The history of aromatherapy dates back thousands of years since ancient people burned fragrant flowers, herbs, and resins for their aesthetic purposes.
Perfumes were used throughout the ancient world, from Egypt to Rome, Persia to China and there are many references to fragrances and oils in the bible. The Egyptians have records of Aromatherapy going back to 4500BC, describing perfumed oils such as Frankincense and Myrrh for healing, cosmetics and embalming. The famous Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra, enchanted Mark Antony by perfuming the sails of her ship with Rose oil.
In Arabia, around AD 1000, Avicenna was the first to distill Rose. Arabia became known as the world’s center for the production of perfume at this time.
Later on, in the 12th century, the art of perfumery was reintroduced to Europe by the Crusaders. The 15th century was the beginning of the great European perfumiers where perfumes were used to mask less appealing body odors as well ward off disease. In the 17th century, Nicholas Culpepper, the famous herbalist recognized the therapeutic properties of these wonderful aromatic plants. He authored the famous book Culpepper’s Complete Herbal: A Book of Natural Remedies of Ancient Ills.
In the 19th century, scientists found a way of producing synthetic fragrances. This prompted the perfume and cosmetic industry to turn its interest to chemicals and mass products, losing sight of the holistic benefits and appreciation of aromatics and nature.
The father of modern day aromatherapy was a Frenchman name René-Maurice Gattefossé. In the 1920s Gattefossé was a chemist and one day had an unexpected explosion in his laboratory. Both of his hands got badly burnt so he immediately plunged them into a bowl of neat lavender oil. He suffered no infection and no scarring and as a result he discovered the tremendous healing properties of lavender oil.
Gattefossé coined the word ‘aromatherapy’ in the following article:
“The French cosmetic chemists are concerned that the natural complexes should be utilized as complete building units in this instance without being broken up. Dermatological therapy would, thus, develop into ‘Aromatherapy’, or a therapy employing aromatics in a sphere of research opening enormous vistas to those who have started exploring it.”
Another modern day pioneer in aromatherapy was Dr Jean Valnet. Dr Valnet used essential oils with great success in World War II treating battle wounds. He published a book in 1964, Aromathérapie which is still used as a popular reference material for many Aromatherapists.
Marguerite Maury developed the method of applying essential oils through massage. She was also the pioneer in using aromatherapy with beauty and health care. Her well-known book The Secret of Life and Youth was first published in 1961 under the French name Le Capital ‘Jeunesse’ and was later translated into English in 1964.
Today we are rediscovering many of the ancient understandings of the wonderful healing properties of the essential oils and many of us are now realizing the benefit of these more natural products to use in our holistic approach to modern living.