What is the history of Aromatherapy

History Of Aromatherapy

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Have you ever wondered about the historical story behind aromatic healing? Who is the father of aromatherapy? When did Aromatherapy become popular? Who first used essential oils? From where did essential oils originate? After all, is aromatherapy scientifically proven as efficient in the modern era? Don’t you wish to discover the roots of aromatherapy?

I am Author Sara Khalil Doleh, passionately driven by the natural nectar of essential oils into cherishingly incorporating aromatherapy into my everyday lifestyle, which has been an inherited token of inspirational relaxation in my family for years! Being a person who grew up watching my mother brew essential oils out of her garden’s plants, I trust I shall be able to provide information regarding the questions wondering in your very own mind and much more!

From a philosophy of plant extracts to a modern luxury, this holistically therapeutic concept originated from the folds of ancient civilizations’ history, travelling from Egypt to Europe and Asia. From myths to real naturally healing medically-alternative green solutions as relaxing aromatic sources of wellbeing, aromatic essential oils took over historical medicine.

In the following article, you shall discover everything you need to know about:

  • Early essential oils’ origins
  • The rise of aromatherapy
  • The modern emergence of aromatherapy
  • The aromatherapy of today

Let’s find out what we’re missing out on!


1- The Earliest Essential Oils’ Usage

Centuries have passed since essential oils’ discovery. The most prestigious civilizations have used aromatic plants and learned the delicate process of extracting essential oils; developing it into the aromatherapy concept we are familiar with today.

Mix of essential oils

a) Australian Essential Oils Origins

The first traces of aromatherapy usage in Australia dated back to more than 30,000 years. Through fumigation, Aboriginal Australians were the distinguished users of Tea Tree (also known as Melaleuca alternifolia). Tea tree oil is very promising in terms of antibacterial, antiviral, antiparasitic, and antifungal properties; modernly incorporated in skincare luxurious products as a potent anti-acne ingredient.

b) Aromatic and Ayurvedic Medicine in Asia

A terracotta pot found in Pakistan dated back to 7000 years ago. Manuscripts quoted from Ayurvedas’s books contained the oldest testimonies concerning the procurement of natural products. Ayurvedic medicine , which is still being practiced, mainly uses aromatic plants for healing purposes.

The Hindus were familiar with fermentation and obtained products from it, such as Calamus and Andropogon essences; extracted by distillation, initially as alcoholic solutions.

In India, aromatic waters and perfumes were widely used; for both religious sacrifices and to cleanse the body, mind, and habitat. They even incorporated essential oils in aromatic baths and massages; a therapeutic practice still adopted till this very moment as aromatherapy massages!

Plants ready to be distilled.

China was also another cradle of plants’ usage and their essences for healing. The Compendium of Materia Medica (or Pen Tsao), the first medicinal book dating back to the 3rd millennium B.C., described the usage of about a hundred species of plants, including but not limited to Anise (also known as Aniseed), Turmeric, Cinnamon and Ginger Oils.

c) Aromatherapy Development in Africa and the Middle East

Egyptians and Persians were experts in the art of distillation. Proof of this was found in Mesopotamian inscriptions dating back 4000 years and Egyptian writings dating back to 3500 years. Egyptians were even credited with the development of the first distillation machines capable of performing oil extraction from certain plants, such as cedarwood and clove.

The Egyptians obtained oils by pressing plants; they isolated the perfumes and utilized the essence of turpentine, from the resin of "Pistacia terebinthus" (known commonly as Terebinth), which is probably the first essential oil extracted by unique dry distillation.

Egyptians created aromas for their personal use, in diffusion or fumigation to make ointments, as well as for rituals and ceremonies in temples and pyramids. The antiseptic properties of essential oils were notably used for embalming and preserving mummies.

According to the oldest historical data, Egyptians used balsamic substances with aromatic properties in their medicinal preparations. The precious essential oils of Frankincense, Myrrh, Galbanum, Rosemary, Hyssop, Cassia, Cinnamon, and Spikenard were widely used for their healing properties in anointing and caring for the ill.

The Ebers Papyrus parchement, discovered in 1817 (circa 1550 BC), was called the "Medicinal Scroll". It mentioned more than 800 prescriptions and herbal remedies. Other parchments indicate that the Egyptians had a high success rate in treating over 81 different diseases.

The Bible refers to over a hundred references to aromatic substances and fragrances. Biblical prophets seem to have admitted that essential oils protected their bodies from diseases. We cannot forget the fact that The Three Kings even brought the precious essences of Frankincense and Myrrh to the infant Jesus.

A few bottles of essential oils outside with flowers

d) Essential Oils’ Usage in Europe and America

The Greeks massively employed "perfume oils" and aromatic oils for healing. During Athens’ Plague, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, prescribed large fires of Juniper, Cedar, fragranced wood, and aromatic plants as reliable remedies.

In the 1st century AD, Pedanius Dioscoridesa Greek physician from Asia Minor ( Anatolia), wrote the work "De Materia Medica", evoking the medicinal uses of distilled waters, listing no less than 519 species of plants.

Hippocrates then brought together all the medical knowledge of the era in his seminal work, where he advocated healing by promoting the natural forces of self-healing and the usage of herbs in food and medicine.

