History About Aromatherapy: The Beginning of Essential Oils

History About Aromatherapy: The Beginning of Essential Oils

August 16, 2019 6 By April

The following is a brief history about aromatherapy and the beginning of essential oils. Essential oils have been a part of history since the beginning of time. They’ve been used medicinally to kill bacteria, viruses and fungi. They relieve and soothe insect bites. They stimulate immune functions and regenerate damaged tissues. They also provide aromatherapy to induce calm and relaxation, stimulation, and balance mood and emotions.

Every year, millions of dollars go to private laboratories and universities that are researching the natural and therapeutic compounds of the leaves, stems, roots, flowers, bark and seeds of plants from various regions of the world from river bottoms and hillsides to forests and jungle canopies. Yet essential oils from these plants have been used for over 6000 years, and there still has not been a great deal of research done on essential oils to this day.


As far back as 4500 BC, Egyptians were using essential oils for making perfumes, cosmetics, medicines and incense that were used daily. There are hieroglyphics on the walls of Egyptian temples portraying the use of essential oils and many recipes. Egyptians used the oils for religious ceremonies, embalming, as well as for cosmetics and fragrances.

In fact, the Egyptians may well be the first to discover the use of fragrances.

Tomb robbers have even stolen essential oils from tombs over stealing gold. There is even a 1550 BC Egyptian scroll called Ebers papyrus that has around 800 different herbal formulas and remedies. Egyptians also recognized the interchange of physical and spiritual forces in human health.

One of the oldest forms of essential oil extraction methods they used to get essential oil is the solvent extraction method called enfleurage. This is where leaves, bark, stems, etc. are crushed and mixed with olive or vegetable oil or animal fat and heated. Botanicals are strained from the fact and replaced with new material until the fat is saturated with the fragrance.

Cold enfleurage is when a large plate is smeared with fat and allowed to set. Flower petals or whole flowers are placed on the fat and allowed to diffuse for 1 to 3 days. Then repeat by replacing spent botanicals with fresh until fat is saturated with the fragrance.


In China, essential oils were first recorded during the reign of Huang Ti around 2697-2597 BC. The book that Huang Ti wrote, The Yellow Emperor’s Book on Internal Medicine, contains several aromatic oils and is still being used as a guideline for those who practice Eastern medicine today.


Essential oils have been a core element of the Indian Ayurveda medical system, which has a 3000-year history. Ayurveda literature lists over 700 substances as being effective for healing, including cinnamon, myrrh, and sandalwood. Essential oils also played an important part of spirituality, as well as medicinal. During the outbreak of the bubonic plague, essential oils successfully replaced ineffective antibiotics.


The Greeks were introduced to essential oils in the form of gifts or trade back in 400-500 BC. The famous Greek physician Hypocrites (c.460-377 BC) known as the “Father of Medicine”, documented 300 plants where essential oils were derived, such as marjoram, peppermint and thyme.

Additional knowledge was obtained from India after partially being invaded by Alexander the Great. This knowledge helped spread the usage of essential oils.

Another Greek, Galen, (129-199 AD) a surgeon at the school for gladiators, developed a large knowledge of plants and their uses. He never had a gladiator die under his care. He became the personal physician to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and wrote a famous book called “De Simplicibus, describing plants, their habitat, and what they can be used for.


The Romans used essential oils for perfumes and aromatic oils on their bodies, beds, clothes, for massages and baths. Roman physicians used the books of Hypocrites and Galen in their treatments. When the Roman Empire fell, these books were translated into Persian, Arabic and other different languages.


Ali-Ibn Sana, who lived from 980-1037 AD, wrote books on the property of 800 plants. He was a child prodigy and became a physician by the age of 12. He was the first to distill plants into the oils we see today.


After the Roman Empire fell, during the time of the Dark Ages and the Crusades, knights from different countries entered into the Holy Land and came back with many herbal medicines, perfumes, and essential oils. By the 14th century, these oils were used to combat the bubonic plague. It was also a time of great religious oppression. The church considered bathing a sin and encouraged people to use aromatics instead to cover up their foul odors.

The Renaissance swung back again to holistic medicine. A doctor by the name of Paracelsus (1493-1541) had great success curing leprosy with plant extracts.

By the 1600′s, writings about herbal medicine and essential oils became widespread. By the 1800’s most of the practitioners of England, Germany and France were referencing and prescribing essential oils for a variety of illnesses.

In 1653, a man by the name of Nicholas Culpepper wrote the book, The Complete Herbal, which still is the most valuable resource for essential oils. His book describes the different illnesses to treat and remedies that can be used.

The term aromatherapy was first coined in 1937 by Rene-Maurice Gattefosse from France. He wrote a book in 1928 detailing how essential oils have healed people over the years. this book has influenced a lot of medical doctors in France. He had also burned his hand very badly in 1910 and quickly soaked it in lavender oil. The skin on his hand healed with no infection or scarring. This led to further research in lavender essential oil.

He also found that minute amounts of essential oils are absorbed by the body and interact with the body’s chemistry.

During World War II, as a result of his experiments, doctors successfully treated injured soldiers with essential oils.

Since the late 1970s to early 1980s, because of environmental concerns, there was an increased interest in natural medicine, and it has kept essential oils growing in popularity.

Standing The Test of Time

The history about aromatherapy is an amazing one. It’s been documented as far back as 4500 BC. And I’m sure plants have been used for medicinal purposes even before that. Essential oils have been historically proven to be strong and effective for over 6000 years and have been used for many different purposes. i.e. religious ceremonies, perfumes, medicinal reasons and sanitation.

Even history shows us that they worked on the bubonic plague and leprosy. There are currently new clinical studies being documented about their benefits. It’s no wonder they’ve been around all these years and will continue to be so in the future.

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