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Uncovering the Ancient Origins and Evolution of Aromatherapy

The history of essential oils span thousands of years, going all the way back to the ancient Egyptians and beyond, confirming just how precious these oils were, and still are. The word and history of "Aromatherapy" came along a lot later, but is still being practiced today, and is becoming ever more popular for many people all over the world.

essential oils styled with a test tube on a marble table

the meaning of Aromatherapy

"The therapeutic use of essential oils from plants for the improvement of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being." - NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information)

Essential oils have been used for thousands of years by many religions, cultures, and civilisations for many different reasons. The most ancient civilisations used these oils, and many believed that burning plants, herbs, flowers, and aromatic woods in temples didn't just purify the atmosphere, but would also please the gods.

ancient Egyptians

Egyptian temple carvings.

The ancient Egyptians were considered to be the pioneers when it came to the use of plant essences. Queen Cleopatra was said to have bathed several times a day with the essence of Rose and Orange Blossom.

The Egyptians used aromatic oils in healing ointments, medicine, incense, massage, perfume, and skincare, but also their processes of mummification. The amazing antiseptic and antibacterial properties of these essences helped to prevent the flesh from rotting. and as seen in the museums of today, it seems they did their job.

The use of perfume was important to the Egyptians and was closely linked to religion. So important, that each Egyptian god was assigned a certain fragrance, which was used to anoint their statues. After this ancient civilisation went into decline, Europe became the new centre for medicine.

ancient romans

Trevi Fountain in Rome

The Romans absolutely loved aromatic oils.

Not only did they use them for their medicinal properties, but they also used them for beauty, hygiene, and massage.

They loved Rose above all for wine-making, perfumes, and their all-famous baths. The Greeks were known to fill swimming baths and fountains with Rosewater for its healing properties.

At the time of Nero (37 - 68AD), a Greek military physician called Pedanius Dioscorides wrote a book called, “De Materia Medica” which is the oldest surviving Greek herbal. This book listed the information on around 500 different plants, how to prepare them, use them, their healing properties, and over 1000 medications. This book became the standard medical text for the western world for at least the next twelve hundred years.

The black death

Throughout history, aromatic herbs have been used to combat disease during epidemics, such as the Plague in the mid-1300s.

"The only people to survive the disease were people working in the field of aromatics and perfumery"

Herbs such as rosemary, pine, and juniper were burned, and pomanders were worn to keep contagion away. Essential oils have long been associated with healing so throughout the ages, aromatic baths, massages, and inhalation have been used to rid all kinds of health problems.

One remarkably interesting report that was documented during the time of The Black Death, was the only people to survive the disease and were thought to be immune to it, were the people working in the field of aromatics and perfumery, and this was probably due to the antiseptic properties in the essences themselves.

An illustration of Queen Elizabeth First

In Elizabethan times, in Queen Elizabeth the First's reign, perfumes were only just becoming popular in Britain. Hygiene in the western world was pretty bad until this time.

The movement of exotic goods and perfumery ingredients began to enter into Europe during the Elizabethan era.

Aromatic waters were all the rage and perfumed gloves were all the fashion. The queen even had her own Stillroom for distilling oils to make royal perfumes.

17th & 18th century

Medicinal herbs were widely used well into the 17th Century, which sadly, gave an opening for swindlers and charlatans to make a quick buck. Unfortunately, this resulted in the medical professionals and physicians of the day losing their respect for herbal medicine.

The decline in herbal medicine quickened during the 18th Century. This was due to Chemistry Sciences advancing at such an alarming rate, and synthetic materials being created in the laboratory replacing herbal medicines. Unfortunately, it was during the Industrial Revolution that saw the end of many historical and ancient ways.

19th Century

During the coming years herbal medicines, natural healing, and essential oils started to make a very slow comeback. But unfortunately, the advances in synthetic medicines, ignorant human nature, and exploration of the inner workings of these natural herbs and essences took us to a point of no return.

Will we ever be able to live in a world without having to use synthetics in medicine?

These oils were picked apart molecule by molecule to extract certain chemical components, studied, mixed, and copied to make more powerful drugs, which are what our modern drugs are based on today.

Unfortunately, all this dabbling with such powerful chemicals and synthetics came side effects that would require treatment in themselves, which would then bring more medical problems and illnesses, and so on, and so on.

France (1920)
a bottle of pure lavender essential oil

A French chemist called Rene-Maurice Gattefosse brought the healing benefits of oils to the attention of the orthodox scientific world when he discovered firsthand what essential oils could do. Up to this point, the benefits of these oils had disappeared into history and were ignored, and preference was given to the synthesis of more powerful drugs in the lab.

"He took off his bandages and coated his skin with lavender oil. The results were astounding. Two days later, his fever eased and his infection disappeared, while his wounds healed relatively quickly without a trace"

Gattefosse had a family perfume business. It is said that whilst experimenting in his lab, he burned himself badly and coated his skin in lavender oil, causing any swelling and inflammation to reduce rapidly.

The result was, to his delight, that his arm healed quickly with no scarring. This was what inspired Gattefosse to devote much time researching essential oils, and their medical application, particularly about their benefit on the skin.

In the late 1930s, he produced a book called "Aromatherapy", the name he used for describing the healing benefits of essential oils, and this book is still used to this day.

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.


Jean Valnet's "Practice of Aromatherapy" was published in 1964, and is now a standard text for all professional aromatherapists.

However, the practice of aromatherapy as it is today, using essential oils with massage for health and well-being, was popularised by an Austrian biochemist, 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".

Three essential oil bottle blends lined up on a marble plate.

Aromatherapy has come a long way since then, and we are learning more and more about essential oils and their benefits all the time. Aromatherapy at home is becoming more and more popular, because of its effects but also because of the all-natural ingredients used.

Thankfully nowadays, more clinical tests are being done on these beautiful little drops of nature and their benefits and effects are being proven through this research in laboratories all over the world, even though the knowledge has been there and readily available for all these years.

Discover our collection of all-natural Aromatherapy Home Fragrances.


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