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History, Myths & Legends of Aromatherapy Part 2

PlanetLightworker art May 2006


History, Myths and Legends of Aromatherapy Part 2


Neroli/Citrus aurantium var. amara

Neroli oil is obtained from the steam distillation of the flowers of the orange tree. It is thought to be native to the Far East.


It is said that neroli derived its name from a 16th century Italian princess, Anne-Marie of Nerola, who was the wife of Prince Flavio Orsini. Anne-Marie wore neroli as a perfume, and as a result many other noble women followed the example set by the Princess of Nerola. Neroli was also renowned in the court of Queen Elizabeth 1 of England. Neroli is also said to have got its name from the Roman Emperor, Nero.  There is also another explanation that neroli was named after a seventeenth century Duchess, The Duchess of Tremoille, who was known as ‘la Nerola’ because she used neroli to scent her gloves. But according to Mrs Grieve, both the common and the official name of neroli come from the Sanskrit word ‘nagarana’ or ‘naranj’ in Arabic. The Arabs recommended neroli as a cure for impotence. Neroli is often employed in aphrodisiac blends as an aid to virility.


Neroli is derived from the orange blossom. Orange blossoms were woven into a bride’s bouquet for 100’s of years to ensure good luck, happiness and fertility to the bridal couple. A bride who wore orange blossoms in her hair was proclaiming her virginity. Orange blossoms were also placed on the bridal bed to calm nervous apprehension before the bridal couple retired to the marriage bed. On the other hand, Madrid’s ‘women of the night’ wore neroli as a perfume to seduce and lure clients. For these reasons, neroli symbolises both seduction and sexual purity.


Orange/Citrus sinensis/Citrus aurantium var.dulcis

Orange is a native of the Far East, originating from oriental Asia (China, India, and the Asiatic South-East). The orange, like the orange blossom, is a symbol of innocence and fertility. Both the orange and neroli share their common history, neroli being the flower and orange being the fruit of the same tree. The Arabs were the first to mention the orange through their early writings, and they were the first to introduce the orange to Europe. The word orange comes from the Arabic word ‘narandj’, which means ‘orange’. The orange is the ‘golden apple’ spoken of in Greek mythology. The golden apple was the fruit that Juno gave to Jupiter on the day of their celestial wedding.


Another Greek myth that speaks of the orange and its ties to innocence and fertility is the story of Atlanta. Atlanta was the swiftest of the mortals and she would only marry a man who could beat her in a race. Unfortunately for her challengers, Atlanta killed anyone who lost to her. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, decided to help Milanion, a man who fancied Atlanta. Aphrodite felt sorry for Milanion, so she gave him a bunch of oranges. Milanion challenged Atlanta, and during the race he dropped oranges along the way. Atlanta, not having seen anything like an orange before was so distracted and entranced by the oranges that Milanion was able to win the race. Atlanta and Milanion were married, and Atlanta became a mother and a housewife-the symbol of innocence and fertility.


            According to folklore, the exchange of an orange between unmarried men and women was a simple charm to invite love to blossom between the two. In the legend of Nell Gwynn, the orange seller who won the heart of the English King, the orange is a symbol of seduction.




Peppermint(Mentha piperita)

Peppermint is a native of the Mediterranean region. The world’s oldest surviving text the ‘Ebers Papyrus,’ mentions the use of peppermint as a stomach soother. Peppermint was one of the plants mentioned in recipes for liturgical perfumes found on the walls of the Temple of Horus at Edfou in Egypt. Mint spread from Egypt to Palestine, where it was accepted as payment for taxes. This particular use for mint is recorded in the Bible in Luke (11.39), which says; “you pay tithes of mint and rue…but you have no care for justice and love of God.”

From the holy land, mint spread to Greece. Mint is recorded in Greek mythology in the following legend of Minthe; Pluto, the God of the dead, fell in love with a beautiful nymph by the name of Minthe. Persephone, Pluto’s Goddess wife, was so jealous of Pluto’s infatuations with Minthe that she changed Minthe into the plant mint. Unfortunately for Minthe, Pluto could not restore her back to her human form, but he managed to give her plant form the fragrant aroma associated with mint. The word ‘minthe’ evolved into mint’s genus name of ‘Mentha’.

