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Unless you have experience of aromatherapy and the use of essential oils, you may not be familiar with some of the terms or expressions of aromatherapy. The aromatherapy glossary is a quick guide and introduction to some of the more common aromatherapy terms, essential oils and aromatherapy words.
The aromatherapy glossary is not intended to be a fully comprehensive guide to aromatherapy and essential oils but I hope that it will help clarify any misconceptions or lack of understanding you may have when trying to understand the basics of aromatherapy. However, many of the essential oils and carrier oils listed in the aromatherapy glossary link through to full essential oil and carrier oil profiles for a more detailed description.
L Lavender, true (Lavandula angustifolia or Lavandula officinalis) - an evergreen shrub, familiar to the majority of people, lavender has aromatic, purple/blue colored flowers from which the essential oil is distilled. Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region, but it should not to be confused with spike lavender (lavandula latifolia) and lavandin (lavandula x intermedia., Both of these plants produce different essential oils with their own, yet similar, therapeutic properties. Lavender is one of the most versatile of essential oils and can be used for a vast number of problems.
Lemon (Citrus limon) - the essential oil obtained from the fruit of the lemon tree is extracted by cold expression, not steam distillation. The lemon tree is a familiar sight in the Mediterranean but it is also common in the warmer states of the USA, such as California and Florida. It is a good essential oil for colds and for skin care.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) - an aromatic grass, native to Asia, lemongrass was traditionally used in Indian medicine. Lemongrass essential oil is distilled from the grass and is useful for skin care, muscle pain and to help lift headaches and stress-related conditions.
Laurel (Bay) (Laurus nobilis) - a native of the Mediterranean region, laurel leaves were used by the Greeks and Romans to crown victories. The dried leaves and branches of laurel are distilled to produce laurel essential oil. Laurel essential oil is used in aromatherapy for digestive complaints and for the treatment of viral infections.
Litsea (Litsea cubeba) - see May Chang
M Macerated Oil - a carrier oil which is a vegetable oil mixed with plant material to produce greater therapeutic properties.
Mandarin (Citrus reticulata) - extracted from the rind of the fruit of the tree, Mandarin essential oil is a citrus oil which is a favorite of children due to both its fragrance and its calming properties. Mandarin is a native of the Far East and probably takes its name from the ‘Mandarins of China’ to whom the fruit was traditionally presented as a gift. It is more commonly known by the name of Tangerine in the U.S., although the name Mandarin is in more common usage in Europe. Mandarin essential oil is used to treat digestive complaints, skin care problems and nervous system disorders. Due to its gentle nature (and effectiveness in certain areas of pregnancy), it is often used by pregnant women to help with pregnancy complaints.
Marjoram (Origanum marjorana) - traditionally used as a culinary herb, Marjoram is a plant which is native to the Mediterranean region. Marjoram essential oil is derived from the flowers of the plant and it is useful to treat muscle pain, respiratory problems, digestive complaints and stress-related problems.
May Chang (Litsea cubeba) - a native Asian beauty, May Chang essential oil is obtained from the fruits of the tropical tree. May Chang essential oil is used for skin care, digestive complaints and its uplifting fragrance makes it a good choice for nervous complaints.
Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) - known to have been used in the ancient city of Pompeii, Myrrh is thought to have originated from north-east Africa and south-west Asia. Myrrh essential oil is obtained by the steam distillation of crude myrrh. It is used in skin care and for respiratory and digestive problems.
Myrtle (Myrtus communis) - native to North Africa, Myrtle was used in the ancient city of Pompeii as a perfumery ingredient. Myrtle essential oil is distilled from the leaves and twigs of the Myrtle plant. Myrtle was used, in addition to other ingredients, to produce a skin care lotion in the sixteenth century, called ‘Angel’s water’. Myrtle essential oil is used in skin care, for the treatment of colds and flu, asthma and other respiratory conditions.
N Niaouli (Melaleuca viridiflora) - is a large Australian tree with yellow flowers, related to tea tree. Niaouli essential oil is steam distilled from the leaves of the tree and is used to treat cystitis, sinusitis and asthma. It has strong anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties.
Neroli (Orange Blossom) (Citrus aurantium var. amara) - it is the blossoms of the orange tree which produce neroli essential oil, also known as orange blossom essential oil. Neroli essential oil is named after a ‘princess of Nerola’ in Italy, who wore the scent of the orange tree as a perfume. Neroli essential oil is an aphrodisiac, in addition to being an anti-depressant, antiseptic, digestive and bacterical oil.
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) - nutmeg essential oil is obtained from the kernel of the fruit of the nutmeg tree. It is analgesic, digestive and an aphrodisiac. Nutmeg essential oil is used to treat arthritis, indigestion and anxiety. The nutmeg tree is native to the Molucca Islands.
O Oleoresin - a mixture of resins and essential oils, which are naturally extracted from plants with solvents.
