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History of Essential Oils

History of Essential Oils

Published by Kalpana Jaggi on Sep 4th 2018

The use of aromatherapy and essential oils has become very popular in recent years. Using essential oils, however, is not some new-age fad. This is a practice that is as old as time and humanity itself.


Documented Use of Essential Oils in Ancient Egypt
Though other cultures used essential oils and plant-based medicines throughout history, the ancient Egyptians were the ones who documented its use. They recorded their favorite remedies and recipes, and some of these are still in use today, not only in Egypt but all over the world. The Egyptians built an entire civilization around aromatic oils, incense, cosmetics, and perfumes. Interestingly, some of this knowledge is available in museums all over the world through ancient documents.

Use of Essential Oils in Greece
Ancient Greeks traded with Egyptians, Romans, Persians, and other people throughout the ancient world. All these different groups influenced one another with regards to different uses for oils, incense, and plants. Many Greek writings refer to their use of essential oils for personal scenting and perfuming, as well as use in worship and medicinal uses.

Though Egypt built an entire culture around using essential oils, it appears they may have received a bulk of their distilled oils from the Greeks. Hippocrates had written several recipes for uses of essential oils. He recognized and wrote about at least 300 different plants and the oils they could produce to use in cooking, worship, medicines and tinctures, and general daily use. The ancient physician Galen also used this same information when practicing medicine and healing the sick.

Use of Essential Oils in Persia (Middle East)
Ancient Persians traded with the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, as well as many people in ancient Asia. It is because of one Persian in particular, Ali-Ibn Sana (980 – 1037 AD) that much of modern essential oil distillery exists. He wrote numerous books on the subject and many of his distillation methods are still in use, simply because they work fast, and work best.

Use of Essential Oils in Medieval Europe
The use of essential oils continued for centuries in Europe. The Europeans took the use of essential oils one step further. They did not stop at using only essential oils, they would often use the entire plant for cooking and healing purposes. Many books were written regarding the use of herbs and essential oils in cooking, healing wounds, and incense for church services. Aromatic plants were hung by doorways and in kitchens for their aroma and also to keep evil spirits away from the family and keep the house in a more harmonious state.

In 1653, Nicolas Culpeper had written several books on the subject of using oils in ointments, tinctures, and for medicinal purposes. It wasn’t until much later, however, that a French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattafosse, used the term “aromatherapy” as a description for what we now consider to be modern aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy even helped the burgeoning perfume industry, in which scented oils and tinctures were used on tanned leather goods, so they would smell better. In the early days of tanneries, many of the substances used had a foul smell. People who could afford to have them scented did so with essential oils mixed with tallow to make their leathers smell better.

This gave way to the perfume industry, in which essential oils and even parts of flowers were used in carrier oils or denatured alcohol to make a scent to be used on the skin.

Essential oils and their many uses have been around since the dawn of time. Today, with more extensive studies and research, we know so much more about the healing powers of essential oils. We’ve also discovered so many more ways to use these oils for various purposes. It’s interesting to note though that this is not a new practice at all. It all started thousands of years ago.

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