The Greek and Roman housewives added mint to milk to prevent it from spoiling. They served mint after meals as an aid to digestion.  Both the Chinese and the Ayurvedic physicians of India used mint as a digestive aid, as a tonic and as a treatment for coughs, colds and fevers. In both ancient Greece and Rome peppermint adorned the tables of feasts and people crowned themselves with peppermint. Peppermint was also used to flavour wine and was added to bathwater for its restorative properties. Dioscorides, an ancient Greek physician, considered mint to be a ‘heating’ herb and therefore a promoter of lustful feelings. Pliny, the Roman naturalist, wrote of mint “...reanimates the spirit.” He also suggested that mint be hung in sickrooms to assist convalescence.

            Peppermint was first introduced into Europe and Britain by the Romans, where it became popular as a strewing herb for freshening rooms and also as an insect repellent. It was first recorded in England by Nicholas Culpeper and Gerard.

Nicholas Culpeper, a herbalist of the 17th century, wrote of mint being a digestive aid and helpful to wind and colic. Culpeper disagreed with Dioscorides’ view of mint being a promoter of lust. He believed it had the opposite effects in such matters.

In Victorian times, peppermint was added to hot water for mopping floors in order to remove negativity.





Rose (Rosa damascena/Rosa centifolia)

The rose is native to central Asia. Rose is known as the “Queen of Essential Oils.” The rose itself, is an ancient flower and fossils from the Tertiary era (dating back forty million years) confirm that the rose was very much in existence and flourishing from that time onwards. The wild rose was cultivated by the ancients about 5000 years before era. In China during the Hang Dynasty there was such a fashion for rose gardens that the Emperor had to restrict its cultivation as it was starting to encroach onto agricultural land, threatening food production.


The ancient Greek poetess, Sappho, crowned the rose the “Queen of all Flowers.” The word ‘rosa’ is derived from the Greek word ‘rodon’, meaning ‘red.’ The word ‘centifolia’ means ‘100 petals.’ The oldest known depiction of the rose is a fresco in a Crete palace called ‘Knossos”. It is believed that the fresco dates back to 2000 B.C. Clay tablet receipts recovered from Pylos (1500 B.C.) show the trade and purchase of rose oil-most likely the macerated form.

The tenth century alchemist Avicenna is believed to be the first person to produce a distillation from the rose. In alchemy, the rose symbolises divine or mystical love. Rose oil was first recorded in Persia also in the 10th century.

In Roman mythology, it is said that the goddess Venus gave the rose its colour with the blood of Adonis, after he was killed by a boar. The rose of the ancients was a deep crimson, which gave rise to the myth. The rose is also a symbol of Venus, the goddess of love, and it is thought that the planet Venus governs the rose. The rose is also sacred to the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. No love potion was considered potent unless it contained a few drops of rose oil or rosewater.


Rose petals were scattered at ancient Roman and Egyptian weddings to ensure a happy marriage. Roses were a favourite of the Egyptians, who used rosewater as perfume and the petals as an air freshener. Roses became established in Egypt about the fourth century B.C., when the Persians invaded. It is said that the first century A.D. Egyptian Queen Cleopatra first made love to Mark Anthony on a carpet buried under 1 inch of rose petals. Cleopatra also ordered that the floors of her palace be covered knee-deep in rose petals. As a further reminder of her love to Mark Anthony, Cleopatra had the sails of her ships soaked in rosewater so that the scent of the rose on the breeze alerted her lover of her impending arrival-well before she could be seen.

Roses were used extensively by the Romans; the ancient Roman Emperor Nero was said to have slept on a bed of rose petals and he was also fond of carpets of rose petals.


The Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates, recommended steeping rose petals in oil as a remedy for diseases of the uterus. Ayurvedic physicians knew that rose petals were both cooling and astringent and so employed their use in poultices to treat wounds and skin inflammations. Rose water and rose petals were also used as a laxative. Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th century abbess and herbalist, recommended rose hip tea to be the first initial treatment for most illnesses.


