Aromatherapy – a brief history

A brief history of Aromatherapy

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

history of aromatherapy 1In its contemporary form, which 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. 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.

Foraging for edible plants

This was a vital job undertaken by women in the times when human survival depended upon their Hunter/Gatherer skills. Our ancestors learn 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. 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.

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.

Discovering Essential Oils

History of aromatherapy 2The 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 and needing to cool it down, so 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.

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.

Aromatherapy TodayHistory of Aromatherpy 3

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 many chemists and even supermarkets.

To read more about Essential Oils CLICK HERE