The history of aromatherapy is a recent narrative but of a long introductory chapter and great foundations. We always knew about these magical little scented drops but for them to became part of medicine, we had to wait for the 19th and the 20th century.
The history of aromatherapy is vaguely presented in the literature and may confuse the average reader. Namely, the description of the history of aromatherapy often mentions the use of herbs with essential oils. There is no doubt that such herbs (thyme, mint, clove, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon…) have been used for thousands of years. However, the fact that powders of these plants and water extracts (teas) are most often used in phytotherapy practice is not mentioned. Furthermore, the use of oleoresins and oleogomoresins (myrrh, frankincense, mastic) also do not strictly belong to the classical definition of aromatherapy, although such herbs have been widely used since the first written traces in Mesopotamia.
One person, with undisguised enthusiasm, tried to convince me that tea tree essential oil was used by Aboriginal people in Australia. It’s not just anonymous laymen who fall into such traps in the history of aromatherapy. Gary Young, the man who created the raindrop technique of massage and essential oil application, says the technique was used by the Lakota Indians. For God’s sake, with great respect for these ancient peoples, neither the Aborigines nor the Indians used essential oils because they did not know how to distill them. Everything else is marketing that uses exoticism as a trump card without foundation.
The very history of distillation is also NOT the history of aromatherapy, because one term is to produce essential oil, and another term is to use it for medicinal purposes. Although ancient Arab authors also talk about the antiseptic properties of essential oils, their use in the history of medicine has probably been relatively modest. Only the twentieth century led to the development of aromatherapy as a medical, not a cosmetic-perfume discipline.
Let’s take a look at brief stories of the history of distillation and aromatherapy.