Botanical Definition of Essential Oil Plants
A properly defined botanical definition includes the Latin name of the genus or type of plant (capitalized), followed by a species description (italicized), followed by a particular chemotype or variety of that species if such varieties exist. The botanical definition is therefore written as: “Genus species chemotype”
For example, there are hundreds of different species of eucalyptus, including Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus radiata, Eucalyptus dives, and Eucalyptus citriodora, each with different chemical and therapeutic properties. The high terpene alcohol content of Eucalyptus radiata renders it an excellent agent for support of the body to deal with infections of the upper respiratory tract. On the other hand, Eucalyptus dives, thanks to its ketone content, is valued for mucolytic support (supports the body to move mucous). Eucalyptus citriodora contains aldehydes such as citral and citronellal and has reliable sedative effects.
Lavender, (or commonly seen on labels as “Lavandula”), is another example. There are dozens of Lavender species, each with a unique aroma and a specific essence found in its tissues, with some having therapeutic properties. Lavandula is not a species but a general name which covers many different species of lavender such as: vera, spica, stoechas and hybrida, each with different essential oil properties.
Why You Should Know What’s In Your Oil
So, why is it important to know EXACTLY what genus and species of plant is in your bottle of essential oil? Correct botanical definition is often important for safety reasons. For example, there are several different essential oils produced from plants named chamomile. But only two of these oils are genuine chamomile. There are oils that contain a blue colored hydrocarbon called azulene which lends them a color similar to that of chamomile. Occasionally they are sold under the name of chamomile, but they are actually distilled from a relative of wormwood, namely Artemisia arborescens. While the oil of German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Roman chamomile are safe, oils from the mugwort family, which are occasionally sold as chamomile, are toxic due to the presence of thujone, which can lead to damage of the central nervous system, epileptic seizures, or liver damage. Thus, when using oils for therapeutic purposes, you really need to know what’s in the bottle, not only for your best experience, but for your safety.
The leaves, stems, roots, rinds or other “organs” of a single plant can produce markedly different essential oils. Therefore, testing to ensure what organ or part of the plant was used for producing an essential oil is crucial to properly identifying an essential oil.
For example, the bitter orange tree produces different essential oils depending on which part of the plant is used. The flowers of bitter orange produce neroli oil, the leaves produce petigrain oil and the rinds of the fruit produce bitter orange oil.