Sharing a lifetime's passion for herbs

AROMATHERAPY ~ A short history

History of Aromatherapy

It is often thought that aromatherapy is a modern ‘invention’!

Anyone who studies aromatherapy today will find that it incorporates a much greater understanding of the nature of plant chemistry and the effect of these chemical on the mind and body. It has become a science. But then it always was.

However the use of oils extracted from plants to heal the mind and body can be traced back to all the major ancient civilizations of the world. And they knew a thing or two!  .. with an ancestral wisdom that doesn’t transfer easily to many who study the subject today.

Essential plant oils were described by Dioscorides, along with beliefs of the time regarding their healing properties, in his De Materia Medica, written in the first century.  But how did these beliefs come about?

Juniper Branch

Foraging for edible plants was a vital job undertaken by women in the times when human survival depended upon their Hunter/Gatherer skills. Our ancestors learned simply through trial and error, as well by observing which plants sick animals ate. 

They noticed as I have done, animals given the opportunity eat selectively and instinctively. They also noticed that different health problems were alleviated by eating certain berries, roots or leaves. The ‘why’s’ and ‘how’s’ of discovering how plants benefited man was not their concern. Plants were all they had .. their medicines, their antidotes, their food.

I am sure they also experienced many plants making matters worse, causing sickness and even death! Such learned wisdom was prized with the knowledge of the Medicine Man or Wise Woman being passed down to future generations. Each generation would add to that wisdom which forms the basis of our present day knowledge.

Spaces were smudged with burning sage to clear negative energies

Sage Smudging

It’s strange to think that early civilizations would undoubtedly have discovered some strange and interesting effects while burning certain leaves or wood while seated around the communal fire!

Some of these aromas might have produced a pleasant drowsiness while others would have produced strange mind-altering experiences. The magical nature of aromatic plants was celebrated by ancient cultures in which the mystical smoke from burning them was offered up to the gods!  This tradition still plays an important part of ceremonies in many of the world’s religions.

Rene Gattefosse 1881-1950

The real potential of essential oils obtained from plants was first investigated by Rene Gattefosse, a French chemist, in the early 20th Century. Rene-Maurice Gattefosse (1881-1950) was born into one of France’s most important chemical and perfumery families. His father, Louis, founded the Gattefosse Group in Saint-Remy de Provence in the south of France in 1880.

Rene’s keen scientific mind led him to study chemistry, and he excelled in developing perfumes and scents. He became part of a large group of scientists in 1907  investigating and later publishing studies on the properties of plant aromatic substances.

Rene Gatefosse, himself,  was convinced that the oils had antiseptic properties, far more powerful than the antiseptics that were used at that time (the 1920’s). He also knew that they had other important healing abilities. While conducting an experiment in distillation he burned his hand. Needing to cool it down, he put his entire hand into a vat of pure lavender essential oil. The pain was gone almost instantly. Over the next few days his burn healed with no blisters, scars or infections. Lavender oil‘s effectiveness in healing burns was again tested successfully in the second world war on burns patients.

Lavender oil is a healer of mind body and spirit.

Lavender has so many healing properties

Rene had true foresight concerning the importance of his research which set him apart from his fellow chemists.  In 1997, Robert Tisserand (Founder of the Tisserand Aromatic Oil Company) wrote: “Not one of Gatefosse’s predecessors, during the thousand years since the invention of distillation, had seen that the therapeutic application of essential oils constituted a discipline in its own right.”  It was Rene Gattefosse who first used the word ‘Aromatherapy’  to define this discipline.

As we know now , the word Aromatherapy now represents a healing art using essential oils extracted from hundreds of plants. These oils can be used on our skin, or are breathed in when they evaporate into the air from diffusers or oil burners.

Today, qualified aromatherapists study the art and science of using naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants to balance, harmonize and promote the health of body, mind and spirit. 

“Aromatherapy itself is an art and science which seeks to explore the physiological, psychological and spiritual realm of the individual’s response to aromatic extracts, as well as to observe and enhance the individual’s innate healing process. As a holistic practice, Aromatherapy is both a preventative approach as well as an active method to employ during acute and chronic stages of illness or ‘dis’-ease”. (Definition from the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy).

However, aromatherapy is available to everyone. Plant Essential oils are to be found in many chemists and even supermarket and are widely available online.

To read more about Essential Oils CLICK HERE