ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF AROMATHERAPY

 


Aromatherapy has been practiced for thousands of years. The first evidence we have was found within a 60,000 year old skeleton of Neanderthal man containing pollens from flowers and medicinal plants. It is believed he was a shaman, and that these plants were used in healing and rituals. There are cave paintings in France dating back to 18,000 BCE. that show plants being used as medicine.

Ayurveda is the oldest form of medicine continuously practiced on Earth, and originated in India. This holistic medical approach includes the use of flowers, herbs and spices to heal and purify the body on all levels. Aromatherapy has been a part of many cultures down through the ages, including the Romans, Greeks, Persians, Chinese, Indians, French, German and English.The ancient Egyptians are most famed for their use of aromatics. They made aromatic wines, vinegars, exotic perfumes and body oils, which they used for cosmetic, medicinal and ritual purposes.

Perfumes were used lavishly at royal ceremonies & public celebrations. Slaves would massage the upper class Egyptian women with aromatic oils after bathing. Perfumed cones worn on their heads while dancing, would melt on warm evenings, scenting the air around them. Queen Hatshepsut loved to perfume her body with aromatics, and myrrh was one of her favorite oils.

Queen Cleopatra gained the most notoriety for her exotic scents. She was known to be an alchemist and a perfumer who took aromatic milk baths. She would sail down the Nile with the sails of her barge anointed with aromatic oils, alerting the working class people to her presence. Incense burners surrounded her throne and she wore intoxicating perfumes to relax and seduce the men she discussed business with. She carpeted her boudoir with a long line of rose petals when she first seduced Roman General, Marc Antony.

Egyptians burned sweet resins in the temples in honor of their sun god, Raat sunrise & sunset. Pharaohs would burn certain fragrances before praying, to honor their gods.

Essential oils and resins were used in the mummification process, each embalmer developing his own secret formula. Myrrh, cedar, frankincense, oakmoss and cinnamon were some of the oils used. Even after being enclosed for 3,000 years, alabaster jars from Tutenkhamen’s tomb when opened, were still fragrant.

During the Middle Ages, it was discovered that aromatic flowers such as lavender, herbs and spices seemed to ward off the plague and other infectious diseases. Apothecaries made & dispensed medicines, perfumes, floral waters and essential oils.

When pharmaceutical drugs became popular and doctors began practicing the “new medicine”, aromatherapy was lost for a time, but re-emerged again in the early 1900”s. In 1910, French chemist and perfumer, Dr.ReneMaurice Gattefosse experienced a bad burn to his hand that became infected. He began applying lavender essential oil and soon realized its medicinal power as it treated his serious infection, as well as it’s regenerating properties that sped up the healing, leaving very little scarring. He continued his study and research with essential oils, and worked with other doctors to treat the wounds of first world war French soldiers with lavender and other essential oils.

Europe seemed to be the birthing ground for modern day Aromatherapy and Gattefosse was followed by Dr. Jean Valnet and Marguerite Maury. Dr.Valnet was a French army doctor & surgeon who studied the therapeutic properties of essential oils and developed the “aromatogram” with another doctor. The aromatogram is a way to clinically test how essential oils can treat infections. Many studies showed that essential oils can inhibit the growth of pathogens and Dr.Valnet believed that antibiotics and essential oils in combination accelerates the healing time. He founded an association for research on Phyto-Aromatherapy. Marguerite Maury was an Austrian nurse & medical assistant who was interested in bio-chemistry. She married a doctor and they both explored homeopathy, naturopathy and other natural health disciplines. During the 1940’s she began researching the effects of essential oils on the nervous system, general well-being, cosmetology and rejuvenation.

During the 1970’s, Robert Tisserand established the first English company that sold essential oils to consumers as well as writing the first English language aromatherapy book. His book “ The Art of Aromatherapy” is considered to be the “bible” for modern day students. He was the founder of the International Journal of Aromatherapy, and set standards for aromatherapy education, starting his own teaching institute. He continues to be a leading figure in the field of Aromatherapy today.