History of Aromatherapy

Through archaeological excavations evidence has suggested that our ancestors have been using medicinal herbs as long as 60,000 years ago. For example plants were used as foods, medicines and clothing.

 

There is written evidence to suggest that people have been using aromatic plants since 10,000 and 5,000 BC for cosmetics and medicines as well as for religious purposes. These discoveries have been found in China, Mesopotamia (region of south west Asia between the lower and middle reaches of Tigris and Euphrates rivers – this is the place where several ancient civilisations lived) North and South America, Egypt and Britain. In Egypt archaeologists have found alabaster vases dating back to 1400 BC which still contained the aromas of the oils that the Egyptians were using.

 

Egypt

The Egyptians used aromatic and fragrant plant materials during life and mummification after death. Mummification would not of been possible without using these plant materials. The Egyptians also discovered the benefits of using fragrant plant essences as perfumes aesthetic aromatherapy.

 

Aesthetic

(meaning maintaining the beautiful)

By the use of essential oils aesthetic aromatherapy was suggested to improve the Egyptians wellbeing. The Egyptians realised by using certain aromas and  different plant extracts (essential oils) they may be able to improve the look and feel of a person’s face, hair and body thus enhancing wellbeing.

 

Its Progress Over Recent Years

Archaeologists have suggested that the Queen Cleopatra created a large garden for growing different fragrant plant materials so that she may maintain and enhance her beauty as well as to seduce her lovers. Evidence has shown that Cleopatra wrote a book on beautification which included recipes. Unfortunately much of this book has been lost and only fragments from the book remain in existence.

 

Substantial evidence has suggested that it was important for the ancient Egyptians to keep their skin supple with the use of oils due to the hot climate in which they lived. During the reign of Ramesses monument builders went on strike because they wrote ‘we have no ointments’. The Egyptians were cosmetic experts and were famous for their herbal preparations and ointments. The Egyptians created an antidote called ‘Kyphi’ which contained sixteen different ingredients which was used for incense, perfume or taken internally as a medicine. By the year 1200 BC plants as medicines became increasingly advanced and new levels of medical practice was established by an Egyptian healer called Aesculapius. 

 

India

Abundance of evidence has suggested that India’s ancient civilisations have been using aromatics due to the Sanskrit (extensive philosophical scientific literature dating back to approximately 2000 BC). The ‘fifth Veda’ also known as Ayurveda (prolonged life) is suggested in Sanskrit to be based on the art of healing and there have been written accounts of over several hundred substances such as cinnamon, spikenard, ginger, myrrh, coriander and sandlewood. The ancient civilisations regarded aromatics to be more than just perfumes and used them for worship and therapeutic purposes. Consequently Ayurveda medicine is still used today.

  

In brief treatments may consist:

Samana – where multiple herbal or mineral remedies are prepared to suit the individual needs. This treatment is suggested to help balance and correct the individual Dosha and each remedy may lower or increase the levels of an individual’s Dosha.  

 

Shodana – (meaning to cleanse) this method is suggested to be used during detoxification by the use of herbal and mineral remedies.

 

Purwakarma – Involves massaging herbal remedies into the skin or scalp. This method is suggested to relieve stress, arthritis, anxiety and circulatory problems.

 

Panchakarma – is also suggested to be a detoxification process by means of herbal and mineral remedies but involves five different treatments.  

 

Mesopotamia  

The Mesopotamian book called 'The Herbal of Isin' dates approximately from 2201 BC. The book features over 250 plants and includes recipes for perfumes and ointments. The ancient civilisations of South West Asia recorded their findings on brick tablets.

 

China

The Chinese have an ancient history in herbal medicine it coincides with the practice of acupuncture. The Huangdi Neijing (given the title The Yellow Emperor's book of Classic Internal Medicine in one of the latest translations) approximately dates back to 2000 years BC, suggests that aromatics and herbal remedies were being used in ancient Mongolian China such as ginger and opium. They were used for therapeutic purposes as well as worshiping e.g. the Li Ki and Tcheou Li ceremonies. Borneo Camphor today is still being used by the Chinese in ritual ceremonies.

 

Syria

Phoenician merchants (ancient Semitic people) from the North West of Syria dominated the trade of the ancient world in the first millennium BC. They traded and exported scented oils and gums as far as the Arabian peninsula and eventually to the Mediterranean region in particular to Rome and Greece.

 

Greece

The Greek Herodotus visited Egypt during the fifth century BC to learn and acquire significant knowledge from the Egyptians in medicinal and aromatic oils. He learnt how to apply and blend the oils in greater detail for cosmetic and therapeutic purposes. Evidential records from 425 BC have suggested that Herodotus was in fact the first person to record the distillation method of turpentine. Herodotus also recorded information on perfumes and odorous materials being used by people at that time.   

 

The Greek Theophrastus wrote a treatise called ‘Concerning Odours’. The treatise explained in detail the effects of different aromatic substances such as general health, feeling and sense of smell on thinking.

