A Brief History of Essential Oils

A Brief History of Essential Oils

Essential oils are commonly used by natural remedy seekers everywhere for their healing properties, antibacterial properties and calming properties. Today, you can find essential oils in almost any grocery or convenience store. Not only are there dozens of varieties of essential oils (like lavender oil, tea tree oil, thyme oil, sandalwood oil, and more) that you can find on the market, but you can also find them infused into many beauty and bath products for their potent and soothing aromas. 

With essential oils being found all around us, have you ever stopped to wonder where they came from? Who was the first to use these versatile oils and for what? Since the dawn of time, the uses of herbs have been never-ending. Essential oils are made from plant and herb extracts and act as a type of herbal medicine.  

Let’s dive into a brief history of essential oils: where they were first used, what they were used for, and compare old and new processes of how they are made. So turn your diffuser on and take a deep breath in as we go on a brief journey through the history of essential oils!

First Uses of Essential Oils

Essential oils have been used for centuries. Historical records show the use of aromatic oils in ancient India, Persia, and Egypt. They were also used by the Greeks and Romans. These oils were used for a wide range of purposes in ancient times that varied from spiritual rituals to cosmetic purposes to being traded or given as gifts. They were also used as aromatics and incense for homes and buildings. 

For the ancient Egyptians, essential oils were commonly used for mummification and the embalming process that the Egyptians are famously known for. In addition to spiritual rituals, many early civilizations that experimented with essential oils often mixed them for medicinal purposes. 

Early records show the use of over 700 herbal substances as traditional Chinese medicine and Indian medicine—oils such as cinnamon, ginger, and myrrh being a few examples. Additionally—in these ancient time periods when bathing and good personal hygiene was not as common as it is today—essential oils were typically used as perfumes. The same is true for the Persians as well.

The methods and processes of extracting essential oils have come a long way in terms of efficiency and purity levels, however, the modern uses of these oils today are not too different from those of earlier times. We still commonly use essential oils in beauty products, for curing ailments and promoting good health, and for their lovely aromatic properties.

Ancient Vs. Modern Methods of Making Essential Oils

Before the distilling and extracting processes were invented, ancient civilizations that used essential oils would create them by placing a flower or leaves into another fatty oil. This was the early version of what we know today as essential oils, although modern methods can produce much more potent and pure products through processes like steam distilling or cold pressing the plant. Even before these ancient civilizations could harness the full potency of these herbs and plants, they still knew the powerful benefits that they could offer.

Steam Distillation

Steam distilling is one of, if not the, most common methods for making essential oils today. Steam distilling is when steam is passed through the plant, helping to bring out and separate the oils from its body. 

There is some debate about when and where steam distilling was first invented, but we know that it was in the A.D. centuries, long after ancient civilizations had been using their simpler methods of creating oils. The method of steam distilling gave us a much more pure version of essential oils that are able to offer higher potency and stronger benefits. 

Expressing or Cold Pressing Essential Oils

The cold pressing method to create essential oils is also known as expressing; you’ll find those terms often used interchangeably. Cold pressing is usually a method used for citrus fruit essential oils such as lemon and lime (as opposed to floral essential oils which are often made through steam distillation instead). 

In ancient times, a type of cold pressing was used but it was done by hand, which was very time-consuming. Today, modern cold pressing techniques are used by implementing large machinery. The machinery punctures holes into the rind of the fruit and then the oils are drained and separated into another part of the machine. 

As you can imagine, the machine cold pressing methods of today are able to produce a much more pure and higher potency essential oil than if it were done by hand. We’re thankful to be able to access such pure and effective products, thanks to modern technology! Plus, there are now chemists that work in a laboratory to ensure purity and quality. 

How Essential Oils Are Commonly Used Today

Today, essential oils are still used for medicinal and sometimes even spiritual purposes, but more commonly they can be found in beauty products and used for aromatherapy. Some natural-based physicians will recommend essential oils to their patients, but it is not commonly used as a form of internal medicine.  

In recent years there has been a wave of consumers seeking natural products, looking for refuge from chemically-laden products. The soothing and aromatherapy benefits of essential oils make them the perfect component to infuse into natural bathing, massage, and other self-care products.

