April 19, 2018

History of Aromatherapie



Ancient Civilizations 
Aromatic Plants and oils have been used for thousands of years, as incense, perfumes and cosmetics and for their medical and culinary applications. Their ritual use constituted an essential part of the tradition in most early cultures, where their religious and therapeutic roles became inevitably intertwined. This type is still in practice today for example in the West, frankincense is used during the Roman Catholic mass and in the East, springs of juniper are burnt in Tibetan temples as form as purification.



India - Vedas 2000 BC 
The list of aromatics originated from India is extensive. The Vedic literature of India dating from around 2000 BC, lists over 700 substances including cardamon, cinnamon, basis, spikenard, ginger, myrrh, coriander and sandalwood. The greatest contribution from India must be sandalwood, whose scent was said to induce calm, sought by all the spiritualities from India. Other well-known essential oils whose origins are from India are jasmine, lotus, vetiver and patchouli. The dried leaves and stems of patchouli were used initially as moth repellent.

China 2000 BC 
The very earliest fossilised resins were found in China and they were found to be charred. Later evidence shows recipes of incense from Chinese religious ceremonies dating to 2000 BC contained cassia, cinnamon, styrax and sandalwood. China’s most important contribution to aromatherapy was the citrus species - almost all of the citrus species are believed to have originated from China. Also camphor tree was a very important part of the Chinese civilization and and was intensively used in perfumery and medicine. The Chinese also have an ancient herbal tradition which accompanies the practice of acupuncture, the earliest records being the Yellow Emperor's Book of Internal Medicine dating from more than 2000 years BC.

Ancient Egypt 2000 BC
 Plant extracts were fundamental to ancient Egyptian culture, being at the heart of their belief in the afterlife and their relationship with their gods. Papyrus manuscripts dating back to the reign of Khufu, around 2800 BC, record the use of many medicinal herbs, while another papyrus written about 2000 BC speaks of ‘fine oils and choice perfumes, and the incense of temples, whereby every god is gladdened’. The Egyptians believed in afterlife and that the journey to reincarnation is accomplished in 3000 years, hence the reason why they took great care in embalming the dead bodies, that way the souls can find their bodies in a tolerable state after the long journey. Aromatic gums and oils such as oakmoss, pine and myrrh were used in the embalming process, the remains of which are still detectable thousands of years later, along with traces of scented unguents and oils such as styrax and frankincense contained in a number of ornate jars and cosmetic pots found the tombs. On opening the tomb of Tutankahmen in 1922, archaeologist were able to see one of the jars contained more than 450g of “resin” absorbed into animal fat. Resins and spices were traded extensively in and out Egypt, many coming for the land of Punt, which is believed to be the region of Somalia, but also from right across the Mediterranean. Ancient Egyptians were masters of the art of oil extraction and preparation and experts in cosmetology and were renowned for their herbal preparations and ointment. As distillation had not yet been discovered the main method of extracting the essential oils was by enfleurage and maceration - this was done by steeping or boiling the resins, flowers and splinters in oil and then they wrung out in cloth until the last drop of fragrance has been retrieved. The most commonly used were moringa, balanos, castor oil, linseed, sesame, safflower, olive and sweet almond oil. The complete icongrapy covering the process of preparation for such as oils, balsams and fermented liqueurs was preserved in stone inscriptions by the people of the Nile valley. Most cosmetic remedies included aromatics substances, such as frankincense, myrrh, lillies, pine, cedar, mint and and other herbs. One such remedy known as “kyphi”(the name means "welcome to the gods"); a mixture of sixteen different ingredients which could be used as an incense, a perfume or taken internally as medicine - it was said to be antiseptic, balsamic, soothing and an antidote to poison which, according to Greek historian Plutarch, could lull one to sleep, ease anxieties and brighten dreams. One of the ingredients in kyphy was calamus, which Tissarand describes as having potent narcotic and sedative properties.

