The ancient use of plants, not essential oils, can be found in fragments of Egyptian herbals. The names of various plants, their habitats, characteristics, and the purposes for which they were used are included in the following: Veterinary papyrus (ca. 2000 B.c.), Gynaecological papyrus (ca. 2000 B.c.), Papyrus Edwin Smith (an army surgeon's manual, ca. 1600 B.c.), Papyrus Ebers (includes remedies for health, beauty, and the home, ca. 1600 B.c.), Papyrus Hearst (with prescriptions and spells, ca. 1400 B.c.), and Demotic medical papyri (second century B.c. to first century a.d.).
Magic was often used as part of the treatment and gave the patient the expectation of a cure and thus provided a placebo effect (Pinch, 1994). The term "placing the hand" appears frequently in a large number of medical papyri; this probably alludes to the manual examination in order to reach a diagnosis but could also imply cure by the "laying on of hands," or even both (Nunn, 1997). This could be the basis of modern massage (with or without aromatherapy). It is certainly the basis of many alternative medicine practices at present (Lis-Balchin, 1997).
Plants were used in numerous ways. Onions were made into a paste with wine and inserted into the vagina to stop a woman menstruating. Garlic ointment was used to keep away serpents and snakes, heal dog-bites, and bruises; raw garlic was given to asthmatics; fresh garlic and coriander in wine was a purgative and an aphrodisiac! Juniper mixed with honey and beer was used orally to encourage defecation; and origanum was boiled with hyssop for a sick ear (Manniche, 1989).
Egyptians also practiced inhalation by using a double-pot arrangement whereby a heated stone was placed in one of the pots and a liquid herbal remedy poured over it. The second pot, with a hole in the bottom through which a straw was inserted, was placed on top of the first pot, allowing the patient to breathe in the steaming remedy (Manniche, 1989), that is, aromatherapy by inhalation.
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