Essential oils, or aromatic oils as they were once called, have been used by many cultures around the world for centuries. Essential oils are subtle, aromatic liquids extracted from the flowers, seeds, leaves, stems, bark &/or roots of trees, herbs, bushes & shrubbery through distillation. In the craft of alchemy, the soul of a plant is its oil, while its spirit is the plant’s alcohol or tincture. According to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chinese manuscripts, priests & alchemists used essential oils to heal the sick. Essential oils were considered more valuable than gold in many ancient cultures. And, like gold, the desire for essential oils is strong when it comes to discerning individuals who want an organic, simple, strong, reliable alternative to synthetic medicines that often produce unhealthy side effects. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when essential oils gained notoriety as effective healing agents, but eventually the knowledge of essential oils spread around the globe.
Aromatherapy in Egypt
The roots of aromatherapy lie in ancient civilizations, particularly that of Egypt. The goal of aromatherapy is to provide holistic therapy in such a manner that the body cannot be separated from the mind, soul, or spirit. As early as 3500 BC, the ancient Egyptians were using essential oils for medicinal benefits, beauty care, spiritual enhancement, and in literally all aspects of their daily life. They became renowned for their knowledge of cosmetology, ointments and aromatic oils. Ancient Egyptians were masters of the holistic and believed that beauty, magic, and medicine were inseparable. They used balsams, perfumed oils, scented barks, resins, spices in everyday life. Oils and pastes from plants were transformed into pills, powders, suppositories, medicinal cakes and ointments.
There is a great deal of historical evidence that ancient Egyptians used essential oils for medicinal, spiritual, and cosmetic applications to establish the foundation of what we know, today, as modern aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy in China
The use of aromatic oils was first recorded in China between 2697-2597 B.C.E during the reign of Huang Ti, the legendary Yellow Emperor. His famous book “The Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine” contains uses for several aromatics and is still considered a useful classic by practitioners of eastern medicine today. In China, herbs and plant medicine are an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine. They’re also in important part of Chinese folk medicine. Specific use of essential oils has been traced to before the time of Christ.
In today’s aromatherapy world, along with contributing the valuable historical plant medicine texts, China is one of the most prolific producers of essential oils.
Aromatherapy in India
Traditional Indian medicine called “Ayur Veda” has a 3000-year history of incorporating essential oils into their healing potions. Vedic literature lists over 700 substances including cinnamon, ginger, myrrh and sandalwood as effective for healing. Essential oils have been a core element of the Indian Ayurvedic health care system; a natural healing system blending spiritual, philosophical and practical elements. The purpose of aromatic plants and oils were not only for medicinal purposes, but were believed to be a Godly part of nature and played a integral role to the spiritual and philosophical outlook in Ayurvedic medicine.
Aromatherapy in Greek and Roman
Around 450 BCE, Hippocrates developed this practice further and recommended the use of aromatic oils in baths to help patients with rheumatism and arthritis. The Romans later elaborated on Greek aromatherapy practices, becoming famous for their aromatic bath houses and use of aromatic oils as aphrodisiacs. Greek and Roman cultures adopted their healing methods from the Egyptians. One of the most well-known physicians of all time, Hippocrates, was a firm believer in treating his patients holistically. Greek physician Asclepius is the first recorded practitioner of extensive medicinal aromatherapy. While the Chinese used aromatherapy oils in some herbal medicines, it was not until Asclepius that they were successfully used during surgery. Greece was known for its bath in houses. Many used essential oils to create healing waters. The Ancient Romans were great believers in hygiene to promote health & they always placed great stock in aromatherapy, the power of fragrances.
Aromatherapy in Persia and Arabia
The Arabians, amassed a thriving frankincense trade in 500 B.C. where supply & demand was so high the trade route became famously known as “Frankincense Trail.” In the marketplaces of modern Arabia, baskets still overflow with aromatic herbs, spices & oils. These items once came to Arabia atop camel caravans, requiring many months of transport under heavy guard. Ibn Sina (980-1037), also a Persian is credited with being responsible for improving the process of distillation and the first person to produce rose oil by steam distillation. Ibn Sina, was probably the most famous and influential of all the great Islamic physicians and known throughout Europe as Avicenna. For generations, mothers and grandmothers have & continue to share & employ the rich heritage of natural healing remedies, known today as a unique form of Middle Eastern aromatherapy