            The English King, Edward VI (1547-1553) insisted that his rooms be suffused with the aroma of red roses day and night. The Elizabethans used rose petals for their beauty and odour. They used rose to scent their food and their rooms with rose pot-pourri. Rose was also used to scent the laundry water. The women of the court during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 sewed rose petals into their skirts in order to charm gallant courtiers. Queen Elizabeth 1 ordered that a perfume canon of roses to be fired when she entertained the Duke of Anjou. The Victorians gave red roses as a proclamation of their love and passion.



Rosemary/Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary spread her cloak over a rosemary bush while she rested and as a result of this the flowers turned blue like her cloak. From then on, the bush was called ‘Rose of Mary.” Rosemary is also known as ‘Sea rose, Herb of Crowns, Mary’s Tree, Guardrobe, Incensier, Elf Leaf, Sea Dew, Dew of the Sea, Polar Plant, Mary’s Cloak, Libanotis, Stella Maria, Star of The Sea, Compass Weed and Compass Plant’. The word ‘Rosmarinus’ comes from the Latin word ‘rosmaris’ which means ‘dew of the sea’, which is a reference to rosemary’s refreshing effects on the spirit and the fact that rosemary’s habitat in the Mediterranean is usually along the coastal regions. The ancients knew well of rosemary’s refreshing effects- ancient Greek students would wear garlands of rosemary to increase their memory and this is how rosemary became to be called the ‘Herb of Crowns.’ Rosemary has long been recognised as a symbol of remembrance, and an example of its symbolic use today is seen at funerals where guests wear a sprig of rosemary and a sprig of rosemary is also cast onto the coffin of the deceased. The ancients also used rosemary as a respiratory ailment treatment and as sacred incense in some religious ceremonies. Sprigs of rosemary have been found in Egyptian Tombs (3000 BC.) It was the Arabs who first extracted the essential oil of Rosemary. The Romans used rosemary to decorate statues of their household Gods as rosemary symbolised stability.


  In 1235, The Queen of Hungary became paralysed and legend has it that a hermit soaked a pound of rosemary in a gallon of wine for several days and then rubbed it on her limbs. This treatment cured the Queen Elizabeth of Hungary of her paralysis, and the rosemary-wine combination became known as ‘Queen of Hungary’s Water.’ This concoction was used for centuries to treat dandruff, gout, skin problems and to prevent baldness. Rosemary was also one of the ingredients in the ‘Vinegar of Four Thieves,” which was a potion used by grave robbers for protection against the plague.


            In the middle ages, rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies-the bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary, and from this association with weddings rosemary evolved into a love charm. Newly wed couples would plant a branch of rosemary on their wedding day. If the branch grew it was a good omen for the union and family. In ‘A Modern Herbal’, Mrs Grieves says “A rosemary branch, richly gilded and tied with silken ribands of all colours, was also presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty.” Another example of rosemary’s use as a love charm was that a young person would tap another with a rosemary sprig and if the sprig contained an open flower, it was said that the couple would fall in love. Rosemary was used as a divinatory herb-several types of herbs were grown in pots and assigned the name of a potential lover. Then they were left to grow and the plant that grew the strongest and fastest gave the answer. Rosemary was also stuffed into poppets (cloth dolls) in order to attract a lover or attract curative vibrations for illness. It was believed that placing a sprig of rosemary under a pillow before sleep would repel nightmares, and if placed outside the home it would repel witches. Somehow, the use of rosemary in the garden to repel witches turned into signification that the woman ruled the household in homes and gardens where rosemary grew abundantly. By the 16th century this practise became a bone of contention and men where known to rip up rosemary bushes to show that they-not their wives, ruled the roost.


            The French hung rosemary in hospitals and sickrooms as healing incense. It was referred to as ‘incensier.’ Rosemary was the favourite scent of Napoleon Bonaparte.

In Spain and Italy, rosemary is considered a protector against evil spirits.










