The Ancient History of Essential Oils

Essential oils have more than stood the test of time; they are a gift that has kept on giving to humanity since at least 4000 BC. Archaeologists have proven that many ancient civilizations including the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese and Persians used aromatherapy oils for their healing, aromatic, and cosmetic properties. We think the history of these much revered oils is nothing short of fascinating!

ancient history of essential oil

The Egyptians, perhaps the ancient civilisation which we know to have utilized essential oils most widely, used them for cosmetics, spiritual relaxation, embalming, and even mummification of their dead. Cleopatra, world renowned then and now for her unparalleled beauty, attributed her allure to the use of Egyptian essential oils in her skincare routine. What perhaps speaks best to the value and importance of essentials oils in ancient Egyptian culture is that when King Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered and opened in 1922, the excavators found over 50 empty carved containers used especially for storing valuable essential oils. When raiders had plundered his tomb, they had chosen to leave the gold and other treasures and instead take the prized essential oils. #giveusalltheoils

As the Egyptian Empire crumbled into decline around 300 BC, Europe became the heart of empirical medicine, where new methods were steadily evolving into a more scientifically based system of healing. Ancient Greeks also believed that good health can be promoted with aromatic baths and oil massages. Many ancient Greek physicians experimented with the healing powers of essential oils including Asclepius (circa 1200 BC), the first known clinician to use essential oils in surgery, and Hippocrates, widely considered the father of medicine.

The Chinese were also using aromatic oils thousands of years ago. The famous book by Huang Ti titled “The Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine” from 2697-2597 BC contains uses for several aromatics and is still used by practitioners of eastern medicine till this day. It is assumed that the ancient Chinese were very prolific in their use of essential oils for healing but, sadly, it was not quite as well documented as in the West.

aromatic oils

Though perhaps today essential oils have acquired a feminine image, the strongest and bravest of history’s men praised their healing powers. When the Gladiators of ancient Rome were hurt in their battles, Claudius Galen (circa 150 AD) successfully treated hundreds of them with essential oils and botanical remedies, before becoming the personal physician of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Many centuries later, During the Crusades, the Knights and their armies were responsible for passing on knowledge of herbal medicines including distillation methods they had learned in the Middle East throughout Western Europe. The use of essentials oils continued to spread widely across the world. In Europe, however, they were severely hampered by the Catholic Church which rejected them due to their belief that every disease was a punishment sent by God. Monks in monasteries who used essential oils and other herbal medicines as they tended after the sick were at great risk of persecution as witches. Nonetheless, in secret, with great care, they bravely continued to utilize and pass on their knowledge about herbal medicine and essential oils.

Despite this ban on the use of essential oils for healing, during this period essential oils were popular for their aroma. As the Catholic Church forbade bathing as a sinful and inappropriate act, essential oils provided much needed aromatic relief and anti-bacterial properties for the members of the public who had access to them.

During the Renaissance, physicians, pharmacists and chemists for the first time began publishing books in Europe about aromatic remedies and the use of aromatherapy and essential oils for relaxation and pharmaceutical purposes. By this point, essential oils had truly cemented their place in our society for their healing and aromatic properties, and the essential industry was thriving and very lucrative.

group of people bathing

Modern Aromatherapy began to be researched by notable French perfumer Rene Maurice Gattefosse. Gattefosse suffered burns on his hands after an unfortunate explosion in his laboratory and he reached for the nearest available oil to soothe his pain. He landed on pure lavender oil which he discovered not only eased the pain, but also encouraged healing of his skin, crucially, without infection or significant scaring. He had no previous interest in the healing powers of essential oils but this experience led him to experiment further and ultimately invent the term “aromatherapy”. As a result of this and further findings of Gattefosse, a WWII doctor, Dr. Jean Valet, began successfully using essential oils to treat injured soldiers. He credited many lives saved to the antiseptic and healing properties of essential oils when his supply of antibiotics proved insufficient.

Still today, essential oils are at the cornerstone of holistic healing. Thanks to the renewed interest in essential oils, and resurgence in their use, there are many, many new clinical studies and publications documenting its efficacy and benefits. Essential oils are a vital part of the Vitaclean Shower Head experience and we are proud to be a part of this remarkable history. The essential oils we have put in all of our filters provide an uplifting scent to enhance relaxation and alleviate stress. From citrus oil to lavender oil, each is tried and true. Brought to you by 6000+ years of testing so you know it’s gotta be good !