Essential Oils: What Are They?

247 views 6 pages ~ 1570 words
Get a Custom Essay Writer Just For You!

Experts in this subject field are ready to write an original essay following your instructions to the dot!

Hire a Writer

Plants have been used for therapeutic, aromatic, and cosmetic purposes since the dawn of humanity. In addition to the essences being derived from the plants for use in religious rituals, ceremonies, aesthetic care, preservation, and the treatment of certain diseases, the physical components of the plants also provided these values as rare and potent substances. Moreover, from the dawn of civilization, fragrant plants have served as the foundation for herbal and botanical treatments. Many cultures all over the world have made substantial use of essential oils for various purposes. However, a unique aspect of their history is the fact that the utilization of these oils seem to have evolved independently and developed uniquely by different cultures according to the values they placed on them. Even though utilization and production and processing of essential oil has evolved over the years, the fundamental principles driving its use has remained the same.

The History

The earliest use of essential oil occurred between 3000- 2500 B.C. However, the creation of essential oil dates back to the prehistoric times as evidenced in a cave painting in Dordogne region that date around 20,000 years ago (Başer and Buchbauer, 2010). The production of essential oils, however, date back to ca. 3500 BC with the world’s oldest water distillation equipment, used for the production of essential, oil is dated. The equipment today is stored for viewing in Taxila museum in Pakistan.

The Egyptians are recognized as the first society to use aromatic essential oils extensively (Rostagno and Prado, 2013). Borrowing from them, the Greeks started practicing therapeutic and aromatherapy massage. Other cultures such as the Romans used essential oils for personal hygiene as well as for medical purposes (Başer and Buchbauer, 2010). With the influence of Greece and Rome, China and India picked the use of aromatic herbs while the Persians began refining and distilling extractions from aromatic plants to produce essential oils. Throughout the dark ages and medieval times, essential oils were used for anti-bacterial properties as well as fragrance.


The Egyptians were the first to build a large scale civilized culture and their use of essential oil dates back to 4500 BC. By 200 BC the ancient Egyptians were using essential oils for beauty care, spiritual enhancement, and medicinal values (Davies, 2012). Their passion for beauty meant that they developed the most accomplished beauty care essential oils. Influential figures such as Cleopatra extensively used Egyptians essential oils, salts and clay to maintain their beauty.

Moreover, the ruling families and priest in ancient Egypt wore expensive aromatics and essential oils. The temple priests prepared effective herbals that were used all over Egypt to cure ailments (Davies, 2012). Up to this day, the recipes and remedies used in Ancient Egypt are still highly priced. Ancient pictorials show the Egyptians use of the essential oils especially their royal class, and as its value was demonstrated when King Tutankhamen’s tomb discovered in 1922 was opened: over 50 alabaster jars were found. The Raiders of the tomb must have taken all the essential oils and left the pots of gold behind.


In Greece, much of the use of essential oils was borrowed from Egypt. Hippocrates, a physician, was an influential figure in the medical community in Greece. In fact, he studied and documented the use of over 300 plants where essential oils were derived. Another Greek, Galen, also promoted the use of essential oils by developing knowledge of the essential plants and their use. Through the use of essential oils, he never had a gladiator die under his care. More so, he famously treated the emperor Marcus Aurelius using the oils. Both Hippocrates and Galen observed the essential oils applied externally positively affected the internal organs as well as tissues.


India’s 3000-year-old Ayurvedic health care system used a natural healing system that blends spiritual, practical and philosophical elements into its principles. At the core of the medical society were the essential oils. The Ayurvedic literature has records of ancient Indian doctors using oils from cinnamon, coriander, spikenard, myrrh, and ginger to treat their patients. Likewise, the Ayurveda, a traditional Indian text mentions over 700 different herbs and aromatics that were used in religious and therapeutic purposes. While providing the valuable education in India, Ayurveda’s wisdom has been used more prominently in the western culture, with high-profile proponents Deepak Chopra practicing its teachings.


The use of essential oils in China was recorded first around 2697- 2597 BC during Huang Ti, the Yellow Emperor reign. He wrote a book “Yellow Emperor’s Book of Internal Medicine” that contains the use of different essential oils and aromatics (Essential Oils Academy, n.d.). The book is still highly valued in by medical practitioners today.

Another medieval Chinese text on herbal medicine and essential oils is the Shennong’s Herbal that explained the use of over 365 plants. Shennong was credited as a father of Chinese herbal medicine and his practices such as acupuncture are still practiced today.


The Romans were famous for their perfumes and aromatic oils applied on their bodies, clothes, and bedding. They bathed with perfumes and essential oils several times a day and had frequent massage using essential oils. The most prominent Greek physician and doctor Pedanius Dioscorides wrote a 5-volume book on herbal medicine that talked about over 600 remedies that are still applied in the medical world today (Essential Oils Academy, n.d.).