Orange Sweet (Citrus sinensis) -sweet orange essential oil is obtained through cold expression of the fruit of the sweet orange tree, as with a lot of citrus essential oils. It should not be confused with bitter orange (Citrus aurantium var.amara) essential oil which is obtained from the same tree as neroli essential oil. It is native to the Far East, although the orange tree is now cultivated extensively throughout the world. Its sweet smelling fragrance is intoxicating and uplifting to the senses and it is a favorite oil of children. Sweet orange essential oil is used to treat digestive problems, in skin care and for colds and flu.
Organic - relates to or derives from living matter; produced without using chemical fertilizers or artificial chemicals. The term organic is used quite loosely in the cosmetic and skincare industry with no set legal requirements within the U.S., which means that organic may not actually mean organic.
P Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii) - a native of Pakistan and India, Palmarosa is often used as a substitute to adulterate the more expensive essential oil, such as rose (Rosa damascena), although its plant family is the same as that as Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus). The essential oil is extracted from the grass and its uses include skin care, digestive disorders and stress-related conditions.
Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) - originally from the tropics of Asia, Patchouli essential oil is obtained from the leaves of the Patchouli herb. Patchouli essential oil is used in skin care and for stress-related conditions. An 'exotic' oil, made popular by the 'hippie' culture of the 1960's, Patchouli has a reputation as an aphrodisiac.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) - native to Europe, but now found world wide, the peppermint herb produces an essential oil, as well as being a popular culinary addition. Menthol is the dominant element of peppermint essential oil and in addition to its skin care qualities, it is a useful addition in dealing with gastric and stomach upsets. However, do not use on, or in the presence of, young children and babies.
Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var amara) - Petitgrain essential oil is distilled from the leaves of the orange tree, which gives also produces bitter orange (Citrus aurantium var.amara) and orange blossom (Citrus aurantium var. amara) oil. A native to the Far East, the orange tree is now found throughout the Mediterranean region; the best Petitgrain essential oil is obtained from the Mediterranean, in particular France. Petitgrain essential oil is used in skin care and it is a good oil for stress and depression.
Pine (Scotch) (Pinus sylvestris) - pine essential oil is extracted from the needles of the pine tree and is used to help with respiratory problems and muscle pain. It is also used in ‘air fresheners’ and the true essential oil (not commercially produced synthetics) used in these products helps fight against bacteria, viruses and is antiseptic. Native Americans used the pine tree to fight against scurvy, lice and fleas. The pine tree is a ‘cold climate’ native to Eurasia but is now found in similar climatic regions such as Europe, eastern USA, Russia and Scandinavia.
Phototoxic/photosensitive - some essential oils, particularly (but not all) those which belong to the citrus family, can increase sensitivity to sunlight and other forms of ultra-violet light (e.g. sun beds) and therefore increase the risk of sunburn and other related skin problems. Although this risk is extremely minute in the usual quantities of essential oil used, you should still be aware of the potential risk, particularly if you are susceptible to sunburn or skin problems.
Phytotherapy - the treatment of diseases by plants.
Pompeii - Pompeii is an ancient Italian town which was ‘buried’ under the lava flow of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Immaculately preserved for centuries as it lay undiscovered and forgotten about, until excavations began in earnest in the 1700s under Charles III, Pompeii was known to grow and use a lot of the herbs and flowers used in modern day aromatherapy.
Pregnancy - some essential oils are advised against for use in pregnancy, although, in general, the use would have to be excessive to cause potential harm to mother-to-be and baby. In many cases, essential oils are very useful in pregnancy but it is advisable to learn which essential oils can be used safely in pregnancy (and in which trimester) and which essential oils to avoid in pregnancy.
Phthalates - a group of chemical compounds used in plastics and health and beauty products.
R Resins - natural resins are excuded from trees and prepared resins are oleoresins with the removal of essential oils.
Resinoids - natural resinous material, for example resins and balsams,extracted through hydrocarbon solvents to produce perfumery material.
Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) - roman chamomile essential oil is obtained from the flower heads of the chamomile herb. Used for over 2,000 years in Europe and the Mediterranean, it is a gentle oil which can be used with children. It has a variety of uses including insect bites, skin care, insomnia and toothache, amongst others.
Rose Otto (Rosa damascena) - Rose is actually native to Asia, but is a familiar sight in English country gardens and gardens throughout the world. Rose is also believed to have been the first flower to be distilled and produce an essential oil (10th century Persia) - and is also one of the most expensive essential oils due to the difficulty in extracting the oil from its petals. Well-known for being the traditional ‘flower of love’, rose is aphrodisiac, used in skin care and for stress and depression.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) - the Latin name for rosemary translates as ‘the dew of the sea’ and it is traditionally found near the sea. Rosemary essential oil is distilled from the pale blue flowers of a herb. Rosemary is often found in herb gardens. Rosemary essential oil is good for skin conditions but is also known to aid mental fatigue.
Rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora) - the rosewood tree is a tropical tree which is native to the Amazon region. Roswood essential oil is steam distilled from the wood chippings. However, continuous felling of the South American rainforests and the production of the rosewood essential oil is contributing to damage to the environment. Rosewood essential oil is used in aromatherapy for skin care, nervous conditions and colds.
S Saponified - the end result of turning (fat) into soap by a certain process.
Sandalwood (Santalum album) - sandalwood essential oil is an expensive essential oil due to the fact it takes 30 years before the sandalwood tree is mature enough to produce true essential oil. The sandalwood tree is native to tropical Asia, but today India is the main essential oil producer. There has been some recent controversy over obtaining Sandalwood oil elsewhere due to the extraction of the essential oil leading to possible extinction of the tree in this area of the world. Sandalwood has been used for centuries as an incense, due to it’s calming qualities, and it is frequently used in meditation. Sandalwood essential oil is used in skin care and for respiratory complaints and is also an aphrodisiac!
Silver Fir (abies alba) - silver fir essential oil is similar to scotch pine essential oil. Silver fir essential oil is extracted by steam distillation of the twigs and needles of a tree native to Northern Europe. It is antiseptic, analgesic, expectorant and a stimulant. Silver fir essential oil is used to treat colds and muscle pain.
Steam distillation - see distillation
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) - a carrier oil which is moisturizing for the skin and useful for treatment of some skin disorders, such as acne. Sunflower oil, used in aromatherapy,should not be confused with sunflower oil used for culinary purposes (which is highly refined). Both sunflower oils should not be used interchangeably, as they have different properties and uses.
Synthetic - a synthetic oil is one that has been 'made' in a scientific laboratory for commercial purposes from a variety of sources and sometimes passed off as the 'true' product. The perfume industry frequently uses synthetic fragrances to substitute as it is cheaper to do so, and therefore produces a higher profit margin. Synthetic oils may in fact contain chemicals that cause an allergic reaction. There is no substitute for a true essential oil for aromatherapy uses - a synthetic will not contain the healing properties of the plant from which it was ‘extracted’.
T Tea Tree (melaleuca alternifolia) - tea tree is a native of Australia and from where the only true melaleuca alternifolia is still found; however, other varieties of the melaleuca family are found elsewhere in the world. The Aborigine people have used the properties of the tea tree for centuries. Tea tree essential oil is distilled from the leaves and twigs. It is used for respiratory problems, in skin care and to protect the immune system.
Theobroma cacao (theobroma oil) - cocoa butter - see cacao
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) - native to the Mediterranean region but now found in other parts of the world including the U.S., Russia and Turkey. It is an ancient herb with highly fragrant leaves. Thyme produces both sweet thyme and red thyme essential oil from the dried leaves and flowers of the plant. Red thyme essential oil is the crude distillate whereas sweet thyme essential oil is produced from the second distillation. Sweet thyme essential oil is the less toxic and, in general, more used thyme oil. However both thyme oils have various uses and properties. To learn more click here.
Toxicity - some essential oils are more toxic than others and therefore they possess a greater potential for harm. In simple terms ‘toxicity’ can be translated as ‘poisoning’ if used incorrectly or in large quantities. The majority of essential oils, when used correctly and responsibly by someone who knows what they are doing, are harmless and classed as non-toxic. However, in some instances, and with some essential oils, this needs to be considered more; for example lower quantities of essential oils are used for pregnant mothers, babies and children and the elderly and are contra-indicated for some medical situations such as epilepsy and high blood pressure. However, there are some essential oils which should never be used in aromatherapy because of their toxicity levels.
V Vegetable Oil - a carrier oil used in aromatherapy. There are several types of vegetable oil including basic, advanced and organic vegetable oils.
Vetiver (Vetiveria zinaniodes) - related to lemongrass and citronella. Vetiver is a scented grass, native to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. Vetiver essential oil is steam distilled from the roots of the plant. Some of the properties of vetiver essential oil include the treatment of wounds, acne and insomnia.
Volatile - changing easily to vapor, as in the case of essential oils.
W Water (distilled) - distilled water has no impurities or chemicals added to it. It has been purified by means of ‘distilling’ i.e. heating, vaporizing, cooling, condensing and collecting the ‘finished product’ to produce ‘distilled’ water.
Y Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) - a native herb of Europe and Asia. The steam distilled essential oil is antiseptic, digestive and carminative, in addition to other properties. Its uses include the treatment of indigestion, arthritis and skin problems.
Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) - Ylang Ylang is a tropical tree, native to Asia, and ylang ylang essential oil is distilled from the flowers of the tree. Ylang Ylang essential oil is used in skin care, and for depression and insomnia. It is also an aphrodisiac.
Making Scents of Words....