The term aromatherapy comes from the combination of two words: «aroma», which means smell or fragrance, and «therapy», which means treatment for the body, mind or the social condition of a person, to assist or facilitate the process of healing and change.
The science and art of aromatherapy is based on various treatments that use essential oils effectively and safely. Aromatherapy also plays an important role as one of the main branches of complementary medicine, acting as a bridge between orthodox medicine, homeopathy, osteopathy and counselling.
HISTORY OF AROMATHERAPY
The art of aromatherapy is thousands of years old. The first evidence of its use comes from China where, in 4500 BC, Emperor Kiwant Ti wrote a book on aromatherapy and the healing properties of plants. Between 4,000 and 200 B.C., Egypt gained a reputation for its use of essential oils in medicine, pharmacy, perfumery, and cosmetics, disciplines all entrusted to the protection of the god Horus.
The Egyptians believed in reincarnation and used essential oils such as cedarwood, frankincense, and myrrh to keep the body in good condition for embalming; they also used them in daily life for therapeutic purposes. Egyptian tombs have preserved alabaster vases still filled with aromatic preparations.
In complex bas-reliefs and detailed hieroglyphics that can still be seen today on the walls of many temples, such as those at Edfu on the island of Philae or the temple dedicated to Hathor by Queen Hatshepsut at Dheir el-Bahari, the ancient Egyptians they wrote the formulas and showed scenes in which containers with perfumes and oils were used in ritual dances.
Egyptian priests were also physicians. They knew how to extract aromatic essences from plants and consecrated them to their gods and astrological planets. Myrrh, for example, was consecrated to the Moon; incense, to the Sun, and lavender and marjoram, to Mercury. The Hebrews obtained their knowledge about the uses of aromatic and essential oils in medicine and religious ritual through the Egyptians.
In Greece, the revered physician and surgeon Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) believed that for medicine to be successful it must treat the whole person, not just their disease. It is known that he used saffron, thyme, cumin, mint and marjoram in his work.
Greek soldiers used to carry an ointment made from myrrh into battle to heal their wounds. Later many Greek doctors were employed by the Romans as military surgeons. Galen (130-200 AD), one of the most famous surgeons, treated many gladiators with his essential oils and remedies. He was also the inventor of the original “cold cream.”
Pedanius Dioscorides (AD 40 – c. 90), another great Greek physician who lived during the reign of Nero, collected many medicinal plants and transcribed the results of his work in the memorable De Materia Medica. After the fall of Rome, this work was translated into Arabic, Persian and many other languages.
These texts spread from Constantinople to the famous library of Alexandria and to the Arab world, where aromatic oils and the art of distillation were widely used. One of the most famous medical authorities of the time was the Persian scholar Avicenna (979-1037 AD), whose name was Abu Ali al-Husayn lbn ab Allah lbn Sina (Avicenna), who is credited with the first distillation of essential oils. .
Teophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus (1494-1541), was a German physician and alchemist, a pioneer in the use of chemistry in medicine, who studied the healing components of plants. He was an unconventional doctor who believed that each person had their “inner doctor” and their life force; their contributions to the healing sciences, acclaimed in our century by the psychiatrist and psychologist C. G. Jung (1875-1961), are the basis of an empirical science of mental and physical health that continues today.
The use of essential oils continued to flourish in Europe; in Italy it expanded under the patronage of the Medici family; in England, Elizabeth I used essential oils and in Germany and France, essences such as rosemary, lavender, camphor, mint and sage were often used to fight epidemics.
AROMATHERAPY IN MODERN TIMES
French chemist René Gatteffosé wrote his first thesis on “Aromatherapy” in 1928, which became a cornerstone for the study and practice of the uses of essential oils. Gatteffosé discovered the healing properties of lavender against burns, while treating himself for burns on his hands that he sustained in his own laboratory by immersing his hands in water containing lavender essence.
In Paris, between the 1920s and 1940s, Dr. Jean Valnet conducted innovative studies on aromatherapy and in 1964 published his book The Practice of Aromatherapy. At the same time, the Austrian Marguerite Maury, working with her homeopathic husband, was the first non-physician to study the powerful effect of aromatherapy on health, writing the book Secrets of Life and Youth in 1964.
Modern aromatherapists, such as Micheline Arcier, have continued to develop the art of essential oils.