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Aroma in History

June 28, 2014 , , , ,



There is a long history of perfumes and incense used in ceremony and in popular culture. The Ancient Egyptians used many fragrant oils in the embalming process. It is said that when King Tut’s tomb was opened 3000 years after it had been sealed the urns still gave off the fragrance of frankincense and other spices.  Ancient Greeks called all the aromatic products they used aromata.  Athletes were anointed with scented oils before competing, and bay leaves were burned at Delphi to induce trance in the priestesses who foretold the future.  The Romans raised the popularity and awareness of aromatherapy to new heights.  Scented oil massage was the ritual ending at the communal baths in Julius Caesar’s time.  Many Roman holidays involved great quantities of scented materials. Rose petals were strewn before men of stature as they walked, and perfume was sprayed on spectators at games.  In China the herbal tradition is rich and deep, and it includes the use of oils extracted from plants.  They believed that the extraction of the oil liberated the soul of the plant.

Artemisia vulgaris is used in Chinese medicine for moxibustion.  In ancient China some people could afford a special room for childbirth. It was called the Artemisia room because the plant was burned during labor to attract kind spirits to the mother and child.  The first uses of romantic plants in Chinese healing practices date back to about 2000 BC in The Yellow Emperor’s Book of Chinese Medicine.  In Japan  incense and the formal art of burning it is taken seriously and used in religion.  Special schools, still in existence today, teach the art of Kodo, or perfumery.

Druids burned incense for ceremonial rites, and the Celtic people continued the use.  Juniper was used frequently to banish spirits for healing or magic.   In Britain monasteries grew medicinal herbs and shared knowledge of plants with other monks.  The Crusades brought new plants and remedies traveling back from the Holy Land with the Knights Templar and others.  The plague was a time when aromatic plants were used in amulets and strewn to deter fleas, the carriers of the dread disease.  The Renaissance brought even wider use of  perfumery and aromatic oils in healing.

Today we have many products and options available to us.  The availability of pure essential oils is much more widely enjoyed than it was 10 years ago.  Products for skin and hair that contain pure oils also abound.  Bath sachets, herbal teas, and hair rinses are easy water based ways to absorb botanicals through the skin.  Using oils can be simple too.  Simply place a few drops on a cotton ball or piece of cloth and take a whiff.  Here are a couple of common and inexpensive oils to try:

  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)  is uplifting and reviving.  It has antidepressant and antiseptic qualities.  Use when you need to focus, or to relive headache or flu symptoms. It is contraindicated for continual use, as it can then sometimes act as a depressant.  For occasional nervous tension or digestive problems basil has been shown effective.
  • Peppermint (Mentha peperita) is popular and easy to find.  It has antiseptic and cooling properties that make it perfect for using on the feet.  The oil is effective in treating a number of digestive problems, and when used in a steam inhaler can ease asthma and bronchial issues.  Travel sickness can sometimes be relieved with a few drops on a hanky used as an inhaler.  It is a stimulant so it wakes up the brain enhancing alertness and ability to concentrate.

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Basil .. one of my most favorite herbs! I love it fresh with tomatoes, on sandwiches and with cheese. YUM


I love the peppermint scented soaps and shampoos. Studies show that our olfactory sense may be the most highly developed of all. Some of our deepest memories can be triggered by familiar smells.


Marc Zazeela

July 3, 2014

It is our reptilian brain that responds, and it does stimulate memory. I like peppermint soaps too, Dr Bronner’s (health is your only real wealth) is the one I love the most.



July 3, 2014

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