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The History of Aromatherapy

Aroma Therapy tools and ingredientsAromatherapy is nothing new, but it can make a substantial new difference for those who want to feel totally rested, relaxed, and rejuvenated-and not just physically-but in mind and spirit as well.
Virtually all ancient cultures recognized the value of botanicals and aromatic plants and practiced primitive forms of aromatherapy. Ancient cultures used  aromas to adorn their babies, to maintain physical health, and for religious purposes. Among the first practitioners of aromatherapy were the Egyptians and fragrance was a dominant aspect, particularly for pharaohs and priests. Often doubling as physicians and “perfumers,” priests were known to guard the secrets of their craft.

Botanical use by wealthy people included the lavishing of cedarwood, coriander, cypress, elemi, frankincense, juniper, myrrh, and rose. And the anointing of each part of their body with a different essence was not unusual.

In the ancient world the first perfumes were incense. The word “perfume” is derived from the Latin per meaning “through,” and fume, meaning “smoke.”
Perfume Poster from 1924Incense was burned day and night in the early Egyptian temples. The Egyptians also used botanical gums, ointments, perfumed powders, scented oils, waters and wines. During elaborate religious rituals, they anointed their bodies with aromatic oils and burned elemi, frankincense, myrrh, and sandalwood incense to glorify their Gods. Incense helped to heighten their spiritual experiences by deepening meditation, inspiring inner transformation, and purifying the spirit. Benzoin, cedarwood, juniper, and thyme were used to freshen the air and expel evil spirits. What the ancient Egyptians considered to be evil spirits, we would most likely equate with psychological or emotional problems today. Thus, our modern day belief: aromatherapy for the mind, body, and spirit.

The modern revival of essential oils began during the 1920s, with the work of Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist and perfumer who coined the term aromatherapy. While experimenting in his laboratory, Gattefosse severely burned his hand. Immediately, he plunged it into a bowl of lavender oil which he knew already had healing powers. He noticed that his hand was healing rapidly, and later on, he noticed the lack of any scarring. After this speedy recovery, Gattefosse dedicated the rest of his life to researching the various therapeutic aspects of essential oils and his studies contributed to the return of an almost forgotten art and science.

During World War 2, the French Army surgeon Jean Valnet made use of Gattefossé’s scientific discoveries. To compensate for the lack of medication, he employed essential oils as antiseptics and for healing wounds. The results were so remarkable that he devoted himself to aromatherapy. In time, Valnet trained numerous physicians in aromatherapy and published the results of his research in various books. He contributed substantially to the spreading of the therapeutical use of essential oils, and his followers Marguerite Maury and Micheline Arcier introduced aromatherapy in England.

During the past two decades, with the emerging trends toward holistic health and natural skin care, there has been another resurgence of interest in aromatherapy. Concern about the environment and the desire to be closer to nature are probably partially responsible for this. In addition, the escalating costs of conventional medicine, concern about the numerous adverse side effects of many modern drugs, and the harsh synthetic chemicals in cosmetics are contributing to aromatherapy’s popularity.

Within our own massage practice, we have noticed an increase in the number of clients who state they enjoy our eastern principals, philosophies, and holistic approaches to benefit their overall wellness. This is good news because it allows us to further educate through hands-on therapies, to include the use of aromas to help meet their needs.

We are grateful to be able to administer therapy to people from all walks of life who are taking an increased responsibility for their own health through therapeutic touch and holistic remedies. Today, aromatherapy is experiencing its greatest popularity in centuries, as people become aware of its potential for enhancing the quality of their lives.

Nancy Shores, MT, LMT, Esthetician

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