Aromatherapy can be traced back to around 3500 BC and it is linked to the development of aromatic medicine. Ancient Egyptians burned incense made from aromatic woods and herbs to their gods and aromatherapy got linked to religion, mysticism and magic.
The creative foundations of aromatherapy were built in Egypt and the changes can be broadly categorized:
Search for immortality
In search for immortality Egyptians began embalming and mummifying during the 3rd dynasty. Cinnamon, cedar wood, and even lavender were among the ingredients used to preserve bodies for the after-life. The herbs and spices used for embalming were brought to Egypt from all over the world. Arab merchants distributed these herbs collected from China to Greece and Rome. Due to the huge demand of these herbs, their value was almost equal to those of gems and precious stones.
Introduction of perfumes
The Egyptians used fragrances throughout the year during festivals and celebrations. Women wore perfumed cones on their heads and with the heat during the day these would melt and emit beautiful fragrances. After bath oils were used by women liberally. These oils made of herbs and fragrant flowers such as lavender available locally. By 657 BC the Egyptians were using aromatic incense, medicines, cosmetics and perfumes. The Egyptian perfume industry was the most celebrated and finest in the world right up to the time of the birth of Christ. The domination of Egypt was represented by their control over the production of fragrances and as a gesture of victory; Julius Caesar had tossed perfume bottles to the crowd after he conquered Egypt. Though we’ll never know, some of those perfumes were probably scented with lavender.
Hippocrates was the first to deny that supernatural force were the root of illnesses. He introduced the idea of checking symptoms and treated them with physiotherapy, baths and massages. During his lifetime, Hippocrates had documented over 200 herbs and used them extensively as infusions and internal medicines. He did not believe in surgery and probably was the first who introduced the world to true aromatherapy.
The Egyptian botanical and aromatic medicinal knowledge was borrowed by other civilizations. After the fall of the Egyptian dynasty, Europe became the capital of herb medicines and even brought in new methodologies and scientific reasoning to aromatherapy. Perhaps the most famous was Asclepius who was declared a deity after his death. He combined herbs and surgery unrivalled and had healed thousands.
Theophrastus of Athens investigated plants and how varied scents affected our emotions. His references have been used for centuries and he is rightly acknowledged as the founder of the science of botany.
During the 40- 90 AD, the Greek military physician Dioscorides marched with the Greek army into Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain to discover plants and their healing properties. He provided the world with the first publication of 5 volumes comprising of over a 1000 medications and about 600 aromatics and plants. Dioscorides is recognized as the father of pharmacology.
Despite aromatic herbs and plants being used for centuries, the term “aromatherapy” was used by French chemist René Maurice Gattefosse who accidentally discovered the analgesic properties of lavender oil. The word consists of the Greek ‘aroma’ or fragrance and ‘therapy’ or treatment.
Ibn Sina of the Persian civilization was the first one to invent a pipe that steam-distilled the plants such as lavender to produce essential oils. During the Renaissance, many wealthy citizens used aromatic handkerchiefs to fight smells and microbes. Essential oils began to be used widely in that period for medicinal use and relaxation.
With the onset of the 20th century many more pleasurable techniques and natural products began to be introduced. The first book about aromatherapy Art of Aromatherapy by Robert B. Tisserand in 1977 is dedicated to aromatic medicinal herbs.
Aromatherapy is widely used today as an alternative and holistic approach for cosmetic, therapeutic and aromatic benefits. Lavender essential oils are among the most popular and versatile aromatic herbs known to man.