Why bother? Why
bother learning and using the picky Latin names of the essential
oils you use, or plan to purchase? The short answer?
Because without proper nomenclature you do not know what
essential oil you are using. Without proper nomenclature
in a formula, you don’t know which essential oil is being
We still, occasionally, see bottles of essential oil
labeled “Lavender.” Seems simple enough; after all,
Lavender is Lavender, isn’t it?
Not exactly. There is true Lavender, Lavendula
angustifolia, sometimes Lavendula officianalis, or Lavendula
vera. There is also “Spike Lavender” (Lavendula latifolia
or Lavendula spica) and Lavandin. Lavandin gets even more
complicated. It originated as a hybrid of “True lavender”
(lavendula angustifolia) and Spike Lavender (lavendula latifolia.)
when wild fields of the lowland grown Spike Lavender and the
true Lavender growing in the highlands were cross pollinated.
The resulting offspring, Lavandin, was, like all hybrids sterile
and would not reproduce. However botanists and growers
soon learned to clone the more popular varieties and today more
Lavandin is grown, and distilled, than true Lavender.
Lavandin is known as either Lavendula X hybrid or
Lavandin intermedia. Lavandin, however, becomes even more
complicated since there are several varieties available
commercially. We have Lavandula hybrid var. Grosso,
Lavandula hybrid var. Super, Lavandula hybrid var. Abrialis,
What difference does it make? A huge difference,
in appropriate uses and safety. Spike Lavender is a
powerful germ killer, especially for respiratory infections.
But its chemical content makes it unsafe for use with children.
Each variety of Lavandin has different uses, but if you don’t
know which you are using, you won’t be using the most effective
variety for your purpose. Since there is more Lavandin oil
distilled annually than there is true Lavender, it is easy to be
Let’s discuss Chamomile. How many formulas have
you seen calling for “three drops of Chamomile”? There are
far too many “aromatherapy recipes” floating around using just
the word Chamomile, with no clarification.
In reality, there are FOUR oils commercially available
commonly known as Chamomile, only two of which are even true
German Chamomile: Matricaria recutita or Chamomilla
recutita or (rarely) Chamomilla chamomilla. Distilled
German Chamomile is a deep cobalt blue oil, turning greenish
when aged, although the Matricaria distilled in some parts of
the world has a greenish tint even when freshly distilled.
German Chamomile is also available as a CO2 extracted oil; the
CO2 is very thick, vegetative looking, and a dark
Roman Chamomile: Anthemis nobilis or Chamomilla nobilis.
Most Roman Chamomile is a pale yellow liquid, although some,
when very freshly distilled, will be a lovely pale translucent
Moroccan Chamomile: Not a true Chamomile at all, but a
variety of Tansy, Tanecetum Annuum. Unlike “regular tansy”…Tanecetum
vulgare, which carries severe safety warnings because of its
Thujone content, and appears on most “do not use” lists, the
inky blue oil of Tanecetuum annuum is milder and much safer to
use. Like the other “blue” oils it is a powerful
anti-inflammatory for skincare, and reputed to be a powerful
anti-allergen. Anecdotal evidence abounds about its
effectiveness in treating asthma and other respiratory
allergies, as well as its usefulness in treating contact
dermatitis and allergic rashes. But it is not a chamomile.
Wild Chamomile: Ornemis mixta or Ornemis multicaulis
which is a much more potent anti-bacterial than the oils above,
but lacks their anti-inflammatory effects. Since it
doesn’t have the long history of safe use of the “traditional”
chamomile oils, it should be avoided with babies, toddlers, and
pregnant women. It will not give your skin the soothing
anti-inflammatory effects of Matricaria, or relax overstressed
muscles as effectively as Anthemis.
So, which Chamomile oil does your recipe call for, or
which Chamomile oil to you have?
And then there are the various Frankincense oils… all
Boswellia… all wonderful aids to meditation, most very useful in
caring for mature skin. But if you are using aromatherapy
blends based on Ayurvedic body types and the formula calls for
Frankincense, you will want Boswellia serrata (Indian
Another example is Artemesia, most varieties of which
need extreme caution, at least one of which is a delicate,
gentle anti-inflammatory which can often be substituted for
Anthemis nobilis. The mild anti-inflammatory Artemesia oil
is Artemisia ludoviciana type latiloba commonly known as Owyhee,
but occasionally referred to, casually, as “Pacific Artemesia”
and, perhaps, by some other names.
Cedarwood? I have seen lots of formulas, often
for treating oily skin or hair calling for Cedarwood Oil.
But, which Cedarwood? There are several commonly
available, each, of course, with different aromas, and different
My personal favorites are very closely related: Atlas
Cedarwood, Cedrus atlantica and Himalayan Cedarwood, Cedrus
deodora. These are said to be related to the ancient
Cedars of Lebanon. Both oils have can have profound
energetic and spiritual effects, as well as the accepted
physical effects. Both are considered helpful in treating
dandruff and other scalp conditions. Strongly
antibacterial, I have seen both recommended for treating bladder
and kidney infections.
Then there is Virginia Cedarwood, not even a true Cedar
at all, but a species of Juniper, Juniperius virginiana.
Powerfully astringent, Virginia Cedarwood is recommended for
dealing with oily skin and dandruff. Its aroma is
reminiscent of a newly sharpened pencil, not surprising, since
the pencils are often made of Virginia Cedar.
Another Juniper provides Texas Cedarwood, Juniperus
mexicana which is seldom used in aromatherapy.
So there you have it. What’s in a name?
Everything! Authors presenting formulas and recipes, and
consumers deciding which essential oil will best suit their
needs must have the proper nomenclature, or there is no way to
tell which oil is being suggested for use, or which oil you are
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