History of Essential Oils

Essential Oils have been a part of human culture and living since ancient times. Aromatherapy is as old as the human civilizations dating back to 4000 BCE. The first references of Essential Oils come from Ancient Egypt, India, China and Persia. People throughout time have been experiencing the healing nature of certain plants.

Egyptians used the ‘Infusion method’ where flowers, leaves and roots of various plants were kept in oils for months together to get their extracts. The most famous Egyptian use of aromatic plant extracts is in mummification. In preparing the bodies of the deceased for burial, embalmers used various plants and it’s extracts such as cinnamon, Frankincense and Myrrh,Cedarwood or Juniper essential oil.

The Egyptians described aromatic remedies for mental health issues including mania and depression.

The Rigveda has a mention of over seven hundred herbs having healing properties. These formed an essential component of the ‘Ayurveda’, the Ancient Medicine Text of India.

Frankincense is one of the most important Essential oils. It’s oldest documented use comes from over 3000 years ago on occasions of births, funerals and marriages.

The Greeks and Romans had extensive trade networks of these fragrant plant extracts. The Romans used to import multiple aromatic products from Eastern India and Arabia.

Iba Sina, one of the oldest physicians of Persian empire, had mentioned the use of rose for digestive problems in his works.

In China, references of heating and condensing of roses to get rose oil and rose water have been found from the year 1115 CE. Neroli was another highly valued oil in Chinese literature of the 12th century.

The history of Essential oils is incomplete without the mention of the method of extraction ‘Distillation’. Distillation  technique of extraction is as old as Essential oils. The extraction methods of essential oils have evolved with the society, culture and technology.

The first distillation devices were found in 3500 BCE, Mesopotamia, at a place by the name of Tepe Gawra (modern-day Iraq). The knowledge of distillation spread to Europe during the Middle Ages, and the process of isolation of Essential Oils by distillation was perfected by the 11th century. By 1500 CE, Essential Oils of Cedarwood, Calamus, Costus, Rose, Rosemary, Spikenard, Frankincense, Clary sage, Cinnamon, Benzoin, and Myrrh had been extracted.

About sixty to seventy plant essences were known during the Renaissance and by the middle of 18th century, around hundred Essential Oils were known.

But the information about their chemical nature wasn’t very thorough until Chemistry as a science started expanding in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This further deepened the understanding of their chemical composition along with advancing the techniques to produce purer extracts, hence boosting the Essential Oil industry.

Greater knowledge of their chemical nature and therapeutic application again bringing us closer to the  nature.

Interesting facts

1. In ancient Egypt, specific essential oils were dedicated to each deity and their statues were anointed with it by their followers.

2.Pharaohs also had their own special blends for meditation, love, war, etc.

3.Even in modern history, Essential Oils were used on the battle fields of World War l & II for the healing of wounded soldiers.

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