A brief history of aromatherapy

A brief history of aromatherapy

Maybe you have already come to know and love aromatherapy. Or, maybe you’re hesitant to give aromatherapy a shot without knowing more about it. Either way, this blog will serve as a bit of a history lesson, teaching you the basics on the history of aromatherapy.

An aromatherapy overview

The actual term "aromatherapy" was coined in 1937 by French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse after a burn incident ignited his curiosity with the healing power of essential oils. The use of aromatic botanicals and aromatic oils dates back thousands of years, however.

For example, the Chinese may have been among the first cultures to use aromatic plants for the benefits of well-being, as they burned incense to help establish harmony and balance. Later, the Egyptians created a distillation process that allowed for the extraction of cedarwood oil; people in Cyprus, Persia, and India may have also been doing the same.

The Egyptians’ history with aromatherapy

A tomb that was opened in the early 20th century revealed traces of cedarwood, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and myrrh were found with intact portions of a body, giving reason to believe that these herbs were used by the Egyptians to embalm the dead. As the scent was still apparent, though faint, it is believed that these oils were most likely infused oils.

The Egyptians also infused oils and herbal preparations for spiritual, medicinal, fragrant, and cosmetic use and are even believed to have created the term “perfume”. Both men and women readily applied fragrances to their bodies.

The Greeks’ history with aromatherapy

The Greeks credit their knowledge of perfumes to the gods but also recognized the medicinal and aromatic benefits plants had to offer. Hippocrates, for example, was commonly referred to as the “father of medicine” and practiced fumigations for the benefits of medicine and aromatherapy. Another notable Greek figure during this time was named Megallus and created a perfume called megaleion which was comprised of myrrh in a fatty-oil base; megaleion was used for its aroma, its ability to heal wounds, and its anti-inflammatory properties for the skin.

The Roman Empire’s history with aromatherapy

Following the Egyptians’ and Greeks’ aromatherapy leads, came the Roman Empire. For example, Discorides wrote a book called De Materia Medica which outlined the properties of approximately 500 plans. He also reportedly studied distillation, though it was focused on extracting aromatic floral waters rather than essential oils. That was still to come.

Aromatherapy throughout the subsequent centuries

Aromatherapy continued to evolve over the course of many centuries. Below, find some short and sweet, notable highlights that helped bring aromatherapy to us as we know it today.

  • 11th century: A coiled cooling pipe was invented by Avicenna, which was major progress for distillation of essential oils. This development increased focus on essential oils and their benefits.
  • 12th century: Lavender was first grown and distilled for its medicinal properties.
  • 13th century: An increased focus on distillation of essential oils is spurred by the birth of the pharmaceutical industry.
  • 14th century: Herbal preparations were extensively relied upon to fight the Black Death which hit during this century, killing millions of people.
  • 15th century: Frankincense, juniper, rose, sage, and rosemary are among the newest plants to be distilled to create essential oils. Also during this century, Paracelcus, an alchemist and medical doctor coined the term “essence” as he began challenging the nature of alchemy and focusing on the medicinal uses of plants.
  • 16th century: Essential oils (many of which were being introduced this century) were first sold at apothecaries.
  • 17th century: Starting in the previous century and carrying over into the 17th century, perfumery became an art form and its own field of practice.
  • 19th century: Jewelers began creating special bottles for women to hold their perfumes. On the scientific front, major constituents of essential oils were isolated in the 19th century.
  • 20th century: Synthetic chemicals and drugs were created using the knowledge of separating the constituents of essential oils; this helped lead to what we now know as “modern medicine”. Additionally, this century is when “aromatherapy” found its name, as we previously mentioned.

Aromatherapy today

There has certainly been a resurgence in utilizing natural products for medicinal and therapeutic benefits. As a result, aromatherapy continues to find more fans, and additional uses for essential oils are studied and utilized. If you’re interested in learning about some of the benefits aromatherapy has to offer, we encourage you to read our blogs. Then, when you’re ready to get started (or to find your new favorite aromatherapy product sections!), we invite you to head here and try some of our favorite aromatherapy products.

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