Relief from the Great Temple of Abydos, King Seti I (the second pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt) offering incense to Osiris the god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the afterlife and the dead.

Historical use of aromatic substances

Image Description Above: Relief from the Great Temple of Abydos, King Seti I (the second pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt) offering incense to Osiris the god of fertility, agriculture, the afterlife, the afterlife and the dead.

The oldest known method for capturing plant odours is called enfleurage and it is quite labour intensiveFor example, gardenia petals would be soaked in a fat for several days and then the process is repeated until the fat is saturated with the fragrance.

Image description: Victorian era photograph depicting several women working in a large hall.  Some of the women are sorting through baskets of flower petals, while others are pressing the flowers into wooden trays in preparation for soaking the petals in fat.

There is a fair amount of misunderstanding with respect to humans using essential oils hundreds of years ago, or for that matter thousands of years ago. During ancient times humans did not have the equipment and technological know-how to extract aromatic hydrocarbons from plants, therefore in order capture the aromatics or perfume aromas was through enfleurage.

The consumption and application of plants and herbs in the form of freshly harvested plants and their natural secretions dates back thousands of years.  The use of these substances by indigenous people around the world are known as ancient and/or traditional healing practices.

Relief depicting visitors offering gifts to King Persepolis Darius during the Persian Empire.

Dependent upon the geographical location and cultural practices the use of herbs, aromatic plants, spices, resins, and woods have been incorporated into culinary practices, brewed as teas, turned into tonics, used as poultices, salves, balms, deodorants and perfumes.

Traditional healing also focuses on communication with 'spirit beings' in order to bring healing to the individual by balancing disharmony. Each person is unique and so too are their imbalances, therefore it is imperative to call upon different spirit guides through prayer, song and ceremony.

Image Description: Relief depicting visitors offering gifts to King Persepolis Darius during the Persian Empire.

Another aspect of ancient traditions is the burning of resins, woods, grasses, and herbs at purification ceremonies, anointing rituals, and as offerings to; mother earth, the stars and planet, spirits, to goddesses and gods.  These are important historical and cultural practices, that have fostered humans with the desire to survive. 

Image Description: Sage leaves are burning in an abalone shell for the purpose of smudging.

Salvia apiana (white sage) is an evergreen perennial shrub that is native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico also referred to as ‘Sacred Sage’. For centuries, Indigenous tribes have burned sage (known as Smudging) during spiritual ceremonies to cleanse, purify and pray. This is just one species of sage that is considered ‘Sacred’ there are many other varieties depending upon Native Teachings and protocols in different geographical locations. It is imperative for non-indigenous people to be respectful when using sacred medicines and perhaps use the term ‘smoke cleansing’ rather than Smudging. When in doubt please consult with a Traditional Elder, Healer or Medicine Person.

In my opinion these traditional methods can and should continue to exist side by side with contemporary healthy-living practices, because it is important to consider the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical facets of a healthy life and to respect all people’s beliefs.

-Sandra Topper
  Canadian Professional Aromatherapist since 1993

The information and statements on this site are intended for educational purposes only and not intended to prescribe, cure, prevent, treat or diagnose any disease or condition. None of the information herein has been evaluated by Health Canada or by the Federal Drug Administration.

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