Aromatic oils and plants have been used for thousands of years, as herbal preparations, embalming and preserving the dead, incense, perfume and to help prevent disease. The ancient Egyptian culture clearly documented their use of aromatic medicine in their hieroglyphic records and papyrus manuscripts dating back to the reign of Khufu around 2800 BC. They used aromatics for medicinal and cosmetic purposes and to embalm the dead. Evidence of the use of herbs in the way of aromatic barks, resins, perfumed oils, wines and vinegar's were found dating back to 4500 BC. Egyptian priests were doctors and alchemists and used aromatic substances for healing. Tutankhamen's tomb dated to 1350 BC, and opened in 1922 AD, contained pots which still had traces of frankincense, myrrh and styrax. These oils prevented the bodies from rotting so when the mummies were discovered many years later they were perfectly preserved. They were renowned for herbal preparations and ointments and were experts in cosmetology. Egyptian women wore perfume cones on their heads and as the heat melted the cones, their hair and bodies were scented. Essential oils were extracted by the steeping of plant material in oil, and then squeezing the oil through a linen bag.
The Ancient Greeks travelled to the Nile Valley in Egypt also known as 'The Cradle of Medicine'. They gained much knowledge to help others understand the useful properties of herbs and plants. Hippocrates (born circa 460 BC) the physician known as the 'Father of Medicine' prescribed perfumed fumigations and many remedied preparations as part of his medical treatments. Avicenna an influential Persian ( AD 980-1037) who discovered the art of distillation which he used to produce pure essential oil and aromatic water. He wrote hundreds of books in his lifetime and contributed hugely to medicine.
The Romans conquered many countries and had access to many plants and oils. It became part of their culture to use oils and their essences in their public baths and in massage and also to use aromatic herbs in the home. The Indian and Chinese have a long history of using plants and herbs medicinally. Ayurvedic Indian treatments aimed to heal mind, body and spirit and date back thousands of years ago. Similarly the Chinese uses of herbs are still used today coupled with ancient healing methods like acupuncture and shiatsu. The Yellow Emperor's Book of Internal Medicine dating back to before 2000 BC is one of the earliest records of the use of herbal medicine.
During the Middle Ages these fragrant perfumes became known throughout Europe. Herbal bouquets were carried to ward off disease. Pomanders of Orange and Cloves were used against the Black Death. The 19th and 20th Centuries saw the development of synthetic drugs and chemistry which destroyed the quality and medicinal uses of oils and herbs. It was no longer taken seriously, artificial ingredients in mass produced cheaper remedies were sadly favoured.
In 1937 a French chemist Rene Gattefosse was working in a perfumery lab and badly burnt his hand. He plunged his hand into the closest liquid to him which was a vat of pure lavender oil. His hand healed without scarring very quickly due to the antiseptic qualities of the oil. He began to research the therapeutic healing properties of oil including using oils on soldiers wounds in World War 1. Many other French scientists continued this research, Dr Jean Valnet looked at both the physiological and psychological effects of the oils.
An Austrian biochemist Margeurite Maury brought Aromatherapy to Britain especially whilst using it in massage treatments. Aromatherapy was developed as a clinical therapy by Robert Tisserand.