What is Aromatherapy and where does it come from?

Aromatherapy is still very unknown in many countries, although interest in this science, framed within Biological Medicine, is increasing in recent years.

For some years now we have found that the use of essential oils is very consolidated, especially when it comes to using them as active ingredients in many cosmetic products.

What is aromatherapy?

Aromatherapy is a science that is included in natural medicine and is based on the healing properties of the essential oils of medicinal plants.

Essential oils are those that give plants their aromatic qualities and even their taste. They are extracted from flowers, fruits, seeds and bark of some plants by steam distillation.

The chemical structure of essential oils is very complex and each of the essences that exist (more than 400), have different characteristics. For example, lavender essential oil is soothing, while geranium essential oil has a stimulating effect.

Essential oils are widely used for body massages but can also be used by inhalation through a scent diffuser, in the bath, in cold compresses or even orally.

Aromatherapy as part of phytotherapy

Phytotherapy is the therapeutic medicine that uses medicinal plants and herbs for healing purposes, either to prevent, treat, protect or cure diseases and various health disorders.

Phytotherapy is one of the oldest natural therapies that exist, at least 12,000 years old, and also has a wide diversity and richness of home remedies very varied and very useful to treat any ailment or disease.

Traditional Chinese medicine or Ayurveda have developed a phytotherapy that has been used for more than 4000 years.

Aromatherapy, understood as healing with essential oils was used in a very rudimentary way by the main cultures of the world as an extension of phytotherapy, until the twentieth century when it had a renaissance.

History of aromatherapy

The history of aromatherapy goes back to the Neanderthal man. In Iraq, in 1975, a 60,000-year-old skeleton was found, next to which were found concentrated deposits of pollen in yarrow, gray grass and hyacinth bunches. Archaeologists believe that this man was a shaman or religious leader, and do not hesitate to claim that he was also an authentic botanist.

In other excavations throughout the Americas, medicinal herb seeds and grinding stones dating back to 3,000 B.C. have also been found.

There are also records of ancient scribes referring to the use of essential oils long before the birth of Christ. Even the manual of medicine written by the Chinese emperor Kiwang-Ti in 2000 BC describes the medicinal properties of opium, rhubarb and pomegranate.

The Egyptians also left evidence of their use of aromatic plants for medicinal purposes in their hieroglyphics. They even used specific essential oils to embalm and cover the skin of the deceased for their antibacterial properties, to avoid the decomposition of the corpse.

Even in the tomb of King Tut were found some vases from 1350 BC full of perfumes, which still retained their aroma.

Although the Egyptians were the first to begin the art of extracting essential oils by heating the plants in clay containers, it was the Greek alchemists who really invented distillation and the Greek doctors who developed Aromatherapy.

Dioscorides, Greek physician, summarized in his writings the human knowledge about the therapeutic qualities of medicinal plants and their use. Galen, a famous Greek physician, was one of the first aromatherapists in the world. His manual on the use of medicinal plants became the Medical Bible of the western world for 15 centuries.

Another Greek physician, Theophrasto was recognized as the first true aromatherapist. In his writing “Relating to Smells” he analyzed the different effects of different aromas on thought, feeling and health.

The Romans took advantage of the knowledge of the Greeks to become the greatest defenders of Aromatherapy. In fact, the famous Roman spas were perfumed and bathers could be spread and massaged with oil.

Finally it was the Arabs who perfected the art of distillation and who created the most powerful of essences: incense and myrrh, among others. Arab trade routes made essential oils a key ingredient for international trade. Balsam from Egypt, saffron and sandalwood from India, camphor from China and amizcle were imported from Tibet via the Himalayas.

Europeans also took advantage of all this knowledge. In fact, during the Black Death resinous incense of pine, cypress and cedar was burned on the streets, in hospitals and in sick people’s rooms. It seems that the people who prepared these incenses remained immune to the infection that annihilated a high percentage of the population.