatherapy clinics in Paris, England, and Switzerland.

Aromatherapy and Healthcare Today

Today aromatherapy and essentials oils are used in hospitals, cancer centers, pain management clinics and health care facilities all around the world. They are used as a way to relieve stress, facilitate sleep, reduce germs and reduce pain in patients (nurse.com). Many nurses, midwives, naturopaths, and even medical doctors take aromatherapy courses in order to make their jobs easier and to improve the care of their patients. In France, doctors are prescribing essential oils for internal use. In the UK, Canada and the US nurses are leading the movement towards incorporating essential oils into their medical practice.

This article was first published at Suite 101 on May 26, 2009 and is republished here as per the terms of our agreement with Suite 101. Visit Suite 101 to read all of our articles.


*This is educational information and any opinions expressed here-in do not replace professional medical advice. If you are ill, see a suitably qualified medical practitioner.*

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