You’ve heard so much about the benefits of Lavender essential oil [EO] when it comes to skin, hair, and mental wellbeing that you cannot wait to try out the magic of this purple flower for your self. You buy yourself the first well packaged bottle of Lavender EO that grabs your attention and you’re all set to surrender yourself and perhaps every other family member who you think can benefit from this EO’s multi care. Great intention! Except that it could go mildly to awfully wrong for some. Why? Because you weren’t aware of the precise botanical or Latin name of the EO you needed and may have ended up with a ‘species’ or ‘chemical type’ of Lavender EO contraindicated for a whole lot of people and reasons.
Species? Chemical name? Latin name?
If you have never come across these words being used with regard to EOs you’re probably feeling surprised and clueless. This is partly the result of an information overload about EOs. A lot of general information circulated about EOs is unfortunately inadequate and inaccurate. This is also the result of a shockingly large number of commercially sold EOs not having any Latin name printed on the packaging [which also brings into focus the more serious subject of authenticity that deserves a separate discussion altogether]. If you go around seeking and purchasing EOs based on just their generic names, you might be doing yourself a huge disfavour.
You might think that the technical jargon is best left to clinical or professional aromatherapists. Sure, a layperson need not bother with them. Unless they want to purchase essential oils, and use them safely and for the correct indications. If you do not self blend but utilise the services of a trusted, qualified aromatherapist then it’s fine.
The general name of an essential oil is simply its common name. It is what most people would have heard and how most people would refer to it as. Lavender, Tea tree, Orange, Rose, Rosemary, Sweet Basil, Eucalyptus, Thyme are all examples of common names of EOs.
Why you need to know the botanical name of the EOs
- To know if and how it is best suited for the therapeutic uses you are seeking from it
- To know the age group it may and may not be used for
- To confirm the physical/ health conditions its use may be cautioned, or restricted for
- To know the safe dilution ratio it may be used in
This becomes very relevant because certain plants, from some plant families have more than one naturally occurring species, chemical types etc. Not all, but a considerable number of plants have them. These variations of the same plant might then produce EOs that have very different natural chemical composition from each other; sometimes drastically so. Also, sometimes, entirely different and unrelated EOs might be referred to by the same common name. And, you will be surprised just how much the source plant of an EO can change the entire way you may or may not use a certain essential oil.
Lavender essential oil
For instance, in case of Lavender, the plant has many species. The ones most commonly used for EOs are Lavendula Angustifolia, and Lavendula Latifolia. Although both can be used for certain conditions like cold, pain relief etc. it is Lavendula Angustifolia that is generally being spoken about for its gentle and soothing properties for hair, skin, sleep, stress, and emotional support. It is also safe enough to be used by almost everyone. Lavendula Latifolia, on the other hand, is not advised to be used for children up to the age of 10 years, by epileptics, and also usually by pregnant women. So, you see how potentially unsafe it could be if you happen to have the latter species in a bottle that just says ‘Lavender EO’, and it ends up being used in a manner that research has cautioned against, or deemed as unfit.
For average, healthy adults, Lavendula Angustifolia is better for tension and stress associated headaches; and Lavendula Latifolia is better for sinus and cold related headaches.
Rosemary essential oil
Similarly Rosmarinus officinalis a popularly used and therapeutically powerful essential oil, has various species. If you are looking to use it for respiratory support such as relief from congestion or headaches etc., use the 1,8 cineole kind. However, it might not be the best type of Rosemary EO to use at bedtime. This is because, it is mentally stimulating and might lead to sleeplessness, especially for people prone to insomnia. It is also best avoided for people with hypertension and is also not safe to be used for anyone with epilepsy or by kids under 10 years age whether topically as a cold chest rub or by inhalation through a diffuser.
For cold/respiratory support at night, you may buy and use the Verbenone type of Rosemarinus Officinalis. This may also be used for kids, due to its milder nature. I also prefer to use this when customizing blends for acne for kids who are 11 or 12 years old.
A few drops of Rosemarinus Officinalis ct.1,8 cineole in a carrier oil may be dabbed onto the wrists and behind the ears when you need to stay mentally alert before an exam or an interview. The saying ‘Rosemary is for remembrance’ would have sprung into use from this type of Rosemary.
Thyme essential oil
Another example of an EO which has many variations is Thyme, Thymus vulgaris. This is a powerful immune support and anti infection EO. Among its various types, the thymol or carvacrol types are great for anti-infection support such as acute respiratory infection. They are harsh for the skin though and other safety considerations beyond a limited ratio. So make sure to use them for a short duration, well diluted, and along with skin friendly EOs such as linalool version of Thyme. The linalool version is gentler, skin soothing, and can be used for a longer period.
Thymus vulgaris ct. linalool is great to be used as part of a wound healing blend, for acne blends and is gentle enough for all age groups.
These few examples should suffice to tell you how the whole story of an essential oil often lies where you are not looking—in its complete scientific or Latin name. After you know what you now do, can you imagine going into a store picking up a bottle which just states ‘Lavender EO’ or just states ‘Chamomile EO’? I hope not. In case of an EO with many varieties, this becomes absolutely crucial. And remember, even when there is only a single type of EO produced by a plant, global industry authenticity standards and best practices demand that its Latin name be printed clearly on the bottle. So before you purchase any EO, make sure to research from a credible source about the exact scientific name that will best serve your particular purpose, or seek out a qualified aromatherapist.
Spot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!