Introduction- A Quick History
Like acupuncture, aromatherapy, the use of Essential Oils for healing, has been in use
for more than 6,000 years. Its origins aren't completely documented, but there is
enough evidence to show that aromatic essences have been used for healing over
It's possible it all began in Australia with the aborigines over 40,000 years ago, but they
weren't known for keeping records. Much of their history has been passed along
orally from generation to generation, much like that of the native tribes everywhere,
including the native North American Indians, whose history also is rich with the use of
fragrant oils for religious and therapeutic purposes.
However, the Egyptians, with their use of stone tablets inscribed with stories of their
culture, are generally credited with being the first to establish the use of aromatic or
essential oils. Later, the Greeks learned from the Egyptians, and still later, the Romans
learned from the Greeks. At the same time, fragrant oils and plant essences were being
explored in ancient China. Meanwhile in India, the traditional practice of medicine, known as Ayurveda practiced
for more than 3,000 years, also used essential oils in their therapeutic massage.
By the first century A.D., fragrances were used in religion, health, beauty, “hygiene” and
entertainment. Hygiene in those days consisted of bathing in perfume or slathering
one’s body with fragrant oils. Much later, even Queen Elizabeth I is said to have used
such fragrances in her annual bath
, “whether she needed it or no.”
While it may have been the Egyptians who popularized the uses of fragrances and
essences, other cultures were by then using them also.
Two major changes took place in the late 19th
, the use of fragrances split into two camps: 1. perfumery and cosmetics, and
, essential oils suffered a huge setback in understanding as well as acceptance
and use, because of the discovery of the ability to formulate synthetic copies of almost
any chemical. A copied molecule of a vitamin is not the vitamin. Similarly, a copy of a
plant oil is not the same as that plant’s essence. No longer, then, could perfumes be
used medicinally. Synthetic copies are mere shadows of the original and usually are weaker and
ineffective, or even worse, they can be toxic. Unfortunately, this reputation has flowed
on to the authentic essential oils in the modern medical community and so they are
regarded as ineffective and inferior to accepted medical formulations, or drugs.
Ironically, however, many of today’s drugs were originally derived from plant sources.
It wasn’t until the 20th
century that the use of essential oils began its re-entry into the
world of therapeutics. The term “aromatherapy” was coined by French chemist Rene
Maurice Gattefoss somewhere between the 1920s and ‘30s. His interest is reputed to
have begun when he burned himself in a laboratory explosion at the family perfumery
and he reflexively plunged his arm into a handy vat of lavender oil for relief. Later, he
was so amazed at his painless recovery, with no scarring, that he did further
experiments with the oil.
Currently, aromatherapy is mostly used by massage therapists as well as
alternative health disciplines. Its modern use derives from methods developed in the
1950s by Marguerite (Margaret) Maury, a French biochemist, and an associate,
Micheline Arcier (or Archer) who collaborated with Maury as she established clinics in
Europe for the use of oils as treatment for specific ailments. Much research was done in
Europe before aromatherapy was brought to America.
Aromatherapy was finally introduced in America in the 1980s in California, where it was embraced by health food outlets and alternative health practitioners.
The oils derived from plants and used for therapeutic purposes can have amazing,
as well as devastating effects, though most results occupy a wide spectrum somewhere
between these extremes. There even is a movement to create licensing and standards
for aromatherapy practitioners because a proper education in the use of these oils is
essential to protect users and those who dispense and recommend them.
It’s important to exercise caution and discretion in the use of true aromatic oils and
essences, as they have the potential to cause complications due to their complex
chemical natures and because they are extremely concentrated and volatile. Always
consult with a qualified practitioner and follow accepted safety guidelines. Two well-known essences