Essential Oils & Ancient Medicine
As the popularity of essential oils grows nowadays it’s easy to forget that these bottled fragrances were once the closest thing we had to medicine.
Aromatic plants have been the basis for herbal and botanical medicines and remedies for thousands of years. In fact, they’re the root of today’s pharmaceuticals.
The earliest evidence of essential oils usage can be found in the period 3000-2500 B.C in Egypt. But it is believed that essential oil-like extracts were also being used in China and India at around the same time. There are even ayurvedic texts suggesting that they had been used in India much earlier. There are records of Indian doctors administering oils of cinnamon, ginger, myrrh, coriander, spikenard and sandalwood to their patients.
Whichever way we look at essential oils, it is undeniable that their use has been widespread throughout history and across many cultures.
Remember Hippocrates, the Greek physician considered the father of modern medicine? He studied and documented the medicinal influence of over 300 plants, and advised that “The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day.”
A contemporary of Hippocrates, Theophrastus wrote:
“It is to be expected the perfumes should have medicinal properties in view of the virtues of their spices. The effect of plasters and of what some may call poultices prove these virtues, since they disperse tumors and abscesses and produce a distinct effect on the body and its interior parts.”
This sounds a lot like the principle of aromatherapy, doesn’t it? That essential oils applied externally affect the internal organs and tissues of the body.
The Romans were also big fans of essential oils, using them lavishly for baths and massages – sometimes more than once a day.
Even the Bible has dozens of references to aromatic plants and essential oils, specifically oils like cedarwood, frankincense, fir, cinnamon, myrrh, myrtle and spikenard.
In the 20th century, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, severely burned himself in an accidental lab explosion. He extinguished the flames, but as he described it, “both my hands were covered with rapidly developing gas gangrene.” He dunked his hands in a large container of lavender oil. The result? “Just one rinse with lavender essence stopped the gasification of the tissue. This treatment was followed by profuse sweating and healing which began the next day.”
Before this incident, he had no interest in natural healing methods, but his astonishing recovery led him to investigate the medical uses of essential oils by treating soldiers during World War I. He coined the term “aromatherapie” in 1920’s-1930’s – the treatment of disease and injury using aromatic essential oils.
Also, Jean Valnet, a Parisian medical doctor and army surgeon, began to use essential oils —with great success— as antiseptics treating war wounds during the Indochina war.
As you can see, essential oils have been used medicinally for thousands of years. Today, as we turn our attention to alternative and natural healing methods, essential oils are becoming increasingly popular. We know they smell great, but have you also been taking advantage of one of nature’s great healing sources?