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Yellow Flowers

Module 1 – History and botany of aromatherapy

The history of aromatherapy begins over 3500 years BC. Aromatics were at the time for religious purposes, perfume, and medicine. The actual term "aromatherapy" was invented by the French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1935 after a burn incident, he claimed he treated it effectively with lavender essential oil.

  • To provide the overview of the meaning, scope and concept of aromatherapy.

  • To understand the historical use and development of aromatherapy.

  • To introduce the biology of plant group.

  • To identify the botanical factors that influence the quality of an essential oil.

  • To learn the cultivation and production of essential oils.

Course Learning Outcomes

  • Explain and define aromatherapy.

  • Identify the role of aromatic materials in ancient civilizations.

  • Examine the origin of aromatherapy.

  • Define the biological role of essential oils.

  • Define the factors influence the quality of essential oils.

  • Identify and explain the methods of extracting essential oils.

Important Topics

  • Define aromatherapy

  • Aromatherapy as a healing art

  • History of aromatherapy

  • Where are essential oils found?

  • Biological activity of essential oils in plants

  • Factors influencing the quality of essential oils

  • Methods of extracting essential oil

  • Production of distillation processes


3,500 years BC

One of the first recorded uses of aromatic oils took place during the third dynasty in Egypt (2650-2575 BC). During this time the ancient Egyptians were developing the processes used in embalming and mummification, and both procedures used various aromatics such as frankincense, myrrh, galbanum, cinnamon, cedarwood, juniper berry and spikenard in their formulations.

Egyptians also used aromatic oils and incense to create the right atmosphere and to fragrance their environment. During festivals and celebrations women would wear perfumed cones on their heads, and these would slowly melt in the heat and release their aroma. After bathing they would anoint their bodies with infused oils to lock in moisture and protect their skin from the sun.



1200 BC

Europe slowly became the heart of empirical medicine as the ancient Greeks began expanding the boundaries of plant-based medicine. Asclepius, the earliest known Greek physician, combined herbs and surgery with some skill as far back as 1200 BC, which earned him the deification title of ‘the god of healing’ after his death.



370 BC

One of the most famous physicians whose beliefs would be a major influence in aromatherapy, was Hippocrates. He was the first physician of his time to dismiss the belief that illness was the result of supernatural forces. To treat patients he would recommend aromatic baths and herbal infusions, plus he prescribed the internal use of herbs, such as fennel, parsley, hypericum or valerian to great effect.



287 BC

Herbs and perfumes became more popular in Greece following Alexander’s invasion of Egypt in the third century BC. Theophrastus of Athens was a philosopher and student of Aristotle who conducted thorough investigations into plants and how aromas affect emotions. This resulted in several botanical volumes and he is known today as the ‘founder of botany’.



11th century

After knowledge of herbs and their effects had settled down, Arabic doctors and alchemists passed on their knowledge in the 11th century. The renewed upsurge in aromatherapy is ascribed to the invention by Persian doctor and alchemist Ibn Sina – known to us as Avicenna. Ibn Sina invented a condensing coil for steam distillation which helped to make distillation of essential oils much more effective and better. As a result, essential oils and aromatherapy became more important again. Ibn Sina’s “Canon of Medicine” remained the most influential medical textbook until the 16th century. In it the doctor recommended essential oils and infusions to treat physical and mental illnesses.


René-Maurice Gattefossé

1881 to 1950

Aromatherapy as we know it today really started with the French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, who studied the medicinal properties of essential oils.

René-Maurice Gattefossé is regarded as the Father of Aromatherapy and inventer of the word itself. A famous French chemist and scholar, in 1910 he discovered the virtues of the essential oil of lavender.

The term “aromatherapy” was first coined in 1937 by Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, a French chemist, whose badly burned arm was supposedly miraculously cured by the use of lavender oil.


Jean Valnet

1920 to 1995

Jean Valnet was a French doctor who practiced as a military doctor. He was one of the architects of the development of the French branch of aromatherapy, called phyto-aromatherapy. 

He was also the creator of aromatherapy brand "Docteur Valnet." In 1985, he supervised the realization of his preparations in the Cosbionat laboratory, specialized in the manufacture and packaging of plant products). 


Marguerite Maury

1895 to 1968

Marguerite Maury was born in Austria in 1895 and brought up in Vienna. Marguerite obtained a degree in nursing and for a surgical assistant (the highest a woman could attain in that area at the time).

Marguerite developed her research work to demonstrate and prove the effects of essential oils on the nervous system, their influence on the well-being of people. Through her years of research and practical application, she discovered the value of the active zone aromatic particles and recorded the effects with scientific probity. In the 1930s Marguerite Maury was developing her unique form of massage techniques.

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