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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Practice of 'Aromatherapy' in Ancient Pompeii

Aromatherapy, as we know it today, is actually a relatively modern practice.  Students of aromatherapy know that Rene Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, is accredited with the 'discovery' of the power of essential oils in 1928.  Rene Maurice Gattefosse badly burned his hand, whilst carrying out his work, and immediately plunged his hand into the nearby vat of water -except the vat of water turned out to be a vat of lavender.  Gatterfosse was amazed at the lack of burn scarring on his hand and thus aromatherapy, or as the French call it 'aromatherapie' was born. (Incidently, my business Sedona Aromatherapie takes its name from the French for aromatherapy, although this causes much confusion amongst non-aromatherapy educated individuals!).

However, ancient people have been using plants - and their oils - for thousands of years.  Many argue that this is not 'aromatherapy', and in the most strict sense of the word, this is correct. However, the oils the ancient people used might not be the same as essential oils distilled today (the distillation process of essential oils was greatly advanced by Avicenna in ancient Persia) but these ancient people certainly knew the power of a plant's oils and properties.  The Ebers Papyrus of Ancient Egypt lists many plants which ancient Egytpians used.

On a visit to Pompeii in Italy a couple of years ago I was fascinated to learn that amongst the archeological excavations of ancient Pompeii was the discovery of the use of many plants and oils, several used in similar ways to the way we use them today.  And this was in 79 A.D.  A fascinating book on this subject (and more) is Perfumes, Ungents and Hairstyles in Pompeii by Carlo Giordano, Angelandrea Casale.  The book is published in both Italian and English.

To learn more about how Pompeiians used plants and oils read:

Ancient Perfumes of Pompeii
Lost Medicinal Plants of Pompeii

Of course, the Pompeiians weren't the only ones who used plants and oils in aromatic ways.  England and Europe used many ancient 'lotions and potions' throughout the preceding centuries, many of which got 'lost' in the 'dark' ages.  However, today many people are rediscovering the benefits of aromatherapy and essential oils - perhaps we can look back to our ancestors for some ancient 'aromatherapy' advice!

You may also be interested in the related blog post - The Historical Use of Aromatherapy in Skincare

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