Did you know that essential oils have been used therapeutically and medicinally for thousands of years? Records dating as far back as 4500 BC describe how balsamic substances with aromatic properties were not only used for religious rituals, but also for medicinal applications.
The Egyptian Oil Pioneers
Hieroglyphics on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples even show recipes of how essential oils were composed (or "blended"), suggesting that they were used by alchemists and high priests. When King Tutankhamen's tomb was opened in 1923, the archaeologists found 50 alabaster jars, which were initially created to hold essential oils. Even though tomb robbers had stolen their precious contents long ago, there were enough traces to confirm that the essential oils were still active and fully functioning after all these years.
Another iconic archeological find was the Ebers Papyrus, which was an Egyptian medical papyrus outlining herbal knowledge dating back to 1500 BC. In particular, the 110-page scroll describes the use of myrrh to treat infections of the skin and throat, as well as to regenerate skin tissue.
From West to East
Essential oils weren’t just used by the Egyptians though. Born in 460 BC, Hippocrates, Greece's most famous physician, was a firm believer of holistic treatments and included aroma massages in his regime. This knowledge was later passed on to and developed by the Roman and Arabian empires. Aromatic plants have also been used throughout Chinese history and are an integral part of Ayurveda - the ancient healing practise of India.
Role in Modern Day Health
Although essential oils played a big part in treating humans in the past, the knowledge and therapeutic use were lost with the dawn of modern medicine. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that essential oils started to gain popularity again. In 1910, French chemist Gattefosse badly burned his hand during a laboratory explosion causing gas gangrene, a bacterial infection, to rapidly develop. Fortunately he was able to stop it with just one rinse of true lavender essential oil. After this major discovery, Gattefosse coined the term "aromatherapy" and his practices were replicated in World War One to successfully treat French soldiers.
In Part 2, learn what essential oils are exactly and how to differentiate their qualities.