The human use of scents, aromas and fragrances has its origins lost in ancient
times. Why, when and how people first started to prepare them may never be
known, but archeological findings, early written texts and oral tradition show
that the history of aromas goes deep back in time. Early civilizations offered
scent flowers, herbs and resins in worship of their Gods. When burned, some
plants released stronger aromas and scented smoke fires became part of religious
rituals, a mystical mean of communication between heaven and earth, a tradition
followed by many religions until present day. When looking back into history,
many agree that the Egyptians, during Queen Sheba’s rule, were the first to
incorporate perfume into their culture. From the religious ceremonies involving
the burning of incense to the embalming of the dead, perfume was an integral
part of Egyptian life. Even scents like myrrh were considered more valuable than
gold. In the Bible, one of the Three Wise Men brought this as a gift to the
newborn Christ. But perfume did not only linger in spiritual ceremonies: the

Egyptians were also the first to anoint their bodies with the scents of cinnamon
and honey. Depicted on the walls of the temple of Edfu, one can also see the
depiction of the art of floral extraction as perfume is distilled from the
flowers of the white Madonna lily. This “essential accessory” was
reserved mostly for the powerful and the wealthy. Both men and women alike wore
the precious scents. With the death of the mystical Cleopatra, so also died the

Egyptian grandeur and appreciation of beauty. For thousands of years perfumes
had been used widely as an integral part of their culture even though almost all
of the herbs and flowers were from abroad, from Palestine, Persia, India, and

Arabia. In Persia, perfume was also a sign of rank. In the palaces one could see
kings with crowns of myrrh and of labyzuz and smell the aromas of sweetly
smelling scents drifting in the air of their apartments. In the backyards of
homes belonging to the wealthy, one could find exquisite gardens holding
jasmine, lilacs, violets, and the famous red rose. This rose whose petals
covered the floor when Cleopatra first met Mark Antony and that would become the
symbol of the House of Lancaster during the War of the Roses, was known all over
the world for its perfume which increased in intensity as the petals dried. The

Persians began to master the art of preservation by placing the rose buds in
sealed jars to be later opened for a special occasion. Persians also used
perfumes after bathing. It was not until after Alexander the Great, with his
desire for conquest, defeated Darius III of Persia and moved to Egypt that he
adopted the use of perfumes. It is said that his floors were sprinkled with
scented waters and that his clothes were imprinted the perfumes of fragrant
resins and myrrh. But the perfume found its magic in the folds of ancient Greek
religion. The Greeks believed the Gods were perfume’s inventors and it was said
that the visit of a God or Goddess was marked with the sweet smell as a token of
their presence. They held a special place in ceremonies. It is interesting that
the first “gold medal” in the Olympic Games was a piece of art in the
shape of a golden violet. Perfume was an integral part of Greek society, even
though some of the greatest philosophers like Socrates found them
“effeminate”. However Greeks also made their mark on the world of
perfume. They played an important role in the science of perfume by categorizing
them by the part of the plant from which they were made and documenting their
compositions. The Romans first celebrated scent around 750 B.C. in religious
ceremonies to celebrate the Goddess of Flora. Each year the ceremonies would be
held to celebrate the first flowers of the season. Later, the ceremony was held
each year on April 28, four days before May Calend (this ceremony was adopted by
the British and is now known as May Day). The Romans were also known for their
gardens, but the flowers were mainly used for garlands to be worn in their
maiden’s hair. When the Roman’s began their world conquest they began to adopt
the use of perfume into their own culture. Greek influence was especially
prominent in the use of perfume in religious ceremonies. As the Roman culture
began to adopt these scents, one could see its effect everywhere. In fact, it
was Constantine the Great who brought the use of scents into the Christian
church. He had oils and incense burned in the church of St. John-in-Latrine,
which was home to the early Popes for thousands of years. Even today, one can
see the continuing of this ceremony as the Pope gives his annual blessing of the

Golden Rose. It is clear how perfume has played a significant role in religion.

