Essential oils are used in aromatherapy to help with a number of health problems. However, sometimes essential oils are confused because they have the same or similar sounding English names. In addition, a generic English name, such as “mint,” is used to describe an entire plant family of different essential oils. Here are some of the commonly misused names for essential oils used in aromatherapy (and the plants from which they are extracted from).
Mint Essential Oil
There are several mint essential oils that are used for therapeutic aromatherapy practice. Popular mint oils in aromatherapy are peppermint (Mentha piperita), cornmint (Mentha arvenis) and spearmint (Mentha spicata).
Mint oils are extracted from plants within the Lamiaceae plant family and have similar therapeutic properties. They are also similar in appearance. However, cornmint oil contains a much higher percentage of the chemical component menthol than peppermint oil contains. In addition, the chemical components of spearmint oil are perhaps slightly less “reactive” than other mint oils because of the proportions of each component.
Orange Essential Oil
There are also several orange essential oils that are used for health problems in aromatherapy. Popular orange oils in aromatherapy include sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), bitter orange (Citrus aurantium var. amara), orange blossom (Citrus aurantium var. amara) and petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara).
Bitter orange oil, orange blossom oil and petitgrain oil are all extracted from the bitter orange tree; sweet orange oil is extracted from the sweet orange tree. Bitter orange is extracted from the fruit of the tree, orange blossom from the flowers of the tree and petitgrain from the leaves of the tree. Sweet orange oil is extracted from the fruit of the tree.
All orange oils are extracted from orange trees within the Rutaceae plant family and both the sweet orange tree and the bitter orange tree are very similar in appearance. They have similar uses in aromatherapy but sweet orange oil is not phototoxic (unless extracted by distillation) whereas bitter orange oil (from the fruit) is phototoxic.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender is perhaps one of the most popular essential oils in aromatherapy use but many people do not realize that there are several types of lavender oil. Popular lavender oils in aromatherapy use include true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), lavandin (Lavandula intermedia) and spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia).
All lavenders belong to the Lamiaceae plant family but only true lavender grows at or above an altitude of 2000 ft. Lavandin is actually a hybrid of true lavender and spike lavender. All lavender oils have similar properties but vary in the percentage content of their chemical components depending on species and the altitude at which they are grown at.
Chamomile Essential Oil
There are three main types of chamomile essential oil that are used in aromatherapy but only two are true chamomile oils. Popular chamomile oils in aromatherapy use include Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), German chamomile (Matricaria recutica) and Maroc chamomile (Ormenis multicaulis).
All chamomile oils belong to the Asteraceae plant family. However, Roman and German chamomile oils are “chemically and olfactorily” different to Maroc chamomile (source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential oils, Julia Lawless).
Rose Essential Oil
Rose is an expensive essential oil (due to the large amount of rose petals needed to extracted the smallest amount of oil) and consequently it is frequently adulterated and substituted. Both damask rose (Rosa damascena) and cabbage rose (Rosa centifolia) have similar uses in aromatherapy and are true rose oils. Rose belongs to the Rosaceae plant family.
However, in addition to the adulteration of rose oil, rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) is often mistaken for rose oil. Rose geranium is in fact a member of the Geraniaceae plant family and although it has a “rosy” scent it has a different chemical make-up than rose. It does however have similar therapeutic properties which probably leads to its confusion with rose oil.
Essential Oils for Your Health
These are just a few of the plants and essential oils that are mistaken for each other in aromatherapy. It is wise to take the time and learn the differences and similarities between plants and essential oils with similar names in order that you know that you are using the right oil/plant for the right purpose. Using a plant/oil’s botanical (Latin) name is one way to remember the differences but you also have to know the plant’s appearance and uses. Understanding essential oils is often more complex than it first appears – but once you do understand them, they can be a valuable tool to your natural health!
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, Julia Lawless
- Aromatherapy Workbook, Shirley Price
- Author’s own experience, training and observations
Photo by cafemama