Roots in Egypt
Aromatherapy is believed to hold it's roots in Egypt, over 3,000 years before the time of Christ. Balls of odoriferous resins have been found in prehistoric tombs and inevitably the Egyptians would transition to incorporating fragrant plants, woods, and flowers into their incense blends. Incense burners have been found dating back to the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt. It is believed the Egyptians burned incense to honor their gods and to mask the unpleasant smells of everyday life.
Although some Chinese sub-cultures are believed to have used incense at an even earlier date, it's use did not become prevalent until the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties.
Evolution of Aromatherapy
It is believed imperial harems and courtesans of this era used fragrant plant extracts and oils to help provide atmosphere in their homes and work dwellings. Egyptians were known to use aromatic plants in rituals. Ancient healing practices around this time are also known to have incorporated these such oils into their medicinal practices to cure ailments and prolong life.
These oils were even incorporated into the embalming process. The Egyptians believed that essential oils helped preserve the mummies and protect them from decay. Although the term Mummia refers to several different concoctions throughout the span of time, at one point it was mistranslated and they began selling medicine crafted from the black resinous exudate which was scraped out from embalmed mummies. This compound was thought to be rich in essential oils and extracts and ended up becoming a lucrative trade around the 12th century.
Egypt was at one point a popular trade hub and exports of incense and perfumery flourished due to their unsurpassed quality. Traders would arrive in their ports from all over the world in seek of these fabled substances, while trying to trade exports from their own land. Priestesses were often employed to prepare the incense and the time-staking procedures were sometimes known to take months until the blends were perfected.
It wasn't long before these practices spread to Israel, India. and the Mediterranean, where each geographical location would develop it's own set of unique practices and customs. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Arab alchemists are thought to have perfected the ancient art of alchemy and distillation. Since then, aromatherapy has stood the test of time and is now used in hospitals and homes throughout the world. India is currently the largest producer of these compounds.