aromatherapy history and uses

Aromatherapy – History and Uses For Healing

In this article we answer the questions what is Aromatherapy – History and uses of aromatherapy oil and how is it made.  We look at the history and beliefs about aromatherapy and then specifically examine what is an aromatherapy oil.

History and Belief of Aromatherapy 

To truly understand what is an aromatherapy oil we need to look at what is aromatherapy history and uses plus the beliefs surrounding it’s practice.

As may be obvious the word Aromatherapy is a derivative of two other words:

  • Aroma –  which means having a fragrance or smell
  • Therapy – which means giving or getting a form of treatment for illness or imbalance.
what is an aromatherapy oil

Egyptian Papyrus depicting Egyptian pharaoh Niuserre being treated with aromatherapy oils and massage

The first recorded historical evidence of Aromatherapy is credited to an Egyptian medical papyrus which dates back to around 1555 BC, however it is likely that it was practiced long before being physically recorded, and contained specific remedies for illnesses along with methods of treatment.  These treatments and applications are almost identical to some forms of aromatherapy still practiced in today’s modern society.

From these early recorded papyrus we know the ancient Egyptians used the infusion method to extract oils from various aromatic plants.  These infusions were commonly used to create incense.

2 highly popular infused incenses were Frankincense and Myrrh.  Each incense was burned at sunrise and sunset – Frankincense at sunrise as an offering to Ra the sun god and Myrrh at Sunset for the moon god Khonsu.

The Egyptians also used aromatics in their practice of mummification and embalming and, as shown by the image to the right fragrant oils (aromatherapy oils) were massaged into the skin following bathing and were believed to ensure health, vitality and well-being.

what is an aromatherapy oil de materia medica pedanius dioscorides

Pedanius Dioscorides Greek Physician and author of De Materia Medica

Following the Egyptians we see reference to Aromatherapy in ancient Greece where aromatherapy oils were used both in medicine and for cosmetic purpose.  This led to the Greek herbal physician Pedanius Dioscorides compiling the herbal medical guide “De Materia Medica”.  This book became the accepted medical reference text in the Western world for over 1200 years.  Similarly to the ancient Egyptian papyrus the remedies and practices described by Dioscorides are still in use today.

One of the most famous and well known historical references to the practice of Aromatherapy comes from The Bible

“Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.”

John 12:3 King James Version

It was then the Romans, who basing their medical knowledge from the Greeks, began using aromatics. Ancient Rome was the bathing capital of the world and as part of this widely used aromatherapy oils in massage after bathing.

Following the establishment of trade routes through Arabia and East India the Romans discovered the wide usage of aromatics and began importing them.

what is an aromatherapy oil -Avicenna

Avicenna, Arab Physician, credited with discovery of the distillation process for extracting essential oils and floral waters.

Avicenna, an Arab Physician (A.D 980 to AD 1037) is the person accredited to have discovered the process of distillation to gather the aromatic oils, namely the essence of Rose, through the process know known as a refrigerated coil.  At the same time it was the Arabs also discovered the process for distillation of alcohol making it possible to produce aromatic perfumes without the common thick and oily base.

Shen Nung, the author of the oldest surviving medical reference text in China (dated around 2700 BC) contains health related information of over 300 plants and clearly references the practice of a medical aromatherapy alongside the accepted religious practice of using aromatic herbs and the  burning of aromatic woods and incense in reverence to god.

Other historical references to the use of aromatherapy as a recognized medical practice are:

  • Ayurveda, the traditional medical practice from India is over 3000 years old and incorporates aromatic massage as a key aspect.
  • The Aztecs were well known for their use of herbal remedies and aromatic medicines. Montezuma’s botanical gardens were filled with medicinal plants and were discovered when the Conquistadores invaded the Aztec nation.
  •  Herbal Oils and Aromatic Remedies were widely used by North American Indian cultures.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that physicians and scientists across Europe began to properly research Aromatherapy and in particular the impact of essential oils on bacteria.

what is an aromatherapy oil

René Maurice Gattefossé – French Physician and “Father” of Modern Aromatherapy.

René Maurice Gattefossé, a French physician is credited as being the “Father” of Modern Aromatherapy. After burning his hand in his laboratory he applied lavender oil and was amazed at how quickly the injury healed. This led him to begin scientific research on the healing properties of essential oils and aromatics.

His book “Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles, Hormones Végétales” published in 1937 contains his research on the anti-microbial effects of the oils and is where the terms Aromatherapy originates.

Following the publication of his book he continued his research and went on to establish a business producing oils for use in fragrances and cosmetics.

Gattefosse was not alone in researching essential oil usage and other French researchers also published material and medical references in the usage of Aromatherapy oils.

Albert Couvreur, published a medical reference on the usage of essential oils for healing around the same time as Gattefosse, while French doctor Jean Valnet began further research about essential oils and healing after reading Gattefosse’s work.

Valnet used essential oils as a major part of treating wounded soldiers and civilians during the war and was amazed by their enormous positive impact on healing and recovery.  He publishedThe Practice of Aromatherapy: A Classic Compendium of Plant Medicines and Their Healing Properties in 1964.

Around this time Marguerite Maury, another French citizen and highly regarded biochemist developed the method of applying these oils to the skin with massage.

However it was Micheline Arcier, after studying and working directly with Maury and Valnet combined their remedial practices and guideline to create the form of Aromatherapy now used worldwide.

aromatherapy history and uses

Aromatherapy Oils – What is an Aromatherapy Oil?

What is an Aromatherapy Oil? Aromatherapy History and Uses.

Aromatherapy Oils are a combination of the volatile plant oils, known as essential oils with a carrier oil (such as coconut or ground-nut) and is used in the treatment or prevention of disease.

Aromatherapy oils are used within the holistic and complementary discipline of Aromatherapy.  Aromatherapy is designed to treat the whole person (holistic remedy) not just the symptom or disease.  It is claimed that the use of essential oils assists the body’s natural ability to balance, regulate, heal and maintain itself.

Aromatherapy oils consist of tiny aromatic molecules from plant and herb essential oils that are readily absorbed via the skin and whilst breathing they enter the lungs.

Once the essential oil therapeutics enter the body they are absorbed into the bloodstream and travel quickly throughout the body to deliver healing.

Essential oils are added to carrier oil due to their extreme concentration.  Only a very small quantity of pure essential oils are required to bring about the desired health related results.

Other related posts on Aromatherapy History and Uses can be found below:

Healing with Essential Oils

Aromatherapy and Diffusion

I hope you have enjoyed the article and now now the answer to what is an aromatherapy oil.  Please do leave a comment or ask a question and I will get back to you ASAP.

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