The History of Aromatherapy

       Aromatherapy may be defined as the therapeutic use of plant-derived aromatic essential oils to promote physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being.  The actual term aromatherapy was first used in 1937 by French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, after suffering a serious burn which spurred his curiosity about the healing powers of essential oils.  The etymology of the word aromatherapy is a combination of two Greek words, aroma and therapeia.  In Greek, aroma means sweet odor or sweet herb, and therapeia means healing or therapy.

       Although the term was not used until 1937, aromatherapy has been around for thousands of years.  The ancient Egyptians cultivated plants for their essential oils and used them for cosmetic, religious, and medicinal purposes.  At approximately the same time, the ancient Indian and Chinese cultures also used herbs and aromatic plants for many different purposes.

       During the rise of the ancient Greek empire, the ancient Greeks obtained much of their knowledge of the medicinal use of plants from the ancient Egyptians.  The famous ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the father of modern medicine (to whom the Hippocratic Oath is traditionally attributed to), was a big believer of the medical benefits of essential oils.  He is quoted as saying, “the key to good health rests on having a daily aromatic bath and scented massage.”

       The ancient Roman empire took the knowledge of the Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, and Greeks and were great believers in the importance of hygiene and essential oils to good health.  Aromatic baths were extremely popular in the ancient Roman empire.

       After the fall of the Roman Empire, came a time-period known as the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages were also the dark ages of aromatherapy.  During this time there was great religious oppression and the incredible holistic teachings of Hippocrates were ignored and all but forgotten.  The widespread popularity of essential oils and aromatics disappeared.

       The re-birth of aromatherapy was during the Renaissance Period.  The famous Swiss physician, Paracelsus (born Theophrastus von Hohenheim), played a huge role in this re-birth.  He is famous for his aggressive rebellion against the extremely conservative medical orthodoxy of his time,  during which he made great strides in treating leprosy with essential oils.  Since this period, aromatherapy continued to increase in popularity.  During World War II, physicians used essential oils to treat many injured soldiers.  The use of essential oils has continued to increase in popularity ever since.

       The PATHOS team would like to thank everyone who read this blog post, including our subscribers.  Stay tuned for our following blog posts: “The Present Use of Aromatherapy” and “The Future of Aromatherapy.”