The History of Aromatherapy

We've smelled from the beginning! Our fascinating essential oil aromatherapy history

Essential oils book

Up Front: This is the Coles Notes version, a semi complete history of aromatherapy, since a full essential oil aromatherapy history would fill books...

The history of aromatherapy is a long one.

Humans had aromatherapy before we had the written word. Since ancient times, people have used aromatherapy and oils for everything from religion to laundry soap. So where did aromatherapy originate?

The History of Aromatherapy in Ancient Civilizations

Archaeologists have found evidence that ancient civilizations such as Assyria, Babylonia, China, Egypt and Sumeria extracted and blended plant oils for ointments, fragrances and incense.

Used in religious ceremonies as offerings to the gods, in embalming, and as perfume, aromatherapy had a glamorous role to play in ancient Egypt.

Aromatics have been found in pharaohs' tombs, and Cleopatra was seriously into aromatherapy scents. She even went so far as to drench the sails of her ship to attract Mark Anthony!

The History of Essential Oils - The Greeks and Romans

The history of aromatherapy continued as the Greeks learned aromatherapy from the Egyptians. Greek athletes used essential oils to increase their strength for the games. And Hippocrates and other physicians prescribed herbal and aromatherapy remedies.

When the Romans conquered Greece, they took up the practice in a big way, using aromatherapy perfume on everything from their bodies to their clothes and bedding to their furniture, and even their amphitheatres. In fact, Roman soldiers were sprinkled with perfume before battle.

Although the use of aromatherapy temporarily died out with the fall of the Roman Empire, when Constantinople became a center of civilization aromatic oils once again became wildly popular. This angered the Church, however, and perfume became linked with sin and immorality, ending the use of aromatherapy in Europe at that time.

Aromatherapy in the East

But the history of aromatherapy continued in the Middle and Far East. In the 10th century, an Arabian scientist named Avicenna discovered the distillation process for extracting essential oils from plants and flowers.

Aromatherapy's Return to Europe

In the 13th century, crusaders returned to Europe from the wars with scented gifts. As trade routes opened between Europe, China and India, aromatherapy once again filled the civilized world.

The history of aromatherapy had a practical role as well. In the 14th century, when the Black Plague swept across Europe and Asia, cedar, clove, cypress, pine, sage, rosemary and thyme were burned in the streets and sick rooms in an attempt to ward off the disease.

In 18th century France, King Louis XV used aromatherapy perfumes extensively in the palace, even including the waters of his Parisian fountains.

The History of Aromatherapy - Moving into the 20th Century


The term 'aromatherapie' was coined in the early 1900s by René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist who spent decades studying the medicinal properties of essential oils. Gattefossé became known as the modern day "Father of Aromatherapy" for his ground-breaking scientific research.

In the mid-19th century, scientists began producing synthetic versions of essential oils. They continue to be used widely today, but they are usually petroleum derivatives, and the process of creating them pollutes the earth, water and air. Not to mention their unhealthy side effects on the human system.

Aromatherapy Today

After decades of disregard by the Western world, aromatherapy is once again experiencing a rise in popularity as people look for natural, "green" solutions for our planet and our health.

A great deal of scientific research is being now done, and there's no doubt that essential oils have benefits beyond simple lotions and potions. Science is showing they have measurable effects on health as well. Yay!

Unlike synthetics, essential oils derived from nature work in harmony with nature. Real, pure aromatherapy oils provide countless benefits to our body, mind and emotions. Harness their powers!

What Next?

Get some tips on how to mix essential oils. Or take a look at these...

Aromatherapy Remedies

Making your own aromatherapy remedies is a great way to take care of your family's health using natural ingredients - without harmful chemicals and fillers.

Essential Oil Use Chart

A free reference guide for essential oils and their uses.

Aromatherapy Recipes Homepage from History of Aromatherapy