One of the first civilizations to create extensive documentation of the aromas and qualities of essential oils were the ancient Egyptians. Perfume was quite popular during ancient Egyptian times and artifacts highlighting its use have been found in tombs of the dead. In this article, you will learn about some of the scents that the Egyptians used when making their perfumes.
The traditional method of making perfume was to use oil as a base as opposed to alcohol , a common ingredient of today. This technique did not dry out the skin, and also preserved the benefits of the essential oils used for fragrance. From King Tut to Cleopatra, we know that ancient Egyptians had an array of fragrances and they also had their favorite scents.
During the days of the New Kingdom in ancient Egyptian times, Tutakhamun was a pharaoh that ruled at the end of the Amarna period. He is one of the most well known of ancient Egyptian leaders , dying young, but leaving behind quite a legacy. His burial tomb was nearly intact and known as one of the most prized finds in the Valley of the Kings. Residue of a perfume found in his tomb suggest that spikenard (a flowering plant that belongs to the valarian family) and frankincense (one of the gifts to the baby Jesus from the three wise men).
Other ancient scents of Egypt include the following:
Bitter Orange and Neroli
Bitter orange oils (later called neroli) and rose were the favorite scents of Cleopatra. When seducing powerful leaders Caesar and Mark Anthony, Cleopatra tapped into the aphrodisiac qualities of the plants. Because she favored the Egyptian goddess of love and sexuality, Hathor, she used myrrh and sandalwood , plants that were associated with the goddess.
Neroli is derived from the blossoms of either the sweet orange tree or the bitter orange tree. While the essential oil of bitter orange had been around for centuries, neroli was introduced during the 17th century , named after Anna Maria de la Tremoille, who was the princess of Nerola. The oil played an important role during the days of plague and fevers in Venice.
Stakte offered a stronger aroma of myrrh and is mentioned as being one of the components that went into making the incense of Solomon’s temple (from the Bible). There is evidence that an ancient formula for Egyptian perfume dating back to 1200 BC included “storax, labdanum, galbanum, frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon, cassia, honey and raisins.”
The ancient Egyptians made a perfume from a plant they called galbanum, which was believed to possess strong medicinal and restorative properties. When inhaling the scent, it was thought that galbanum could calm the mind and relax the muscles. It was an overall stimulating aroma for the body and mind.