Submitted By Celtic Flame
Aromatherapy was given the label during the 20th Century – although similar practices, including the use of essential oils, dates back centuries.
The Chinese are thought to have been one of the first cultures to use aromatic plants. They are said to of burnt incense to help create harmony and balance – ancient Feng Shui.
The Egyptians were also known for their use of oils, they invented a distillation machine for the crude extraction of cedar wood oil.
Cedar wood, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and myrrh were used to embalm their dead. In the early 20th century an Egyptian tomb was opened and traces of the herbs were discovered .
The Greeks learnt from the Egyptians – however, Greek Mythology awards the Gods for giving them the gift and knowledge of perfumes. The Greeks also recognized the medicinal and aromatic benefits of plants.
A Greek, by the name of Megallus, created a perfume called megaleion. Megaleion included myrrh in a fatty-oil base which was found to; heal wounds, have anti-inflammatory properties and as luck would have it, it smelt nice too.
The Roman Empire, never wanting to be left out! Bless ’em, used the knowledge of the Egyptians and Greeks. Discorides wrote a book called De Materia Medica that described the properties of approximately 500 plants. It is said that Discorides studied distillation. During this period, however, it focused on extracting aromatic floral waters as opposed to essential oils.
11th Century: The Persians had a major break through in the distillation of essential oils when Avicenna invented a coiled pipe which allowed the plant vapor and steam to cool down more effectively than straight cooling pipes.
12th century: A German named Hildegard grew, harvested and distilled lavender for its medicinal properties.
13th century: The pharmaceutical industry was born giving encouragement to the distillation of essential oils.
14th century: The outbreak and widespread plague The Black Death killed millions of people and so herbal preparations were made with the hope that they would help fight it. It is believed that some perfumers may have avoided contracting the plague due to their constant contact with the natural aromatics.
15th century: More plants were distilled to create essential oils including frankincense, juniper, rose, sage and rosemary. Books on herbs and their properties became more widespread by the end of the century.
Paracelsus was credited with coining the term ‘Essence’ and his studies radically challenged the nature of alchemy, his main focus was using plants as medicines.
16th century: The purchasing of oils at an ‘apothecary’ became commonplace and many more essential oils were introduced.
16th and 17th centuries: The making of perfume was starting to be considered an art form, and was credited in its own right.
19th century: Perfume remained a lucrative industry. During this century major constituents of essential oils became isolated.
20th century: The knowledge of separating the constituents of essential oils was diversified to create synthetic chemicals and drugs. It was acknowledged that by separating the major constituents and then using they either alone or in synthetic form would be beneficial both therapeutically and economically. These discoveries helped lead to ‘modern medicine’ and synthetic fragrances. Unfortunately this ‘discovery’ actually caused the use of essential oils, for medicinal and aromatic benefit, to slowly dwindle.
A French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé, became interested in the use of essential oils for their medicinal use. While working, he burned his arm rather badly. Reflex had him plunge his arm into the closest liquid, which happened to be a large container of lavender essential oil. His wound healed quickly, leaving no scar. He is credited with coining the term ‘aromatherapy’ in 1928. He wrote an article supporting the use of using essential oils in their whole without breaking them down into their primary constituents.
1937: Gattefossé wrote a book called Aromathérapie: Les Huiles essentielles hormones végétales that was later translated into English and named ‘Gattefossé’s Aromatherapy’. This book is still available today.
Jean Valnet, Madam Marguerite Maury, and Robert B. Tisserand. Are just a few of the aroma therapists that were ‘practicing’ during the same time period.
Jean Valnet, a French aroma therapist, is remembered for his usage of essential oils to treat injured soldiers during the war and for his book ‘The Practice of Aromatherapy’, originally entitled ‘Aromathérapie’.
Austrian Madam Marguerite Maury is remembered as a biochemist that studied, practiced and taught the use of aromatherapy for cosmetic benefit.
Robert B. Tisserand, an English aroma therapist, is responsible for being one of the first individuals to bring knowledge and education of aromatherapy to the English speaking nations. He wrote many books and articles on this subject, including the 1977 publication ‘The Art of Aromatherapy’. This became the first aromatherapy book to be published in English.
During the late 20th century and into the 21st century, there is a growing interest in aromatherapy. The need to utilize more natural products including essential oils for therapeutic, cosmetic and aromatic benefit grew. Although the use of essential oils never ceased, the scientific revolution minimized the popularity and use of essential oils in everyday life.
In Today’s society, people have grown to realise that synthetic medicines are not always best and look into ‘alternative’ healing. The increase books and availability information on aromatherapy has given it a new lease of life, essential oils are now used for therapeutic, cosmetic, fragrant and spiritual use.