Herbal Perfumes
A brief history of Perfumery

The human use of scents, aromas and fragrances has its origins lost in ancient times. Why and when people started to prepare them will never be known. However, 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 the heaven and earth, a tradition followed by many religions until the present days.

The Assyrian and the Egyptians, who started their civilizations in the fourth millennium B.C., knew how to use medicinal plants to make remedies as well as scented oils, unguents and balms. The demand for the raw materials needed in fragrances and remedies led to the discovery of new methods of extracting scents. A large number of new techniques were mastered and craftsman developed processes like pressing, decoction, pulverization and maceration, and made the initial attempts to produce essential oils by distillation.

Alexandria became the most important trade center of the region, receiving goods from the Eastern trade, processing Arabian drugs and Indian perfumes. The raw materials arrived from Arabia, Persia, India and China. The use of perfumes spread to Greece where they started to be used not only in religious practices but also for personal purposes, a fundamental change in the direction of the modern employment of perfumes and cosmetics and their present industrial production. Following the trend, the Romans used fragrances lavishly. Their manuscripts describe and illustrate herbs brought from all over the world.

A decline in the use of aromas for personal purposes occurred with the fall of the Roman Empire and during the Middle Ages in Europe, when perfume was again only used in church rituals and for cover the stench of disease. Fortunately exotic flowers, herbs and spices became once again available in Europe when trade to the Orient was reestablished in the beginning of the 13th century A.C.. From the Arabs came the knowledge of alchemy and distillation of essential oils. Venice became the center of the perfume trade and soon perfumery spread to other European countries. The perfume trade developed rapidly as the Crusaders reintroduced the personal use of perfume upon their return to Europe.

It is interesting to note that until then, i.e. for more than 4000 years, the raw materials employed in the manufacturing of aromas, perfumes, remedies and cosmetics came exclusively from natural vegetal or animal sources. It was only in the late 18th century A.C. that the first synthetic fragrance material was produced. This was the beginning of the modern age of perfumery. With the event of synthetics, perfumery would no longer be exclusively used by the wealthy.

The large scale industrial production of perfumes increased after the appearance of larger numbers of new synthetics. Naturals were used to soften synthetics. However, the synthetics were often harsh and lacked the softness proper of naturals. So naturals remained an important part of modern formulations. On the other hand, some synthetic raw materials may induce allergic reactions and other skin problems in some users.

The return to non-industrial techniques of manufacture and the use of natural products can be achieved by making your own perfumes, cosmetics, balms, remedies, soaps, perfumed oils and so forth. It may sound a pretentious and absurd proposition to most people but, as you will see, making your own perfumes is not only easy but also a source of great pleasure and fun.
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