History Of Aromatherapy

The history of Aromatherapy has been traced to Egypt, Greece, Italy, Arab countries and finally to Europe.

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The word "Aromatherapie" was first used last century by a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse (more about this gentleman later on).

The word Aromatherapy describes the use of essential oils extracted from plants as a form of treatment. 

Traces of plants with known medicinal values have been found at sites where primitive men used to live.

These people through experimentation realized that when the twigs of bushes or trees were burnt, their minds or bodies reacted in different ways. Sometimes, they felt happy, sometimes drowsy, etc…

The practice of burning herbs remained until early 20th century when Rosemary and Thyme were burnt in hospitals. Research has since proved how effective these two plants were at getting rid of bacteria.

In 1240BC, Moses was recorded as having been guided by God to chase the Jews out of Egypt by using a mixture of essential oils.

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History Of Aromatherapy: The Egyptians

Egyptian statue of Pharaoh and queen

Egyptians were known to use aromatics some 3,000 years before Christ for medicinal and cosmetic reasons.

Herbs in those days were either burnt, administered as pills, suppositories, powders, etc...

It is strange to note that although Egyptians were very advanced in the use of herbs, they do not appear to have discovered how to distil these oils.

Jars still bearing the unmistakable scent of Frankincense have been found in Egyptian pyramids.

From documents discovered in the 19th century and dating back to 1500BC we discovered that Egyptians knew the basics of contraception : a blend of acacia, coloquinte, dates and honey would be inserted in the vagina where it would ferment to form lactic acid (a good spermicide).

Egyptians also used essential oils in their cooking. Caraway, coriander and aniseed was used whilst baking bread of milled and barley to make them easier to digest.

History Of Aromatherapy: The Greeks

Acropolis of Athens

Greeks seemed to have acquired their knowledge from the Egyptians.

Hippocrates - known as the father of Medicine - believed that daily use of aromatherapy oils was beneficial. He claimed that a bath followed by an aro­matic massage was the way to health.

Greek soldiers carried an ointment made of Myrrh for the treatment of their wounds.

The Romans

Colisseum in Rome

Roman soldiers, when invading Europe, contributed to the propagation of various plants.

Until now, parsley, fennel and lovage can still be found along  the path followed by these soldiers marching in Europe.

Seeds are believed to have been dropped or planted when camps were set up.

Galen who was a physician to Emperor Marcus Aurelius used to treat his gladiators with aromatic herbs, and it is recorded that no gladiator died of his wounds whilst treated by Galen.

Galen also invented the original cold cream.

The Arabs

The method of oil distillation is attributed to an Arab physician named "Ali Ibn Sina" (980-1037) better known as Avicenna. 

This gentleman also left valuable written records of some 800 plants.

Modern History Of Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy was the only protection against the plague that devastated Europe in the 14th and 17th centuries. People were told to carry aromatic pomanders or burn aromatics in their houses and corners of streets.

Dr R Gattefosse

At the beginning of the 20th century a French chemist, Dr R Gattefosse, burnt his hand and plunged it in the nearest container. This was a bowl containing lavender.

He was amazed at how quickly the pain ceased and his skin healed.

He continued to experiment with aromatic oils during the first world war.

He is the one who first used the word "Aromathérapie". He wrote several books on the subject.

Jean Valnet

Dr Jean Valnet, a French physician, continued Gatefosse work and also used essential oils on wounded soldiers during the second world war.

Their work was later translated into modern terms by Marguerite Maury. Mrs Maury extended the use of Aromatherapy to cosmetics and beauty. She popularized massage in the UK.

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