Sage/Saliva officinalis/Salvia lavandulifolia

Sage is a native plant from the countries bordering the Mediterranean. The genus name of ‘salviacomes from the Latin word ‘salvus’ which means I save’ or safe’ or ‘to heal’. The Romans called sage herba sacra’, which means ‘sacred herb.’ The ancient Romans and Greeks used sage to enhance the memory. The Emperor Charlemagne ordered sage to be grown in all his physic/medical gardens.

The ancient Egyptians called sage ‘apousi.’ Pollen from the sage plant was found on the mummified body of King Ramesses II.

            The Arab physicians of the 10th century believed that sage could extend life to the point of immortality. This belief sparked the adage in the middle ages of ‘why should a man die while sage grows in his garden?’ and the English proverb ‘He that would live foraye (forever)/Must eat sage in May.’ It was also said that wherever sage grows, prosperity in business follows. The French had their own adage; ‘Sage helps the nerves and by its powerful/palsy is cured and fever put to flight.’ The French called the herb toute bonne’ which means all is well.’ In France it is believed that sage can ease grief and for this reason it is sown in graveyards.

            Sage was introduced into China in the 16th century by Dutch explorers. The Chinese so highly prized sage that they traded 3 pounds of their tea for 1 pound of sage. The Chinese used sage to treat insomnia, depression, gastrointestinal complaints, mental illness, menstrual complaints and mastitis. India’s Ayurvedic physicians used sage for the same complaints as the Chinese, but also used sage for the treatment of haemorrhoids, gonorrhoea, and vaginitis and eye disorders.



Sandalwood/Santalum album/Santalum spicatum

Sandalwood (S.album) originates from India. S.spicatum is native to Australia. Sandalwood has been used in India as temple incense to worship the gods since antiquity, and sandalwood paste is also used in spiritual and ritualistic practises. Disciples of the Tantra tradition smear sandalwood onto their body while celebrating the divinity of sexual ecstasy. Sandalwood is mentioned in the Hindu love scripture the ‘Kama Sutra.’ Sandalwood is used in Ayurveda for treating skin conditions such as acne, poisonous stings and external bleeding; in massage oils and as a blood purifier. Both the Indians and the Egyptians used sandalwood in cosmetics to preserve the youth and beauty of women.

            The indigenous people of Australia used sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) for centuries as a medicine. They boiled the bark for a cough syrup and used the seed kernels in a liniment for muscular stiffness.


            Burmese women sprinkle people in the street on the last day of the year with a mixture of rosewater and sandalwood oil to wash away the sins of the year.


            Queen Elizabeth I liked her bed linen to be perfumed with sandalwood.



Thyme/Thymus vulgaris

Thyme is a native plant of the Mediterranean. The name thyme is derived from the Greek word ‘thymos’, which means ‘to fumigate.’ It has also been suggested that it may also been derived from the Greek word thumus’, meaning ‘courage.’ The Greeks used thyme as temple incense. Honey from the thyme blossom was considered a great delicacy by the Greeks.

The Egyptians used thyme in the embalming process.

            The Romans used thyme to make sacrificial animals more acceptable to their gods. They also used thyme to preserve meat and as a flavour for cheese and liqueurs. Thyme was used medicinally by the Romans as a cough remedy, digestive aid and as a treatment for intestinal worms. The Emperor Charlemagne ordered thyme to be grown in all his imperial physic/medicinal gardens.


 The Romans introduced thyme into Britain and Europe where it became popular as a seasoning and medicine. Thyme became linked to the virtue of courage in the Middle Ages. It was the fashion for noble women to embroider sprigs of thyme onto scarfs and give them to their favourite Knights departing for the Crusades to enhance their valour. Thyme was also used as an antiseptic during the plagues. Medieval anatomists named the thymus after the herb because it reminded them of the thyme flower. In Victorian Times, thyme was placed under pillows for prophetic dreams and to improve the memory. Thyme was potted with other herbs as a form of divination. Each pot was assigned the name of a desired lover, and the plants were watched to see which would grow the fastest and the strongest.



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2006, Kylie Thompson


First published in "" (New Earth Publications)

May 2006

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