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A Quick Aromatherapy Timeline


In ancient recordings (5,000 B.C.) we can find the first use of plants as aromatherapy in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Babylonia (Pitman, 2004). You could find it used for their magical-religious ceremonies, medicine, and even during cooking and bathing. Egyptian mummification and embalming is one example. But probably the most popular of all are the gifts of the Kings to the infant Jesus Christ which were frankincense, myrrh, and gold (not included as aromatherapy though.) There is a pervading belief that communication to the deities come in the form of air or smoke which is actually one form of using aromatherapy - inhalation through burning.

Around 600 B.C. dawned the age of reason (Pitman, 2004.) It is during this time that the profession of Medicine was started by Hippocrates. There was a gradual mind shift from all sorts of illnesses being punishments from heaven to a more rational source of illness as being created by man and his inharmonious relationship with nature. Five-hundred century B.C. Hippocratic doctors and Galen (200 cent. A.D.) taught “vis medicatrix nature, ‘the healing power of nature’.” Nonetheless, whatever cause of illness the people may think, they would still use plants/nature for healing.

There is a similarity of medical reasoning between ancient Greece, India, and China (Pitman, 2004.) It is the use of the balance of certain elements in a human being. In Greek medicine these are the elements - earth, wind, fire, water, and ether. Ayurvedic medicine in India talks about the balance of vata, pitta, kapha, and prana. Chinese medicine would now have - metal, wood, fire, water, earth, plus the chi or qi (energy.) Ether, prana, and Chi are very similar if you are to think of it. It is like the Spirit or soul element within each person. In all of these ancient medical practices, they use herbal medicine and naturopathy in the form of aromatherapy.

Starting 1500’s up to 1800’s came the scientific revolution. It was during this time that the subject of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, etc. was born. Anything that was outside scientific reasoning was considered “outdated, superstitious, and ridiculous”(Pitman, 2004.) But come late 1900’s the concept of holism came about, and so aromatherapy was revived.

Actually it was Rene Gatefosse who first coined aromatherapie in his 1928 book, containing the annals of his accidental discovery of the healing property of lavender essential oil which he used when he got burned in his laboratory. Two Italians- Giovanni Gatti & Ranto Cayola wrote The Action of Essences on the Nervous System last 1923 which says that scents affect mood and emotions through the respiratory system and then the central nervous system. Scents can be sedative or stimulating according to the two. Based on these studies, aromatherapy can now be considered as part of the body of science.


Pitman, V. (2004). Aromatherapy: A Practical Approach. Great Britain: Scotprint.