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Aromatherapy in History

     Aromatherapy and essential oils have been used since antiquity. Aromatherapy is an ancient art of using essential oils that are extracted from aromatic plants for medicinal purposes to enhance the quality of life. It was Hippocrates that stated “the way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day.” Hippocrates is known as the father of medicine and he recognized that burning particular aromatic substances could provide protection against contagious diseases. Many essential oils have antiviral and antibacterial properties.

     Aromatherapy is truly wholistic as it has an effect on the whole person, body, mind, and spirit. It is a complementary modality. Traditionally, knowledge of humans and their links with nature and plants have been handed down through the ages.

     "Our earliest written evidence that perfume was a commodity commonly available to the man or woman in the street comes from an Indian epic of 2000 BC, the Ramayana, which includes an episode in which the hero-prince, Rama of Ayodhya, returns after a period of exile to a triumphant homecoming in this village. Everyone, we are told, pours into the street cheering, including the lamp-makers, jewelers, potters, bath-attendants, wine-sellers, weavers, sword-millers, perfumers, and incense-sellers.” states Valerie Ann Worwood in "The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy."

     The Egyptians recorded their recipes in the Papyrus Ebers of 1500 BC. Also, the Egyptian priests and pharaohs used aromatic substances for their embalming processes, as well as treating many health conditions. The same oils were used in China and India. Historically it is evidenced they were already used thousands of years before the pharaohs.

     During the chemical revolution aromatherapy was all but forgotten. Modern day scientific study of aromatherapy is attributed to a French chemist, René Maurice Gattefosse, in the early 1920’s. As the result of an explosion in his laboratory, he badly burned his arm and quickly thrust it into the nearest vat of cold liquid, which turned out to be lavender essential oil. His arm healed quickly without infection and scarring. From this time on, Gattefosse dedicated his life to researching the healing properties of essential oils.

     Dr. Jean Valnet, MD carried on this work and used the essential oils to treat wounds during the First World War. “Essential oils are especially valuable as antiseptics because their aggression towards microbial germs is matched by their total harmlessness to tissue – one of the chief defects of chemical antiseptics is that they are likely to be as harmful to the cells of the organism as the cause of the disease.” states Dr. Valnet in "The Practice of Aromatherapy."

     Essential oils are extracted from the whole plant or a part of the plant by the art of steam distillation. The properties of the essential oils are dependent upon the climate, the method of cultivation, the weather, the soil conditions, the time of day and the time of year the plant is harvested. Essential oils have a chemical structure of organic substances such as carbon, hydrogen, or oxygen, for example.

     There are hundreds of aromatic plants, however, about one third of the plants that have been used traditionally in herbal medicine are aromatic.

     Essential oils are often adulterated with alcohol, essential oils of a lesser quality or synthetic esters such soap from gelatine or animal fat. Essential oils may also be rectified. It is important to know your supplier and what’s in the bottle! Adulterated and rectified oils will not provide the therapeutic quality desired and, they are toxic to the body.

     In order to preserve these essential oils, they should be kept in amber bottles with a dropper stopper, and with the lid closed. Place them in a cupboard or carrying case away from the heat, light and dampness. There is no need to refrigerate essential oils.

     Aromatherapy can benefit us in many ways. All who have experienced these essential oils can attest to that. Everyone can learn to use essential oils in their homes and for their personal use. It is as much an experience, as a study of the aromatic plants and their essences; and, it is a very enjoyable experience!

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