Since the beginning of recorded history, aromatic plants have been used to scent, beautify, and heal the body. In ancient times, wealthy Egyptians luxuriated in the pleasures of bathing in scented waters, indulging in a delightful fragrant massage, and perfuming their bodies with enchanting oils and ointments. The priests were the first perfumers and healers to dispense aromatics by preparing blends for the kings, queens, and high dignitaries of temples and governments. During religious ceremonies, they used aromatic waters in the anointing rituals, burned incence in an effort to protect against evil spirits, and help the worshippers concentrate on their prayers. When the pharaohs died, their bodies were wrapped with fabric containing cinnamon, myrrh, cedarwood, and other resins and oils. This mummification method was confirmed to have been effective when modern-day archaeologists excavated the mummies and found them to be well preserved in their original burial chambers.
The ancient Romans lavishly perfumed their bodies and scented everything from military flags to the walls of their homes. Eventually Rome became the bathing capital of the world, with one thousand public bath houses located throughout the city for people to bathe, socialize, and afterwards enjoy a pampering massage with scented oils and unguents.
The art of extracting the volatile essences from plants was initiated by the Egyptians, who heated them in clay containers. Two centuries later, Greek alchemists invented the distillation process, which further developed the use of essences for religious and therapeutic purposes. By 1000A.D., the Arabic physician, Avicenna, perfected the extraction method by introducing the cooling system into the distillation process, thereby creating the most potent essences with stronger fragrances.
During the fourteenth century, the Great Plague devastated Europe and Asia, killing millions of people. All aromatic substances available were used for their antiseptic properties to fight off the dreaded disease. Cedar, clove, cypress, pine, sage, rosemary, and thyme were burned in the streets, hospitals, and sickrooms in a desperate attempt to prevent the spread of the epidemic. It was reported that perfumers and those who handles and used aromatics of various kinds were virtually immune to the ravages of the plague and survived.
The study of the therapeutic effectiveness of essential oils was further advanced by Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French cosmetic chemist. In the early 1920s, while working in his laboratory, Gattefosse accidentally burned his hand and immediately immersed it into the nearest cold liquid, which happened to be a container of lavender oil. Surprisingly, the pain lessened and the reaction of redness, inflammation, and blistering was drastically reduced. In addition, the wound healed very quickly and no scar developed. After this incident, Gattefosse decided to dedicate the rest of his life to the study of the remarkable healing properties of the essential oils.