 Greece and Rome 
Natural aromatics and perfume materials constituted one of the earliest trade items of the ancient world, being rare and highly prized. When the Jewish people began their exodus from Egypt to Israel around 1240 BC, they took with them many precious gums and oils together with the knowledge their use. On their journey, according the Book of Exodus, the Lord transmitted to Moses the formula for a special anointing oil, which included myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia and olive oil. This holy oil was used to consecrate Aaron and his sons into priesthood, which continued for generation to generation. Frankincense and myrrh, as treasures from the East, were offered to Jesus at his birth. The Phoenician merchants also exported their scented oils and gums to the Arabian peninsula and gradually throughout the Mediterranean region, particularly Greece and Rome - their brought camphor from China, cinnamon from India, gums from Arabia and rose from Syria.

 The Greeks especially learnt a great deal from the Egyptians; Herodotus and Democrates, who visited Egypt during the fifth century BC ( 500 BC), were later to transmit what they had learnt about perfumery and natural therapeutics. The Greek word arómata, describes incense, perfume, spices and aromatic medicines. One of the most famous Greek aromatic preparations, manufactured by a perfumer named Megallus, was the legendary megaleion, which contained burnt resin, cassia, cinnamon and myrrh. Like the Egyptian ‘’kyphi’, it could be used both as perfume and in the treatment of wounds and inflammation. Hippocrates who was born in Greece about 460 BC, and universally revered as the ‘father of medicine’, also prescribed perfumed fumigations and fementations. He was also able to ascertain disease comes from something which is wrong within the body. A vast number of plants are included in his writings. Greek medicine as developed by Hippocrates was based on the four elements - Air, Earth, Fire and Water and the four humours corresponding to the chief fluids of the body: Choleric ( yellow bile) Sanguine (blood) Phlegmatic (phlegm) Melancholic ( black bile).  The properties of the herbs correspond to one or more of the four elements - Air, Earth, Fire and Water.

 The cornerstone of Greek medicine was the concept of mental, emotional and physical balance and disease was a disturbance of this balance. Hippocratic teachings emphasised that the healthy body was one in which the four ‘humours’ of blood, bile, phlegm and choler were equally balanced.

Four centuries later, Galen (129-200 AD) adapted the Hippocrates thesis of the four humors and built on top of them, which would remain unchallenged for the next 1500 years. Galen believed that it was not the nose which perceived smell, but the brain. Pedanius Dioscorides of Anazarba in Asia Minor (40-90 AD) was an avid collector and student of plants working under Nero. He made a detailed study of the sources and uses of plants and aromatics, employed by the Greeks and Romans which he compiled into five volume Materia Medica, known as the Herbarius, which remained the medical reference work in Western medicine for over 1000 years after his death, and much of our present knowledge of medicinal herbs originates from Dioscorides. Some 300 years after Hippocrates, the Greek physician Asclepiades (124 - 40 BCE) was a great believer in massage and his top three preferred therapeutic modalities were all drugless forms of physiotherapy: hydrotherapy, exercise, and massage - in that order.
Although Asclepiades didn't subscribe to Hippocrates' humoral theories, he had his own corpuscular theory: that Life was due to the constant motion of atoms in the body; that disease and death result when this movement is obstructed or disrupted.

The Romans were even more lavish in their use of perfumes and aromatic oils than the Greeks and they also had an insatiable appetite for incense. They used three kind of perfumes: ‘ladysmata’ - solid ungents ‘stymmata’ - scented oils ‘diapasmata’ - powdered perfumes. They were used to fragrance their hair, their bodies, their clothes and beds - large amounts of scented oil were used for massage after bathing, and of all the aromatic substances, Romans loved rose the most. As the mighty Roman Empire went into decline, many of the Roman physicians fled to Constantinople taking the books of Dioscorides, Hippocrates and Galen with them. This great Graeco-Roman works were translated into Persian, Arabic and other languages. The evidence of progress in medicine, herbal or otherwise, is lost in dark ages to certain extent.

