The Chemistry of Aromatherapy

YIKES! It is this part of Aromatherapy that is the most difficult to understand (well at least, I think it is). So I thought I would break it down so it much much more easily comprehended.

The following information has been grabbed from the Complete Guide to Aromatherapy by Battaglia - Almost all of the molecules found in essential oils are composed of carbon, hydrogen & oxygen. The chemistry of the essential oil is based on two dominant factors: the extraction process & the biosynthesis of the constituent molecules of the plant itself.

Battaglia explains that the steam distillation process extracts only volatile and water-insoluble constituents of the plant such as terpenes and terpenoid compounds and phenyl propane-derived compounds (confused yet?).

Below are the most commonly found chemical constituents:


Aldehydes: Sedative, antiviral, anti-inflammatory
*Eucalyptus citriodora

Ketones: Cell regenerating, mucolytic, neurotoxic (in high doses or prolonged use)
*Spike Lavender

Esters: Antispasmodic, equilibrating, anti-fungal
*Clary Sage
*Roman Chamomile
*Ylang ylang

Lactones: Mucolytic

Sesquiterpenes: Anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic
*German chamomile


Sesquiterpenols: Anti-inflammatory, stimulates glandular secretions & liver function.

Phenylpropanes: Antispasmodic, ANS balancing, antibacterial, stimulant, skin irritant,
*Ylang ylang

Monoterpenols: Antiviral, toners, antiseptic, immuno-stimulants,
*Spike Lavender

Oxides: Expectorant
*Tea Tree

Phenols: Strong antibacterial, immuno-stimulant, warming

Monoterpenes: Antiviral, cortisone-like
*Citrus oils
*Black Spruce

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