The History of Essential Oils

Origin

With so much to learn and know about essential oils, it is no wonder aromatherapy has evolved and found its way from age-old practices into society today. One of these modern aromatherapy practices involves something most of us do every day, yet probably take for granted, which is take a shower. From ancient Roman baths to modern-day shower steamers, essential oils not only capture the essence of a plant but a moment in time. To better understand just how beneficial and rejuvenating essential oils can be when it comes time to get clean, we must take a glimpse back in time to where these valuable oils first surfaced and how aromatherapy has progressed.

Biblical Times

Dating back to biblical times, according to Matthew 2:1-12, it is said that King Herod came to visit an infant Jesus of Nazareth and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But wait, it seems like one of these things is not quite like the others. First of all, what are frankincense and myrrh? And what about these items made them worthy of gifting along something as valuable as gold?

Historically speaking, frankincense was often burned as incense, while myrrh was used for perfume. Despite their aromatic compounds, these oils were two of many also valued for their medicinal properties, not dissimilar to their purpose in the world today.

Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt was the true birthplace of aromatherapy. The Egyptians would cultivate plants for their oils, finding a use for them in everything from wellness to religion. At that time, they were even used for cosmetics, and resins were used in embalming processes.

While Ancient Egyptians were busy producing essential oils through a type of solvent extraction method, both China and India were studying plants and herbs too. Their findings would later become a part of the Ayurvedic medical system, which, if you have not heard of Ayurveda before, is an alternative medicine system that originated in India.

 

Ancient Greece & the Romans

Fast forward from about 3500 BC to 460 BC, the ancient Greeks were inspired by all of this and believed that these essential oils could be an all-powerful, holistic source for healing and wellness. Hippocrates was a big supporter of this, upholding that the oils would be beneficial for his massage therapy as well.

The Gardens of Adonis, an 1888 painting by John Reinhard Wkeguelin depicts women bearing the container-grown plants and festal rose garlands to dispose of in the sea, as part of the festival of Adonis.

It was no surprise that the Romans also encouraged these advancements in holistic health and hygiene. If you think of the word "Roman," it is possible the word "bath" comes to mind as well because Roman cities contained public baths for people to bathe, relax, and even socialize.

These public baths were filled with shelves containing pots and jars full of essential oils, and Romans would use oils to scent their bodies and hair. Rose oil was used by both men and women to scent their baths. Like the others before them, Rome's people also understood oils for their medicinal purposes and used oils and herbs daily. In fact, Roman soldiers carried myrrh with them as healing agents to use if wounded in battle. On a lighter note, lavender was perhaps the most widely used plant by the Romans, particularly as an aromatic for bathing, as it comes from the word "lavare," meaning 'to wash.'

 

a 19th Century painting by John Whitehead Walton

How do Essential Oils Work?

You're probably wondering how it all works. What exactly is aromatherapy, and why are essential oils still so valuable after all of this time?

Essential oils are mixtures of aromatic chemicals that are present in plant material. Nearly all of these oils are obtained using one of two processes: steam distillation of plant materials or cold pressing of fruit peels.

Following a steam distillation process, the plant material is placed on a screen in a steam still. Steam from a boiler then rises and vaporizes the essential oil in the plant material. The steam and oil are then condensed into a liquid.

 

“Allow things in your life which make your heart sing, feed your soul or nourish you on a daily basis.”

― Andrew Pacholyk

How are essential oils used?

There are three main ways to use essential oils: through smell, on the skin, or through ingesting. The scent is the "aromatic use" of essential oils. Certain oils carry specific aromas that are said to have unique benefits for emotional and mental wellbeing. The aroma of the oils is primarily obtained through a diffuser but can also be used in perfume. When it comes to physical health, essential oils are widely used for massage, as they were in ancient times, as well as in lotions or moisturizers. When applied topically, the oil absorbs into the skin. Some people even benefit from using essential oils internally, and as long as it is safe to ingest, they will take it in a capsule or drop it under their tongue.

As you can see, these tiny yet potent bottles of oil carry significant value for so many aspects of one's health. Perhaps one of their more popular uses in hot spas and saunas. When just a few drops of essential oil are added to a sauna water bucket, the steam gives off the fragrance once water is poured over the sauna stones.

Maybe it is all this talk of essential oils and baths, but I honestly cannot think of anything that sounds lovelier right now. It turns out I am not the only one, either. From bath bombs to body washes, essential oils have become increasingly popular in bath time products, so there are many ways to infuse them into your bath.

Aromatherapy is like the cherry on top of a luxurious bubble bath, and with so many essential oils, you get to create your perfect experience, from benefit to scent. Eucalyptus is always a popular choice for bath time for its ability to help relieve aches and pains. Mixing eucalyptus in with hot water is the perfect combination for sore muscles. Although eucalyptus does have a sharp smell, so some might choose to use oils like sweet orange or geranium instead. Citrus essential oil, such as lemon oil, is also a good option for bath time for its antimicrobial and detoxifying properties.

When it comes to bath time, there is one essential oil we have yet to mention. This oil is likely the most widely used in baths because it is so widely known to promote relaxation, and it is lavender. When we think of taking a bath, it usually involves at least a half-hour commitment during our day or evening, at a time when we are feeling particularly stressed or called to relax for a little while. Unless you bathe regularly as opposed to shower, for most of us, a bath is like a luxury, which is why we want to make it as perfect and relaxing as it could be. A few drops of lavender essential oil in the bath can promote a sense of calm and relaxation and even a more restful sleep. So, especially if you are a nighttime bather, you can't go wrong with lavender.

 

This brings us to Shower Steamers

You might be wondering, what about those of us who enjoy aromatherapy baths but rarely find the time? What if we only have access to a shower? Well, an attempt to capture the same revitalizing feelings, but for everyone to benefit from, was part of what inspired our shower steamers. Our shower steamers are made from natural oils and fragrance blends to bring this hot spa experience to your shower anytime you, please. These uplifting and invigorating steamers are meant to partially submerge in the water during your shower so they can continually release scents as they react to the water. It is wellness in a cube, as we like to call it. From easing stress with the serene scent of lavender to regaining focus and clarity with the smell of sweet orange, shower steamers are a therapeutic way to start or end any day.

Works Cited

“Bible Gateway Passage: Matthew 2:1-12 - New International Version.” Bible Gateway, www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+2%3A1-12.

“History of Essential Oils.” History of Essential Oils | FGB Natural Products, www.fgb.com.au/content/history-essential-oils.

“History of the Development of Essential Oils:” Curious History, 14 Nov. 2017, www.curioushistory.com/history-of-the-development-of-essential-oils/.

“How to Use Essential Oils: DōTERRA Essential Oils.” DoTERRA, 2 Oct. 2020, www.doterra.com/US/en/using-essential-oils.

Schultz, Colin. “There's More to Frankincense and Myrrh Than Meets the Eye.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 24 Dec. 2014, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/chemically-theres-lot-more-frankincense-and-myrrh-meets-eye-180953727/.

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