The history of aromatherapy
The real birth of aromatherapy is to be credited to the chemist Gattefossé in 1928. It was while working on perfumes that Mr R. Gatefossé rediscovered the virtues of essential oils, following an accident.
He reflexively dipped his hand, which had been burnt in an explosion, into the first liquid he could find, and noticed that it healed quickly and without infection. This liquid was none other than lavender essential oil. He coined the term Aromatherapy and studied the properties of these oils in greater depth.
The beginnings of aromatherapy
Known since ancient times, essential oils are used in medicine, perfumery, cosmetics and culinary flavouring. They are part of our daily lives without us even realising it.
The beneficial properties of plant essences have been known for a very long time: Egyptian papyri dating back 2,800 years speak of fine oils and choice perfumes. In temples, incense was burnt to the glory of the gods. 4000 years ago, in Babylon, cypress was burnt to combat epidemics. And the first Chinese dynasties were already learning about the properties of numerous plants. Distillation is thought to have originated in Persia 1000 years before our era. Phytotherapy, the science of using plants in medicine, is common to all civilisations.
From perfume to aromatherapy
The origins of perfumes date back to prehistoric times, when mankind burnt scented wood, a practice still used today by certain peoples.
The use of perfume has been known since ancient times. Traces of this can be found in Egypt, where priestesses burned incense to purify the spirit, and in Mesopotamia, where the ancestor of the still was discovered.
Perfume has always been used to honour the gods or embalm the dead. According to ancient beliefs, it was used as an astral vehicle to reach the land of the gods.
The Romans, famous for their baths, were already using essential oils, both as a perfume and to relieve pain. Emperor Nero and Queen Cleopatra both had a preference for rose essential oil, one to relieve migraines and the other to enhance her charms!
After centuries of use, perfume reached its apogee in the 1600s, when the clergy and the medical profession called for public baths to be closed, leading to a huge increase in the consumption of perfume.
Today, for reasons of profit, very few perfumes contain plant essences - most are entirely synthetic !
From phytotherapy to aromatherapy
Throughout the ages, people have exploited the medicinal virtues of plants and plant extracts (to embalm mummies, disinfect wounds, etc.) and the fragrance and flavour (to scent their baths, perfume their bodies, perfume their wines, etc.).
For centuries, people treated themselves with plants in an empirical way, guided by tradition and custom. Good woman" remedies (woman meaning reputation) prevailed.
Aromatherapy and our century
The development of allopathic (as opposed to homeopathic) medicine has marginalised the use of natural medical techniques. However, these techniques are now attracting renewed interest, particularly in the case of psychosomatic illnesses (pathologies of psychological origin). These are difficult to treat. The result is over-medication, which is both biologically and economically disastrous.
Without wishing to replace allopathic medicine, natural medicines (including aromatherapy) have a considerable advantage here. In addition to the intrinsic therapeutic properties of the products, this natural medicine is also a way of rediscovering a certain well-being and adopting behaviour and consumption patterns conducive to good health. And there's no substitute for prevention.
Research and aromatherapy
For over a century, scientists and doctors worked on the many properties of essential oils, helping to make aromatherapy accepted and part of the French medical tradition.
Thanks to advances in technology, we now know that the properties of essential oils come from the many biochemical components or chemotypes that make them up.
The components of essential oils can be separated into distinct chemical groups, each with its own characteristics : Terpenes, Phenols, Aldehydes, Ketones, Acids, Esters, Lactones.
Thyme, one of the plants with the most numerous properties, is made up of two phenols (thymol and carvacrol), terpenes (terpinene, cymene), alcohols (borneol, linalool, etc.), and so on.
Some plants contain several hundred constituents - coffee has at least 608! But this scientific approach must not obscure the traditional and popular bases of plant-based treatments.
We can't talk about aromatherapy without mentioning Dr Jean Valnet, whose writings, lectures and clinical observations helped to prove that essential oils have their place in our over-medicated society.