"the therapeutic use of essential oils from plants for the improvement of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being"
Essential oils have been used for thousands of years. The most ancient civilizations used these oils. Plants, herbs, flowers, and aromatic woods were burned in temples to purify the atmosphere and were believed to please the Gods.
In Tudor/Elizabethan times, in Queen Elizabeth the First's reign, perfumed gloves were all the fashion. The queen even had her own stillroom for distilling oils for making royal perfumes.
"he burned his arm badly and plunged it into a vat of lavender oil. The result was, to his delight, that his arm healed quickly with no scarring"
In the 1920s, a French chemist called Rene Gattefosse brought the healing benefits of oils to the attention of the orthodox scientific world. Up to that point the benefits of these oils were ignored, and preference was given to the synthesis of more powerful drugs in the lab. Gattefosse had a family perfume business, and it is said that whilst experimenting in his lab he burned his arm badly and plunged it into a vat of lavender oil. The result was, to his delight, that his arm healed quickly with no scarring. This is what inspired Gattefosse to devote much time researching essential oils and their medical application, particularly in relation to their benefit on the skin.
In the late 1930s he producted a book called “Aromatherapy”, the name he used for describing the healing benefits of essential oils still used to this day.
Practice of Aromatherapy
A French army doctor, Jean Valnet read Gattefosse’s research papers and was so interested in the subject that he began his own clinical research.
Valnet used the oils on injured soldiers as antiseptics and wound healers, and was so impressed by their effects that he went on to experiment with treating the emotional or psychological problems of war veterans, whilst recording his findings and writing extensively about aromatherapy.
In 1964, Jean Valnet’s “Practice of Aromatherapy” was published and is now a standard text for all professional aromatherapists.
La capital jeunesse
However, the practice of aromatherapy as it is today, using essential oils with massage for health and well-being was popularised by and Austrian biochemist called Marguerite Maury who was married to a homeopath. She was particularly interested in the healing and rejuvenating properties of essential oils and carried out extensive research programmes on the effectiveness of oils when absorbed through the skin.
Maury also went on to write about essential oils and published “La Capital Jeunesse” in 1961, which has been reprinted and translated into English as “The Secret of Life and Youth”.
Essential oils are derived from plant essences. These essences are produced by highly specialised secretory cells found in various parts of the plant. Essences have extraordinarily complex chemical structures combining chemical elements found in the air, soil, and water such as carbon and oxygen. It is the unique combination of chemicals found in each plant that gives it the characteristic fragrance and therapeutic properties.
The Romans absolutely loved aromatic oils. They loved Rose above all for wine making, perfumes and their all famous baths. They filled swimming baths and fountains with rose water.
The ancient Egyptians used aromatic oils in healing ointments and their mummification process. Perfumes containing these oils were also used as they are today.
Queen Cleopatra was also said to have bathed several times a day with essence of rose and orange blossom.
Throughout history, aromatic herbs have been used to combat disease during epidemics, such as the Plague in the mid-1300s. Herbs such as rosemary, pine and juniper were burned, and pomanders worn to keep contagion away. Essential oils have long been associated with healing. Aromatic baths, massages and inhalation have been used to remedy all kinds of health problems throughout the ages. One remarkably interesting report that was documented during the time of the Plague, was that the only people to survive the disease were the people working in the field of aromatics and perfumery!