Aromatherapy as a modern holistic practice is actually a relatively new concept. The word “Aroma -Therapie” is attributed to Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a perfumer and chemist, who coined the phrase after conducting years of research, combined with his own personal experience of healing his wounds from an accident with Lavender essential oil, investigating the wide range of therapeutic properties of the molecules that are found in essential oils. His seminal book, Aromatherapy, published in 1937, had great impact and influence on shaping how Aromatherapy is practiced today.
Although the word “Aromatherapy” wasn’t used until the 20th century, the use of plants for healing and beautification has been around as long as human beings. Historians and archeologists have been able to trace its use over 6000 years ago, in early cultures like India, North and South Americas, China, Egypt, Persia and the Middle East.
Here are few interesting facts about the early use of aromatics in ancient cultures:
There is a great deal of historical evidence that ancient civilizations used essential oils for medicinal, spiritual and cosmetic applications to establish the foundation of what we know today, as modern aromatherapy.
● Ancient India had a rich knowledge of medicinal plants. The Rigveda (5000BC) has recorded 67 medicinal plants, Yajurveda 81 species, Atharvaveda (4500 – 2500BC) lists 290 species. The famous Indian physician Charaka, who wrote the Charaka Samhita (700 BC), covers the uses and applications of over 600 medicinal plants.
● Known written records about medicinal plants date back around 5000 years to the Sumerians, who lived in the Mesopotamian civilization; the Babylonians, another Mesopotamian civilization, which dates to the second millennium B.C.; and the Egyptians, whose Nile river-based culture began to flourish around 3000 B.C.
● Egyptians were the first in the world to invent extraction of flower essences, not only that but they were the first civilization to incorporate perfume into their culture.
● Egypt fertile land and development in agriculture made it a rich land for Aromatherapy practices.
● The Egyptians believed that the body cannot be separated from the mind, soul, or spirit. They also believed that beauty, magic, and medicine were inseparable.
● One of the first extractions were done with the lotus flower. The lotus flower grew everywhere along the River Nile and became the symbol of Upper Egypt
● Egyptians used incenses in the temples where every God was worshipped.
● Aromatic oils like frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, cinnamon, cedarwood, juniper berry and spikenard are all known to have been used at some stage in the embalming process to preserve the bodies of their royalty. And traces of oils like frankincense were found in the tombs of the kings that were discovered after thousands of years.
● The walls of the temples contained pictures and processes of how they extraced used and preserved the oils.
● Until just a few hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Egyptian perfumery industry was celebrated as the finest in the whole of the Middle East and beyond.
● Evidence of this has been found in the tomb of King Tutankhamon, where the funeral furniture displays the pharaoh’s wife wrapping his body with the lotus oil.
● By the 7th century BC, Athens had developed into a mercantile center in which hundreds of perfumers set up shop. Trade was heavy in fragrant herbs such as marjoram, lily, thyme, sage, anise, rose and iris, infused into olive, almond, castor and linseed oils to make thick unguents.
● By the late 5th century, Babylon was the principal market for the perfume trade. The Babylonians used cedar of Lebanon, cypress, pine, fir resin, myrtle, calamus and juniper extensively. When the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon, they brought back a heightened appreciation of fragrance, especially in the form of incense.
● By the 1st century AD, Rome was going through about 2,800 tons of imported frankincense and 550 tons of myrrh per year. Nero, Roman emperor in 54 AD, spent the equivalent of $100,000 to scent just one party he was giving.