Historical records reveal that people’s use of scents, aromas, fragrances and essential oils have been used in almost every culture for millenniums. The history of perfumery begins with the Egyptians using aromatics in embalming, while the Greeks attributed sweet aromas to their gods by burning incense and the Babylonians perfumed the mortar with which they built their temples.
In fact, Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt drenched the sails of her ships with the most exotic fragrant essential oils so that their essences would herald her arrival along the banks of the Nile. The Hebrews scattered fresh leaves, twigs, and stems of fresh mint, marjoram and other herbs on the dirt floors of homes and synagogues. By walking on these, the fragrant essential oils would be released into the air. This practice was also common in the temple, where they sacrificed animals where the scent acted as a disinfectant as well as an air freshener.
Both the Assyrian’s and Egyptians used scented oils. Because of this, the demand for the raw materials necessary to produce both fragrances and remedies led to the discovery of new ways to extract scents from the plants used. Such techniques as pressing, decoction, pulverization and maceration were developed and mastered by both the Assyrian’s and the Egyptians. They even made attempts to produce essential oils by distillation. These methods will be discussed in the next chapter.
Slowly, the use of perfumes spread to Greece, where not only were they used in religious ceremonies, but also for personal purposes as well. When the Romans saw what the Greeks were doing, they began to use fragrances even more lavishly. There are many manuscripts that ascribed to how herbs were brought from all over the world to produce the fragrances they used.
After the Roman Empire fell, so the use of aromas for personal use declined. However, during the Middle Ages, perfumes again were used, this time only in churches in Europe for religious ceremonies and to cover the stench of disease and death which abounded at that time.
When trade with the Orient was reestablished at the beginning of the 13th Century, exotic flowers, herbs and spices became more readily available around Europe. Venice quickly became the center of the perfume trade. It was not long before perfumery soon spread to other European countries. The perfume trade then developed even further, as those returning from the crusades reintroduced perfume for personal use.
By the late 18th Century, the synthetic material for fragrances was being produced, which led to the beginning of perfumery in the modern age. Thus, with the introduction of synthetics, perfumes would no longer be exclusively used by the rich and famous. Now with synthetics readily available to produce perfumes, they could be made on a much larger scale, although natural oils were still being used to help soften the synthetics. Today, natural products still remain a very important part of the production of perfumes in modern formulations.
More and more people today are turning away from the industrial techniques of producing perfume, preferring to make it themselves. Most find it is not only easy to do, but a great source of pleasure and fun.