A Brief History

Today, aromatherapy is a treatment that uses natural plant extracts, and essential oils, to improve one’s psychological and physical well-being.  These essential oils are used, medicinally, to benefit the health of the mind, body and mental spirit. 

Aromatherapy has grown increasingly popular, globally, with its undeniable ability to enhance physical and emotional health. While this technique has always been considered an art form, it has become recognized in the fields of science and medicine. 

A common misconception about aromatics is that it is deemed a rather new-age form of treatment; however, that is not the case. Humans have used this practice for thousands of years! 

So, to set the records straight, we have decided to embark on a brief journey into the history of aromatherapy.

Digging Deeper

Ancient Egyptians  

The use of aromatics was first recorded at around 3500 years BC. The Egyptians were known for their use of infusing herbs into an oil; they developed the foundation of aromatic medicine on which modern-day aromatherapy was built on. If we date back to the aromatherapy origins, you will find out how the ancient Egyptians developed the procedures that were used, back then, in embalming and mummification. These processes used various aromatics including frankincense, galbanum, myrrh, cinnamon, juniper berry, cedarwood and spikenard when curated. 

The Egyptians were also the first to use aromatic oils and incense to improve the scent of their surroundings and create the right atmosphere in their environment. 

They would host celebrations and festivals, where the women wore scented cones on their heads; once the cones melted, the preferred aroma would consume the air. They would also use the aromatic infused oils after bathing to moisturize their skin and protect them from sun overexposure. 

The use of aromatics through incense, cosmetics, perfumes and of course medicine grew more refined between the 18th and 25th Egyptian dynasties. As the land became a center point of trade and got conquered by several kingdoms, this art form ended up traveling the world. 

Ancient Greeks

Shortly after the decline of Egypt’s domination over aromatic medicine, this science fell into the hands of the Ancient Greeks, who began pushing boundaries and expanding the use of plant-based oils and medicine. The Greek physician named Asclepius combined these herbs and adapted them into surgery. He then received the title of “The God of Healing” for his impeccable skills. 

Asclepius was not the only famous physician to influence the way aromatherapy is used today; in fact, it was Hippocrates who developed a key aspect of it – Holism. The concept of holism is the belief that the body is an organism consisting of the mind, body, and spirit, and together all three should involve a healthy balance to maintain good health. Hippocrates also believed that surgery should be considered a last resort, and not referred to frequently. 

Romans

The next aromatic influencer was a military physician named Dioscorides; he followed the Roman armies to Spain and Germany in order to perform research on plants within their own habitat. He discovered how plants should be stored, and learned about their healing properties which he used to treat battle wounds. 

Then it was a Greek physician Claudius Galen, who influenced aromatherapy by using the herb and oil infusions to treat wounded gladiators. His career was highly successful since no fighter died under his medicinal care. Due to this, he became the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ personal physician. 

Shortly after the Greeks and Romans did their fair share in propagating aromatherapy, it was the Persians who explored new grounds and pushed the boundaries of aromatic medicine to new heights; making the herb and oil infusion become as close to the aromatherapy we will partake in today. 

But it was French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, who started the aromatherapy we know currently, as he studied the medicinal properties of essential oils. Following in his footsteps was Jean Valnet, who completed his skills with the use of clove, chamomile, lemon, and thyme essential oils to heal wounds. These essential oils were basically a more concentrated dose of the infused oils practiced by the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Persians. 

As you can see, aromatherapy dates back a long time ago and has since developed to our current day therapy. It is important to know how earlier influences brought us the knowledge of herbalism, tree lore, plants, and their properties. So many remedies were developed, such as rose water, which has skyrocketed aromatics and herbs into fame. 

The fascinating origins of how aromatherapy was developed from a plant-based medicine in today’s sought after treatment, is definitely worth delving into. 

Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever used aromatherapy?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Battaglia, Salvatore and Kyoko Mizoguchi.  The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy Volume 1 Foundations and Materia Medica.  Black Pepper Creative, 2018.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Couleur, is licensed under the Pixabay License.

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