Romans, who were great admirers of perfumes; used aromas in the form of "aromatic fats" or scented oils; for antibacterial and antiseptic properties of the aromatic plants they cultivated.

The advanced civilizations of the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas in America used aromatic plant drugs; to heal infections and wounds, such as Styrax, Copaiba and Sassafras.


2- The Birth of Aromatherapy

The source of the "modern" aromatherapy concept came directly from the Arab world, where scientists began distilling plants with steam distillation; as the most popular method used to extract and isolate essential oils from plants for modern practical usage, developed in a manner that can be brewed in our very own homes today!

a) Aromatherapy before the 10th century

The great scholar Avicenna developed the still around year 1000. The first documents about the history of distillation dated back to the original writings of Geber (Jabir Bin Hayyan) in the 9th century; describing dry and aqueous distillation.

Arabs, being great founders of chemistry and medicine derived from natural sources, invented the coil in the High Middle Ages, discovering the perfect refrigeration of distilled products and distillation techniques.

Ancient Arabs began to study the chemical properties of essential oils. As it was trendy in the Middle East at that time, they extracted rose oil and rose water and used it for their therapeutic skin properties.

Arabian Kings traded land, gold and slaves in exchange for oils; considering them far more valuable than the world’s gold!

Several flowers on a table used for extract the essential oils.

b) The evolution of aromatherapy pre the 19th century

It wasn't until the 13th century that aromatherapy arrived in Europe. Arnold Villanova de Bachuone and Raymond Lulle gave the first accurate description of the distillation of essential oils with Turpentine, Rosemary and Sage. Back from the crusades, the knights brought back the invention of the steam still and the use of essential oils. At that time, pharmacists were called "aromatherii".

Meanwhile, distillation of Almond, Cinnamon, Rose, and Sandalwood essential oils were successfully completed as aromatic distilled waters. Indeed, at that time, the plants were first macerated in either brandy or fermented in water. Because of the presence of alcohol, the separation of the essential oils did not occur; only aromatic waters were obtained.

In the 14th century, the distillation apparatus evolved and made its debut in medical and chemical laboratories. Turpentine Oil was the only properly brewed essential oil then.

By the end of the 15th century, the French Doctor from Strasbourg, Jérôme Brunschwig, mentioned only Aspic, Turpentine, Juniper Wood and Rosemary oils in his studies. The purpose of distillation was to obtain Quintae essentiae (quintessence); a refined essence or extract of a substance. But all these distillates were highly alcoholic, and there was still no notion of real essential oils.

After many works on the art of distillation, "Liber de Distillatione" written by the Italian Giovanni Battista della Porta in 1563 could finally explain distinguished fatty oils, essential oils and how essences are separated from the aromatic distilled waters.

It was not until the 16th and 17th centuries that essential oils received their first real applications into the trade. In Provence (France), in particular, apothecaries and herbalists gradually prescribed Lavender, Thyme, and Rosemary essential oils for medicinal purposes.

By the end of the 19th century, with the advent of organic chemistry; essential oils gradually revealed their secrets: a mixture of numerous components, terpenes, alcohols, esters, aldehydes, ketones and phenols.

Selection of 4 essential oil bottles

3- The Advent of Modern Aromatherapy

In 1918, René-Maurice Gattefossé (French), a chemist, perfumer, the true father of modern aromatherapy and the inventor of the word itself, accidentally burnt his hand due to an explosion in his laboratory. He had the reflex to plunge his hand into a container containing real lavender essential oil; from which relief immediately came; the burn easily healed with disconcerting speed; leaving no post-burn wound behind. Faced with this surprising result, he devoted himself to the antibacterial study of essential oils.

French experts were dedicated to improving aromatherapy. As the French pharmacist,  Sévelinge, studied essential oils in veterinary medicine in 1929 and confirmed Gattefossé's work. Furthermore, Dr. Jean Valnet (French), author of The Practice of Aromatherapy, relaunched the medicinal use of essential oils in 1964.

Paul Duraffourd invented the aromatogram, which Christian Duraffourd and Jean-Claude Lapraz improved. These specialists in phytotherapy and aromatherapy have designed magisterial preparations based on essential oils, a therapeutic set capable of alleviating body aches.


4- Aromatherapy Today

Since aromatherapeutic essential oils are considered to be modern alternatives to toxins; being clean environmentally-friendly products; aromatherapy has become very popular during recent years. The desire to limit dependence on allopathy, and to move towards more alternative medicine, with fewer adverse effects on the body, is becoming increasingly popular.

However, everyone’s body is different; it is always advised to consult a qualified health professional and patch test each essential oil separately in order to be aware of any be careful, risks, allergies and contraindications. You may check out our article: Essential oils for headaches for further safety suggestions.

This unlimited knowledge of the story behind the origins of aromatherapy since existence up to a modern luxury has been quite a journey! Do not hesitate to check out the most recent aromatherapy modernity: a concept specifically brought to you by French Lotus as a luxurious collection of essential oil diffusers, by clicking on the image below!

Be a part of saving our Earth and let each penny spent on your purchase matter!

 Collection of aromatherapy diffusers

Edited by Sara Khalil Doleh

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