Brief History of Essential Oils & Recommended Books

Nefertiti offering to Isis

Nefertiti offering to Isis

Aromatherapy and botanical medicine are ancient crafts mastered thousands of years ago when they were considered an integral part to spiritual and emotional well being in addition to any physical healing they provided. I believe we are just beginning to understand the ability of scent and essential oils to help us heal on deeply profound levels of our being. Present day scientific research is helping us to understand the chemical components in essential oils that have an effect on our body but I believe we have a long way to go in regaining the lost art of spiritual healing with these valuable plant companions.

Though the Egyptians are often considered to be the masters of the art of scent and healing, ancient Indian tantric practices involved rituals of anointing the body with oils. The Vedic Scriptures, which were put in writing about 5000 years ago but are considered to be very ancient knowledge, contained aromatic prescriptions. The practice of botanical medicine was considered to be sacred. The practice of Ayurvedic medicine has been brought forward from these ancient times.

The ancient Egyptians first used “perfumery” more than 7000 years ago and perfected the art of aromatherapy by 2,500 BC. For them, the main purpose of the use of essential oils and aromatherapy was spiritual. To “make perfect thy smell” was a method to assist in achieving and reflecting that they had attained total harmony in all their being; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. They were masters of the art. In one system of perfumery, they integrated religion, medicine, chemistry, pharmacology, magic and cosmetics. They believed all were connected.

Much of this skill and wisdom in the use of essential oils was lost when the Greeks invaded Egypt. Many of the secrets were kept by the Egyptian priests and priestesses and were not revealed. The Greeks were more interested in the physical healing qualities of the oils and perhaps their use as aphrodisiacs. The knowledge further deteriorated when the Romans came into power who had even less desire to know the spiritual attributes of the oils and resins.

Aromatherapy may have been used in China before 2000 BC. The ancient Chinese also did not distinguish between the healing of the mind and the body and considered perfumes to be healing. Probably the most well known publication in Chinese medicine is The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine which dealt with the cause and treatment of various illnesses.

We also see a rich history of the use of medicinal oils and aromatics in the ritual annointings and gifts mentioned throughout the Bible. Probably two of the most well known are  of Mary Magdalene washing and annointing the feet of Jesus with spikenard and the three wise men bringing the gifts of frankincense and myrhh, in addition to gold, to the baby Jesus.

Indigenous cultures have also been known to use a wide variety of aromatic treatments such as the use of smudging with sage by some of the Native American tribes. These practices may not be as well documented but are certainly known to have existed and are in practice today as well.

The french chemist, Rene Gattefosse, is largely considered to be the father of modern aromatherapy. In 1920 he discovered the healing power of lavender after burning himself in the lab. He accidently applied lavender oil to the wound and found that it relieved the pain and that the burn healed more quickly. He is credited with first using the term “aromatherapy”.

In the last fifteen – twenty years the use of aromatherapy has expanded exponentially. We are finally on our way to retrieving the tremendous wisdom of this art that was once nearly lost.

Recommended Books:

Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy  by Kurt Schnaubelt, PhD

Aromatherapy Workbook by Marcel Lavabre

Aromatherapy Book: Inhalations and Applications (Jeanne Rose Herbal Library) by Jeanne Rose

375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols  by Jeanne Rose

Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit: Restoring Emotional & Mental Balance with Essential Oils  by Gabriel Mojay

The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy  by Salvatore Battaglia

Encyclopedia of Essential Oils: The Complete Guide to The Use of Aromatic Oils In Aromatherapy, Herbalism, Health and Well Being   by Julia Lawless

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