Essential Oil: History of aromatics

essential oil

As we continue our tour around the world of essential oils and herbal aromatics, we visit Egypt, Greece, Rome and France

.  Moodi friends, I don’t want to bore you to death with a long treatise on the origins of essential oils and aromatic herbs, but feel it’s important to have some sort of general sense about the roots and origins of the substances that we slather onto our bodies.


Some of the first and earliest essential oil perfumes in Egypt were burned as incense during important events, ceremonies and celebrations, including the coronation of the Pharaoh. Aromatic smoke was thought to attract good energies and dispel negative spirits.  The Greeks in turn ascribed a divine origin to all aromatic plants and Hippocrates, known as the father of Modern Medicine used medicines that were mostly botanicals in nature to heal the sick.


But it was the Romans who exceeded all limits in their outrageous and lavish use of aromatic substances.  Along with bathing, the Romans adopted the sumptuous use of aromatics as a social form of amusement and entertainment coordinated by the aromatarii or perfumers. Built into the walls of their colossal bathhouses were giant shelves specially designed to hold decorative vessels that contained aromatic unguents (ointments). Matrons were massaged and bathed in perfumes by slaves called cosmetae.  Of interest though is a hilarious case recorded by Pliny the Elder of death by flower!  Apparently a large group of rowdy banquet guests were actually smothered to death when volumes of rose petals were dropped on them…. go figure, but at least they died smelling roses!  Pliny apparently used this example to decry the abuse of perfumes by the citizens of Rome!


Persia’s use of aromatics is known as one the most ancient and best known for the damask Rose. They are credited with the development of steam distillations as well as true soapmaking…more on that later. Perhaps more interestingly though, is France’s scented history! Apparently, cave paintings in Lascaux, in southwest France, depict the Neanderthals’ use of medicinal plants!!!! Could Neanderthal woman must have been one sweet smelling sista??  France’s later Monarchs (some call then Neanderthals as well!!!) were also known as being the “sweetest smelling” and used perfumes and waters to keep diseases at bay.


Clearly, the used of essential oil aromatherapy has been passed down through the ages, in every single culture around the world, in one form or another. And happily, as I’ve said before, it’s certainly coming back into vogue.


Réa is on a quest to help women live healthy, joyful, vibrant lives in a practical and pragmatic way. She empowers women to explore and experience the full range of their emotions, and to connect and embrace their true Selves, thereby creating space to be vibrant, joyful, powerful women. She has created a body care product line that supports and extends this vision of holistic, mind-body living. Réa also works privately with women and facilitates several “Moodi Women” retreats through the year. Originally from Mumbai, India, Réa currently lives and works in Davidson, North Carolina.