The History of Aromatherapy

The history of aromatherapy is reputed to date back as far as 6000 years, although the term aromatherapy ("aroma" meaning fragrance, and "therapy" meaning treatment) wasn’t coined until the 20th Century.

The ancient Chinese, Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all used aromatherapy oils.

The ancient Egyptians used plants for religious rituals; it was believed that certain smells could raise higher consciousness or promote a state of tranquility. They used the fragrant oils from plants (essential oils) for embalming. Oils such as myrrh, frankincense, cinnamon, cedarwood, and juniper berry are all known to have been used in the mummification process to preserve the bodies of their loved ones in preparation for the after-life.

As time went on, the Egyptians continued to refine their use of aromatics in medicine, cosmetics, incense and perfumes.

The ancient Chinese were using some form of aromatherapy at or around the same time as the Egyptians. They used herbs and burned aromatic woods and incense to show their respect to God. The oldest surviving medical book in China, (dated around 2,700BC and written by Shen Nung, contains cures involving over three hundred different aromatic herbs.

The Greeks continued the use of aromatic oils. They used them for medicines and cosmetics. Aromatherapy came of age when they took medicine into a new light 2000 years ago. The earliest known Greek physician was Asclepius who practiced around 1200 BC combining the use of herbs and surgery with previously unrivalled skill. His reputation was so great that after his death he was deified as the god of healing in Greek mythology.

Hypocrites (400 BC), who was commonly known as the "Father of Medicine", was the first to study essential oils' effects. He believed that a daily aromatic bath and scented massage would promote good health.

Theophrastus, a physician, wrote of the healing properties of "aromatic" plants. For at least 1200 years, a book written by a Greek physician named Pedacius Dioscorides about herbal medicine was the Western world's standard medical reference. Many of the remedies he mentions are still used in Aromatherapy today.

The Romans built upon the knowledge of the Egyptians and Greeks and became well known for scented baths followed by aromatic oil massage.

It was during the 19th century that scientists in Europe began researching the effects of essential oils on bacteria in humans.

Rene Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist, began research into the healing powers of essential oils in the early 1900’s after he accidentally burned his hand in his laboratory. On reflex, he immersed his burned hand in the closest liquid which happened to be lavender oil. He was quite impressed by how quickly the burn healed without infection and with no visible scar. Gattefossé is credited with coining the word "aromatherapy".

In 1937, Gattefossé wrote a book called Aromathérapie: Les Huiles essentielles hormones végétales which was later translated into English and renamed Gattefossé’s Aromatherapy.

As a result of Gattefossé’s experiments, Dr. Jean Valet used essential oils to treat the injured soldiers during world war two with great success.

Since then, there has been numerous studies and books published on aromatherapy and the healing powers of essential oils.

The late 1970’s / early 1980’s brought about the use of essential oils and aromatherapy as a major part of alternative and holistic healing across the world.

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