The history of aromatherapy has a rich and storied past. From the Ancient Egyptians to Ayurvedic to modern-day practices, there is much to be learned from the early practitioners of aromatherapy. These early pioneers are important influences on today’s industry.

Ancient Egyptians

Aromatherapy has a long history, and is as old as human civilization itself. Ancient Egyptians and Greeks used aromatic oils in medicine, as well as in cosmetics. They created ointments, salves, and perfumes to heal wounds and to protect the mummy. There are many references in religious texts to essential oils, and they have been used in spiritual ceremonies throughout history. In ancient Egypt, Frankincense was believed to bring protection from evil spirits and to keep the soul of the dead sanctified.

Ancient Egyptians used oils to moisturize the skin and to treat infections. Their pharmacopoeia consisted of a wide variety of herbs and plants for medicinal and cosmetic purposes. Aside from the Egyptians, other cultures such as Persians, Greeks, and Chinese also used aromatic oils for healing and to beautify.

Some of the oldest documented use of aromatherapy dates back to around 5000 BC. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of the use of aromatherapy in various ancient civilizations, including in Mesopotamia, India, China, and North America. However, the use of these oils is not as well documented in ancient Chinese culture.

Although not well documented, the use of essential oils in ancient Chinese medicine is still significant. Huang Ti, a Chinese emperor, wrote the Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine, which contains instructions for several different uses for aromatics. This book has been used by practitioners of eastern medicine for over 2,000 years.

Another ancient civilization that is known to have been involved in the use of aromatherapy is the Hebrews. The Hebrews made preparations for their body every day, which included the use of herbal oils. These ointments were taken into battle for their antimicrobial and wound healing properties. Many of the plants in the Hebrews’ pharmacopoeia are still in use today. One example is the use of myrrh, which was commonly given to the baby Jesus by the wise men.

One of the earliest records of the use of aromatherapy in medicine came from Herodotus, a fifth-century BC traveler. He recorded his observations of odorous materials, such as frankincense, and his methods for distilling turpentine and other aromatics.

Greeks became more familiar with the use of aromatic oils in the fifth century BC. Their theory of medicine was based on the idea that the entire organism was one organism, and that an individual’s health was enhanced by oil massages. Several Greek physicians experimented with the use of essential oils for healing.

Eventually, the use of essential oils evolved into a scientific theory, as well as an empirical system of healing. Hippocrates is regarded as the father of medicine, and his treatments included massage with infusions, baths, and physical therapies.

While ancient Greeks primarily used EOs for cosmetics and for spiritual rituals, the Egyptians were renowned for their medical practices. They used a variety of plant oils in medicine and in cosmetics, and their priests were in charge of making medicinal and perfumed preparations for the pharaohs.

Ayurvedic (or Ayurveda)

Throughout history, essential oils have played a vital role in many cultures. Their therapeutic properties have been discovered through trial and error. Today, they are an important part of alternative health systems. Essential oils are used for a variety of purposes, from warding off infection to treating a number of different disorders.

One of the most prominent physicians of the past, Hippocrates, was responsible for promoting the use of aromatics in medicine. His treatments included massages, baths, and internal use of herbs. He is considered the father of medicine and has been credited with creating a holistic approach to healing. However, his theory of medicine was lost during the Middle Ages.

The Egyptians, Persians, and Romans all used aromatherapy oils for therapeutic and cosmetic purposes. They used essential oils for religious ceremonies, as well. In Ancient Egypt, aromatics were used to anoint the pharaohs. During times of war, the pharaohs were anointed with fragrant oils. These preparations were made in the pharaoh’s temples. Eventually, these preparations became the basis of the industry for aromatherapy.

The ancient Greeks were also very enthusiastic about the use of essential oils. They documented the uses of over one hundred plants. Their medical texts include the Vedas, which explain the medicinal uses of over 700 substances.

During the Neolithic period, 6-9,000 years ago, evidence of the extraction and processing of fatty oils was found. It was thought that this practice may have been a means of keeping stench away. Some historians suggest that the use of aromatics was also a form of worship. Interestingly, in ancient Assyrian culture, women bruised themselves with cedar and frankincense. This tradition was later passed on to succeeding generations as a verbal tradition.

Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional Indian system of medicine, also uses plants to heal the body. It is a complete healing system that emphasizes emotional and physical balance. Many of the plants mentioned in this book are still used by practitioners of eastern medicine today.

Similarly, the Chinese used aromatics in traditional Chinese medicine. A famous book by Huang Ti, called the Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine, is believed to date from around 2500 B.C. Although not as detailed as the Western tradition, the book provides some useful information about the usage of many aromatics.

Another notable physician was Paracelsus. He was renowned for curing leprosy. He was a chemist who worked with essential oils. During his time, he was able to isolate the chemical components of the ancient oils and name their mysterious properties.

By the time of the Renaissance, essential oils were used for their fragrance. Many Renaissance physicians and chemists wrote books on the subject. Medicinal cakes, poultices, and suppositories were also prepared using aromatherapy oils.

The history of aromatherapy stretches far beyond the Ancient World. It has a large following across the world.


Aromatherapy, or more correctly, aromatherapy massage, is an ancient medical practice that uses essential oils extracted from plants to help alleviate pain and stress. While there is no conclusive scientific proof that essential oils are effective, they have been known to work in a number of settings. In fact, many fragrances are now sold as aromatherapy products.

Essential oils are actually very safe to use as long as you follow instructions. However, there are a few cautions to watch out for. It is especially important to avoid taking essential oils by mouth unless you are under the care of a trained professional. Also, the use of essential oils is not recommended for pregnant women or anyone with a history of seizure disorders.

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