Soothing Soaps and Bath Products

Essential oils are commonly used to add relaxing aromatherapy benefits to soaps. Certain oils, like lavender, have soothing properties that help calm the skin as well as your senses. Soaps, bath bubbles, and bath bombs are all popular products you can use today to bring the benefits of essential oils into your home and self-care routine. 

Rollers for Travel-Friendly Aromatherapy

The benefit of using essential oils in today’s age is their thoughtful and efficient packaging. We think essential oil rollers might just be the best invention ever! The rollerball perfectly distributes the essential oil from the tube while keeping it leak-proof when you’re traveling. Rollers store easily in your purse, suitcase, or nightstand for you to grab and apply without worrying about making a mess. 

Dab your favorite essential oil roller onto your wrists, neck, temples, or feet for a quick aromatherapy boost of whichever oil you’re using. Try lavender for nighttime relaxation or to calm anxiety. Give lemon a try if you’re wanting a boost of energy and motivation.

Diffuse Them for Relaxation

Yet another great invention that changed the essential oil world—the diffuser. We love the essential oil roller but we also love a good diffuser! Diffusers use a vibrating plate to create ultrasonic waves. 

These waves combine the water in the diffuser with the microscopic particles of the essential oils to form a fine mist. Some people think it forms smoke, but that’s not the case. The diffuser emits this mist, therefore distributing the soothing scents of your oils into the air for you to enjoy their therapeutic benefits.

What Does Therapeutic Grade Mean?

When a company offers Therapeutic Grade essential oils, this refers to the purity and quality standards that were used in extracting that oil. Often Therapeutic Grade essential oils will use the Gas Chromatography with Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) method. 

The GC-MS method is a process of separating the volatile compounds in natural products into individual components, then identifying each of these components and their percentages. Therapeutic Grade and pure essential oils refer to there being no fillers added as well. These are the best available products for consumers purchasing essential oils today.

The Recent Comeback of Essential Oils

In the early years of using essential oils, there were hundreds—if not thousands—of types used. Plants and flowers, herbs, citrus fruits, and roots were all types of substances used for making early essential oils. 

Although you can still find any of these today, there is much wider availability of certain, more popular, essential oil choices for today. Recently, there has been an explosion in popularity of essential oils. Here are some of the most popular essential oils that have made a strong comeback in recent years:


Anxiety and insomnia are common ailments that people seek treatment for today. Lavender is a very popular choice for people struggling with these issues because of its well-known calming properties. Lavender essential oil, when diffused or inhaled, can help with relaxing your mind and muscles, which helps you release your anxiety and sleep better. 


The spa scent of eucalyptus is a popular choice for diffusing or using in bath soaks. This calming scent mixes well with other essential oils to promote relaxation as a part of any aromatherapy practice. It’s an excellent choice for essential oil rookies who aren’t sure where to start.


Another popular essential oil used today is peppermint, especially for its pain-relieving benefits when applied topically. Peppermint has analgesic and calming properties that help to soothe the pain by creating a pleasant burning sensation that acts as a counter-irritant. This scent plays well with many other essential oils to create soothing aromatherapy blends that calm the body and mind. Additionally, peppermint is said to help repel bugs and can be a good option for a natural remedy in pest control.


Citrus oils are a common addition to natural products for their strong pleasant scent. Lemon oil in particular can energize and brighten your mood with its uplifting aroma. Roll on some lemon essential oil in the morning or when you’re in need of a mood boost during your workday. 

The History of Essential Oils Summarized

To summarize the brief history of essential oils, there are both similarities as well as differences when comparing how they were first used to how they are commonly used today. Essential oils date back to ancient times and can be traced back to the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. Early methods of forming these oils were simpler and created a less pure product with the addition of other filler oils. From emperors to gladiators to knights and common people, essential oils were (and are) used by everyone. 

Modern essential oil methods can separate the oils from the plant or fruit by distilling or expressing—forming a much higher quality and more potent liquid. Today’s uses of essential oils are not much different from their ancient uses in self-care routines and medicines. 


Essential oil plant substance | Britannica

An Overview of the Biological Effects of Some Mediterranean Essential Oils on Human Health | NCBI 

Steam Distillation - an overview | Science Direct 

Cold Pressing - an overview | Science Direct 

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