History of Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy in Antiquity
The earliest pictorial references associated with aromatherapy are images
on the walls of the Lascaux caves in southwestern France (Nr. Montignac in the Dordogne region) which are thought to date
from approx. 18,000 B.C..
Many aromatherapy books claim that this therapy is at least 6000 years
old. This claim is supported with reference to the many ancient cultures from different parts of the
world that are believed to have used scented oils to aid relaxation and
healing. Some of those ancient civilizations are mentioned below - note that their uses of scented oils (in general) may be quite different from modern aromatherapy, which often takes the form of aromatherapy massage treatments (not all massages are aromatherapy massages - that depends on the oils used) and aromatherapy products such as creams, oils and luxury bathing products.
Surviving records describe methods used by the Ancient Egyptians
to extract oils from aromatic plants. One medical papyri thought
to date from around 1555 B.C. describes remedies for a range of
illnesses including some remedies and methods similar to those used
in modern Aromatherapy and Herbal Medicine.
Egyptians also used aromatic oils in mummification processes.
There are some suggestions that the Ancient Chinese were using
aromatic oils at about the same time as the Egyptians. There is
clear evidence that they were using aromatic herbs and burning aromatic
woods for religious purposes.
The Aztecs of South America developed sophisticated use of plant
remedies, some of the plants used being aromatic hence it is likely
that they were using some form of aromatherapy effects.
Native American tribes that inhabited the North American continent
before the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s used aromatic oils
in conjunction with their herbal remedies. (More about Native American traditions.)
Aromatic massage is sometimes used in the practice of the traditional
Indian Medicine, Ayurveda.
The Greeks used aromatic oils for cosmetics and medicines.
Hypocrites studied the therapeutic
effects of essential oils and recommended aromatic baths and massages
with scented oils.
Greek physician, Theophratus
wrote about the healing properties of 'aromatic plants', and fellow
physician Pedacius Dioscorides,
wrote about herbal medicine - describing some remedies are still
used in Aromatherapy in 21st Century.
The Romans, who had learned many healing and relaxation techniques
from the Greeks, became well-known for their use of bathing, scented
baths, and body treatments using a variety of massage media including
aromatic oils. (The remains of their facilities for these activities
may still be seen all over the former Roman Empire.)
Note that these ancient civilizations may not necessarily have used scented
oils in the same way as each other, or in the same way as aromatherapy is practised today. What is known of the details of use in these times
and places varies but there is at least some evidence of use of scented/aromatic
oils for the purposes of physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual
Since 1000 A.D.
The physician Avicenna (980-1037)
is credited with first using the distillation process to extract essence
Rose essential oil is an important and expensive oil used
in modern aromatherapy.
During the Renaissance in Europe (ca. 1450-1600), explorers and merchants
brought exotic herbs and oils back to Europe from the Middle and Far
East, interest in these luxuries grew, especially among the middle-
and upper-classes. Wigs were scented with aromatic oils and people carried
scented handkerchiefs to overcome the effects of unsanitary streets
and living conditions. In France lavender and rosemary oils were used to fumigate hospitals.
European scientists and physicians researched the effects of essential
oils on bacteria in people - at this time the scientific method was
becoming established in many areas of human thought and study.
20th Century - The Development of Modern Aromatherapy
Key developments leading to the modern form of aromatherapy took place
in France during the middle years of the 20th century:
French chemist and writer Dr. Rene Maurice
Gattefosse published a book about the anti-microbial
effects of essential oils in which he used the term 'aromatherapy'.
Frenchman Albert Couvreur published
a book about the medicinal uses of essential oils.
French medical doctor and Army Surgeon Dr.
Jean Valnet also conducted research using essential oils.
At about the same time French biochemist, Margaret
Maury developed massage techniques for the effective
application of these oils to the skin.
The research results and techniques established by Jean Valnet,
Margaret Maury - and her co-researcher Micheline
Arcier form the basis of modern aromatherapy as taught
by Colleges all over the world today.
Aromatherapy continues to increase in popularity throughout the Western
World and beyond.
Debate is focussing less on whether or not aromatherapy
is effective and more on who should be allowed to practise it, the
required qualifications, and how practitioners should be regulated.
(This is also true of other body-work therapies such as Reflexology.)
To the main Aromatherapy page.
See also Books about Aromatherapy.