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What is the history of aromatherapy

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Aromatic oils are the basis of aromatherapy
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A brief history of essential oils down through the centuries.

Although no one can say for sure, it seems likely that the history of aromatherapy began with the Chinese culture which was the first to use aromatic plants to create fragrances for well being, harmony and balance. The term, aromatherapy, belongs to the 20th century, but the use of essential oils from plants, which form the foundation of aromatherapy dates back nearly one thousand years. The word, aromatherapy is Greek in origin, a compound made up by the word fragrance (aroma) and treatment (therapy).

How has the history of aromatherapy evolved since ancient times?



The ancient Egyptians used crude distilling machines that extracted cedar wood oil as well as clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and myrrh, which in combination were common ingredients in the famous embalming process practiced to perfection in Egypt.







To the Egyptians, essential oils and herbal preparations served spiritual, medicinal and cosmetic purposes. The men used fragrances as often as the women and one odd practice was for a man to place a solid cone of perfume on his head. It would gradually melt and cover his body in fragrance. Egypt’s love for aromatic plants and herbs were reflected in the fragrance industry and aromatic medicine, which were developed more than in any other ancient culture.


The history of aromatherapy then passed to the Greeks who learned much from the Egyptians. To the ancient Hellenes, however, the secrets of perfume were sacred and reserved for the gods. Hippocrates recognized the medicinal and aromatic benefits of plants and Megallus, a Greek perfumer, created a fragrance called Megaleion. Its main component was myrrh in a fatty-oil base, and it was utilized for its aroma, inflammatory properties and to heal wounds.

The physician, Claudius Galen (circa 150 AD) who after studying herbal medicine and treating hundreds of wounded gladiators with botanical remedies, became the personal physician of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The Romans learned much from the Egyptians and they also knew of the distillation process through the works of Discorides who wrote a book called De Materia Medica. This work describes the aromatic properties of more than 500 plants.

The history of aromatherapy made a major breakthrough in the 11th century in Persia. A man named Avicenna revolutionized the process of distillation of essential oils with invention of a coiled cooling pipe. This worked much better than the straight pipes of the past as it allowed the plant vapor and steam to cool down more effectively. This in turn fostered a deeper focus on essential oils and their benefits.

The pharmaceutical industry was born in the 13th century and some hundred years later it faced its biggest challenge; The Black Death aka the Plague. Populations were decimated and millions of people died from this terrible killer. Herbal preparations were used extensively to combat this disease and it is believed that some perfumers may have avoided contagion by their constant contact with the natural aromatics.

During the 15th century, more plants were distilled to create essential oils including frankincense, juniper, rose, sage and rosemary. A growth in the amount of books on herbs and their properties also began later in this century.

A French chemist named René Maurice Gattefossé is credited with coining the term aromatherapy in 1928 in an article where he supports using essential oils without breaking them down, which he believed reduced their power. He became interested in essential oils after he burned his arm in an accident. He then plunged his arm into the nearest liquid, which was a large container of lavender essential oil. To his amazement, the burn healed quickly and left no scar. In 1937, Gattefossé wrote a book called Aromatherapy, which is still in print today and widely read.

The use of essential oils gradually evolved over the next few centuries into the perfume industry, which by the 1900s was not only prosperous but also considered an art form. Victorian women had their jewelers create special bottles to hold their treasured perfumes.

During the 20th century, many aroma-therapists contributed their knowledge and created more natural products and more effective and pleasurable techniques. Synthetic chemicals and drugs were developed by knowledge of separating the components of essential oils. These discoveries helped lead to "modern medicine" but they actually weakened the powers of essential oils. Into the 21st century, the utilization of essential oils is as powerful as ever, but the scientific revolution has overshadowed their popularity in every day life.


The history of aromatherapy has brought about many changes in the treatment of various ailments and today it is an integral part of alternative and holistic medicine.

Why not partake of a noble and very historic sniff?

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