The Middle East - Islamic Golden Age
Between the seventh and thirteenth centuries the Arabs produced many great men of science, among them Ibn-Sina, in the west called Avicenna ( AD 980 - 1037). This highly gifted physician and scholar wrote over hundred books in his lifetime, one of which was devoted entirely to the flower most cherished by Islam, the rose. While it cannot be absolutely if he discovered distillation, his works contain the very first diagrams of the distillation process that we still use today to extract essential oils. He invented the refrigerated coil, a breakthrough in the art of distillation which he used to produce essential oils and aromatic waters. It is thought the very first essential oil was made from rose petals and that it was created by pure luck - rosewater became one of the popular scents.

However, in 1975 during an archaeological expedition led by Dr Paolo Rovesti, a similar perfectly preserved distillation apparatus made of terracotta was found dating back to 3000 BC and is confirmed that it was used for aromatic distillation. This discovery suggest that the Arabs simply revived or improved upon a process that had been known for over 4000 years.

Europe went into frenzy when they discovered the incredible plants, resins, spices and oils Crusaders had brought from the Holy Lands. Suddenly, the trades between the continents escalated on a massive scale. By the thirteenth century the ‘perfumes of Arabia’ were famous thought Europe. 16th Century - The Middle Ages and Alchemy During the middle Ages, personal use of fragrance was considered a frivolous luxury tending toward debauchery by church leaders and many early Christians even ceased washing themselves and were proud to reek of ‘honest’ dirt and sweat. One of the most popular beliefs of the time was that foul odor was considered one of the most common causes of many diseases. Aromatic plants and little herbal bouquets were carried as protection against plague and other infectious diseases and to mask the foul odors.

 Gradually Europeans, lacking gum-yielding trees of Orient, began to experiment with their own herbs such as lavender, sage and rosemary. Alchemy was very popular at this time and distillation of all kind of substances was one of the alchemist favorite pastimes. By the sixteenth century lavender water and essential oils known as ‘chymical oils’ could be bought from apothecary. The period 1470 and 1670 saw the publication of many herbals such as Grete Herball ( the Great Herbal) published in 1526, some of which included illustrations of the retorts and stills used in extraction of volatile oils.

But distillation was still not perfected, in the early 15th century the Libellus de distallatione Philosophia noted that tinctures of herbs in alcohol were impervious to decay and gave the advice that herbs should not be distilled in vessels of lead. In Germany, physician Hieronymus Braunschweig wrote several books on distillation and one of his book Vollkommen Distillierbuch was published in 1597 which references 25 essential oils and was translated in every European language. Conrad Gesner, a Strassburg physician, who published the book the Treasure of Euonymus in 1559 speaks of essential oils have the power to conserve all strengths and prolong life. He was particularly fond of rosemary, and his findings ascribed to the plant would be regarded as valid by aromatherapists today. 17th -19th Century - The Scientific Revolution and the rise of modern Medicine Throughout the Renaissance period, aromatic materials filled the pharmacopoeias ( an official publication containing a list of medicinal drugs with their effects and directions for their use) which for many centuries remained the main protection against epidemics.

 Over the next few centuries the medicinal properties and applications were analyzed and recorded by pharmacists. The list included both well-established aromatics such as cedar, cinnamon, frankincense, juniper, rose, rosemary, lavender and sage, and also essences like artemisia, cajeput, chervil, orange flower, valerian and pine.

But then, plant medicine takes an extraordinary turn in late 18th and 19th centuries because scientists managed to identify that perhaps, it was not the plant per se, that made people better, but rather a single active ingredient that made it so. Here they began to look for ways to copy and synthesize the chemical component to use in conventional drug therapy. Quinine (medication used to treat malaria and babesiosis), digitalis (Digoxin, sold under the brand name Lanoxin among others, is a medication used to treat various heart conditions) and morphine ( pain medication) were all formulated during this period, allowing many millions of people to be healed. With the scientific revolution of the early nineteenth century, chemists were able to identify for the first time the various constituents of the oils, and give them specific names such as geraniol, citronellol and cineol. Herbal medicine and aromatic remedies lost their credibility as methods of treatment and by the middle of the twentieth century, the role of essential oils had been reduced almost entirely to their employment in perfumes, cosmetics and foodstuffs.

