History of Essential Oils
Aromatherapy dates back all the way to the amazing and mysterious Kingdom of Sheba, located in what is now known as Ethiopia. Ethiopia is where the most ancient remains of our distant ancestor have been found. Sheba is where the three maji (wise men) came from who greeted the infant baby Jesus presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These were considered the three most precious substances of the time. Sheba controlled the trade of frankincense and myrrh.
The origin of aromatherapy, however, is often attributed to Ancient Egypt and Israel. The Egyptians are considered the inventors of western medicine, pharmacy and cosmetology, more than six thousand years ago. Some of their well refined skin care recipes are still used to this day. Cleopatra is well-known for her use of cosmetics and perfumes to enhance her beauty, aromatics being the main ingredient in her skin care preparations. When she sailed to greet the Roman Emperor Marc Anthony, she soaked her sails in Jasmine, a well-known aphrodisiac. Marc Anthony fell deep in love with her and eventually gave up his kingdom to follow her.
Egyptians used substances from all over the world: Rose from Syria, cedar from Lebanon, spikenard, myrrh, frankincense, cinnamon and labdanum from Babylon, Somalia, Ethiopia, India and Persia. They became famous for their embalming techniques, skin care specialties and even massage. Eventually knowledge of perfumery and cosmetics spread to all the civilized world.
India is probably the only place in the world where the tradition was never lost. They have over ten thousand years of continuous practice.
The fall of the Roman Empire and the advent of Christianity was the beginning of a long period of the absence of culture and a general decline of knowledge.
The Church had strict doctrine forbidding the personal use of aromatics, so this meant that the pious rarely and sometimes never washed. They were proud to reek of ‘honest’ dirt and sweat. After the fall of Rome, European cities became over crowded pits of filth and disease. Outbreaks of the plague brought on the belief that these foul odors were responsible for disease and quickly changed this way of thinking.
Alchemy along with the ancient knowledge of plants and herbs was brought back from Arabia during the crusades, and that’s when aromatherapy found its place in the plague-ridden cities of Europe. Arabia is where the philosopher Avicenna invented the refrigerator coil which was a big break- through in the art of distillation.
It was observed that perfumers appeared to be immune to outbreaks of the plague. Soon Physicians recommended hanging herbs by windows, to use rosewater and vinegar to clean. People used oranges stuck with cloves to freshen their homes. Bonfires with fragrant wood were lit to try to overcome the stench of the city.
Dr. Jerome of Brunswick, Germany was responsible for further developing the art of distillation. His work, Volkmann Distillirbuck (1597), referenced 25 different essential oils.
As knowledge of medicinal plants grew, aromatherapy eventually passed into the hands of men of science. These men were encouraged to carry out experiments with oils & herbs instead of just following the texts from Greece and Rome.
A great deal of what we call “alternative medicine” today was considered “ungodly” and even “witchcraft” at one time.
In the 1600’s a woman could not stand up and claim to help you elevate your mood or cure your sickness through using natural scents and oils from plants without paying for it with her life. In this era, it was believed if you could not pray it away it was not god’s will for you to be better. And if you dared try anything else it was born of the devil; “witchcraft”. During this time, the use of plant material in healing was regulated under a series of acts at the request of the medical community. The medical Act of 1511 gave the Royal College of physicians the power to fine and prosecute unauthorized, untrained practitioners often referred to as ‘quacks’. These so called “quacks were often traditional herbalists who treated the poor. This lead to the “Quacks Charter” allowing untrained physicians to work under the 1511 Act.
The medical community wanted supreme control of this field and soon shifted their gaze to female herbalists and pressed the king to pass penal law against “witches”. If the wise women of the village dared to use the healing practice of herbalism, stepping into the domain of men of science, she would now pay for it with her life. And so, the witch hunts began. Women offering these natural cures would often be tortured and burned alive.
Life expectancy wasn’t what is today so the people living in the dirty dark castles (where bacteria grows rapidly) surrounded by a moat of feces and garbage, whose women were dying during child birth and sometimes shortly couldn’t understand why the Medicine men and women who lived in the woods (who worked with the plants and made natural cures) lived to an old age. So, they deemed it “witchcraft”. This observation was essentially true because “witches” were just Shamans, midwives, healers and herbalists. They were just trying to understand the natural world and how to use it for methods of healing, to promote wellbeing and to care for others. Today it’s considered “alternative medicine”, “Eastern or Chinese Medicine and the word “quack” has made a comeback; anyone who threatens the pharmaceutical industry by using nature as a cure is often referred to as a “quack”.
The arrival of modern medicine in the 19th century marked the decline of all forms of herbal therapy. By the 1920’s Aromatherapy was discovered and studied further by a French chemist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse. It is said that he burned his hand in an explosion while in his laboratory. He saw a vat of lavender nearby and put his whole hand into it. Since his recovery was fast and nearly painless he decided to run further experiments on the healing power of essential oils. During this time, the curative power of essential oils became well-known and many of them belonged to the European pharmacopoeia (and still do); this means they are classified as active medical ingredients.
As Aromatherapy spread through the United Kingdom it was observed that the French can be somewhat reckless using very high doses in their professional skin care lines and when used medicinally, whereas the British tend to be overly cautious using only a few drops per ounce per treatment. I side with the French, I never count how many drops I am adding to a quick blend. Although less is more very often when it comes to essential oils. Take Tee Tree for example, It is more powerful when watered down or added to a hydrosol. Before I owned my company I would pour several drops of Rose Hip oil, frankincense or helichrysum into the palm of my hand and put it all over my face and decollete before I would start my day almost every day. Now I faitfully use my Anti-aging Elixir Line By Rasayana. If I have a wound or dandruff I use my Rasayana Soothe Skin Tea several times a day never worrying about the exact amount, I always make sure I stay hydrated.
Aromatherapy did not exist in the United States in any significant way until the mid-1980’s. By the 1990’s America had two sides to the aromatherapy market: education on the healing powers of pure oils and of course mass marketing. You would see lavender and eucalyptus in almost anything from hair products, baby lotion, bath soap, tissues. But what the public did not understand was that these products had absolutely no medicinal value whatsoever. True Aromatherapy practice is geared towards maintaining health more than curing disease, while aiming to develop practical techniques that integrates preventative health care, skin care, body care and massage. In the 2000’s there have been educated studies to back up the power of Essential oils and their benefits and education is readily available to those who seek it. I was one of the fortunate ones who first heard of Aromatic Oils and their amazing powers when I entered massage school almost 18 years ago and have been studying and using them since. It’s been quite the spectacle watching this industry explode over the years and it has become harder and harder to find trustworthy companies with quality oils. And this is why I am on a continued search for small distilleries and farm world wide that provide quality Authentic unadulterated essential oils and carrier oils. It was an honor to meet my mentor in this business who was one of the pioneers of introducing Aromatherapy to the the English speaking world in the UK over 30 years ago. He was introduced to the wonderful world of oils through Dr. Daniel Pénoël, a medical doctor, and Pierre Franchomme, the original mind behind the therapeutic and energetic uses of essential oils.
Disclaimer: The strategies, suggestions and techniques expressed here are intended to be used for educational purposes only. The Author, Kira Miller, is not rendering medical advice nor is she trying to diagnose, prescribe or treat any disease, condition, illness or injury.
If you are under the care of a physician it is imperative that you consult their advice before beginning any new exercise or nutrition program.
Kira Miller claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss or damage alleged to be caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application or interpretation of the material presented here.
At this time none of the companies mentioned in this book have asked me to promote their products, given me free products or samples, nor do I make any money if you decide to use the same products that I use and suggest to other people.