The use of plant extracts for healing purposes dates back more than 40,000 years ago and was the basis for modern aromatherapy, which has recently been gaining more momentum in the western world. However, the use of herbs and plants to treat emotional, mental and physical ailments has been widespread for thousands of years and there is evidence to demonstrate its use on almost every continent. Let’s take a trip around the world to see how some cultures have relied on aromatherapy!
The ancient Egyptians began to experiment with aromatherapy in 3500 BC when they burned incense in order to send prayers to their gods. A thousand years later, they began to use plant extracts for the purpose of embalming bodies for mummification, and as important healing medicines to treat illness and disease.
The traditional form of Indian medicine is Ayurveda, and essential oils and incense have been used by Ayurvedic practitioners for thousands of years. Aromatherapy has been incorporated into many different treatments for the purpose of aiding psychological and physical ailments, as Ayurveda practitioners believe that herbal ingredients can be used to prevent infections, to cleanse one’s environment and to rejuvenate the body.
Chinese medicine is the second oldest system of medicine and is still prevalent today despite the rise of pharmacology. Chinese practitioners would use sandalwood to treat cholera, and the earliest document on Chinese aromatherapy dates back to 2000 BC.
The ancient Greeks and Romans took the medicine practices of the Egyptians and expanded on their knowledge. Europeans would use plant extracts to purify the mind and soul as well as to treat physical diseases and illnesses, and the Romans exhibited this through their scented baths and body treatments. The Greek physician Hippocrates incorporated plant extracts into his treatments and even advised people to have an aromatic massage a day for general wellness. I think we could all agree with that.
The indigenous people of Australia relied heavily on native plant extracts such as tea tree and eucalyptus oil in order to treat a variety of ailments. The aboriginals have relied on some of the thousands of plant species native to Australia since approximately 40,000 years ago. They continue to be used today for antibacterial and antiviral purposes as their healing properties are still considered miraculous.
The Aztecs would burn incense for religious purposes and used plant extracts for purification of the mind and soul, which was discovered by the conquistadors when they invaded in the 16th century.