How Essential Oils Have Been Used Throughout History

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How Essential Oils Have Been Used Throughout History

by Paisley Hansen, Contributing Writer


Essential oils  were once referred to as aromatic oils, and they have been used by cultures around the world for thousands of years. The use of them varied from healing the sick to religious purposes. Some of the earliest evidence of use can be dated as far back as 18,000 B.C.E in the Dordogne region of France. People could find cave paintings to suggest the usage of medicinal plants.

As early as 4500 B.C.E., there is evidence to show that the Egyptians used aromatic oils. This culture became well known for having knowledge of ointments, aromatic oils and cosmetology. One of the most famous herbal preparations of Egypt was known as Kyphi. This herb was a mixture of 16 different ingredients that included medicine, perfume and incense. At the peak of Egyptian power, the priests were the only authority allowed to use the aromatic oils. This is because they were regarded as necessary to be one with the gods.

The Egyptians used specific fragrances for distinct deities. Additionally, they might have their statues anointed with the oils. During the opening of King Tut’s tomb,  more than 350 liters of oils were uncovered in alabaster jars. Despite these oils being essential to Egyptian civilization, they always imported the oils of cypress and cedar.

The first record of aromatic oils being used in China dates back to the reign of Huang Ti between 2697-2596 B.C.E. Huang Ti was the famous Yellow Emperor, and he wrote the famous book called The Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine, which contained uses for several aromatic herbs. Even today, the book is still considered a classic among practitioners of Traditional Chinese medicine.

Incorporating aromatic oils has a 3000-year history in India. Traditional Indian medicine is called Ayur Veda, and aromatic oils were often added to their healing potions. In Vedic literature, you find more than 700 substances listed to include:

  • Ginger
  • Myrrh
  • Sandalwood
  • Cinnamon

When the Bubonic Plague struck, Ayur Veda helped to successfully replace the ineffective antibiotics. Basil is a sacred plant of India and believed to open the heart and mind of the individual. It bestows love and devotion.

The Greeks received their knowledge of these oils from the Egyptians between 400-500 B.C.E. Greek soldiers would often carry the ointment of Myrrh into battle for countering infection. Greek physician Hypocrites, known as the Father of Medicine, helped to document the effects of more than 300 plants. This included thyme, majoram, saffron, cumin and peppermint.

Hypocrites developed much of his knowledge from Ayur Vedic origin due to the Greek soldiers who encountered it on the Indian sub-continent with Alexander the Great. Ayur Veda was in fellowship with their own medicinal practices, which caused a mingling of traditions. Hypocrites once wrote about how a perfumed bath and scented massage every day was the path to superb health. Hypocrites continues to influence medicine to this day. All doctors take the Hippocratic Oath.

Modern History of Aromatic Oils
Aromatic oils began to see use during World War I. It was due to their anti-bacterial and wound-healing properties. Jean Valnet, a French doctor, used these oils to treat the injured in World War II. Jean Lapraz, one of Dr. Valnet’s students, discovered that microbes were unable to survive in the presence of specific aromatic oils.

During the middle of the 1980s, the United States began researching aromatic oils and their uses. Today, the oils are being studied to help fight diseases. One doctor, Dr. Alan Hirsch, has said that there will come a day when aromatic oils will be in the medicine cabinet of every home. Countries such as India and China have an almost unbroken communion with this ancient tradition of aromatic oils. Countries of the West, such as the United States, are only now reclaiming this ancient branch of knowledge.

About Paisley Hansen
Paisley is an accomplished freelance writer from Salt Lake City, Utah. She is an expert in health and fitness. When Paisley isn’t writing she can usually be found reading a good book or hitting the gym.

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