The practice of using plants and essential oils was practiced in India as far back as 5000 years. Ayurveda or the knowledge of longevity, is the oldest known form of medicine where the principle aspects of such were massage and essential oils.
The Egyptians were the first to perfect the art of aromatherapy. They burned aromatic woods (Cedarwood, Frankincense, Myrrh, Cinnamon) as incense and later perfected their knowledge of the medicinal properties of aromatics, perfumery and ointments.
As far back as approximately 2800 BC in China, one of the earliest known texts was written providing instructions on the use of herbal medicine.
In Babylon (Lebanon), several references dating back to approximately 1800 were found with instructions on use of plants and their oils. Avicenna was the first to perfect the art of distillation by experimenting with roses. It was around this time that perfumers had discovered pure essences, ultimately leading to the inception of perfume markets.
Greeks and Romans received their learnings about plants and essential oils primarily from Egypt where they returned with incenses and spices. Greek soldiers carried myrrh and used this for wound healing during battles. Widely known Hippocrates , the ‘father of medicine’ was once to have said “the way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day”. Greeks contributed largely to aromatherapy by indexing and classifying each plant.
Wealthy Romans were massaged with aromatic oils after bathing and it is said they were very lavish in their use of perfume. Dioscorides, a Roman in 1st Century AD wrote De Materia Medica. In it he listed over 500 plants. His book has been used as a standard medical reference for over 1000 years and much of our present knowledge about medical herbs originated from him.
In Europe, manuscripts contained references to herbal oils, their uses and how to make them emerged between the 14th and 15th centuries. Cedarwood, Rose, Sage, Rosemary, Frankincense, Myrrh and Cinnamon were widely known and used pharmacies by 1600 AD. Perfumeries were built and in production.
By 1900, essential oils were prescribed by physicians and the ‘golden age of herbs’ flourished until the advent of synthetic drugs.