Essential oils have been used since at least 3,500 BC and in the last several years have become an important part of a healthy lifestyle.  Over the last several thousand years, man has continued to find uses of essential oils in everyday life.  The following is a brief history of essential oils and aromatherapy:


In the history of mankind it seems that the Egyptians were the first people to extensively make use of aromatherapy and aromatic herbs and included their use in religion, cosmetics as well as medicinal purposes.

Aromatic essence and resins were also extensively used in the embalming process. Although it was thought that most essential oils were produced in Egypt by means of a type of enfleurage extraction method, the Egyptians in fact did have access to distillation methods via the Mesopotamians as distillation pots have been found at Tepe Gawra dating back about 3,500 BC.

China and India

At the same time the Chinese also made use of herbs and aromatic plants and this was also taken up as an integral part of the Indian Ayurvedic medicinal system.

Greece and Ancient Greeks 

The medicinal wisdom of the Egyptians were taken over and absorbed by the ancient Greeks – and the most well-known physician of that time – Hippocrates (c.460 – 377 BC) was also a firm believer of treating the patient holistically and included aromatherapy massage as a treatment.


The Romans again took over the medicinal wisdom of the Greeks and were great believers in hygiene to promote health and also place great stock in aromatherapy and the power of fragrances.

Arabian empire

After the fall of the Roman Empire and the subsequent Dark Ages we saw the emergence of the Arabian empire which was in the position to draw not only from the Greek and Roman teachings, but also those of China and India.

It is the Persian physician Avicenna (980 – 1,037 AD) that is being credited with perfecting the distillation process of essential oils.

The Dark Ages

During this time it was the monks housed in their monasteries which tended after the sick and kept herbal medicinal wisdom alive, yet folk medicine as practiced by illiterate village herbalist normally lead to persecution of such people as witches.

Since the Church saw bathing as sinful, great stock was placed on aromatics to keep stench at bay, and most of the aromatics used also had anti-bacterial and anti-pesticide properties.

During this time, the holistic approach of Hippocrates all but disappeared.

The Renaissance

During this time there was a swing back again to the holistic treatment of illness and the most noteworthy of physicians were Paracelsus (Phillipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim 1493 – 1541).

He once again turned to look at the wisdom of folk medicine and did not discount such knowledge as unimportant – much to the disgust of his contemporaries, yet proved his mettle by having great success in curing leprosy.

Flower Therapy History of essential oils aromatherapy

Dr Edward Bach was a consulting physician and trained as a pathologist and bacteriologist but became disenchanted by orthodox medicine and developed his system of treating disorders – where the disease is not as such looked at, but the personality suffering the problem.

His medicinal wisdom was not so much founded on logic but relied mostly on his intuition – but with astounding good results.

Aromatherapy (Modern)

The term  aromatherapy as we know it today was first coined in 1937 by the French chemist and perfumer Rene Maurice Gattefosse. He was not a believer of the natural health movement but was interested in the properties that essential oils exhibited.

In 1910 he burnt his hand badly in his laboratory and being the first available compound handy, treated his badly burnt hand with pure undiluted  lavender oil, which not only immediately eased the pain, but helped heal the hand without any sign of infection or scar.  Gattefosse also found that minute amounts of essential oils are absorbed by the body and interact with the body chemistry.

During World War II, as a result of Gattefosse’s experiments, Dr. Jean Valet used essential oils to treat injured soldiers with great success.

In the 1950’s Marguerite Maury started diluting essential oils in a  vegetable carrier oil and massaging it onto the skin using a Tibetan technique which is applied along the nerve endings pf the spinal column.  She was also the first person to start the use of “individually prescribed” combinations of essential oils to suit the need of the person being massaged.

Since the late 1970 and early 80’s the use of essential oils and aromatherapy has become a major part of alternative and  holistic health systems, and has a huge following across the world.

Current Uses and Benefits of Essential Oils

We all know about the everyday power of scent: how a particular perfume reminds you of your mother, or when the smell of your favorite restaurant brings you back to your first date there. But did you know that some scents can actually improve your health? Essential oils can also help you relax or sleep, or improve your skin or digestion — their benefits go well beyond a pleasant smell.

Technically, essential oils aren’t oils at all, as they lack fatty acids. Rather, they’re highly concentrated plant components. It can take a huge amount of a plant to get out even a small portion of essential oil — 4,000 pounds of Bulgarian roses are needed to get just one pound of oil, for example. This is why some essential oils are particularly expensive.

There are some general tips for using essential oils that apply regardless of the type. Look for signs of a high-quality therapeutic-grade oil: pure, medicinal, and steam distilled. Never apply most oils directly to your skin, as their high concentration can cause a reaction or irritation. Instead, essential oils should be diluted with water or a carrier oil like jojoba or almond. And with a few exceptions, except essential oil products such as Young Living Vitality products, which have been tested and passed by the FDA, do not directly ingest pure forms of essential  oils. And always talk to your doctor about health concerns, especially if they represent sudden changes in your well-being.