Distilling essential oils – Heirs of a millenary craft

When 20 years ago we bought a ruin in the middle of the Cecina valley in the municipality of Pomarance, we did not imagine the road that would take us through this land.

Santa Bianca is a magical place that we had a lot of trouble putting together and that even now takes up all the time we have available.
When, as farmers of medicinal herbs, we entered the world of essential oils, we immediately felt a very strong call to delve into the science behind distillation, a bit like a call.
Today, knowing that you are the heirs of a profession that has its roots in the dawn of civilization gives a sensation of vertigo and pride.
The first vases containing essential oils date back to thousands of years before Christ, the oldest distillation tool found by Dr. Paolo Rovesti in Pakistan in 1975 dates back to 3000 BC.
The first, of which we have news, to have thoroughly studied the distillation techniques and the properties of essential oils are the Egyptians, thanks to the Erberes papyrus we get the news that they knew the properties of the Cumin as a remedy for abdominal swelling and cough; the same writing contains real recipes such as the one against hay fever made up of Aloe, Myrrh, Antimony and Honey.
The priests were real distillers of essences for sacred rites, for example the use of incense is particularly well known and still used today.
In the pyramids have been found traces of Galbanum, cloves, cinnamon And nutmeg.
However, the use of essences was not known only to priests and doctors, the people also knew the benefits of aromatic herbs in the kitchen: Mint, Marjoram And Cumin they were the basis of the Egyptian diet.

Queen Hatshepsut, the first woman to be elected farone, was a great lover of essential oils that she brought from all over the known world.


This knowledge was also known to the Jews in the book of Exodus God teaches Moses how to compose the sacred oil to consecrate Aaron with Myrrh, Cinnamon, odorous cane (probably hemp) and olive oil (Exodus 30, 22-25) and tells him to get balms of Galbanum And Incense.

Jesus receives as a gift, in addition to gold, also the incense (symbol of holiness) and the Myrrh (who prophesies his end) and Mary Magdalene anoints his feet, during the last supper, with the oil of Spikenard (John 12, 1-7).
Myrrh it will also be the smell that the three Marys will smell after the resurrection.
The Romans learned from the Greeks to use essential oils, Herodotus brought the first rudiments of distillation back to Europe from Egypt.
However, it will be necessary to wait until about the year 1000 to have a methodical study and technological advances in the field of distillation.
We owe a lot to the Persian physician Avicenna, he is credited with the invention of the condenser that allows distillation that we still use 1000 years later.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman doctors who fled from Constantinople brought with them the writings of Galen and Hippocrates, thus spreading them throughout Europe.
During the Middle Ages the antiseptic properties of some plants began to be known, Lavender, Rosemary And Sage they were used to protect the house from disease, today we know that too the laurel, the lemon and the tea tree they are very powerful antibacterials.
Spagyrics and alchemists refined the techniques and completed the studies we still use to learn about the properties of essential oils.
Paracelsus, father of Spagyria believed that man is one with the cosmos and is made up of three principles: Sulphur, Mercury and Salt.
Sulfur is seen as the energy of the soul, represented by the essential oils of plants within spagyric remedies.
Today essential oils are used in so many fields, and looking back on this incredible story that has accompanied mankind throughout its journey, we cannot help but feel a thrill every time we light the burner under the distiller.

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