A brief history of aromatherapy
The history of aromatherapy begins over 3500 years BC. Aromatics were at the time for religious purposes, perfume, and medicine. The actual term "aromatherapy" was invented by the French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1935 after a burn incident, he claimed he treated it effectively with lavender essential oil.
What is aromatherapy?
Aromatherapy is a branch of phytotherapy that uses the volatile active ingredients of aromatic plants. These are plants that have the ability to synthesise an essence thanks to sunlight and photosynthesis. This science focusses on the use of essential oils for therapeutic, curative, or preventive purposes. For the most part, the essential oils are extracted by steam distillation of part of the plant (such as the leaves, flowers or bark). Only the essences of citrus pericarp (such as orange or mandarin zest) tend to be obtained via mechanical cold pressing. “The word ‘aromatherapy’ was coined in 1935 by René-Maurice Gattefossé, a chemist from Lyon, who conducted many rewarding personal and scientific experiments on essential oils. Other scientists, such as Charles Chamberland, a biologist and assistant to Louis Pasteur, had already looked into their spectacular antimicrobial action. In the 5th century BCE, Hippocrates was already treating patients with aromatic vapours.
History of aromatherapy
While plants and plant extracts have been used empirically for thousands of years (evidence of this can be found in India, Pakistan, Iran, China and Ancient Egypt), it was not until 1830, in Grasse, France a city of perfume-makers and a venerated centre of distillation, that the study of essential oils came into being. Very quickly, some of the leading scientists of the time, such as Louis Pasteur, took an interest in it. From as early as 1887, Charles Chamberland, disciple and assistant to Pasteur, began scientifically measuring the antiseptic effects of oregano, clove and cinnamon essential oils on anthrax...
Then, in 1910, René-Maurice Gattefossé, a chemical engineer from Lyon, discovered the therapeutic properties of pure lavender after an explosion in his laboratory, which left him with major burns. He treated them using lavender essential oil. Won over by that “miracle", he founded the French Society of Aromatic Products and published around twenty works that are still considered references today. These works would give aromatherapy its reputation and its very name, as it was Gattefossé who coined the term “aromatherapy”, in 1935.
In 1929, Sévelinge, a pharmacist from Lyon, demonstrated the antibacterial efficacy of certain essential oils. Then, in the 1950s, a military physician used them to treat injured soldiers in Indochina. Aromatherapy was on its way… and nothing could stop it! In 1975, Pierre Franchomme, a pharmacologist and aromatologist, brought about decisive progress by proposing that the concept of “chemotype”, the “plant’s true chemical ID card”, should be taken into account, listing the key aromatic compounds characterising each plant and how they affect its properties.
Today, aromatherapy is more frequently the focus of scientific studies. It is recognised as a fully fledged branch of medicine. Over 17,000 articles on aromatherapy have appeared in international high-level scientific publications…
TO LEARN MORE
Use plants and Essential Oils with care. Before any use, read the information and precautions for use carefully.
Extracts from Top Santé's Guide '48 Essential Oils which every home needs to be healthy' and 'Essential oils, vegetable oils & floral waters'.