Ancient people greatly depended on their surroundings for everything that they needed. They had to make the most of what they had; that is why they discovered methods of using plants for treating ailments and preserving life. That is how aromatherapy began – one of the oldest methods of holistic healing.
Closely related to what we have today, the practice of using oils from aromatic plants began with the Egyptians. They developed a method of extracting oils from plants through an infusion process. These oils served various purposes to them back then, as an important part of medicinal healing, cosmetics, as well as embalming.
At the same time in some other part of the world, the Chinese were also using different herbs and their scents for many applications. According to a herbal book dating back to around 2700 BC, ancient Chinese were using more than 300 different kinds of plants. Aromatics in China were used for both religious and therapeutic purposes. The Chinese burned woods and incense during religious ceremonies – a ritual still evident today. Also, the use of aromatics was also associated with ancient modes of treatment, such as massage and acupressure.
In India, people were already practicing a traditional system of healing called Ayurveda. Originating there for around 5000 years now, it emphasizes setting up a balance in the body through proper diet, lifestyle, cleansing, and the health of the mind, body and spirit. It employs cleansing, detoxification and the use of herbs such as triphala, ashwaghanda, gotu kola and bosweilla.
The knowledge of the Egyptians reached the Greeks, which they used further to come up with more discoveries. They found out that different scents had different effects on the human body and mind. For instance, essential oils derived from certain flowers were stimulating, while others were relaxing. The Greeks also used base or carrier oils, in the form of olive oil, for herbs and flowers; thus led to their use for several cosmetic and medicinal purposes.
In turn, the Romans learned from the knowledge of the Greeks. They became popular back then for scented baths, followed by massage using scented oils. Because of the popularity of aromatics to them, it paved the way to the setting up of trade routes. These trade routes allowed the Romans to import exotic oils and spices to lands like India and Arabia.
The Middle Ages yielded tons of studies on herbs and their benefits. One such book that was written back then, called Culpeper’s herbal, is still being consulted up to this day.
In the 11th century, a Persian physician named Avicenna invented a distillation equipment and process, which led to the focus of further development of essential oils and their many benefits. This knowledge spread to the other parts of the world through invading forces.
Essential oils were then being produced in Germany, extracted from herbs brought from parts of Africa and the Far East. When the Conquistadors invaded South America, more and more aromatic plants were discovered. The wide variety of plants found in the garden of Montezuma provided the foundation for further remedies and treatments using plant extracts.
Although aromatic plants had been used throughout the world for many years already, it was only in the 19th century that scientists in Europe did researches on the beneficial effects of scents on humans. Aromatherapy was coined by French chemist Rene Maurice Gattefosse, and published a book on the effects of essential oils in 1937.