28 Jun A brief history of essential oils, part 3
This is the last of our 3-part series exploring the fascinating presence of essential oils in historical times and around the world. In this post, we will explore the reintroduction of essential oils and how they regained popularity in the mid-19th century largely because of their desirable scents. If you missed my last two posts, you can go catch up here first: Part 1 and Part 2.
With the invention of distillation, the use of aromatic essential oils quickly migrated to Europe, and by the end of the 12th century, the Europeans were distilling their own essential oils and manufacturing their own perfumes.
When the Great Plague became widespread in Europe, fumigations and aromatics were often employed to try and drive sickness away. It was found that those that were in most contact with aromatics, especially the perfumers, were virtually immune to the plague while so many died. Frankincense and Pine oils were among the aromatics used to ward off “evil spirits”.
In the 1500s there was a physician by the name of Hieronymus Brunschwig and he wrote one of the earliest printed books on the art & technique of essential oil distillation and use, Liber de Arte Distillandi).
During the Middle Ages, the use of aromatics was deemed decadent by the Catholic Church and their use for therapy was temporarily reduced. But by the mid-19th century, essential oils regained popularity because of their desirable fragrances. As cosmetic, soap and food industries grew, so did the demand for essential oils to be used to scent and flavor these products. These essential oils weren’t necessarily of a therapeutic grade, but they did bring back the attention to essential oils.
With the help of research of several key individuals, such as René-Maurice Gattefosse (known as the “father of aromatherapy”), Jean Valnet, Daniel Pénoël, Pierre Franchomme, and Robert D Tisserand, essential oils became recognized once again for their therapeutic and medicinal properties and most of the pharmacopoeia of England, Germany and France were referencing and prescribing essential oils for a variety of illnesses to the general public.
French Chemist René-Maurice Gattefossé coined the term “Aromathérapie” while investigating the antiseptic properties of essential oils. Gattefosse’s book “Aromatherapie” was published in 1928 in which he details cases of essential oils and their healing capabilities. The book was influential in medical practices in France.
Gattefossé discovered the incredible healing properties of Lavender accidentally when a small explosion occurred in his laboratory. One of Gattefossé’s hands was badly burned. He quickly immersed it in the nearest tray of liquid. The liquid was essential oil of lavender and to his astonishment Gattefossé observed that his hand healed with no infection or scarring.
Gattefossé and a colleague conducted further research on the healing properties of lavender and introduced it to many of the hospitals in France. During the outbreak of Spanish influenza there were no reported deaths of hospital personnel, which was credited to the use of lavender.
Jean Valnet, a Parisian medical doctor and army surgeon, who was also a colleague of Gattefosse’s, began to use essential oils —with great success—as antiseptics treating war wounds during the IndoChina war from 1948-1959. After the war, he continued using essential oils in his practice, publishing in 1964 the comprehensive text Aromathérapie, earning him global recognition.
Today, in France, Germany and England, it is common for doctors to offer a choice when prescribing remedies for a health condition. Patients can choose either prescription medicines or natural essential oils. Both are distributed through pharmacies across Europe.*
ESSENTIAL OILS TODAY
Today, we have sophisticated methods to extract the oils from plant material namely cold-pressing, soaking botanicals in alcohol and rudimentary steam distillation. Scientists, chemists, physicians and researches and many individuals that are concerned with managing their personal health are just beginning to discover the amazing benefits of pure, therapeutic-grade essential oils.
So there you go folks!
We have historical proof that essential oils can truly benefit us. Essential oils have not only stood the test of time, they have proven their efficacy and effectiveness on every level. Tradition and historical records provide proven insights and understanding of how essential oils were used in the past, and how they can benefit our lives today.
Thank you for joining us as we explored the history of essential oils in the ancient and modern world. Please leave a comment below telling of the most surprising thing you learned!
**Information regarding traditional use of essential oils is for informational purposes only and is not based on modern science. This information should not be construed as expected results from use.