the history of aromatherapy
Egyptians left us many scrolls on how they used essential oils for healing the physical body and for beauty. We also have many documents on how essential oils were used by the Greeks for physical healing and how the Europeans got into the essential oil business in the 12th century. Hildegard of Bingen was famous for her use of herbs and oils.
The principles behind modern day aromatherapy were created thousands of years ago, and were actively used as early as 2650 B.C. by the Ancient Egyptians, followed by the Chinese, the Ancient Greeks, and the Romans. Since aromatherapy today is a direct product of the combined discoveries of our ancestors, a basic knowledge of the history of aromatherapy is helpful in developing a thorough understanding of aromatherapy in our time.
Aromatherapy in Ancient Egypt
The Ancient Egyptians were the first recorded users of aromatherapy oils, although they initially used them for different purposes than we use them for today. For them, the primary function of the oils lay in embalming the bodies of the dead, for which they used oils familiar to us, such as cinnamon and cedarwood. It was through this practice that they discovered that these oils could also be used successfully as perfumes, and they eventually began using them during healing rituals to calm patients.
Aromatherapy in China
The Chinese began using aromatic oils in their medicinal practices around the same time as the Ancient Egyptians, although historians vary on the exact dates, some recording them beginning marginally before the Egyptians, some marginally afterwards. The Chinese used aromatherapy oils primarily medicinally, but also burned the oils as part of religious tribute rituals. The Chinese were the first to expand the usage of these oils into other areas of alternative medicine, such as acupressure. They also burned aromatherapy oils when performing massage therapy practices that are still popular today.
Aromatherapy in Ancient Greece
The Ancient Greeks were the first to unleash the full potential of aromatherapy oils, creating the earliest form of aromatherapy as we know it. Greek physician Asclepius is the first recorded practitioner of extensive medicinal aromatherapy. While the Chinese used aromatherapy oils in some herbal medicines, it was not until Asclepius that they were successfully used during surgery. Around 450 BCE, Hippocrates developed this practice further and recommended the use of aromatic oils in baths to help patients with rheumatism and arthritis. The Romans later elaborated on Greek aromatherapy practices, becoming famous for their aromatic bath houses and use of aromatic oils as aphrodisiacs.
It was not until the Renaissance that aromatherapy became valued in Europe. Scholars studying ancient Greek and Roman texts learned of the old herbal remedies and aromatherapy was essentially rediscovered. Since then, aromatherapy has been expanded upon. In the Second World War, aromatherapy was sometimes used to treat injured soldiers when antibiotics were not available. Modern day scientists have experimented extensively with the natural oils used in aromatherapy, and many recent studies confirm the validity of aromatherapy as a natural healing aid.
Many of the oils used in aromatherapy today can be traced throughout the history of the practice, making aromatherapy the most ancient medicinal practice still in use. The study of aromatherapy and aromatic oils is still evolving, and it is likely that the safe and natural ingredients used to create aromatic oils will become increasingly valued in the future.