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 Aromatherapy, a brief history and introduction....

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PostSubject: Aromatherapy, a brief history and introduction....   Sun 10 Jun 2007 - 14:09

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Aromatherapy has a fascinating history. Its earliest recorded use is in China as long ago as 4000 B.C. The techniques of pressing, steeping, boiling and drying were used to obtain aromatic essences and oils from flowers, leaves, woods, gums and resins. The Chinese were probably among the first people to use plant oils for medicinal purposes.

The Egyptians, Persians and Babylonians were known to have a passion for beautiful perfumes and made scented waters from a distillation of rose petals and orange blossoms. They used lavish amounts of perfumed oils and lotions in baths and cosmetics as an aid to personal grooming. The Egyptian pharaohs were ritually embalmed with specific ingredients believed to delay decomposition, while the living made use of similar medicinal substances for their own healing purposes. It was the Persian philosopher and physician, Avicenna, who was among the first to refine the distillation process whereby much purer essential oils were produced.





Due to the increasing demand for these precious ingredients, trade routes were established with the Greeks and Romans who had extensive contacts, offering an expanded range of ingredients from all over the known world. It was the Romans, in turn, who brough the idea to Britain.

There are records of the use of plant oils in Europe from the 13th century but it was not until the 17th century that their uses were codified by Nicholas Culpeper. He was to write the first herbal/medicinal handbook describing remedies derived from hundreds of plants. His research revealed just how essential oils work: by penetrating the skin via the extra-celular liquids to reach the circulatory and lymphatic systems they are, in turn, carried to the inner organs. This basic process varies enormously in each individual, sometimes taking as little as half an hour and in others up to 12 hours to complete the process. Skin penetration takes only a few minutes.

The advent of chemical substitutes in the 19th century almost destroyed the demand for natural oils although they did not have the same medicinal properties or efficacy. True essential oils contain a complex mixture of alcohols, esters, hydrocarbons, aldehydes, ketones, phenols, terpene alcohol and acids. Although most of the elements are known today, chemists are still unable to reconstitute an essential oil with total accuracy.

It was a French chemist, Rene Gattefosse, who pioneered the use of plant oils in modern medicine after healing his own burns with lavender oil. he went on to successfully treat many severe cases of burns in the First World War and developed the wide range of healing oils with which we are familiar today. From the 1940s onwards, Marguerite Maury, the Austrian biochemist and beautician, experimented with the holistic use of essential oils, i.e. prescribing treatments for individuals while taking account of various imbalances of both body, mind and emotions. Her extensive research is responsible for developing aromatherapy massage and various beauty and skin care treatments as we know them today. She was the first person to establish the technique of applying essential oils diluted in pure vegetable oils (base/carrier) for massage.





Over the past 25 years there has been an upsurge of interest in the numerous therapeutic uses of essential oils. There iexists a deep desire to preserve some of nature's treasured gifts in an age where there is widespread revulsion against the destructive elements of materialism on our environment. nature is being recognised anew as a treasure-trove of valuable gifts which can heal both humankind as well as the environment.

Acknowledgement: Rosalind Widdowson - Author of the book Easy steps to Aromatherapy

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