A mythical interpretation of essential oils defines them as the vital force of plants, equivalent to the human spirit.
The use of essential oils and the knowledge of their properties dates back to ancient Chinese and Egyptian civilizations being considered amongst the most ancient forms of medicine and cosmetics. From essential oils the Egyptians made ointments with some extraordinary applications, essential oils where used to embalm the dead, in spiritual rituals, for medicinal purposes and cosmetics. Queen Cleopatra herself was considered as having a vast knowledge of essential oils and their powers. It is said she used rose essential oil to enchant Mark Anthony with her beauty.
The Greeks themselves understood the miraculous properties of aromatic plants. The greater part of their knowledge they acquired from the Egyptians who where exceptionally knowledgeable of their properties. The Greek physician Hippocrates, considered the father of medicine, oftentimes recommended massage treatments with essential oils and makes reference to a vast number of medicinal plants in his writings.
The Romans and later on, the Arabs, perfected the knowledge acquired from previous civilizations. In The Arab world the famous alchemist Avicena distinguished himself as the pioneer in the distillation method of essential oil extraction. Although other more sophisticated methods have been developed since, the distillation method continues to be the most widely used and recommended procedure. (see Methods of Extraction).
Much of the knowledge of plants and their curative properties was lost down the centuries. In the monasteries however, this knowledge continued to be applied amongst the monks who prepared antibacterial and other solutions with the intent of combating the many plagues the afflicted the population. During the 14th century the black plague swept through Europe and aromatic plants were burnt in churches and in the street to mask the stench of death that permeated the air.
Many different cultures have from generation to generation relied on plants to relieve or cure certain sicknesses. Oftentimes the study of this ancient knowledge has been the basis for advances in modern medicine. Scientists continue to unravel the secrets contained in plant cells, confirming many of therapeutic practices of antiquity.