The History of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy is the science of using essential herbal oils in the treatment of illnesses. The term itself comes from the French word “aromathérapie” which was coined by the French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé who was the publisher of the first book titled “Aromatherapy” in 1937. Thus the term aromatherapy was not coined until the 20th Century. The roots of Aromatherapy can be traced back over 6000 years before the birth of Christ when the use of aromatics was recorded for the first time in human history. The history of aromatherapy is linked strongly to the development of aromatic medicine. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians all used aromatherapy oils. In the Dordogne of France there are cave paintings found to be 18,000 years old that depict the use of plants for medicinal purposes. The origins of aromatherapy have been lost with time before the keeping of any records. It is although believed that crude forms of distillation, the main method that essential oils are now obtained, were practiced thousands of years ago in Persia, Egypt and India. Distillation was used mainly for the extraction of exotic flower waters.
The medicinal use of plants and their extracts in India has been continuous from 5,000 years ago to the present day. One of the oldest known books on plants is Indian and is called “Vedas”. This book highlights the various uses of plants for medicinal and religious purposes. The human was seen as part of nature and the preparation was considered a sacred practice. Ayurvedic medicine is one of the oldest forms of medicine practiced since ancient times.
There is more information available about the development of plant use in Egypt. The Nile Valley became known as the Cradle of Medicine. Some of the plants brought to this area were cedarwood, cinnamon, frankcincense and myrrh. In Egypt 5,000 years ago, there was a strong link between perfumery and religion. Each God was allotted a particular fragrance. It was the priest who formulated the aromas. The Egyptians used plants, aromatic oils and aromatic resins in the embalming process. They successfully preserved human bodies for 3,000 years using this method. The process of embalming and mummification was developed by the Egyptians in their search for immortality. The ancient Egyptians first burned incense that derived from aromatic woods, spices and herbs in honour of the Gods. It was their belief that as the smoke rose up towards the heavens it would carry their prayers and wishes directly to the deities. The development of aromatics as medicines delivered the creation of the foundation that aromatherapy was built upon. In the hot climate and with poor standards of sanitation, aromatic substances were used to make life more pleasant and safer.
The Egyptians were passionate about the use of simple fragrances and used them in their daily lives. At celebrations and festivals women wore perfumed cones on their heads that melted in the heat and released a beautiful scent. After washing, they anointed their bodies with oils for protection from the drying effects of the searing sun and to refresh their skin. The use of aromas for religious and medicinal purposes was also adapted in other countries such as China, Greece and Rome.
The Greeks expanded the knowledge of the Egyptians by recording and classifying the actions and main properties of plant medicinals. The father of holistic medicine, Hippocrates, was an advocate of massage and recommended the use of daily massage and a scented bath. He also recognised the medicinal values of aromas. Greece is subsequently famous because of the presence of Hippocrates. Another Greek, Megallus, formed a perfume called ‘Megaleion’. It was capable of healing wounds and in the reduction of inflammation. The Greeks used the knowledge they had gained from the Egyptians to classify the future study of plant medicine thus making a vital contribution.
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