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An Excerpt from Pure Essentials on the History of Aromatherapy

The Romans developed the Egyptian and Greek techniques for distillation and extraction of aromatic floral waters taking advantage of their knowledge of the natural medicines.  The most well-known physician of that age was the Greek Claudius Galen (circa 150 AD ) who after studying herbal medicine and treating hundreds of wounded gladiators with botanical remedies, he became the personal physician of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The next important step in the history of Aromatherapy was made by the Persian civilization.  Ibn Sina, a great physician of  the age, known in Europe as Avicenna (circa 1000 AC ), invented a pipe which steam distilled the plants and produced true essential oils and not aromatic waters as in the past.

Along with the exploration of the East, merchants brought to Europe new aromatherapy remedies and a rich variety of exotic plants and herbs.  During the Renaissance in Europe, many wealthy people used aromatic handkerchiefs to avoid unpleasant smells and protect themselves from microbes.  Moreover, essential oils were used in fumigation of hospitals. At the same period of the history of Aromatherapy, physicians, pharmacists and chemists used to distillate more plants to create essentials oils and many of them published books about aromatic remedies and the use of aromatherapy essential oils for relaxation and pharmaceutical purposes.

As years went by, “apothecaries” who were herbalists and medical practitioners engaged in the formulation and prescription of pharmaceutical
remedies, started to sell herbals, essential oils and fragrances.  Consequently, many essential oil industries were established throughout Europe, providing oils for the pharmaceutical, flavour and fragrance purposes.

The history of aromatherapy continues during the 20th century, when many aromatherapists contributed their knowledge to aromatherapy and created more natural products and more effective and pleasurable techniques.  As mentioned before, the French chemist René Maurice Gattefossé was the first to introduce the term “aromatherapy” in 1928.

A follower of Gattefossé, a French army doctor called Jean Valnet, started working with essential oils in order to treat wounded soldiers and heal gangrene during the Second World War.  The idea was further developed by an Austrian biochemist named Marguerite Maury that used essential oils as an integral part of healing massage and practiced the use of aromatherapy for cosmetic benefits.  The results and techniques experimented by Valnet, Maury and her co-researcher Micheline Arcier’s are considered as the basis of modern aromatherapy that today is taught all over the world.

The first book in the history of Aromatherapy published in the English language was the “Art of Aromatherapy” written by the English aromatherapist Robert B. Tisserand in 1977.  Another classic book dedicated to medicinal herbs is “Health through God’s Pharmac”.  Its author, the Austrian Herbalist Maria Treben, claimed that “There is a plant for every illness”.

Nowadays, the popularity of essential oils and aromatherapy rises throughout the world. Aromatherapy has become fundamental for alternative and holistic medicine.  Numerous studies and books about Aromatherapy and the healing power of essential oils are published and more natural products are created for therapeutic, cosmetic and aromatic benefits.

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