This piece of writing brings out the history of Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy history explains how different societies and cultures used essential oils for healing, cleaning and for preservation.
Aromatic plants and oils have been used for literally thousands of years, as incense, in perfumes and cosmetics, religious ceremonies, and of course in medical and culinary applications. Throughout many different cultures the use of plants as natural healing ingredients is recognized in oral and written history. The knowledge of how to use these has not been limited to just one single culture. The Greeks, Romans, and ancient Egyptians all used aromatherapy oils. Imhotep, the Egyptian god of medicine and healing, recommended the use of fragrant oils for bathing, massage, and for embalming their dead nearly 6000 years ago. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used aromatherapy baths and scented massage.
George Ebers, in the 1870's, translated a papyrus document dating back to around 1500 B.C that mentioned over 850 botanical remedies. "kyphi", one of the herbal preparations was a mixture of different ingredients, which could be used as incense, perfume, or medicine. This mixture was an effective antiseptic, balsamic, promoted restful sleep, and was an antidote for a number of different poisons. Many oils still in use today, such as myrrh, cedarwood, frankincense, and styrax benzoin, were used extensively in the embalming process more than 4000 years ago and can still be detected today.
The use of essential oils is recorded in both the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah. Some prevalent practices of that time are illustrated below:
- Sheep's blood and hyssop were placed over the doors of Jewish families to protect them from the plague that took the first-born son.
- According to the Book of Exodus, for anointing Aaron and his sons into the priesthood, Moses used a formula, which included myrrh, cinnamon, cassia and calamus to name a few. This practice continued down the ages and is still used in some areas today.
- Mary was gifted frankincense and myrrh on the birth of Jesus. To note is the fact that while frankincense acts as an excellent tonic for the uterus by relieving uterine hemorrhage and as an excellent rejuvenator, Myrrh aids in the healing of birth wounds to both mother and child. Myrrh was also given to Jesus on the cross at his death.
- The Greeks used the healing nature of plants in every
possible avenue to the extent that Greek soldiers would carry an
ointment made from myrrh into battle, for the treatment of
wounds. The Greeks gained this knowledge through trade and
cultural exchanges from the Egyptians and used his knowledge
using their own native plants.
The Greeks documented this information around 400 B.C. The "Father of Medicine", Hippocrates wrote a treatise of herbal medicine that described the effects of over 300 plants on the human body.
The Roman Empire, one of the greatest ancient civilizations, was highly influenced The Egyptians and the Greeks. Furthering the work done by Hippocrates, a Roman doctor named Discorides in 50 A.D. wrote a huge five-volume book called the "De Materia Medica" also called the "Herbarius" based on detailed studies conducted on the application of various plants. This book contained detailed accounts of the healing properties of many plants and herbs, and their effect on the body.
Galen, a Greek doctor employed by the Romans, treated Roman Gladiators using plants. History has it that not a single gladiator succumbed to battle wounds while under his care. Due to this reputation, he was appointed as personal physician to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Galen wrote various books on the theory of plant medicine and divided plants into various "Galenic" categories. In the process of developing remedies for various ailments, he invented the original cold cream, the archetype for all the ointments in use today.
The use of these creams, healing poultices, and other medicinal remedies spread through new colonies as the Roman Empire expanded. These colonies incorporated this new knowledge with their own use of native plants.
With the eventual fall of the Empire, many physicians fled to Constantinople, taking with them these great books, many of which got translated into Persian, Arabic, and other languages, and finally found their way into the Arab culture.