Aromatherapy uses essential oils derived from plants as a form of healing and to improve health. It’s not restricted to just inhaling essential oils but also expands to the use in massage oils and more
Aromatherapy has been around for thousands of years but essential oils have not been around as long.
Plants have always been essential in various rituals and ceremonies for centuries. The Egyptians would use herbs and spices in the embalming process of their dead. Scents were very important in everyday life as well. Festivals, bathing, medicine, cosmetics, and perfume all had important aroma elements to them. The Egyptians were masters at creating perfumes and this soon spread throughout the world.
The Chinese would burn incense to purify the area and were among the first to use aromatherapy practices involving massaging.
Aristotle, who is considered the father of botany, researched and studied how the scents of plants affected people’s emotions. Dioscorides also studied plants. He traveled with the Greek military to study plants all around the world and recorded the best ways to prepare them and what medical properties they had.
There are two great men from Persia that had a big influence on herbal medicine and aromatherapy. Al-Razi was one of Persia’s finest physicians who wrote a medical encyclopedia and also created various tools including mortals and flasks. Ibn Sina, born decades after Al-Razi, is probably the most famous and influential physicians not only in the Middle East but throughout Europe as well. He wrote many books but his 14 volume epic covered all the medical information up until that time. This book eventually became a medical textbook that was used in the Middle East and Europe for over 700 years.
The Catholic Church controlled a lot of the medicine during most of the medieval times. They believed that diseases and ailments were punishments of God so at that time the priests were the only ones allowed to handle essential oils and perform medical treatments.
As the black plague spread across Europe, medicine began to change and doctors began taking back medicine. When the second wave of the black plague hit almost 300 years after the first encounter, aromatherapy became very important. Various spices and oils were burned in people’s homes in hope to ward off the plague, though it did not work. There were few that did not contract the plague and those individuals worked with essential oils and perfumes. Many essential oils have antiseptic properties which may have contributed to the survival of these people from the plague.
Many influential herbalists came out of this time period including Nicholas Culpeper, Joseph Miller, and John Parkinson.
René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French scientist during the first World War, studied the medical properties of essential oils. He was one of the first to use the word “aromathérapie” and founded the science of aromatherapy. Years later after his discoveries, massage therapists, doctors, and other professions began using aromatherapy.
Jean Valnet, a French surgeon, followed Gattefossé’s work and used essential oils to treat gangrene and other injuries during World War II. He was the first to treat psychiatric conditions with essential oils and later wrote a book that is known as “The Practice of Aromatherapy.”.
Aromatherapy has been around in the United States since World War II but was not popular until the 1980’s. Today there are many aromatherapy products on the market including candles, lotions, and many beauty products.
Here is a great timeline of the use of plants in aromatherapy.