Fragrances of all kinds were thought to have the power to ward off evil and illness but most importantly, they were used to mask the dreadful smell of unwashed bodies. Aromatics were also used a lot aphrodisiacs. All essential oils are good antiseptics and were used as a means of fighting epidemics of diseases. In this connection, historians have stated that during the cholera epidemic in London and Paris, those that manufactured aromatic gloves seemed to be immune.
Walked sticks with hollow handles served as receptacles for camphor, musk and other pungent herbs that physicians carried on their rounds and held to their nose to avoid catching infections from their patients. During the great plague of 1665, people also wore scent- filled pomanders on ribbons around their necks and burned aromatic substances in their homes in the hope of escaping the dreaded diseases.
Members of the legal profession also employed fragrance to ward off illness. The English tradition of carrying a nosegay of lavender and rue before a judge goes back to the time when these were the only known antidotes against the great plague. When prisoners appeared at London’s old Bailey, rue, lavender and other herbs were spread around the court room so that their scent could protect the judges.
Lavender in particular, was considered to be a protection against many diseases and children were encouraged to to wear silk bags stuffed with lavender around their necks. Lavender sachets were also placed amongst clothes to protect them from moths and insects.
As the nineteenth century witnessed new scientific knowledge, alchemists began to produce imitations of essential oils, much cheaper to make but effective only as perfumes and not as medical cures.