History of Essential Oils: Ancient to Modern Times



Essential Oils, originally known as plant extracts are nothing new. They have been used for health, healing, and their antibacterial properties since the beginning of time. The first recorded use of essential oils, modernly known as “aromatherapy” was in Ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians were very fond of oils. They used plants to make their oils, using them extensively in their religion, cosmetics, beauty products, and for medicinal purposes. In fact some of the same distillation processes used in ancient Egypt (to make the essential oils) are still used to this day. 

As time progressed during the ancient era, the knowledge of essential oils spread to major emerging empires in China, India, and Greece. The great Greek physician Hippocrates was well known for treating patients holistically with essential oils (plant extracts), some of his techniques included using the oils in massage therapy. Rome went on to adopt this knowledge from Greece, going even further with essential oils, using them to improve their hygiene & health. This was mainly done by adding the essential oils to bath water, creating an aromatic bath. 

After the fall of Rome during the “Dark Ages” many Europeans used essential oils as perfumes to mask their natural body odors. The religious rulers during these dark ages forbid people from bathing because they believed it to be a sin, thus encouraging the use of essential oils. Fortunately for these people many plants used to make essential oils contained anti-bacterial and anti-septic properties, so they were at least able to experience some form of body cleanliness. 

There was a long period of hundreds of years where essential oil use took a major downturn. It wasn’t until the late 15th century during a resurgence of folk medicine and medicinal knowledge that the oils became popular again. Great physicians during this time period were known to have cured several types of skin conditions using essential oils (plant extracts) even leprosy.
In the early 20th century a French chemist introduced the concept of “aromatherapy” after chemically burning his hand. He treated the burn with pure undiluted lavender oil, and this immediately eased his pain. He also noticed that through the continual use of the lavender oil his burn wound was healing without any infection or scarring. This chemist also found that small amounts of essential oils are absorbed into the body to promote cellular healing. Because of his findings many doctors during WWII used essential oils to successfully treat injured soldiers. 

From the late 80’s to today, there has been a growing interest in natural medicine. Essential oils are now sold in most major grocery stores & essential oils are popularly used in cosmetic products as well. On a scientific level there hasn’t been much research done to support the healing effects of essential oils, but they are still well known, loved, and received by consumers. Before modern medicine there were essential oils. The rise in concern for the environment and the collective health of the planet has kept essential oils growing in popularity especially due to their scents, and all their health and healing benefits. This popularity will continue to grow as people begin and continue the trend of throwing out products with harmful chemicals and replacing them with natural alternatives.