In its exact definition, aromatherapy is the process of using volatile plant oils in order to treat not only the physical well being of a person but also his or her psychological and mental health.
From decades past, apothecary drawers have been filled with essential oils that have been used in the treatment of diseases and other health problems. In fact, the practice of using oils has been in place for nearly a thousand years. It was however only in the 20th century when the term aromatherapy was used.
It started with the Chinese, who are among the first cultures to incorporate the practice into their traditions. They use plant oils and burns incense to help create balance within the body and harmony with nature.
Later on, the Egyptians adopted the practice and created an old distiller prototype which extracts cedarwood oil crudely. The oils that they extract from the plant are then sold in markets in their country. There are some that claim that Persia and India were the ones that invented the distillation process but of course nothing has been proven yet.
As time passed, the Egyptians started to extract oils from different plants. In addition to cedarwoos, they use clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and myrrh. These oils were also used in the embalming of their dead. In fact, when an Egyptian tomb was opened back in the early 20th century, remains and traces of these plants were seen in some parts of the body. Archaeologists were even able to smell the scent.
The Egyptians also used the scents and the oils in some of their rituals, especially those that are spiritual in nature. Some also used the oils as medicines while the women used them as perfumes and cosmetic. In fact, the word perfume is thought to have come from the latin word fumum, which means smoke. There are claims that men also use fragrance like women but they have an interesting method of doing it. They will place a solid cone of perfume on their heads, which they will gradually melt until the perfume and scent cover their whole bodies.
The Greeks also used perfumes but of course everything was credited to the Gods of their mythology. Still the use of plant oils as perfume took a life of its own and soon Megallus made a perfume from myrrh, which is a fatty-oil. His perfume called the Megaleion not only had aromatic benefits, it can also heal wounds and has an anti-inflammatory property towards the skin. It was also the Greeks that established the medicinal purposes of plants. In fact, the father of medicine, Hippocrates, practiced the use of plants for its aromatic and medicinal benefits.
Armed with the knowledge that they have gotten from the civilizations of the Egyptians and the Greeks, Roman Discorides wrote a book called De Materia Medica, which essays the different properties of as much as 500 plants.
In the 11th century, a process called coiled cooling pipe was invented. This had a large impact on the distillation of essential oils. Avicenna, a Persian, was the one who created the prototype, which allowed steam and vapor from the plant to cool down so that it can be extracted better and faster than other distilling machines. Because of this invention, the focus once again went to the benefits of essential plant oils.