Aromatherapy is said to have dated back as far as 3,500 BC and although the exact origin is unknown, it is believed to have originated from Ancient Egypt.
The Egyptians are credited for developing the first method of extracting essential oils from aromatic plants to use for medicine, burning Incense and for religious celebration. The earliest evidence of this is depicted on the walls of the Egyptian Pharaohs tombs (Omisemassge, 2014).
In comparison to today’s world, burning Incense as a way of religious means is still practised in all types of faiths across the world including Christianity, Hinduism and Islam believing that the smoke of the incense being a symbol of prayer. In the everyday household, Incense is used as a means of relaxation and meditation – as well as keeping the home smelling nice!
The Ancient Chinese are also said to have used essential oils dating as far back as 2,700 BC for medical and religious purposes. The evidence for this is shown in The ‘Huangdi Neijing’ written in 2,967 BC and recently translated into ‘The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine’ (1995) It is the oldest surviving medical text in China and introduced methods of acupuncture as a form of holistic healing, along with other herbal remedies and practises that are still used today.
A fundamental era in the history of aromatherapy is evident 2000 years ago in Ancient Greece (1,200 BC). A physician called Asclepius (later referred to as the God of Medicine) combined the use of essential oils as a means of healing in surgical procedures, which is a method still used to this day with Frankincense and tea tree often being used as pre-surgery relaxation therapies in acupuncture and massage.
In Germany 1709 a product termed ‘Eau de Cologne’ was released. Made from 90% ethanol and a blend of essential oils, it formed the basis of what is today known as ‘perfume’ and was only available to the royal and wealthy. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the progression of science and machinery in the 1800’s that perfume turned to the masses and became more accessible to the public – deeming it to be extremely popular. In today’s society, perfume has become a cosmetic necessity! Old recipes can still be found in high street stores today – the earliest of which being ‘Eau de Cologne Maurer & Wirtz’ which was launched in 1792.
During the late 17th century all the way up to the 20th century, pioneering chemists had found new ways of extracting aromas and oils from an array of different plants for cosmetic purposes. One very significant chemist being Rene-Maurice Gattefosse who famously burnt his hands in an explosion which occurred in his lab in 1910, which lead to the discovery of the healing capabilities of lavender oil.
More recently Jean Valet, a French doctor researched the health benefits of oils such as chamomile and Thyme in 1964 and applied them to medical practice on wounded World War II military. He then went on to write his findings in a book called The Practice of Aromatherapy (1982) which went on to influence the studies of Madame Marguerite Maury whom looked at how essential oils could penetrate the skin in healing massage.
OmiseMassge. 2014. Aromatherapy and Massage: A Brief Introduction. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.omisemassageandwellness.com/omw/aromatherapy-and-massage/ [Accessed 8 October 2016]
Maoshing, Ni, 1995. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine. 1st ed. United States: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Dr. Jean Valnet, 1982. The Practice of Aromatherapy. Edition. Random House UK.