a l l  n a t u r a l  i n f o

What's in a Name: Proper Essential Oil Nomenclature, and why it’s Important

 by Marge Clark

     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 recommended.

Some examples:

     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, etc.

     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 fooled.

     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 Chamomiles.

     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 greenish-brown.

     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 blue.

     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 Frankincense).

     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 effects.

     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 actually buying.



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All views expressed in the articles on the "All Natural Info" page are those of the various authors, they are presented here for your enjoyment and enlightenment.  These views do not necessarily represent the views of SharAmbrosia or the "all natural beauty" website. 


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