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The History Of Aromatherapy From Around The World

According to the orthodox view of history, civilisation began with the ancient Egyptians some 5300 years ago. The oldest pyramid was built in the third dynasty, around 3000 BC, by King Zoser's chief architect, Imtohep, who was also astronomer and physician to the King. He certainly did much to advance medical knowledge and since infused oils and aromatic unguents used were so often in Egyptian medicine, we could probably justifiably label him as the grandfather of aromatherapy.

One of the earliest and most celebrated aromatic formulas was a mixture of sixteen aromatics, known as kyphi. We cannot be sure of the exact ingredients, but most experts agree that it contained myrrh, juniper, cinnamon, spikenard, frankincense, saffron and cassia, amongst others. It must have been very popular; as well as being used in temples, kyphi was burned in the house to make it smell sweet and used as a perfume for the body and clothes (later used as a liquid perfume by both Greeks and Romans).

Kyphi was also employed as a medicine. According to Plutarch, a Greek historian, "Its aromatic substances lull to sleep, allay anxieties and brighten dreams. It is made of things that delight most in the night", making it the original 'opium of the masses'. When one of the sealed flasks discovered when the tomb of Tutankhamum was opened in 1922, it contained an unguent that, after 3300 years, still had a perceptible odour. Analysis revealed the presence of frankincense and spikenard. Perhaps this is the only surviving bottle of the world's first perfume.