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Egypt, the Cradle of Essential Oils

Krisztián Pályi

The earliest information of using essential oils dates back to 10,000 B.C. It seems that special herbal oils were quite in the scope of interest for some time but Egypt is considered the real cradle of the essential oils. It was the Egyptians who had become the pioneers of using aromatic herbs for this end.
Obviously, the love of beauty was not unknown for the everyday Egyptian; in the gardens of the pharaohs many different species of herbs could be found, most of them had practical use as well. Many plants were grown especially for their oil content, and then these oils were used for cosmetic purposes and for spiritual considerations as well.
Since the technology of distillation was unknown until the 4th century B.C.,essential oils were extracted through maceration, a process when herbs are soaked into some sort of base oil, such as almond oil. This method was not as effective as distillation therefore the value of these macerated oils were extraordinary, they filled in a very special place in the culture of Egypt. Rarity and expensiveness are synonyms of luxury, consequently the use of such oils and perfumes had become the symbol of richness. But they were not just the privilege of the rich. Such application of the plants was quite widespread in Egypt; oils and perfumes were used as forms of payment as well.
Although personal hygiene was important, and essential oils were part of it, spirituality had strongly interwoven with fragrances. The Egyptian goddess of essential oils, perfumes, and healing is Nefertum. As the legend goes, she was the one who could ease the pain of Ra, the deity of the sun, with a bouquet of lotus, therefore we can welcome Nefertum as the first ever aromatherapist. The extraction of this plant can also be found in Mandorla Ikon Essential Oil Blend.

According to the legend, first there was only the Nun, the dark waters of chaos. From these waters had surfaced a blue lotus flower (Nymphaea nouchali) which opened its petals when light touched upon it. The child Nefertum was sitting in the middle of the flower who at that moment started to emit light and fragrance. She had become then the creator of the sun god, the source of every life. Egyptians believed that the Sun rose from the lotus flower in the morning and then set in it in the evening.
According to another legend, the enemies of Ra had prepared an assasination against the sun god and were about to carry it out at dawn when the Sun was about to rise. Fortunately, defenders of Ra were on guard who, after a vicious fight, finally became victorious. During the final battle, Ra was carrying the same lotus flower as from which the Sun was born.
The question of eternal life had always been a central issue for Egyptians. Noble people and especially the pharaohs were embalmed and mummified after their death, for the clay to be able to survive all those 3,000 years through which the deceased passes through all animal forms and can materialize as a human again. The process of mummification - which lived its hay days from 2,000 A.D. to 364 A.D. - started with the removal of the internal organs and drying the emptied body with natron. At the end of the process, the body is dried out, became hard and tough. To protect the body from further decay, to repel the smell of the rotten corpse, and to soften the skin again, not to mention, to open a spiritual gate towards the afterlife vast variety of essential oils and fragrances were applied. Most of these materials can be found in the works of the Greek Herodotus (484 A.D. - 425 A.D.), the first known historian. Such herbs were the cassia, the cinnamon, the thyme, the lavender, the peppermint, the cedar, the rose and the scotch pine, and resins like myrrh of frankincense. 
Personal hygiene was of utmost importance for Egyptians. The earliest source to support this is from the Ebers papyrus dated back to 1,500 B.C. This finding reveals the close relationship between perfumes and spiritualism. Every Egyptian god was devoted to one special fragrance, that is why the true and authentic experts of herbs were the priests and priestesses. They were the ones who had extensive knowledge about these plants and their healing powers, and they made essential oils and mixed perfumes from them.
One of the most popular fragrance compositions for Egyptians was the kyphi. The only mention about this so far can be related to he Greek chronicler, Plutarhos (46 A.D. - 125 A.D.) who dates the description of this herb extraction blend back to 300 B.C. There are many variants of this blend but most of the sources quote that it has ten basis ingredients: honey, wine, raisins, myrrh, juniper (Juniperus) Cyperus, turpentine, rooibos (Aspalathus), Calamus, and the sweet flag (Acorus calamus). Different sources quote different ingredients, but the Egyptian recipe adds six more: Chinese cassia (Cinnamomum cassia), cinnamon, resin of mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), mint (Mentha), henna (Lawsonia inermis), and mimosa. Despite the fact that these ingredients are considered the ingredients of the Egyptian kyphi, the phenological description is probably not completely accurate. 
Besides kyphi being a perfume, it had antiseptic, anti-venomous, and sedative effects as well, therefore it was used for incense and airway cleaning. Kyphi is organically connected to spirituality. Priests embalmed their temples with it, and some of this blend was even found in Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922.

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