Aromatherapy 101 - The History of Oils

Posted by Laura Pop on


  • Crude forms of distillation were used in Persia, Egypt and India thousands of years ago and those societies made use of essential oils for scent, antiseptic, analgesic and anti-bacterial properties. Aromatherapy truly is an ancient art and science.
  • Ancient texts describe to us how essential oils were used to heal the body, alter moods, stir memories, arouse sexual desire and generally improve the quality of life.
  • In Egypt, perfumed oils, barks and resins were used in medicine, embalming, massage, ceremonies and rituals. The most famous Egyptian, Cleopatra was said to have worn jasmine during her trade talks and her hair was said to have smelled of myrrh.
  • Greeks & Romans were known to have used essential oils for cosmetics, medicine, fragrances, worms, lice, birth control, weight loss, bad breath and hangovers. Romans brought Lavender, Rosemary & Thyme into Western Europe with them during their invasion.
  • During the 12th century the knowledge of essential oils spread throughout Europe because of the Crusades. Knights brought back resins, scented oils and herbs as well as information on their uses.
  • In the Middle Ages distillation techniques improved and the use of essential oils became common among apothecaries and they were used in common, home remedies. Avicenna – condenser coil - creator
  • With the Renaissance came herbology and progress in chemistry. Elixirs, balms, scented waters and fragrant oil for medicine and skin care began.
  • In the 18th century, a medical model was created and there was a decline in the use of essential oils. Interest in essential oils revived in the latter half of the 19th century when it was noted that populations living in the flower growing districts of France had a very low incidence of tuberculosis, which was then a common disease. Allopathic medicine.
  • In 1896 chemical science was able to isolate the active therapeutic properties in the essential oils and synthetics began to be made. This didn’t always work. Sometimes created irritants where they didn’t exist because missing chemicals counteracted.
  • In 1928 Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a chemist, coined the term “aromatherapy” in Lyon, France. He was working on isolating the active chemical constituents in lavender, when there was an explosion in his laboratory and his hand caught fire. In a panic, he stuck his hand in the nearest liquid. This turned out to be a batch of lavender essential oil. He was so amazed how quickly his hand healed and the lack of scarring that was left. Realizing that there was a greater benefit in using the whole essential oil rather than trying to isolate the main chemical constituent he then devoted the rest of his life to studying the properties of plant essences and their healing properties.
  • Shortly after, essential oils went into another decline. Modern medicine began introducing synthetic drugs and people began to trust the medical association for all aspects of their health.  Herbs and natural remedies began to be used less and less.  Pharmaceutical companies began introducing more and more drugs and our society began to rely more on treatment rather than prevention.
  • Much knowledge about the curative properties of plants and herbs disappeared during the period from 1930 – 1970 and essential oils were used mainly as flavourings in food and perfumes at this time.
  • The main reason why synthetic drugs were and are being researched and studied over natural remedies is because these drugs can be patented. This meant that the drug manufacturer could profit from their research and own the drug.  With natural remedies, no one could “own” the rights to the remedy and therefore, no drug company wanted to test and do research that everyone would benefit from. They can also be made exactly the same every time.
  • In the 1970s French doctors started taking more interest in essential oils again and a lot of clinical research began. People began to become more interested in preventative medicine and began questioning the medical profession. Patients began looking for medical alternatives and began exploring their health care options. People began to realize that they could impact their health through preventative medicines.
  • Today in Europe there are over 40 schools teaching aromatherapy. In France doctors can go on to specialize in aromatherapy and patients can choose aromatherapy treatment as a therapeutic option. Essential oils in France are also administered internally by doctors. We do not recommend this to our customers.
  • In England, most nurses in hospitals and hospices use aromatherapy to combat odours, bacteria, pain, relieve tension and use it therapeutically in massage.
  • In North America knowledge about the healing properties of essential oils is just beginning. Our medical system has not yet recognized it nor have pharmaceutical companies begun in-depth testing of essential oils.  Things are changing however; societies are demanding more knowledge and participation in their own healing processes.  Major drug companies are beginning to look for alternative to synthetic drugs and are beginning to do more research. The CFA is working on getting recognized.
  • Aromatherapy can be a way of life as well as therapy for different ailments. “It is better to look after one’s health than one’s illness” or, as it was put hundreds of years ago, “The best medicine is to have no need of medicine”. This is what Escents promotes! Essential Oils in your shampoo/conditioner/soap/body wash/skin care/lotion/environment.

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