Little is known about the history of aromatherapy, or where it originated specifically, but the Egyptians are credited with developing one of the first distillation machines to extract oils from certain plants — cedarwood, clove, cinnamon, to name a few — which were used to embalm the dead. The practice of using infused aromatic oils as a mood enhancer, however, is thought to have roots in China.
The Greeks also played a role in the history of aromatherapy. Megallus, a Greek perfumer, developed a fragrance he called megaleion, which consisted of myrrh. The “father of medicine” Hippocrates is said to have practiced aromatherapy (before it was dubbed so) for healing purposes. Greek mythology claims the gods were gifted with the knowledge of perfume and fragrance.
The actual term “aromatherapy” first originated in 1937 when French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse invented the word after a burn incident spurred his curiosity about the healing power of essential oils. On the heels of Gattefosse’s “discovery” that lavender oil helped to cure his burn, French surgeon Jean Valnet used essential oils to help heal soldiers’ wounds in World War II, proving the medical benefits of aromatherapy.