Aromatherapy in France René-Maurice Gattefossé 
In 1926, plant therapy or phytotherapy, as it was called by this time, took an extraordinary turn. A scientific paper by French Chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé was published about his findings whilst working in this family’s perfumery business. René-Maurice Gattefossé severely burned his hand during and experiment, and looking for relief from the pain, he plunged his hand into the nearest vat of fluid available to him, the vat contained not water but pure lavender oil. He was shocked to find that the lavender oil reduced the stinging almost instantaneously. He was fascinated how much quicker his skin healed than he had expected and how no scarring was left behind. Gattefossé found out that many of the essential oils were more effective in their totality than their synthetic substitutes or their isolated active ingredients. From this paper a new term was born - namely Aromatherapie - and it continues to be the name we call essential oil medicine today. His passion for researching essential oils led to the publication in 1937 of his ground-breaking book, 'Aromathérapie: Les Huiles essentielles hormones vegetales.

Dr. Jean Valnet 
 French Doctor Jean Valnet came to hear of Gattefossé claims and started to make studies of this own into the plants. During World War 2 whilst working as a surgical assistant he used essential oils of chamomile, clove, lemon and thyme to treat gangrene and battle wounds. His scientific objectivity allowed him to carry out experiments with a very analytical eye. He worked tirelessly throughout the rest of this life studying plants and recording data. Dr. Jean Valnet was first to use essential oils to treat successfully specific medicinal and psychiatric disorders, the results of which were published in 1964 as Aromatherapie. This is the first time we see plant medicine backed up by actual statistical evidence.

Holistic Aromatherapy 
 Madame Marguerite Maury (1895-1968) was an Austrian born biochemist and beautician, who became interested in what was to become aromatherapy, after reading a book written in 1838 by Dr Chabenes called, 'Les Grandes Possibilités par les Matières Odoriferantes'. This was the man who would later become the teacher of Gattefossé. Madame Marguerite Maury who applied his research to her beauty therapy, in which she aimed to revitalise her clients by creating a strictly personal aromatic complex which she adopted to the subjects temperament and particular health problem, which is now standard practice in Aromatherapy. Her influential book, 'Le Capital Jeunesse' was released in France in 1961 but sadly did not initially receive the acclaim that it deserved. In 1964 it was released in Britain under the title of 'The Secret of Life and Youth' and has at last been recognised for the great work that it was. In 1959 Micheline Arcier met Marguerite Maury at a beauty therapy conference, this led Micheline Archer to devote her life to aromatherapy. After studying with Marguerite Maury and Dr Jean Valnet, Micheline developed some of the most effective aromatherapy techniques being used today. Another remarkable student was Shirley Price, who also had her own beauty school and essential oils company which is now sold. Shirley Price is retired now, but still continues to write books on the Aromatherapy subject.

Robert Tisserand 
The work of Valnet and Gattefossé stimulated and influenced Englishman Robert Tisserand, who in 1977 wrote the very first aromatherapy book in English entitled, 'The Art of Aromatherapy'. This book became the inspiration and reference for virtually every future author on the subject for almost two decades. The development of aromatherapy after 1980 was divided into four basic strands: Medicinal aromatherapy popular and esoteric aromatherapy Holistic aromatherapy and The scientific study of fragrance.

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 References: Salvatore Battaglia, The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy Patricia Davis: Aromatherapy, An A-Z Robert Tissarand, The art of Aromatherapy Margharete Maury, Guide to Aromatherapy Jean Valent. The Practice of Aromatherapy

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