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HISTORY OF ESSENTIAL OIL

THE HISTORY OF ESSENTIAL OIL

The scope of this website does not provide for a long and exhaustive reporting on the history of essential oils and aromatherapy and visitors must please excuse the abbreviation of thousands of years of wisdom into one short page.

On this page you will find references to the following periods:

  • Egyptian
  • China and India
  • Greeks
  • Romans
  • Arabian empire
  • The Dark Ages
  • The Renaissance
  • Flower therapy
  • Aromatherapy

Egypt

In the history of mankind it seems that the Egyptians were the first people to extensively make use of aromatherapy and aromatic herbs and included their use in religion, cosmetics as well as medicinal purposes.

Aromatic essence and resins were also extensively used in the embalming process. Although it was thought that most essential oils were produced in Egypt by means of a type of enfleurage extraction method, the Egyptians in actual fact did have access to the distillation method via the Mesopotamians as distillation pots have been found at Tepe Gawra dating back about 3,500 BC.

China and India

At the same time the Chinese also made use of herbs and aromatic plants and this was also taken up as an integral part of the Indian Ayurvedic medicinal system.

Greeks

The medicinal wisdom of the Egyptians were taken over and absorbed by the ancient Greeks - and the most well-known physician of that time - Hippocrates (c.460 - 377 BC) was also a firm believer of treating the patient holistically and included aromatherapy massage as a treatment.

Romans

The Romans again took over the medicinal wisdom of the Greeks and were great believers in hygiene to promote health and also place great stock in aromatherapy and the power of fragrances.

Arabian empire

After the fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent Dark Ages we saw the emergence of the Arabian empire which was in the position to draw not only from the Greek and Roman teachings, but also those of China and India.

It is the Persian physician Avicenna (980 - 1,037 AD) that is being credited with perfecting the distillation process of essential oils.

The Dark Ages

During this time it was the monks housed in their monasteries which tended after the sick and kept herbal medicinal wisdom alive, yet folk medicine as practiced by illiterate village herbalist normally lead to persecution of such people as witches.

Since the Church saw bathing as sinful, great stock was placed on aromatics to keep stench at bay, and most of the aromatics used also had anti-bacterial and anti-pesticide properties.

During this time, the holistic approach of Hippocrates all but disappeared.

The Renaissance

During this time there was a swing back again to the holistic treatment of illness and the most noteworthy of physicians were Paracelsus (Phillipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim 1493 - 1541).

He once again turned to look at the wisdom of folk medicine and did not discount such knowledge as unimportant - much to the disgust of his contemporaries, yet proved his mettle by having great success in curing leprosy.

Flower therapy

Dr Edward Bach was a consulting physician and trained as a pathologist and bacteriologist but became disenchanted by orthodox medicine and developed his system of treating disorders - where the disease is not as such looked at, but the personality suffering the problem.

His medicinal wisdom was not so much founded on logic but relied mostly on his intuition - but with astounding good results.

Aromatherapy (Modern)

The term aromatherapy as we know it today was first coined in 1937 by the French chemist and perfumer Rene Maurice Gattefosse. He was not a believer of the natural health movement but was interested in the properties that essential oils exhibited.

In 1910 he burnt his hand badly in his laboratory and being the first available compound handy, treated his badly burnt hand with pure undiluted lavender oil, which not only immediately eased the pain, but helped heal the hand without any sign of infection or scar.

He also found that minute amounts of essential oils are absorbed by the body and interact with the body chemistry.

During the second world war, as a result of Gattefosse's experiments, Dr. Jean Valet used essential oils to treat injured soldiers with great success.

In the 1950's Marguerite Maury started diluting essential oils in a vegetable carrier oil and massaging it onto the skin using a Tibetan technique which is applied along the nerve endings pf the spinal column.

She was also the first person to start the use of "individually prescribed" combinations of essential oils to suit the need of the person being massaged.

Since the late 1970 and early 80's the use of essential oils and aromatherapy has become a major part of alternative and holistic health systems, and has a huge following across the world.

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