Essential oils have been used by almost every known culture for millennia. One of the oldest, and most familiar, references to essential oils appears in the book of Genesis (Ch.37 … a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.) Genesis closes on a somber note with the internment of Joseph’s father, Jacob. (Gen 50:2) The physicians that Joseph brought with him from Egypt embalmed him. Such embalming in the Egyptian manner would certainly have been performed with many oils and resins – of which Frankincense, Myrhh, and Cedar would definitely, have been used.
Still older texts from the civilizations of Sumer and Akkad specifically mention Cistus, Myrrh and Frankincense as being extensively used in these cultures; in daily life, healthcare, and ceremonial occasions.
As shown in the thousands of tablets discovered in the region, Babylonian civilization routinely placed MASSIVE orders for Cedarwood, Myrhh, and Cypress. All the while, the Egyptians were, by far, the most prolific consumers of oils and resins from around the ancient world. Mysteriously, references have even been found, in Egyptian texts, of a resin from the Mayan world, identified as ‘Copal’. How they knew of - and sourced this uncommon resin remains a bit of a mystery
Did You Know?
For the majority of ancient history, Frankincense was considered more valuable than gold. Likewise, Myrhh was considered a substance of great value; often compared to silver. In the ancient world, essential oil blends, used for spiritually-proscribed annointings were forbidden for common use as they were considered too valuable and precious.
Medieval Europeans famously brought back “exotic” gifts of these oils and resins upon their return from the Crusades. (Western Europe had lost most of their oily knowledge during the Dark Ages.)
And, most famously, the Magi brought valuable gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh to the Christ child to honor Him. The Frankincense is often referred to as the “coconut oil of essentials” due to the simple fact that it has over 10,000 documented uses. Upon the death of Christ, Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus used oils including Myrhh and Cedar before interring Him in the tomb (John 19:39).
All of this ancient knowledge was buried and lost under centuries of wars, suppression, religious upheaval, and poverty. It was only after WWII that we began to rediscover the making of and uses for essential oils. And, now, despite the many obstacles, the science regarding their usage continues to grow with every passing year.
Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, you do not need any special certification to use essential oils. It is not necessary to become a licensed aromatherapist to use them. In the majority of situations, you can simply apply the oils topically, on the skin. However, different cultures developed their own norms for essential oil useage.
Traditionally, there are three methods which are most common for using essential oils. These methods follow the western European traditions established over centuries. Topical applications were favored by the English. Ingesting the oils and using in cooking were developed as the French tradition. And, the Germans were actually the ones who advocated inhalation and diffusing oils into the air.
Each of these traditions has its strengths and weaknesses, depending upon the specific oil and the intended application. Nevertheless, whatever method is used, the objective is to get the essential oil's active constituents into the blood stream where the body's systems can access and utilize the natural, chemical components for enhanced wellness.
But Wait! There's More.
During the hellish standoff called World War I, the economies and production capacities of every European nation were essentailly destroyed. Even the British, who managed to hold off invasions of their homeland, were basically 'out' of medicines needed to treat the wounded.
Medics of the day, resorted to using essential oils, such as lavender, for treating the burns and open wounds which continously flowed into their hospitals. The remarkeable results from using lavender and other, unspecified, oils prompted a bit of a revolution in essential oils for medicinal purposes once the war was finally over. This is an anecdotal story to be sure. And, the question remains as to where they got these oils from in the first place. One nurse from the hospitals in England was reported to have recorded in her journal, the "flowery smell" of the wards sharply contrasting with the carnage of war.
Essential oils have been in constant use for millenia. They have been used in sacred ceremonies, for purification rituals, as cosmetics, and to support general wellness. They hold an honored place in the history of human advancement and world history. Let us now take a brief trip back to see some of the high points for which essential oils have earned so much respect and, to see how far we have come.
Young Living Essential Oils provides an attractive infographic containing this summary. To view the blog entry, click on the image to the right. Or continue reading the highlights below. However, if you have had enough history and are eager to move on, you can click the button below to just hop to the next section titled 'How Essential Oils Work'.
Translations of cuneiform texts from the civilizations of Sumer, Ur and Akkad specifically mention several essential oils such as Cistus, Myrrh and Frankincense as being extensively traded and used in these cultures; in daily life, healthcare, and ceremonial occasions. They were consistently held in high regards as extremely valuable commodoties and traded throughout the Sumerian, and later, the Babylonian and Egyptian Empires.
During excavations in the region of northwestern Iraq (Tepe Gawra), the first known distillation devices were unearthed. These devices were active during a period approximately 5000 years ago; during the height of the Sumerian Empire.
A legendary Chinese ruler by the name of Xeng Nung wrote and published a book which detailed over 300 botanical species and their uses.
The Late Kingdom of Ancient Egypt was a murky period in Egyptian history. Rulers by the names of Thutmose (which was a common name of 18th dynasty rulers) and Hatshepsut reigned during a period of re-emergence of Egypts power. Hatshepsut was especially notable for extending empire and trade to a land called Punt. From this campaign period, it has been extensively documented that the main goods acquired were gold, ebony, and MYRHH. in fact, Hatshepsut's greatest treasure from this expedition was said to have been an entire grove of Myrhh trees brought back by her armies.
The boy king and son of Akhenaten, Tutankhamun, was interred with alabaster jars designed specifically to hold the precious essential oils he would need in the afterlife. This period of Egyptian history was short and rife with upheavel and political conflict within the nation. Yet, one thing did remain consistent. And, that was the use of essential oils and resins, at least among the ruling and priest classes.
Alexander the Great was known for burning incense in his youth. He was often chastised by his teacher, Leonidas Epiras, for his overly extravagant use of the incense which, of course, was made from costly essential oils.
The Biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth are very specific in recounting that three Magi (From northern Africa) made the journey to honor the birth - bringing the three most costly and precious items obtainable in that era. They were Frankincese, Myrrh. and gold.
Pliny the Elder, the Roman historian, writes a treatise entitled "Natural History". Among the wealth of information, Pliny included a comprehenive description of the uses for herbs and essential oils.
A Physician named Avicenna began producing floral essential oils such as rose essence, using steam distillation processes. This advancement laid the foundations for the emergence of aromatherapy.
Dr. Rene-Maurice Gattefosse began groundbreaking research on the therapeutic properties of essential oils. This led to the publication of the first modern-era aromatherapy book.
Dr. Jean-Claude Lapraz does in-depth research into the therapeutic qualities of essential oils as well as identifying many of their organic, chemical components.
D. Gary Young begins researching essential oils, which eventually leads to the founding of Young Living Essential Oils. Young Living has seen explosive growth. And, has become the first billion dollar company specializing in therapeutic-grade essentials oils.