Essential Oils

Essential oils are complex volatile organic compounds extracted from plant material (e.g., stems, leaves, flowers, wood, and roots), by physical (as opposed to chemical )means. Most often, by the process of steam distillation, though there are other common processes. In plants, essential oils serve a variety of purposes. Humans value them mainly for their fragrance, and they are commonly used in cosmetics or perfumery. Some are valued for their medicinal properties. Some have religious significance. And some have other uses, such as food flavoring, or as insect repellent or pesticides. There are hundreds of plants that are used as sources of essential oils — far too many to list individually in this format. However, there are a few plant families that stand out as the sources of the majority of commercially-important essential oils. A sample (not a comprehensive list) of these is given below:

  • Apiaceae (Parsley/Carrot/Celery family). Includes ajowan, angelica, anise, asafoetida, caraway, carrot, coriander, and fennel.
  • Asteraceae (Aster/Daisy/Sunflower family). Includes chamomile, pyrethrum, sagebrush, tarragon, and wormwood.
  • Cupressaceae (Cypress family). Includes the cedars and junipers.
  • Lamiaceae (Mint family). Includes basil, beebalm, catnip, hyssop, lavender, mint, oregano, patchouli, sage, and thyme.
  • Lauraceae (Laurel family). Includes bay laurel, Chinese cassia (cinnamon), camphor, and sassafras.
  • Myrtaceae (Myrtle family). Includes allspice, bay rum, cloves, eucalyptus (including tea tree), and myrtle.
  • Pinaceae (Pine family). Includes the pine and fir oils.
  • Poaceae (Grass family). The largest plant family includes three of the world’s largest food crops, including maize, rice, and wheat. It also includes lemongrass, vetiver (khuskus), and other aromatic grasses.
  • Rosaceae (Rose family). The grandaddy of fruit is also a major source of fragrance. The family includes almond, apple, apricot, bramble, cherry, peach, pear, plum, rose, and strawberry.
  • Rutaceae (Citrus family). Includes citron, lemon, orange, bergamot orange, sweet boronia, and yuzu.
  • Zingiberaceae (Ginger family). Includes awapuhi, cardamom, and ginger.
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