Scents of Asia
By Shreya Gopi
Plant essences have been used for millennia in Asia, particularly in China, India, Persia (modern-day Iran and Afghanistan) and Egypt, primarily for medicinal and religious purposes. Jasmine and rose were used for their calming effects and for flavouring tea, while incense made from agar wood and sandal, among other plants, was popular in religious rituals as a means of purification.
The Egyptians developed the first science of perfumes as a fragrance for use on the human body in 2000 BC. Developing on the idea of using oil-based perfumes to honour the gods, the Egyptians began embalming their dead with perfumes for a fragrant journey into the other world. This science, developed by Egyptian priests, was then adopted for use by royalty.
In the seventh century, Persia traded with India, the East Indies and China, bringing back new materials to make perfumes. Additionally, the Persian doctor and chemist Ibn Sina introduced the process of extracting oils from flowers by means of distillation, the procedure most commonly used today.