Why You Need To Know The Latin Name Of Your Essential Oil
Every day we buy common products like lotion, shampoo, detergent and toothpaste at the store or online. We don’t think much about them because we simply look at the label, see the name of the product and trust that it will work as implied.
But here’s the thing…
Essential oils are different.
Even though we can buy essential oils in the same place as our shampoo and detergent, we actually need to pay more attention to what specific essential oil we’re buying. What I mean by that is, we need to look at not only the “common name” of the essential oil, like lavender or tea tree, but also look a step further at the botanical name, or latin name, of the essential oil.
Most, if not all, high quality essential oils include the common name and latin name of the essential oil on their label. In fact, it’s this basic information that’s your first clue you’re buying a good quality brand of essential oil. (It’s not the only clue though and if you want to know more, read my blog post “How To Buy High Quality Essential Oils” for more details.)
What is a latin name and why does it matter?
The latin name is the universal way of classifying plants. It’s a common language in the plant world, and consequently in the essential oil world too. It means that no matter what country you’re buying your essential oil from, you always know it’s coming from the same specific type of plant.
It’s the genus and species (and in some cases the chemotype) that make up the latin name. Think of the genus as the parent and the species the brothers and sisters. You can have one genus and many species.
Take for example lavender: according to the U.S. Lavender Growers Association, there are currently over 45 different species of lavender with over 450 varieties. That’s a lot of different kinds of lavender that can produce a lot of different essential oils.
And here’s what’s important…
Each plant species differs significantly in its chemistry, which means it provides a different therapeutic effect and aroma. So the common name “lavender” could mean a lot of different things. It’s not until you know the latin name (genus and species) that you’ll understand how the essential oil is going to support you.
A Tale of Two Plants
Take the example of two common lavender essential oils on the market:
Lavendula angustifolia and Lavendula latifolia
Both of these essential oils have the same common name “Lavender”, but these essential oils have completely different effects.
Let me explain…
Lavendula angustifolia - the calming oil
Lavendula angustifolia is what’s commonly known as “true lavender”. Most lavender grown for essential oil production comes from this plant. The most prominent chemical components of this essential oil are linalyl acetate and linalool. And it’s these components that help produce an aroma that smells sweet, floral and herbaceous with a balsamic-woody undertone.
Therapeutically the oil, because of its chemical composition, is calming, pain relieving, anti-inflammatory and skin healing. This ‘true lavender’ essential oil is what we commonly refer to as the lavender that will help us sleep, that will calm our anxiety and that we associate with rest and relaxation.
Lavendula latifolia - the invigorating oil
Lavendula latifolia is commonly known as “spike lavender”. This essential oil has a completely different chemical composition. The most prominent chemical components are linalool, 1,8-cineole and camphor. It’s these components that help produce a very distinctive aroma, having a shared “lavender” smell through the linalool, but then a much more penetrating “camphoraceous” smell reminiscent of eucalyptus because of the shared chemical component 1,8-cineole.
Therapeutically the oil, because of its chemical composition, is energizing and opening. It provides support for pain relief and decongestion as well as mental clarity. This lavender essential oil has the complete opposite effect of the “true lavender” essential oil.
This is just one simple example of how important it is to know what essential oil you’re working with so that you can get the right therapeutic support and benefit from the oil. Get to know your plants and their genus and species. Smell their different characteristics and take note of how they make you feel. You’ll be happy you did. After all, you don’t want to stay awake all night having used the wrong lavender, do you?