From the article, “Aromatherapy: Improve Your Massage Sessions with Nature’s Scents,” by various authors, in the February 2009 issue. Article summary: Aromatherapy can easily be incorporated into a massage-therapy session, whether through topical application or inhalation—and a variety of products on the market today support this marriage of the two therapies.

Aromatic oils and resins have been used for thousands of years by many cultures. They were sometimes burned to keep away evil spirits or for ritual practices, but mostly they were used for their healing effects on the mind and body.

Cave paintings in France dating back to 18,000 B.C. show oils being used medicinally. In ancient Egypt, records from 4,500 B.C. refer to aromatic barks and resins. Pots found in Tutankhamun’s tomb contained traces of frankincense and myrrh. In biblical times, these two aromatic essences were highly prized for their healing properties.

In ancient Greece, Hippocrates advocated the use of a daily bath and massage with aromatic oils. The Romans also used aromatic essences in their baths as well as for culinary, cosmetic and medicinal purposes.

In the 10th century, the Arabs were the first to discover distillation, which produced purer oils. They were responsible for the spread and use of aromatic oils in Europe at the time of the Crusades.

In the Middle Ages, aromatic herbs were used to discourage pests and disease. Sweet-smelling pomanders were carried into disease-ridden, evil-smelling places. An interesting story tells of Frenchmen who robbed the bodies of Black Death victims without contracting the disease. When they were captured, they revealed their secret, which was rubbing their bodies with vinegar in which aromatic plants had been steeped. The recipe contained many herbs used today in aromatherapy.

After the great plague of 1665, the growth of scientific medicine and the use of aromatic plants to combat disease continued, but as chemical medicine increased, plant medicine declined.

In 1910, a French scientist named Gattefosse discovered the healing power of lavender oil. This encouraged him to research other aromatic essences. He found that with the use of lemon, thyme, clove and other antiseptic oils, wounds healed more quickly and without infection. He called his medicine aromatherapie. 

Elizabeth McGinnes has been involved in aromatherapy for more than 25 years and has a postgraduate qualification in clinical aromatherapy. She is the principal of the European Institute of Complementary Therapies, the president of the European Spa and a pure aromatherapy products distribution company named Absolute Essentials.