Aromatherapy has been around a very long time and can be traced back to over 4000 years before the birth of Christ. Ancient civilisations used essential oils like cinnamon, ginger, myrrh and sandalwood for their medicinal use. Over 4000 years ago Indian literature listed over 700 plant-based ingredients for their medicinal value. Traditional Indian medicine known as Ayurveda incorporates aromatic massage as one of its main aspects. This form of Aromatherapy has changed little to this day and is becoming very popular in Western Aromatherapy.
Chinese civilizations also mastered the use of essential oils and herbs. In the year 2700 B.C., a Chinese practitioner, Shen Nung authored a herbal book that is the oldest surviving medical book in existence, containing information on over 400 plants. Around the same time, on the other side of the world, the Egyptians were also developing Aromatherapy. They practised aromatherapy in much the same way the Chinese, by herbal extraction and by burning aromatic woods and incense to show respect to their gods.
When embalming the Pharaohs, the body was first filled with a blend of palm wine infused with the herbs of Chamomile and Galbanum, which cleansed the body before being filled with massive amounts of the oils of Cinnamon, Myrrh Cassia, and other aromatic essences. Oils were then rubbed over the body before being wrapped in a cloth saturated with the essential oils or Myrrh, Cinnamon, juniper and Cedarwood. This process preserved the mummy for its afterlife.
Besides the religious use of aromatherapy, wealthy Egyptians used essential oils in their everyday life. The Egyptians would use oils as perfume, bath oil, skin and hair care. Ancient Papyri found in The Pyramids of Egypt told of the practical use of essential oils in the treatment of all of the illnesses as well as how they actually applied the oil. Interestingly similar to the way it is done today.
One of the earliest forms of aromatherapy used by the Egyptians was incense, created from a dried infusion of oils from aromatic plants pressed into cones. They used the incense as offerings to their many gods, a practice still used in religion today.
Along with the Egyptians, Ancient Greeks also mastered the use of essential oils, using them medicinally and cosmetically. Over 1,200 years ago, Pedacius Dioscorides, a Greek physician, authored a book on herbal medicine. Many of his remedies are still in use today in Aromatherapy.
As the Romans expanded their empire into Greece and Egypt, they learned much of their medical knowledge from these advancing societies, using and improving the science of aromatherapy. As the Roman Empire moved towards the Orient, new oils were introduced into Europe from India, China, and the Arab Empire via the newly expanding trade routes.
Around 1000 A.D., Avicenna, a physician is believed to have been the first person to incorporate the process known as distillation to distil the essence of rose. Also during this period, alcohol was also first distilled by The Arabs, and then combined with essential oils, creating the first perfumes.
Spanish Conquistadors invading North and South America brought new plants and oils to Europe. The Spanish were amazed at the wealth of medicinal plants found in Incan, Mayan and Aztec botanical gardens and the knowledge they possessed concerning the use of plants in medicine. Together with the South American Indians, The Indians of North American also used aromatic oils and produced their own herbal remedies for both medicinal and religious ceremonies.
Interestingly, it was only until the early 19th century that scientists in Europe began researching the effects of essential oils on humans.
Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, began his research into the healing powers of essential oils after burning his hand in his laboratory and immersing in it in lavender oil. It was this accident that impressed him by how quickly the burn healed when treated with an essential oil. In 1937 he published a book about the antimicrobial effects of the oils and first used the word, Aromatherapy. He later went on to set up a business producing oils for use in fragrances and cosmetics.
In 1964, Dr Jean Valnet, a French medical doctor, was impressed by Gattefosse’s research and began experimenting in his clinic with essential oils as medical therapy. Impressed by Dr Valnet’s work, Margaret Maury began to apply Valnet’s research into her beauty therapy, customising beauty treatments for her clients individually. She was the first person to set up Aromatherapy clinics in Switzerland, London and France would use oils to maintain healthy, youthful skin, now known as the day spa.
Today Aromatherapy is in greater demand than ever before. Besides the clinical and home use, Spas are opening throughout the world catering to people from all walks of life. Spas are opening up in urban areas to cater to the stressed-out working man and woman providing them with an hour of pure escapism where they are bathed, massaged, wrapped and treated in recipes that date back to the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Orientals, bringing our story full circle. Aromatherapy has also transformed resorts like Bali from budget destinations into high-class, high priced, Spa retreats for the rich providing ancient Indian Aromatherapy remedies to the stress of being wealthy!
Today the Internet is helping to spread the ancient secrets to the world through sites dedicated to educating the public on Aromatherapy as well as sites like Aromatherapyeoc.com that offer most of the essential oils available at a low cost. Together, these sites make it possible for everyone to practice Aromatherapy with the knowledge of professionals.