Essential Oil
Aromatherapy History

Essential oil aromatherapy history dates back to approximately 6,500 years ago.

  • Mankind's First Medicine
For many centuries essential oils and aromatics were used for religious rituals, the treatment of illness and other physical and spiritual needs.

It's possible that the people of ancient times had a greater understanding of essential oils and aromatherapy than we have today.

Records dating back to 4500 B.C. describe using aromatic substances for their chemical properties for religious rituals and medical applications.

Ancient writings tell of scented barks, resins of spices and aromatic vinegars, wines and beers that were used in rituals, temples, astrology, medicine and embalming.

Essential oil aromatherapy history dates back to the Egyptians. They were masters with essentials oils and aromatics, especially in the embalming process.

Historical records describe how one of the founders of "pharaonic" medicine was the architect Imhotep (around 2750 B.C.). Imhotep is often credited for introducing oils, herbs and aromatic plants for medicinal purposes.

Hieroglyphics on the walls of Egyptian temples show the blending of oils and describe hundreds of oil recipes. A sacred room in the Temple of Isis on the island of Philae shows a ritual called "Cleansing the Flesh and Blood of Evil Deities." This emotional clearing required three days of cleansing with essential oils.

Ancient papyrus found in the Temple of Edfu has been translated to show the medicinal formulas and perfume recipes that were used by the alchemist and high priest for rituals.

Egyptians were the first to discover the potential of fragrance. They created many aromatic blends for both personal use and for the ceremonies performed in their temples and pyramids.

Ancient Egyptians collected essential oils and stored them in alabaster jars. They were specially shaped and designed to hold these oils.

King Tut's tomb, when it was opened in 1922, had 350 liters of oil in alabaster vessels. The oils were preserved and in excellent condition.

A medical scroll dating back to 1500 B.C. called the Ebers Papyrus, was discovered in 1817, and was over 870 feet long.

The scroll included over 800 different herbal prescriptions and remedies. Other scrolls that have been discovered have described a high success rate in treating 81 different diseases.

Many of these mixtures contained myrrh and honey. Myrrh is known for its ability to help with infections of the skin and throat and stimulates regeneration of skin tissue. Myrrh was often used for embalming as well, because of its antibacterial effectiveness.

Since essential oils and aromatics were shown to be antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal, they were vastly used by early physicians to treat numerous diseases.

Physicians in ancient Egypt went to the cities of the Nile to learn more about these oils. The school of Cas was founded and attended by Hippocrates (460 to 377 B.C.) whom has been called the "Father of Medicine".

Essential oil aromatherapy history has also been seen with the ancient Romans. They used essential oils and aromatherapy to purify their temples and political buildings. They also used aromatics in their steam baths to ward off disease and invigorate their bodies.


Many different extraction methods were used throughout ancient cultures.

  • Biblical References to Essential Oils
There are over 200 references to aromatics, incense and ointments in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Aromatics, such as frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, cinnamon, cassia, rosemary, hyssop and spikenard, were used for anointing and healing the sick.

In Exodus the Lord gave a recipe to Moses for a holy anointing oil. It contained myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia and olive oil.

Psalms 133:2 speaks of "...the precious ointment upon the head..."

Another scripture that refers to anointing and the overflowing abundance of precious oils is Ecclesiastes 9:8: "Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment."

Numbers records that Moses instructed Aaron to take burning coals and incense to where the plague had begun. The Bible says that Aaron stood between the dead and the living and the plague was stopped.

The incense Aaron used was partially made of cinnamon and it's believed that the antimicrobial, anti-infectious, antiviral and antibacterial nature of the incense played a part in stopping the plague. 14,700 Israelites had died of the plague before Aaron brought the incense.

Essential oil aromatherapy history is in The New Testament. It records that the wise men brought the Christ child frankincense and myrrh. There is another precious aromatic, spikenard, described in the anointing of Jesus:

In Mark 14:3: "And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured on his head."

John 12:3: "Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment."


  • Other Historical References
Essential oil aromatherapy history has been seen throughout the world. Fragrant oils and spices played a large role in everyday life.

One of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display in Israel at the Shrine of the Book Museum contains this phrase: "and he will know his children by their scent."

Napoleon is reported to have liked a cologne water made of neroli and other ingredients so much that he ordered 162 bottles of it.

When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem, one of the things they took back to Europe was solidified essence of roses.

The 12th century mystic & Benedictine nun Hildegard of Bingen used herbs and oils extensively in healing. She founded her own convent and was the author of numerous works. Her book, Physica, has more than 200 chapters on plants and their uses in healing.


  • The Rediscovery of Oils and Aromatherapy
The reintroduction of essential oils into modern medicine first happened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

During World War I, the use of aromatic essences in civilian and military hospitals became popular. This is an important time in essential oil aromatherapy history.

During this time, one physician in France, Dr. Monciere, used essential oils extensively for their antibacterial and wound healing capabilities. He developed several aromatic ointments.

In 1907, a French cosmetic chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, and a group of scientists began studying essential oils. He has been called the 'father of aromatherapy'.

In his 1937 book, Aromatherapy, Dr. Gattefosse told the real story of his now-famous use of lavender on a serious burn. The story has achieved legendary status in essential oil literature. He was already studying oils when this happened and his own words about the accident are very powerful to read.

Dr. Gattefosse was covered in burning substances following a laboratory explosion in July, 1910. He extinguished the flames by rolling on a grassy lawn. He wrote that "both my hands were covered with rapidly developing gas gangrene."

Gas gangrene is from severe burns and leads to a very serious infection.

The Dr. said that, "just one rinse with lavender essence stopped 'the gasification of the tissue.' This treatment was followed by profuse sweating and healing began the next day."

Robert B. Tisserand, editor of The International Journal of Aromatherapy, searched for Dr. Gattefosse's book for 20 years. A copy was located and Tisserand edited the 1995 reprint.

Dr. Gattefosse shared his studies with his colleague and friend, Dr. Jean Valnet, who was practicing in Paris. Exhausting his supply of antibiotics as a physician in China during World War II, Dr. Valnet began using therapeutic grade essential oils on wounded soldiers.

To Dr. Valnet's surprise, the oils had a powerful effect in counteracting infection. He was able to save the lives of many soldiers who might otherwise have died.

Two of Dr. Valnet's students, Dr. Paul Belaiche and Dr. Jean Claude Lapraz expanded his work and clinically investigated the antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial and antiseptic properties in essential oils.

Through the work of these doctors and chemists, the great value and importance of essential oils is again known to the public.

Essential oil aromatherapy history has been vast, spanned the world and existed for over 6,500 years.


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