The Evolution of the Use of Essential Oils

The Catholic Church would come and denounce the use of essential oils. The healing and bathing using essential oils were considered inappropriate and associated with witchcraft. This action reduced and suppressed the use of essential oils during the middle ages (Davies, 2012). However, monks secretly kept the plant medicine wisdom alive although if found they risked prosecution. Many people that kept in touch with essential oils lost their lives and were outcast from their communities.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Crusaders entered the Holy Land and came back with the different herbal and essential oils that would spread over Europe. By the 14th century, the essential oils along with herbal medicines were used to combat bubonic plagues like that one that struck India (Essential Oils Academy, n.d.). By 1600, the writings about essential oils become widespread. Nicholas Culpeper’s book “The Complete Herbal” written in 1653 remains a valuable resource even today (Grigore, 2017). By the 1800s, the use of essential oils in England, France, and Germany’s pharmacopeia was evident and prescribed for a variety of illness. The first lab test on the essential oils anti-bacterial properties was for the first time performed in 1887.

In 1910, a French cosmetic chemist, Rene-Maurice Gatefosse, accidentally burned his hands badly and quickly immersed it into a jar of lavender oil. The skin healed without infection or scarring, a discovery that led to further research on lavender oil (Grigore, 2017). He later coined the term “aromatherapy” to refer to such treatments. This discovery evoked another scientist to study the field of aromatherapy and continue expanding its knowledge.

The next contributor to the field Dr. Jean Valnet, successfully treated injured soldiers in the Second World War. He used therapeutic-grade essential oils that successfully cured the injuries sustained in the war. Through the successful application of essential oil, Dr. Valnet became a leader in the aromatherapy field and even reintroduced herbal treatments into the modern medical books publishing his own book “Aromatherapy” in 1964 (Rostagno and Prado, 2013). Importantly, through research, Dr. Valnet was able to introduce dosages to the herbal essences.

Lastly, Marguerite Maury, a biochemist, and Dr. Valnet’s colleague did not find it comfortable using essential oils internally (Davies, 2012). She studied the use of external application of essential oils, especially in massage. The process turned out effective, and aromatherapy massage was born. Today, aromatherapy massage is one of the most common techniques and use of essential oils.

Essential Oils Today

Today in England, France and most of the western countries, it is a common practice for physicians to offer a prescription of essential oils for certain health conditions. Patients are free to choose between the pharmaceutical medicines or the natural essential oils. Due to their proven healing power, the essential oils are becoming a major part of the alternative health systems and millions of people are using them for health related problems (Wu et al., 2012). Patients with diseases such as cancer have found reprieve by using essential oils (PDQ Integrative, 2017). In fact, aromatherapy is used primarily as supportive care for patients with cancer, due to the antibacterial, anti-inflammatory as well as the analgesic properties of essential oils.


Başer, K. and Buchbauer, G. (2010). Handbook of essential oils. 1st ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, p.844.

Davies, G. (2012). The illustrated timeline of medicine. 1st ed. New York: Rosen Pub., pp.48-49.

Essential Oils Academy, (n.d.). HISTORY. [online] Essential Oils Academy. Available at: [Accessed 9 Feb. 2017].

Grigore, A. (2017). Just the Essentials: How Essential Oils Can Heal Your Skin, Improve Your Health, and Detox Your Life. 2nd ed. Harperwave, p.14.

PDQ Integrative (2017). Aromatherapy and Essential Oils (PDQ®). [online] PubMed Health. Available at: [Accessed 9 Feb. 2017].

Rostagno, M. and Prado, J. (2013). Natural product extraction. 1st ed. Cambridge, U.K.: RSC Pub., pp.18-19.

Wu, Y., Zhang, Y., Xie, G., Zhao, A., Pan, X., Chen, T., Hu, Y., Liu, Y., Cheng, Y., Chi, Y., Yao, L. and Jia, W. (2012). The Metabolic Responses to Aerial Diffusion of Essential Oils. PLoS ONE, 7(9), p.e44830.

April 13, 2023

Science Life History



Subject area:

Plant Humanity Civilization

Number of pages


Number of words




Writer #



Expertise Civilization
Verified writer

LuckyStrike has helped me with my English and grammar as I asked him for editing and proofreading tasks. When I need professional fixing of my papers, I contact my writer. A great writer who will make your writing perfect.

Hire Writer

This sample could have been used by your fellow student... Get your own unique essay on any topic and submit it by the deadline.

Eliminate the stress of Research and Writing!

Hire one of our experts to create a completely original paper even in 3 hours!

Hire a Pro

Similar Categories