by Pallas Hutchison
Disclaimer: This post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not meant to treat or diagnosis any condition and is not intended as a replacement for diagnosis by a licensed medical professional.
Essential oils are the oldest known form of medicine and cosmetics. The belief that oils have healing properties goes back thousands of years. Chinese manuscripts note the use of essential oils by both priests and alchemists. Egyptian pharaohs were entombed with jars of essential oils as symbols of status and wealth. The Christian bible states that the wise men bore Frankincense and Myrrh, highly prized essential oils, as gifts to the baby Jesus. The Greek form of "Christ" and the Hebrew word for "messiah" literally translate to mean "anointed." The word anoint, from the Latin inunctus, means 'to smear with oil' and is often used in conjunction with spiritual rites to set someone apart as sacred or to evoke an altered state of consciousness. These very different cultures and religions, spread across the globe, all have ancient references to essential oils. (2)
Despite centuries of use, essential oils lost favor in western culture. In the early Middle Ages, all forms of herbal medicine became dangerous to practice, especially for women. The church and university scholars claimed herbal medicine to be witchcraft. Female healers were considered mentally and physically inferior, according to Aristotle's writings, and a commercial threat to the university-trained physicians. Practitioners were tried for witchcraft and heresy. Meanwhile, western medicine continued to develop alternate forms of treatment, replacing essential oils in mainstream use. As pharmaceuticals rose in popularity, essential oils further receded from use until they were mostly forgotten by the mainstream healthcare consumer. (1)
Essential oils were rediscovered in 1910 by a French chemist. Rene Gattefosse burned his hand badly and immediately immersed the burn in a vat of lavender essential oil. He attributed the resultant healing and lack of scarring to the oil, and so began his fascination. Gattefosse studied the effects of essential oils and wrote a book which brought them back to the public's attention in 1937. The term "aromatherapy" came from the English translation of his book. The use of oils for healing purposes has since regained both credibility and popularity. (3)
1. HISTORY of ESSENTIAL OILS by Dennis William Hauck
2. Women Healers and the Medieval church by Jani Farrell Roberts
3. RENE-MAURICE GATTEFOSSE