While they were not called Essential Oils until recent history, man’s knowledge and relationship with the special beneficial qualities of certain plants began centuries ago. References regarding the properties and uses of Essential Oils have been discovered in manuscripts from Egypt, China, India, Rome, Persia and other places in Europe dating as far back as 4500 B.C. Most of these precious substances were rare, and therefore, expensive.
Used for healing, cosmetic and for ceremonial purposes, these Essential Oils were only obtainable by the upper class – those residing in the Royal Courts and Temples. The source of these Essential Oils was often a carefully guarded secret, as was the methods of extraction used to obtain the precious Essential Oils.
With that said, here is how ancient cultures of this world used Essential Oils for different reasons and purposes:
There are many evidences to prove that Egyptians used aromatic Oils in the 4500 B.C. In fact, they were famous for their knowledge of aromatic oils, cosmetology and ointments. The most popular of all the preparations was “Kyphi”, which was a mix of 16 ingredients. Kyphi was used as perfume, incense and medicine. Other than this, they used perfumed oils, balsams, scented barks, spices, aromatic vinegars and resins in everyday life. Pastes and oils from plants were transformed into ointments, medicinal cakes, suppositories, powders and pills. Smoke and ashes from cedar, aniseed, garlic, onion, watermelon and grapes among others were also used.
China has been known to first use Essential Oils between 2697-2597 B.C during the rule of Huang Ti, the famous Yellow Emperor. His famous book “The Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine” has mentioned the use of several Essential Oils. This book is still considered a helpful classic by today’s practitioners of eastern medicine.
Traditional Indian treatment methods like “Ayurveda” feature a 3000-year long history of using Essential Oils in their healing products. Vedic literature lists over 700 substances including cinnamon, ginger root, myrrh and sandalwood as effective for healing. During the epidemics, these Essential Oils were used to prepare the healing blends. Apart from being used for medicinal purposes, these Oils were also considered as holy.
The Romans used to apply perfumed Essential Oils lavishly on their bodies, clothes and beddings. It was also customary for Romans to use Essential Oils in their massage and baths. Roman physicians took with them books written by Galen and Hypocrites as they fled the Kingdom upon the fall of Roman Empire. These books were later translated in Arabic, Persian and other popular languages.
Ali-Ibn, who was also known as Avicenna lived from 970 AD to 1035 A.D. He was an extraordinary child who became a well versed doctor when he was just 12. Ali-Ibn authored several books on the qualities of 800 plants and their effects on body. He was also the first person to discover the method for distilling Essential Oils. Some of his techniques are still used.
During the Crusades, the Knights in combat and the armies they took with them were responsible for passing on the knowledge of Essential Oils that they gained in the Middle East to the Europe. The knights knew how to carry out the process of distillation and carried Essential Oils with them throughout the combat.
Recently, there has been a growing interest in the therapeutic power of Essential Oils in countries like England, France, Switzerland and Germany. With doctors using Essential Oils in many hospitals, aromatherapy is being taught in medical schools. Today, Essential Oils are being studied and enjoyed by people all over the world. They truly are one of the miracles of nature!