History of Essential Oils

The ancient art of aromatherapy is becoming more popular in modern times for medicinal and therapeutic purposes. For thousands of years people have recognised the beneficial properties of certain plants and natural substances to human health and well being.

One of the earliest known cultures to use essential oil products were the ancient Egyptians. It is thought that a number of plant extracts and natural oils were used in the process of embalming mummies. The oils were used for several reasons in everyday life for these people; they were used for religious as well as for cosmetic and medicinal purposes. Aromatic plants have probably been used for a variety of purposes by human beings long before recorded history. In China, Persia and many other countries, the concept of using plant extracts and oils is also recorded many hundreds of years ago.

In Greece, Hippocrates (c. 460 -370 BC) was a believer that holistic treatments were greatly beneficial, and aromatheray massages are said to have been used at this point. At this time people from many other countries and cultures are thought to have been making use of naturally derived extracts for all sorts of reasons.

During the Dark Ages monks were often the only people who could freely practice herbalism for much of the time. Others who attempted to make cures and remedies were often accused of witchcraft and faced dire consequences. The once respected village wise women were often shunned by a people who had been told terrible stories by witch finders and lived in fear of spells and curses. Aromatic plants were still used to prevent insect bites and as perfume. There is some debate as to how hygiene conscious people were in this era, but perfume was probably desirable in either scenario. By the Renaissance herbalism had been revived to an extent, and the ancient knowledge kept alive by the minority through the Dark Ages became popular once again.

Despite this amazing history of the use of extracts from plants in essential oils the term 'aromatherapy' was not coined until 1937. The man behind this word was Rene Maurice Gattefosse, he was interested in the properties that were displayed by plant extracts and how this may benefit medicine. He performed a number of experiments to test ancient theories regarding the therapeutic value of different plants. During the Second World War, Dr Jean Valnet is said to have used therapeutic essenial oil in the treatment of wounded soldiers, which helped to save the lives of many. 

Austrian born Marguerite Maury began diluting essential oils in vegetable oil 'carriers' in the 1950s. She used these mixed oils for massage and found that a number of her patients reported they slept better and experienced less pain after the massage. 

Although many people today are unaware of much of the knowledge about herbalism that has been passed from one generation to the next since time immemorial, there is a growing interest in the subject. People are still able to benefit from natural remedies through aromatherapy and massage.