During the 16:th to 18:th centuries the art of distilling plants had grown to become an every-day matter. Every mansion had its own distillery and the pharmacies of the time distilled essential oils for medicinal purposes. The doctor would make out a recipe, and the pharmacies would blend the medicines.
In this time herbal medicine grew immensely with the founding of the Royal Society in Britain, the plant classifications by Linnaeus and the great herbals by, amongst others, Culpeper, Gerard and Parkinson. By the end of the 18:th century, essential oils were widely used in medicine alongside herbs, essential oils being the strongest form of medicine in existence.
The late 19:th and early 20:th century saw the flourishing of chemistry as a discipline. As plant cures and essential oils could be synthesized in a laboratory – the cures both stronger and faster in action, essential oils began to lose their place in the pharmacopoeiae.
In the early 1900’s a French chemist, René-Maurice Gattefossé – the father of aromatherapy, rediscovered the effectiveness of essential oils when he after a severe burn dipped his hand in pure lavender-oil and noted the speed of recovery; the pain was instantly subdued, there was no infection nor scarring. This made him devote himself to the study of esssential oils. He discovered that the oils could penetrate the skin to access the blood-stream and chemically interact with the chemistry of the body. In 1937 he published the book “L’aromathérapie” that became the first textbook on essential oils.
Dr. Jean Valnet followed in Gattefossé’s footsteps. He was an army-doctor during WW2. As antibiotics were hard to come by in wartime, he used essential oils with great success. After the war he opened a clinic where he success-fully used essential oils for both physical and psychological healing. Much of his work was based on the antiseptic properties of essential oils. In 1964 Dr Valnet published a book; “Aromathérapie se soigner par les essences de plantes”.
At this stage aromatherapy began popping up all over Europe; Italian doctors Gatti and Cojola start researching the psychological effects of essential oils in the 20:s; In the 70:s their work was followed up by Professor Paolo Rovesti at the University of Milan.
Mme Maury, an Austrian cosmetologist, introduced the idea of massage combined with essential oils in the 50:s. Not being a doctor, she was looking for other ways of administering the essential oils. By blending – or diluting – them with vegetable oil, the resulting blend was milder and could be used directly on the skin without irritating it. Most of her clients were healthy women that wanted beauty-treatments and the results of the aromatherapy was astounding; not only did it make the skin look better, it also had other effects such as relief from rheumathic pain, stronger libido, better and deeper sleep and an overall mood-enhancing effect. In the early 60:s Mme Maury opened her first clinic in London where she also held workshops and training. Some well-known names trained for her in the late 70:s; Robert Tisserand, Shirley Price and Patricia Davis are some of them.
The final break-through for aromatherapy as a valued alternative health practice came in the late 80:s and early 90:s when it finally became a recognized profession in many countries. In Britain and Sweden the training is state-supported and sometimes subsidized.