History of Aromatherapy and Essential Oils

The use of aromatic, or essential, oils from plants in treatments for a wide range of disorders, as well as in beautifying potions, perfumes and religious ceremonies, dates back many centuries. One can find mentions of infused oils and unguents throughout history, including in the Bible, ancient Egypt, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

The current application of aromatherapy came about in the early 20th century when the French chemist and perfumer René-Maurice Gattefossé discovered the healing properties of lavender after burning his hand in a laboratory accident.

According to the legends, Gattefossé was conducting an experiment in the laboratory of a cosmetics firm owned and named after his family when he burned his hand. Looking for relief, he immersed it in the nearest liquid available, which happened to be lavender oil. Subsequently, he noticed that his hand healed much more quickly than he expected, and without infection or scarring. This led him to investigate other possible curative properties of aromatic oils.

In 1937, the book Aromathérapie; les huiles essentielles hormones végétales (translated in English as Aromatherapy) written by Gattefossé was published which described the therapeutic properties of essential oil. Gattefossé is often referred to as the father of aromatherapy.

The study of aromatherapy was picked up by others including Jean Valnet, a French army doctor, after he read Gattefossés book Aromatherapy. Valnet applied his learning and conducted his own research, using essential oils in wound and psychiatric care of World War II soldiers. Valnet authored his own book The Practice of Aromatherapy that was published in the early ‘80s, which brought more attention to aromatherapy.

In the 1950s, Austrian biochemist and cosmetologist Madame Marguerite Maury studied the application of essential oils on the skin and is credited with developing the methods used today of diluting essentials oils and blending them for massage. In 1961, Maury published a book, Le Capital Jeunesse, which was translated to English as The Secret of Life and Youth in 1964. Mme Maury is often referred to as the Mother of modern aromatherapy practice.

Other names mentioned as significant contributors to the field of aromatherapy include Chamberland, Cadéac, Meunier, Martindale, Gatti, Cajola, Paolo Rovesti, Guenther, Gidlemeister, and Hofman.

Aromatherapy and essential oils enjoy ever-increasing attention and interest from those looking for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments.

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