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A brief history of aromatherapy

Letzest blog a brief history of aromatherapy

The use of aromatic plants and herbs goes back to ancient cultures, including the Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

Evidence and recorded history have both shown that the ancient Egyptians used aromatic essential oils in everyday life. They found that essential oils are useful in food preparation, medical practice, beauty treatment and different religious ceremonies, such as mummification, initiation and others. Essential oils were believed to be more valuable than even gold. An Egyptian medical papyrus considered to date back to around 1555 BC contains remedies for all types of illnesses, and the methods of application are similar to the ones used in aromatherapy and herbal medicine today.

The earliest records of the use of essential oils in China have been recorded between 2697-2597 B.C during the reign of the Yellow Emperor. His famous book “Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine” contains uses for several aromatics and is still used as a guide for eastern medicine today.

An ancient system of natural healing, Ayurveda, originated from India during Vedic culture around 3000 years ago, has shown us that aromatic plants and herbs have remarkable properties that can help heal our bodies and minds. The Vedas, India’s most sacred book, mentions over 700 different herbs and aromatics. Aromatic plants and oils were used in every aspect of their lives, including beauty treatments, perfumery, medicinal practices, cleansing and ritual bathing, and religious ceremonies. Ayurveda is one of the few systems of medicine developed in ancient times that is still widely practiced in modern times.

Greeks acquired many healing and relaxation techniques from the Egyptians and made their own discoveries. A famous Greek physician Hypocrites, who lived around 460 BC, studied the beneficial effects of hundreds of scented plants and herbs and described the impact of around 300 plants. He believed that good health can be promoted with aromatic baths and oil massage.

The Romans borrowed their knowledge of the use of aromatic plants and essential oils from the Egyptians and Greeks. They bathed with aromatics several times a day, scented their bodies, clothes and bedding, using generous amount of perfumed oils. In the famous Roman Public Baths, walls were filled with shelves which held rows containing pots and jars filled with fragrant essential oils.

In 1653, an English physician, botanist and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper, published his book “The Complete Herbal”, as a practical health guide. The book contains valuable pharmaceutical and herbal knowledge and describes many different health conditions and their natural remedies.

In the 1920’s, a French chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé, discovered the healing properties of lavender oil by accident when he burned his hand in a laboratory explosion. He continued with his research into essential oils and created the term “aromatherapy” (“aromatherapie”). Gattefosse studied the different properties of the essential oils and their therapeutic benefits.

This is just a very small piece of history. The full history of aromatherapy and essential oils is quite remarkable and fascinating and includes great names of botanists, herbalists, physicians and chemists who have made an invaluable contribution to the development of aromatherapy.


Dawn M Murray. Essential Oils, a Natural Approach to Health and Wellness, 2018.
Jane Buckle. Clinical Aromatherapy. Essential Oils in Practice, 2003.
Valerie Ann Worwood. The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy, 1991.

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