The history of Aromatherapy dates back to at least to 4000 BC, although the term “aromatherapy” was first used in the 1920s by a French chemist named René Maurice Gattefossé who accidentally discovered in his laboratory that lavender oil helps relieves pain and assists healing for minor burns. It is historically proven that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Persians used to use aromatherapy essential oils. Aromatic plants were also known to be used in ancient China. Moreover, there are historical evidence in the Bible for the use of plants and oils for not only therapeutic purpose but also religious aims.
In ancient Egypt, plant oils were widely used for cosmetics and beautifying skin, spiritual relaxation, as well as for embalming and mummification of their dead. During that age, on special occasions women and men used to wear a gradually-melting solid cone on their heads that released its fragrance. As a result of the Egyptians’ love for aromatic plants and herbs, the fragrance industry and aromatic medicine trade were developed more than in any other ancient culture.
A trace of the history of Aromatherapy leads us to Ancient Greece. Greeks borrowed many healing and relaxation techniques from the Egyptians. They used herbs and aromatherapy oils for cosmetics medicines. Asclepius (circa 1200 BC ) is the first known physician in history who experimented with herbs and plants in his surgeries. Hypocrites (circa 400 BC ), “the father of medicine”, manage to study the beneficial effects of hundreds of scented plants and herbs. He believed that good health can be promoted with aromatic baths and oil massages and therefore, surgeries should be avoided when possible. Some other Greek physicians who dealt with herbs and aromatic oils are Pedacius Dioscorides and Theophrastus who prescribed herbal and aromatic remedies.
The Romans developed the Egyptian and Greek techniques for distillation and extraction of aromatic floral waters with the advantage of their knowledge of the natural medicines. The most well-known physician of that age was the Greek physician Claudius Galen (circa 150 AD ), who after studying herbal medicine and treating hundreds of wounded gladiators with botanical remedies, became the personal physician of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
The next important stage in the history of Aromatherapy was made by the Persian civilization. Ibn Sina, a great physician of that age, known in Europe as Avicenna (circa 1000 AC ), invented and produced a pipe which steam distilled the plants and produced true essential oils and not just aromatic waters like in the past.
Along with the exploration to the East, merchants brought to Europe new aromatherapy remedies and a rich variety of exotic plants and herbs. During the Renaissance in Europe, many wealthy people used aromatic handkerchiefs to cover unpleasant smells and protect themselves from microbes. Furthermore, essential oils were used in fumigation of hospitals. At the same period in the history of Aromatherapy, physicians, pharmacists and chemists used to distillate more plants to create essentials oils and many of them published writings and books about aromatic remedies and the use of aromatherapy essential oils for relaxation and pharmaceutical purposes.
As years went by, “apothecaries” – herbalists and medical practitioners engaged in the formulation and prescription of pharmaceutical remedies, started to sell herbals, essential oils and fragrances. Therefore, many essential oil industries were established throughout Europe, providing oils for the pharmaceutical, fragrance and flavour purposes.
The history of aromatherapy continued during the 20th century, when many aromatherapists contributed their knowledge to aromatherapy and created more natural products and more effective and pleasurable techniques. As mentioned earlier, the French chemist René Maurice Gattefossé was the first to introduce the term “aromatherapy” in 1928.
French army doctor called Jean Valnet, a follower of Gattefossé, started working with essential oils in order to treat wounded soldiers and heal gangrene during the World War Two. The idea was developed further by an Austrian biochemist named Marguerite Maury that used essential oils as an integral part of healing massage and practiced the use of aromatherapy for cosmetic benefits. The techniques and results experimented by Valnet, Maury and her co-researcher Micheline Arcier’s are considered as the basis of modern aromatherapy that today is taught all over the world.
The first book, published in the English language, in the history of Aromatherapy was the “Art of Aromatherapy” written by the English aromatherapist Robert B. Tisserand in 1977. Another classic book that was dedicated to medicinal herbs is “Health through God’s Pharmacy”. The author, an Austrian Herbalist Maria Treben, claimed that “There is a plant for every illness”.
These days, the popularity of essential oils and aromatherapy rises throughout the world. Aromatherapy has become fundamental for alternative and holistic medication. Numerous studies and books about Aromatherapy and the healing benefits of essential oils are published and more and more natural products are created for therapeutic, cosmetic and aromatic benefits.