Aromatherapy is the use of plant oils derived through various method of physical and chemical extraction for treatment of a variety of physical and psychological indications as well as to balance emotion, boost the immune system and to promote mental well-being.
When Did People Begin Using Essential Oils?
Anthropologists believe that primitive perfumery for cosmetic, medicinal and spiritual reasons began perhaps more than 4,000 years ago by the ancient Mesopotamians, Indians and the Chinese. There is evidence found in the archaeological digging sites of prehistoric peoples that indicates essential oils and other physical matter derived from plants and their seeds, leaves, flower and barks were burned, boiled or infused in to oils to be used in funerals, purification, ritualistic behavior and as decoration.
How Were Essential Oils First Used
In fact, traces of essential oils, still with faint scent detectable by the nose, were found in the tombs as well as clearly depicted in original paintings, pottery and artworks of ancient Egypt and elsewhere. Still other evidence indicates that juniper berries were used as an antiseptic by Germanic and early northern European tribal peoples. Finally, crude distillation equipment has been found and attributed to likely being invented by early shamans to capture the essence of cedarwood and other scents for spiritual use.
Later, Greeks and Romans, including the so-called “Father of Medicine” Hippocrates, practiced fumigations, studied the effects of essential oils on health and promoted their use for medicinal and therapeutic benefits. Some believed myrrh could be used to reduce swelling and as an anti-inflammatory.
In the 11th century the creation of a clever coiled cooling pipe by a Persian scientist allowed plant vapor and steam to be more effectively cooled and isolated leading to a wider discovery of new essential oils. Later in the 14th century, it is said that some people used herbal concoctions of distilled essential oils such as rosemary, clove and cinnamon for their believed antiseptic effects and potential ability to ward off disease such as the Black Plague.
Essential Oils Become Popular
However, it was not until the 18th and 19th centuries that perfumeries began to operate. People viewed perfumery as an art form and promoted the widespread use of plants to create scents thought to conjure beauty and allure.
Then, in 1928, the French chemist Gattefosse became interested in the use of essential oils for medicinal use after he accidentally discovered the healing effect of lavender oil mistakenly used to treat a burn caused in a laboratory experiment! It is said that he later went on to coin the term aromatherapy and write the first book dedicated to aromatherapy, essential oils and their health benefits.
Shortly afterward, with advances in modern chemistry, the knowledge of separating the constituents of essential oils developed much further setting the stage for the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries to create synthetic chemicals and drugs to mimic the effects of the natural plant materials.
Thereafter, many fake products, widely sold and used in modern society, have been developed with extra strong, ultra-stable and long-lasting aromas, but with absolutely none of the potential health merits. In 1977, the highly respected book “Art of Aromatherapy” was published and helped once again encourage the use of essential oils for therapeutic purposes and sparked a modern revival in their prevalence and use.