The history of aromatherapy

The history of aromatherapy dates back many centuries. The term aromatherapy, however only began in the 1920’s. Whilst the Chinese were perhaps the first to discover the medicinal uses of plants it was the ancient Egyptians who were most notably the most sophisticated in their use of essential oils.  Using plant extracts for their perfume, their healing properties and as their embalming agents. Pharoaoh Djoser was renowned in Ancient Egypt for his expansive knowledge of medicine and it is thought that his primary medicines were obtained from aromatic plants. The Egyptians were renowned in their expertise in this field and were able to develop techniques that enabled them to produce aromantic products such as floral waters, cosmetic products and successfully enabled them to use essential oils as a preservative in their embalming process.

Archaeologists have recovered jars containing frankincense from tombs dating as far back as 3000BC. Some of the inscriptions on the tomb walls detail the prescriptions and formula for their embalming techniques which is why we are able to understand their use of essential oils during this period.


Hippocrates was considered the father of medicine during his time and had a holistic approach to illness. A holistic approach treats the person as whole, looking at both mental and social factors rather than just the symptoms of the disease. He dismissed the thought of the ancient Egyptians that illness was caused by supernatural forces. His treatment used different herbs prescribing his patients with aromatic baths, massage and herbal infusions.

Aromatherapy developed as a pleasure pastime thanks to the Romans who used essential oils in baths and massages.

Claudius Galen, a physician during the Roman era was in fact born to Greek parents. He ended up becoming one of the most famous doctors in the Roman empire and became the personal physician to the emperor Marcus Aurelius. His passion in understanding the anatomy of the body was enhanced when his role as doctor led him to treat the wounds of fighting gladiators. His method of treatment being the use of medicinal plants, herbal remedies and ointments.

We then move forward to more modern day times and look at how the term aromatherapy came to being. It was an Austrian biochemist, Marguerite Maury who demonstrated the effect that essential oils could have on a person’s nervous system influencing their wellbeing.  

It was Maury’s work coupled with that of French chemist, Rene Gattafossé that really brought the term aromatherapy into the modern day. Gattafossé was working in the laboratory of his family’s perfumery business when he suffered a bad burn to his hand. Plunging his hand into a vat of lavender essential oil to cool the burn he found that the burn healed quickly without blistering. This became the catalyst into his study of the therapeutic properties of plant oils.

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