Many years ago when I first started including essential oils in my daily life, I felt really proud of myself. I started recommending them to my friends, my hair dresser, innocent unsuspecting people standing next to me in the grocery store… anyone who would listen about these magical little oils that had changed my life!
Of course, the Ancient Egyptians had it all figured out about 5,000 years before I did. In between building pyramids and making the earliest advances in writing, the Egyptians found some time to innovate herbal medicine with what they called aromatic oils. Their most famous herbal blend, used as perfume and medicine, included 16 different ingredients! On a daily basis the Egyptians transformed oils and pastes from plants into pills, ointments, and powders. And of course, who can forget about the Egyptian Mummies? Embalmers used Cinnamon, Frankincense, and Myrrh in the mummification process. Aromatic oils became such a holy and worshipped aspect of their culture that at the height of Egypt’s power only priests held the authority to use the oils!
Even without the use of Facebook and Pinterest, word spread throughout the ancient world of the limitless power of these aromatic oils. China, India, Greece, and Rome adapted Egypt’s practices for their own medicinal, cosmetic, and fragrance purposes. In fact, it was the Greek physician Hypocrites- the Father of Medicine- who in 400 B.C.E documented the use of nearly 300 plants like Peppermint and Marjoram.
But without all the gizmos and gadgets that we have today to extract the oil, how did ancient healers do it? Ever the creative problem solvers, early extractors finely grounded the bark of trees and mixed the powder into olive oil, poured and heated the mixture on a cloth, then squeezed the essential oil out of the bark powder and into the olive oil. As centuries passed, innovations like cold pressing and steam distillation were slowly developed.
Europe finally gained knowledge of herbal medicine during the Crusades, when the Knights and their armies passed on information they learned in the Middle East. The Europeans treated aromatic oils with the same reverence that ancient civilisations had, even burning Frankincense and pine to ward off evil spirits during the 14th century’s Bubonic Plague outbreak.
Fast-forward a few hundred years to the 1930’s, when French Chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé thoroughly examined the antiseptic properties of essential oils, leading him to coin the term ‘Aromathérapie’ as we all know today as Aromatherapy. However, as large pharmaceutical companies starting becoming more prominent in developed countries, the once-revered essential oils faded from common knowledge and were used mainly by those practicing aromatherapy and holistic medicine. Until now. Essential oils are regaining their reputation thanks to today’s natural wellness movement. And since we do have the internet to spread the word, everybody can learn to harness the power of essential oils!