 

Hippocrates known as the father of medicine (The Great of Greece) developed the theory of medicine and brought it to the Western world approximately around 460-377 BC. This eventually established the Alexandrian School of Medicine in 331 BC. Hippocrates recognised the potential and benefits of aromatic oils and developed remedies so that he may use them in his treatments.

 

Romans

The Romans were suggested to be very extravagant when it came to perfumes and aromatic oils. Historians suggest that the Romans particularly used three kinds of perfumes (Ladysmata-solid ointment, Stymmata-fragrant oils and Dispasmata-powdery perfumes) to fragrance their bodies, hair and clothes. The Romans were suggested to use large amounts of scented oils during massage after bathing. In 1 AD Dioscorides (known as one of the greatest Roman physicians) recorded a detailed study of plants and aromatics which were suggested to be used by the Greeks and Romans.

 

Historians suggest that this contained approximately five volumes and called Materia Medica (Herbarius) which contained thousands of medicinal plants explaining their therapeutic uses.

 

During the decline and fall of the Roman Empire many physicians fled to Constantinople taking with them the books of Galen (books of knowledge) these were later translated into Persian, Arabic and other languages. By the end of the Byzantine Empire the knowledge was suggested to be passed onto the Arab world. Europe however entered into the dark ages.

 

Arabia

The Arabs were suggested to be renowned for their science in aromatics and produced many great men during the seventh and thirteenth centuries. One great man was an Arabian called Avicenna (AD 980-1037). Avicenna was suggested to be a highly regarded physician and scholar and wrote several books on the therapeutic properties taken from different plants. Avicenna invented the refrigerated coil which was used for distillation and used this method to produce 100% pure natural essential oils and aromatic waters. By the thirteen century Arabia had become famous throughout Europe for their perfumes.

 

Middle Ages

Throughout the middle ages people grew aromatic plants. Historians suggest that people used them for anti-septic means and to fight off infection. People carried them as a precaution to ward off the plague by wearing small herbal bouquets.

 

Eventually Europeans began to grow test and research different herbs from their local crops of plants such as lavender and sage. By the sixteenth century essential oils were known as Chymical oils where they could be obtained from local apothecaries (chemists). Approximately between the years of 1470 and 1670 many books had been printed on the subject and uses of herbs and aromatics due to the invention of printing. One such book was called ‘Grete Herbal’ published in 1526 explaining and illustrating details of types of methods to extract essential oils.

 

As knowledge and chemistry became more advanced through the rise of the modern world (renaissance era) essential oils were still being researched and recorded by pharmacists. By the eighteenth century essential oils were still suggested to be used in medicine and by the nineteenth century essential oils were starting to be replaced by man made chemicals. 

 

Modern Aromatherapy

Rene Maurice Gattefossé was a French perfumer and chemist. Gattefossé realised the potential and therapeutic benefits of essential oil when he placed his hands in essential lavender oil after burning his hands from an explosion at work. The lavender oil was suggested to of stopped the gasification of the tissues. Gattefossé became so impressed by this and started researching the therapeutic potentials of essential oils. Through his findings Gattefossé suggested that many essential oils were better than man made synthetic oils. Gattefossé helped in the development of cultivation and production of essential oils and wrote many books on aromatherapy. The word aromatherapy derived from one of his books titled ‘Aromatherapie’ published in 1937.   

 

Robert Tisserand is the co-founder of several aromatherapy associations including The Tisserand Institute established in London in 1987. Tisserand is highly respected in the field of aromatherapy and began practising as an aromatherapist in 1969. Tisserand founded a company in 1974 where he marketed aromatherapy oils and products. He is the author of ‘The Art of Aromatherapy’ published in 1977 and Essential Oil Safety; A Guide for Health Care published in 1995.

 

Tisserand is keen to see the on-going advancements of aromatherapy as a form of complementary medicine by working closely with doctors and herbalists. Tisserand is on the editorial committee of the international journal of aromatherapy which he founded in 1988 and edited it for twelve years. Tisserand has also edited scientific research which is significant to essential oils. Tisserand dedicates most of his professional time formulating blends, studying and researching in the advancement of essential oils promoting eco-friendly ways in the field of aromatherapy. 

Gabriel Mojay studied aromatherapy with the Natural Oils Research Association. In 1990 Mojay founded the Register of Qualified Aromatherapists (RQA) and served as chairman of the UK aromatherapy organisation council (ADC) established in 1992. The ADC was set up for professionals that work in the field of essential oils and marketing trade to raise awareness and issues in public safety.

 

In April 2002 Mojay played a vital role by helping to form The International Federation of Professional Aromatherapists (IFPA). Mojay is the author of ‘Aromatherapy For Healing The Spirit’ explaining the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. Mojay is very interested in the science and continual research in aromatherapy and regularly contributes to aromatherapy magazines.

 

References

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