Some people consider aromatherapy as a branch of herbal medicine therapy as aromatherapy also utilizes components taken from plants. I will take up things one by one.
As the words indicate, Herbal medicine therapy or simply called ‘Herbalism’ is a therapeutic usage of plants and its derived components. Since aromatherapy utilizes essential oils, which are essentially plant components for therapeutic purposes, one can broadly think that aromatherapy is a form of herbal medicine. But as the person starts understanding deeply, one is able to make differentiation. In case of herbal medicines, many preparations are made for the purpose of ingestion although they are made with crude methods. In aromatherapy any crude methods are a strict no-no. And, Ingestion is generally not recommended unless done in supervision of a qualified aromatherapist. One big reasons is that aromatherapy is based on concentrated form of extracts from plants, while people practicing herbal medicines may be using plants parts such as leaves, flowers, shoots, roots etc. directly.
Another important aspect is related to the exactness of studies. In the realm of herbal medicine, the formulas are often spread by word of mouth and exactness of quantities is often missing in these formulas. In case of aromatherapy, the exactness is there while making formulas. This makes sure that control group studies done at one place is likely to have similar pattern when done at some other place.
Although we see in reality both herbal medicines and aromatherapy are being used more by the beauty industry. For this reason they are not becoming mainstream medical pharmacology study subjects. If we need to make a choice Aromatherapy would be the one, which will become a more exact science in near future as we see a growing interest amongst medical practitioners also.
I personally have debated the topic of aromatherapy with many Allopathic practitioners and I always succeeded in convincing them about its good aspects. In fact, some of the Allopathic doctors are my patients.
Dr. Sunil Ji Garg