Archaeological discoveries

There are archaeological discoveries from prehistoric Greece which allow us to conclude that this period there was a recognized group of people who were specialized in healing/therapeutics, which used the big and rich natural pharmacy from where they sourced the necessary materials to prepare their drugs. The study of Linear B tablets led to the identification of several aromatic plants (fennel, cumin, celery, cardamom, coriander, spearmint, iris) with curative properties.

The Minoan Age mural paintings confirm the great usage of crocus as aroma, pharmaceutical and paint material. The mural painting of Knossos Palace from 2nd millennium B.C. with the “crocus-collector” mandrill, is known. The famed mural painting “crocus-collectors” from Santorini of 16th Century B.C., where young girls wearing colorful clothes collect crocus from the rocks, is very characteristic.

We can see a generous depiction of crocus, even in the air, with an observable design of the flower stigmas, because of their meaning. These paintings with the ritual collections of crocus, show the importance of crocus as painting and pharmaceutical material, during that age.

Hearsay evidence

In addition, hearsay evidence about the therapeutic properties of aromatic plants, which were applied in the Greek antiquity, have been also saved. In the Hesiod’s Theogony (8th Century B.C.), there is the first written report for the “Papaver somniferum”, the plant from where the opium is derived. It Is certain that the usage of opium had been known to the Greeks since the After- Minoan Age, as an earthen statuette “the Papaver Godess” shows (image 2), considering that it has a diadem with three pins, images of the fruits of the plant, on her head (it is displayed in the Heraklion Museum).

In the ancient epic poem “Argonautika” Farmakis Ekati is mentioned, who is the Friend of the witches and the women pharmacists, who learnt by her the art and collection of medicinal and magic plants. Ekati had an enclosed by “artemis” garden near the river of Fasi in ancient Kolhida. This garden had a wealth of herbs like asphodel, anemone, mandrake, dittany, crocus, aconite.

In Orphic epic poems (6th Century B.C. or later) cedar, psyllium, knikos, aghousa, halkanthemon, anemone etc are mentioned.

Homeric records

The study of Ηοmeric records gives us plenty of information for the baths and massage with aromatic oils during ancient Greeks’ everyday life. In Odyssey, Homer praises the   balneotherapy, giving to it epic therapeutic properties.

In Iliad and Odyssey Homer uses the body rubbing with oils or rose oil and fragrant (aromatic) oil. When Nausica and her housemaids prepared the clothes in order to wash them in the river, Ariti (Nausica’s mother) gives her oil in a gold ampulla to use it for body rubbing after the bath (Οδυσ.,ζ 79-80).

In addition, Nausika says her housemaids to offer Odysseus dinner and bath (257-259). The custom of aromatic baths and massage with oils is not only mentioned in the Island of Phaecians, but also in several places of the Ancient World. Warm springs are mentioned by Odysseus in Pylos, where Nestora’s daughter, beautiful Polykasti, shampoos Tilemachos, rubs him with oil and dresses him up in attractive clothes (Οδυσ.γ 464-489), in “Ogygia” island, where Kalypso shampooed Odysseus before his departure (Οδυσ. ε 262-264).

In ψ? rhapsody of Iliad the “rodoen oil” is mentioned which is the magic immortal rose oil. Goddess Aphrodite used it to rub dead Ektoras every day and night, in order to prevent his abrasion as Achilleas dragged him here and there. At the same time the oil kept dogs away (ΙΛ.Ψ 181-187).


After Homer, the therapy/healing was limited to a deity called  “Asclepius”. Homer don’t refer to him as a God, but Asclepius is mentioned as an unexceptionable therapist, one of them who have been taught mild medicines by Centaurs Chiron, who was gifted to cure by using aromatic plants by Zeus (image 4). Homer believes that he is an exceptional, well-known, mortal doctor.

Maybe he was a historical character, who lived in 13th Century B.C. It is mentioned that he was possibly born 52 years before the conquest of Troy (1236 B.C) in Trikki of Thessalia and he learnt the art of therapist in Egypt. According to other    researchers it is likely that he lived in 10th Century B.C. He received his godhood during historical times, when his devotion spread and he finally lived more than any other deity.

Healing/therapy was being practiced in sanctuaries and “Asclepieions” which were not hospitals but shrines where people kneeled before patients, to where they ensconced themselves in order to put the curative principles of Asclepius into practice. “Amfiaraon” in Oropos,“Trofonio in Voiotia and the holy place in Tithorea of Fokida, were some of the known shrines. Therapy started with diet, which was lasting many days, exercise, prayers, deep sleep and teaching, which boosted the patient mentally and it finished with balneotherapy and massage using aromatic oils.


During Homer’s times, scientific medicine (influenced by philosophy) began to develop at the same time as the therapeutics. The pre-Socratic philosophers dismissed the mythological explanations of the natural phenomena, explicating them using the rational thought since the 6th Century B.C.


Hippocrates (460 – 375/351 B.C.) influenced by this philosophical perception, knew the balance of mind and body very well and he became the Father of Medicine. He praised everyday aromatic bath and aromatic massage and he maintained that they prolong life! Hippocrates (image 6) mentions that besides food, herbs can also be medicine “Make your food medicine and your medicine food”.  Leaving pioneering dietary treatises, he pointed out an important role of aromatic plants and herbs, arguing that food should be enriched with aromas to satiate in less quantity.

Aristotle and Theophrastos

In Greece, the first person who had catalogued plants was Aristotle, while his student Theophrastos from Lesvos, created the first Botanical Garden in Athens and detailed 550 plant species and their properties in his books. Next one was Dioscourides, the most important pharmacognosist of Antiquity, who details the curative properties and use of  about 600 plants in his book “De materia Medica” (the first book which had been printed after Holy Scripture) during 1st Century B.C, pointing out only their extracts and fruits with medicinal properties. The book is divided into 5 parts. The first part is about ointments, perfumes, myrrh, balms, resins and oils.


Dioscouride’s manuscripts, despite the strong criticism they received by Galen, they are considered to be a puzzle for the scientists, as there is non-identified material and several approaches.