Historical Background To Aromatherapy

The advent of "aromatherapy" has been attributed to both the Ancient Egyptians and Chinese over 4500 years ago, as scented plants and their products were used in religious practices, as medicines, perfumes, and embalming agents (Manniche, 1989, 1999), and to bring out greater sexuality (Schumann Antelme and Rossini, 2001). But essential oils as such were unlikely to have been used. In Ancient Egypt, crude plant extracts of frankincense, myrrh, or galbanum, and so on were used in an oily vegetable or animal fat that was massaged onto the bodies of workers building the pyramids or the rich proletariat after their baths (Manniche, 1999). These contained essential oils, water-soluble extractives, and pigments. Incense smoke from resinous plant material provided a more sacrosanct atmosphere for making sacrifices, both animal and human, to the gods. The incense was often mixed with narcotics like cannabis to anesthetize the sacrificial animals, especially with humans (Devereux, 1997). The frankincense extract in oils (citrusy odor) was entirely different to that burnt (church-like) in chemical composition (Arctander, 1960), and therefore would have entirely different functions.

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