But this did not just belong to the cultures described above. Mohammed centers
his religion on the enjoyment of material pleasures, including perfume. He
promised his believers the Garden of Paradise where the most exotic perfumes
could be found. The Koran speaks of those who make the journey across the
razor-edge thin bridge of Al Sirat will drink form the waters that are
“whiter than milk, more perfumed than musk”. It was an Arabian doctor,

Avicenna, who was the first to obtain the oil from flowers, known as attar, by
distillation. Before this revelation, perfumes were derived from the bark of
twigs and shrubs in the form of resins. Visitors of Arabian homes would be
sprinkled with rose water as a mark of esteem. Their coffees would be flavored
with roses. A bowl of charcoal would be passes around after the meal and
sprinkled with incense in which the guests’ garments would be wrapped. When the
guest left, they would have their beards and garments sprinkled with incense as
a parting gesture. In India, perfumes also play a major role in their culture.

Plants have always abounded in their country and the Hindu have adapted their
scents into religion. The flames meant for sacrifices would be sending out
aromatic scents of ointments and herbs. In Hindu marriages the bride is rubbed
with scents by her handmaid and later the married couple will sit beneath a silk
canopy enveloped by the smells of sandalwood and other delicious scents. The god
of love, Kama, is always shown carrying his cupids bow and his five arrows that
are each tipped with a fragrant blossom. The scent of patchouli, which
personally reminds me of my hippie roommate from freshman year and still makes
me feel nauseous to this day (patchouli, not my roommate!), was used later to
scents Indian shawls. In China, incense is also used in religious ceremonies
such as the death of a family member. The body would be washed and perfumed and
incense would be lit in the room. The mourners would carry lighted sticks
scented with incense during the processional. Chinese women wore their hair in
buns that were wrapped with flowers whose fragrances would last for quite some
time. Appreciation of scents such as sandalwood spread also to Japan. The

Japanese religion Shinto uses the burning of incense and other gums during
ceremonial occasions. Now, in modern times perfumes, scents, and fragrances have
continued to become part of virtually everyone’s lives. You can find the scents
of numerous plants and flowers in so many different perfumes and colognes. Like
the ancient peoples who used the natural aromas of plants and flowers, we too in
modern times, seek the comfort or soothing effect of aromas. More recently
however, aromatherapy has become highly popular in the American culture. Using
natural herbs, plants and flowers, it has been found that these aromas have
various effects on people, from a natural aphrodisiac to a relaxing calming
effect. Listed below are several common plants and flowers used today in
aromatherapy. Peppermint, Mentha piperita It has been said that Peppermint has
been known to relieve headaches. Just one drop of Peppermint in a teaspoon of
cream or unscented oil (sweet almond or jojoba) rubbed gently onto your neck can
actually help soothe a throbbing headache. Another way in which peppermint can
help is by using its healing qualities with nausea (maybe I’ll try it next time

I smell patchouli!). Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis “Rosemary is for
remembrance.” This unique oil has said to “awaken the mind and
stimulate memory”. Many report that Rosemary helps to retain more
information and perform well on exams. It also can be very nourishing to hair
and can be added to shampoo to add nutrients to stimulate hair growth.

Calendula, Calendula officinalis This is a common marigold and has bright
orange, yellow, and deep brown flowers. It is grown mainly for its medicinal
qualities. Therapeutically, calendula oils are known for its ability to soothe
rough, dry, injured or cracked skin. We like to use it combined with the
herbally infused oils of arnica and St. John’s Wort. Clary Sage, Salvia sclarea

This can be used for several purposes, the first of which is stress, something
that millions of Americans experience every day. If you have high blood
pressure, diffusing clary sage into the room or bath may help. It also has been
known to help people with asthma or respiratory problems. Geranium, Pelargonium
graveolens This can help many people feel emotionally uplifted. It is also known
to reduce swelling, especially fluid retention and adema of the ankles.

Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia Lavender is the oil of “balance”. It
provides relief for a multiple of problems including headaches, muscle aches,
insomnia, skin problems, digestive disorders, and stress. It can also help to
soothe a bee sting or bug bite. It is evident that the use of herbs, flowers and
plants in scents varies throughout different cultures and times, but the basic
purpose remains the same- to provide people with a natural way to express
themselves and as in the case of modern aromatherapy, to provide natural
alternatives or solutions to common problems.