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The Essential Zone 

Aromatherapy Now, Then and Always

By Maisha Liwaru

The beauty of Aromatherapy is that it is a natural method of healing the mind and the body.  Therapist and laymen, to promote a feeling of well being in the individual, use essential oils derived from plant roots, stems, leaves and flowers.  Although, recently, there has been a push to commercialize it, aromatherapy is an ancient art. It   is not a new innovation. 

The art reaches back to ancient times and civilizations.  Evidence of the use of essences derived from plants is found in ancient writings.  The healing art of Aromatherapy has roots in many nations and cultures.  It is a blessing for mankind that some of the knowledge from the past, on the subject, has survived.

Emperor Chen Nang’s (aka) Huang Ti ancient book, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, is still used. It was written around 2800 BC.  Anise and ginger were among over 100 plants detailed in the book.

Aromatherapy was used in conjunction with massage and acupuncture.   Plants were thought to have souls, which were liberated when there oils were extracted.  The Chinese were aware that perfume oils affect mood.  They divided the oils into six categories: luxurious, tranquil, reclusive, beautiful, noble and refined. These categories were based on the mood change that the oil brought. Throughout the centuries to follow, Aromatherapy continued to develop simultaneously in various cultures and was influenced by those cultures.

Each society had their favorite fragrances, based on native plants, scent, and relevance to their values.  Therefore, knowledge was gained about individual essential oils in different areas of the world and at different times.  The Babylonians prized cedar wood.  The Hebrew Old Testament contains a recipe for anointing which contains myrrh, cinnamon, cassia and calamus.  The sensual uses o myrrh, lily, rose, lavender, calamus, cinnamon and frankincense are described in poetry attributed to Solomon (peace and blessings be upon him). The Greeks used the same medical book for 1,200 years.  It was written by the Greek physician, Pedacius Dioscorides and contained many references to the use of essential oils for healing.  From 4236 BC, aromatic plants were used in Egypt. At first, kept as sacred by the priest and used only by the pharaoh.  Pharaohs were believed to be close to the gods. Immenohthep was the physician to one of the pharaoh and was famous ancient world wide for his medical knowledge.  Most of his practice was based on the use of aromatic plants.   The Egyptians saved recipes on papyrus, which date back to 2800BC.  Recipes for treating ailments and preserving the body include Kyphi, which contained calamus, cassia, cinnamon, citronella, juniper, myrrh and peppermint. When Cleopatra took her historic trip to Rome, her arrival was broadcast by the scent of the sails of her barge. Wealthy Romans made use of aromas in an even more sensual manner.  They used them in baths, for massage and in the hair. In the Middle East, Mecca was the hub of trade. Arabs converged there, before Islam, for an annual religious pilgrimage and of course traded. Among the most popular items of trade were fragrances. When Islam spread outside the Arabian Peninsula, Muslims from all over the Muslim world met in Mecca for Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage).  They brought with them fragrances to trade and information about the uses for luxury and healing. Most Muslim men, to this day, do not feel that they are ready for Friday prayer until they put on oud or musk. It seems to bring a feeling of clarity and purity. Muslims have used fennel flower seed oil aka black seed oil for 1400 years for a multitude of ailments and conditions. Ayurvedic, an Indian medical practice, dates back over 3000 years and includes massage using essential oils as one of its main component.  Ayurvedic avoids mints of any kind, and instead makes use of sandalwood, rose, jasmine and spikenard.  The Incas, Aztecs and Mayans used essential oils from endogenous plants in ceremonies and in daily life. The Aztecs were well advanced in the use of plant remedies. Montezuma’s botanical gardens had an abundance of medicinal plants.  In Europe, garlic, cinnamon and cloves were used during the plaque years in the 14th century, to fight of the disease.  We are all probably well aware of the use of sage smudges and other aromatic plant remedies used by Native Americans.  Aromatherapy reached its golden age in 17th century England, when Latin text on the subject, was translated into English.  Johann Maria Farina formulated Eau de Cologne made from essential citrus oils including bergamot and neroli, as well as lavender and rosemary. While some held on to the marvel of aromatherapy to modern times, after it’s ‘golden age’ the art of Aromatherapy was almost lost in Europe. 

Up to the 19th century, Europeans used fragrances for smell alone.  More became known about synthetics, which do not have the therapeutic properties of essential oils.  Essential oils were only used sparingly in toilet waters.  Practitioners with the artistic ability to use aroma for healing were rare.

It was not until relatively resent times that essential oils were seriously studied again.  The first modern book on aromatherapy was written by the French Chemist, Rene Gattefosse and published in 1928.  Gattefosse coined the term Aromatherapy. He studied the properties of essential oils scientifically. But one of his major discoveries was by accident.  He suffered a burn on his hand and he quickly stuck in a jar of lavender oil. The pain went away rapidly and the burn healed faster that expected.    A French doctor, Dr. Jean Valnet upon finding Gattefosse’ works, gave scientific validity to the use of essential oils by treating burns and wounds of solders during World War II and recording the results. An Austrian, Madam Marguerite Maury, is a renowned and respected researcher in the field of Aromatherapy.  She documented the effectiveness of oils on the nervous system. Her preferred method for introducing the oils into the body was massage.  This seemed revolutionary at the time but the idea was actually taken from Tibetan medicine. Robert Tisserand founded the Aromatherapy Institute in 1987. He also wrote the first general introduction on the subject in 1977.  Now there are several 2 and 4-year schools specializing in Aromatherapy in Europe. Aromatherapy is now recognized as a science.

Science has proven what the ancients already knew.  Scientific studies prove essential oils have power to heal. Oddly, the use of natural ingredients in medicine has declined, as the proof of their effectiveness has increased.

Next time: A general over view of the uses of individual fragrances, as well as recipes for various” situations”.  Later, individual fragrances will be discussed in –dept, one per article. 

Maisha Liwaru is the owner and CEO of  Perfume Oils by Maisha



        Emu's Zine does not diagnose, prescribe or dispense medical advice.  We report and attempt to educate the public about the possible health benefits derived through the use of emu oil based products and consumption of low cholesterol, low fat emu meat.   This site contains personal testimonies and professional observations.   We encourage people to contact their family physicians regarding any health problems they may have for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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