History of Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy dates back to prehistoric times when Juniper berries were used as an antiseptic and a food flavouring. Evidence shows that plants and herbs have been used for centuries by civilisations for medicinal, culinary and cosmetic purposes.

The Egyptians

The Egyptians used plant resins and oils during the mummification process. Myrrh was used during embalming and jars of Frankincense have also been found in tombs. The Kyphi incense included fragrant oils such as Juniper, Frankincense, Myrrh, Lemongrass and Cardamom. Frankincense, Benzoin and Myrrh were regarded so highly that in some cases they were considered more valuable than gold.

China and India

Both China and India have a long history of using plants and herbs as medicine; Chinese physicians used Sandalwood to treat cholera. The earliest record, called the 'Yellow Emperors Book of Internal Medicine' dates back more than 2000 years B.C. Chinese medicine is still used today throughout the world ranging from Herbalism to Shiatsu.

Traditional Indian herbal medicine - Ayurvedic medicine - is aimed at treating the entire body - physical, mind and spirit. History shows us that India used Sandalwood to heal wounds and it was also burned for exorcism rites.

Classical Antiquity

The Ancient Greeks obtained much of their knowledge on the use of plants in medicine from the Egyptians. The Greek physician Hippocrates used Chamomile as a way of reducing fever and recommended daily massage with aromatic herbs for general good health. Another Greek physician, Galen, recommended the use of Cypress to ease stomach complaints.

The Middle Ages

During the Medieval period a Persian physician and philosopher Avicenna discovered the process of distillation. Not only is he acknowledged as contributing a great deal to both past and present medicine but he documented detailed instructions on massage and how to use plants and essential oils to aid good health.

European knights returning from the Crusades brought back information and the benefits of using plants and herbs to treat ailments. Bergamot was used in Italian folk medicine and in England, Frankincense and Benzoin were used to make Friar's Balsam for respiratory and skin conditions.

Herbal remedies and essential oils were classed as the medicine of the people as the women of the household would make these remedies for their families.

17th-19th Century

In 1649, the English physician Nicholas Culpeper published his herbal that became a standard reference for plant remedies. Later during the Great Plague, physicians, and apothecaries wore masks filled with herbs and spices to protect then from the disease.

In the 18th Century apothecaries started to add essential oils to their herbal remedies and Eau de Cologne was invented containing Rosemary, Bergamot, Neroli and Lavender essential oils.

Bridal headdresses in Victorian England were made of Neroli blossom to calm the brides nerves and also represent purity.

First World War

In 1910, a French chemist and perfumier Rene Maurice Gattefosse was working in his laboratory when he burnt his hand and stuck it in a vat of lavender oil and rediscovered the healing properties of lavender oil. Following this Gattefosse went on to treat soldiers with essential oils in military hospitals during World War 1. He began to research and experiment using essential oils and reported his findings in a scientific paper in 1928. This is where the term "Aromatherapy" was first used.

Modern Day

Another scientist Dr Jean Valnet continued the research into the antiseptic and healing properties of essential oils by using the oils to treat battle wounds during the Indochina War. Valnet's work established aromatherapy as a therapy.

An Austrian biochemist, Marguerite Maury, followed the work of Valnet and discovered that when she applied the essential oils to the skin, the oils were absorbed. Maury brought massage treatments using essential oils to the UK and in 1961 the Secret of Life and Youth was published that pioneered the modern use of essential oils in massage.

And Now...

Since 1994 we at Absolute Aromas have been committed to preserving the teachings of Gattefosse, Maury and their predecessors whilst helping to lead Aromatherapy into the 21st Century. Our ethos of only using fresh, organic, natural ingredients for our oils is what drives us to create new and exciting products, as well as perfecting the ancient recipes still in use today. Hippocrates would be proud!


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By David Tomlinson on Wed 13 November 2019