The Evolution of Aromatherapy

The Evolution of Aromatherapy

July 05, 2017

Aromatherapy has been used in many different ways for thousands of years. The origins of aromatherapy are primarily tied to religion, as well as medicine and preservation. There is an extensive timeline of information describing the beginnings of the methods, and they begin in Ancient Egypt and China.

Nearly 6 thousand years ago, aromatics were first used by the Egyptians for religious ceremonies like burials as a means of ‘cleansing the spirit’, and to enhance their existing practice of prayer. At that time, the method by which to attain the medicinal properties of certain herbs and spices was through burning them as incense. Their initial belief was that the smoke created when burning those plants would act as a conduit for their prayers to be carried to the heavens, directly to the deities they worshipped. In addition, during healing ceremonies, different combinations of herbs and spices were burned to drive the ‘evil spirits’ from the bodies of the sick. Evidence of these events is depicted in the many discovered ceramic jars and pots, as well as hieroglyphic messages in the tombs of the buried. Both births and burials were accompanied by herbs like Frankincense and Myrrh, which are both referenced in the Bible as well as other historic religious texts for their value and ties to deities.

At around the same time, the Chinese were also practicing medicine using plants, and “Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine” was written to depict their knowledge of plant medicine. This text is believed to be the oldest surviving medical book in the history of China, and contains briefings on over 300 different plants and their medicinal value. Some historians argue that because this text was written to highlight the actual medicinal properties of plants, it is proof that the Chinese recognized aromatics as a form of medicine prior to the Egyptians. Regardless of the timeline, “Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine” is still used by many of the writers and authorities in the realm of Aromatherapy when referencing the medicinal properties of many different plants, thousands of years after it was written!

Long after the origin of aromatics, the Egyptians, through further refined practice, began using plants and herbs in oils for topical use on their skin as perfumes. Often, they were used after bathing to protect their skin and hair from drying out in the sun, but they were also used in festivals and celebrations simply as a fragrance. This evolutionary step for essential oils was incredibly important to their continued use, as perfumes became tremendously popular around the world. So much so, in fact, it’s said that when Julius Caesar returned to Rome from Egypt with Cleopatra, he threw perfume bottles into the crowds of people welcoming him home.

Across the Mediterranean in Greece, a physician by the name of Asclepius made a name for himself through his use of herbs and oils while performing surgeries. It wasn’t until the fall of the Egyptian empire, nearly 900 years later, that Europeans began to gain notoriety for their uses and knowledge of aromatherapy, in part because of the legendary status of the Egyptian methods of aromatics. However, in the absence of the Empire, Greek physicians began developing more widely recognized methodology by which to extract the many medicinal properties of essential oils. Enter Hippocrates, widely regarded as the father of medicine, who founded a line of thinking regarding the use of essential oils and plants that would become the basis by which aromatherapy centralizes its focus: Holistic medicine! Hippocrates argued that the body as a whole should be treated as though it is a single organism, and methods by which to treat any illness should be applied to the body in its entirety. Aromatherapy as a practice has evolved from this thought process, as nearly all methodology in aromatherapy derives from a holistic approach.

Following this period, and into the present era, Ibn Sina was born. He lived between 980-1037 A.D. and is widely regarded as one of, if not the most, influential of all of the great Islamic physicians. He is responsible for writing ‘Al-Qanun fi al-Tibb’ which translates to, ‘The Canon of Medicine’, and is a 14 volume dissertation of all existing medical knowledge. He included the stories and findings of influential physicians before him, as well as his own findings, and became a medical textbook for hundreds of years following its release. Ibn Sina is responsible for discovering over 100 methods of treatment using plants, and many of his methods are still in use today!

Fast forward now to the late 16th century, when physician John Gerard published ‘Herball, or General Historie of Plantes’ which became a reference text and book of learning for apothecaries living in Britain at that time. Such apothecaries had previously been only mixing medicines that were being prescribed by doctors, but now were experimenting with plants and herbs on their own and began treating patients. It was at this time that the Black Death made it’s second appearance in Europe, and it was nearly as deadly as the first time it hit. This time around, however, it was apparent that there were effective medicinal properties in plants, as the only people who were reported to not succumb to the disease were apothecaries and people who were in constant contact with herbs and medicinal plants. Although there is not substantial enough evidence to prove this was the case, it’s an interesting piece of lore regarding aromatherapy and the medicinal value of plants!

Later in the millennium, a French chemist by the name of Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, who studied plants and herbs for their medicinal value for his family’s perfume company, is considered to be the man responsible for coining the term “Aromatherapie”. He’s most known for that reason, but he is also a legend for the book he wrote on aromatherapy titled, “Aromatherapie: Les Huiles essentielles hormones vegetales”.

It was a combination of all of these researchers, and many many others, that built the foundation for the practice of aromatherapy and aromatics that we still take part in today. Now, we enter the Modern Era of aromatherapy, where essential oils are abundant and those who use them for their healing and therapeutic properties have endless resources available. In today’s world, one can customize the methods by which they practice their aromatherapy to fit their needs, and the options are continuing to expand.

There are a vast many diffusers available for purchase, and while they all use essential oils, they do not all function in the same way. For example, pad diffusers rely on evaporation to diffuse the essential oils in the air, while ultrasonic diffusers use water vapor as the conduit for releasing essential oils into the air. This is where the Corked portable essential oil diffuser comes into play. At Corked, we’ve built upon the existing diffusers to bridge the gap between the different technologies available. Of the available vaporizing technologies, the most applicable to today’s world is the portable vaporizing technology. The portable, hand-held vaporizer was invented in the early 21st Century as a means to deliver vaporized plant-matter to the user from a small device. This technology allowed for users to breathe through the device in order to intake the diffused vapor from the plant-matter, and because there is no dilution due to combustion, the effectiveness of the devices made them incredibly popular. We took the technology used in such devices, and fit them into a pen-style diffuser that mimics the function of a traditional vaporizing diffuser; except it fits in the palm of your hand.