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The Egyptians were the first
to recognize the therapeutic
properties of essential oils.


Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils to bring health and clarity to one's mind, body, and spirit.

The key to pure aromatherapy is using pure essential oils. These oils are acquired by extracting them from aromatic plants. Today, synthetic or man-made oils may be appealing, but they have no real therapeutic properties.

The ancient Egyptians were early practitioners of aromatherapy, and used different essential oils for many reasons.

The Pharaohs and priests burned incense in the temples. The wealthy and royalty covered themselves in various oils practically from head to toe. What we might consider mental or emotional problems, the ancient Egyptians considered to be evil spirits. To ward off these evil spirits or bring someone to a deeper plane of meditation, burning incense was necessary.

Many different beautiful blends were also created for perfumes and cosmetics. It is said that Cleopatra used her unique combination of aromas as a love potion to win the heart of Mark Antony. Even in the afterlife, Egyptians embalmed the bodies of their dead with aromatic plants and ointments. Which plants and ointments were used depended on how much wealth the person had while alive. Ironically, the Egyptians learned much of what they knew about cosmetics from what they learned through the embalming process.

Egypt and beyond

The Indians, the Hebrews, the Babylonian Empire ... in fact, most ancient cultures practiced along the same lines as the Egyptians. The Babylonians took it a step further and made it a law that all people be doused with fragrance!

The Greeks not only learned from the Egyptians. They discovered more in the way of medicinal healing. Hippocrates, "the father of medicine," taught people to heal themselves using their diets and plants. Theophrastus, "the father of botany," suggested many of the common 4th century botanicals.

Illustration from De Materia
, the "bible" of
herbal medicine.


The Romans in turn learned from the Greeks. From bathing in bath houses to civic ceremonies, aromatics were found in abundance. In fact, after each Roman conquest, the Romans brought their botanicals with them thereby introducing them to their new lands. When the Roman Empire collapsed in the fifth century most of what was known regarding aromatherapy and the use of botanicals disappeared. The Arabs, however, continued experimenting and exploring the world of perfumes. Avicenna, an Arab physician, was the first to extract essential oils using distillation.

Fast forward to the sixteenth century when the sky-high popularity of aromatics (especially among the French) resulted in everything from public fountains to drinking water being fragranced. However, this did not last past the eighteenth century, when better hygiene and public health policies no longer necessitated the need for one aroma to cover up another!

Eventually, religion turned the focus off of the aromatics. The pagans and witches used oils and botanicals for their spells and cosmetics brought the attention to a woman's outward beauty and away from religious devotion. Some British lawmakers actually tried to pass a law prohibiting women from wearing fragrances in the belief that this "sorcery" often allowed women to disable men's decision making capabilities or to lure them into marriage! The law did not pass.

Aromatherapy in the modern era

Medicinally, essential oils prevailed until the days of modern medicine and antibiotics. Yellow fever was treated with sandalwood and thyme, typhoid fever with cinnamon, and TB with lavender. Around the middle of the 19th century these oils became even more popular used in perfumes and cosmetics.

In 1869, the first synthetic fragrance, coumarin, was created. This man-made fragrance, and the ones that soon followed, were unsuitable for medicinal purposes, however.

In the 1920's lavender was
rediscovered as a cure for
burns, sparking a renewed
interest in aromatherapy.



Essential oils were slowly replaced by synthetic chemicals in most medicines and perfumes because they were cheaper to make. By the twentieth century, the natural beauty of essential oils, not to mention their healing power, were all but forgotten.

In the 1920's, French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse burned his hand severely. Immediately, he plunged it into the nearest liquid to relieve the pain. The liquid was lavender and his hand healed remarkably fast and there was no scarring. This accident ended up being the beginning of a revival. From that point on he spent his life unveiling the therapeutic properties of essential oils, and began calling the healing power of aromatic essential oils "aromatherapy."

People today are taking a much deeper interest in the natural, or holistic, approach to medicine. Staying away from synthetics and trying to find a more pure form of emotional and physical healing has brought aromatherapy to the forefront of many hearts and minds.

Unfortunately, today the future of aromatherapy remains in doubt. Essential oils are rare, and take time to extract, a fact that drives up costs. Today, cheap low-cost synthetic oils dominate the market, leaving consumers generally unaware of natural oil's healing power — something the Egyptians recognized centuries ago.

What started with the ancients and spread throughout so many different cultures over centuries remains the fine art of aromatherapy. Although there are different uses and traditions, the essential oils they use are still the same.

Today, getting back to basics with alternative ways for holistic healing has refueled a growing interest in aromatherapy. Let's not let centuries of knowledge fall by the wayside. Make a choice to heal and change your life. Educate yourself about the wonders of aromatherapy!

also see -> Acupuncture | Vitamins & Minerals

More about aromatherapy around the Web:

Aromatherapy Home Holistic Online
- Its history and modern usage, including information on essential oils as a remedy for diseases, physical ailments and emotional stress, along with a beginner guide with safety tips and hazardous oils to avoid.

A World of Aromatherapy - Your Guide to Essential Oils - Information on essential oils, the properties of each scent and their uses in the bath and massage, with recommended recipes and combinations, related news, online store.

Aromatherapy Guide - Facts, information and history on aromatherapy including homemade recipes and instructions, safety tips, buying guide.


This information is intended as reference and not as medical advice.
All treatment decisions should be made by medical professionals.

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