Demystifying Chemicals of Essential Oils

All About Lavender

You have likely seen and heard of the flowering plant true lavender; and if you’re lucky, you’ve had the chance to smell its natural essence. Although true lavender is native to the Mediterranean regions of France, Italy, and Spain, it is cultivated throughout Europe and North America and grows in countless community and domestic gardens. This is partly due to its unique and highly sought-after fragrance and essential oil used in perfumery and aromatherapy.

True lavender essential oil is one of the most popular essential oils on the world market today. Even though we recognize lavender as just one plant, there are many different varieties of the same plant species, all of which differ slightly in fragrance and in chemistry.

For example, even though true lavender Hemus, lavender A.O.P., and lavender Maillette are derived from the same plant species - that of Lavandula angustifola - subtle differences between their fragrance profiles and chemical make-up stem from variation in geographic location, growing conditions, and cultivation techniques. This is akin to wine - the same variety of grape can be grown in different areas and produce different tasting wines.

Not only is true lavender essential oil one of the most popular oils used in perfumery and aromatherapy the world over, but it is also one of the most researched essential oils. Experiments have shown that true lavender essential oil has a calming effect on the body and mind, reduces pain, and supports the healing of skin wounds. These findings align with how lavender was traditionally used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to improve sleep, kill bacteria, reduce anxiety, relieve pain, and treat skin conditions. These many well-established benefits, as with all essential oils, come down to chemistry.

The Chemistry

Essential oil can consist of up to 300 unique chemical compounds with characteristic odors and physiological activities. However, it is typically one or two chemical compounds in an essential oil that will dominate these physiological activities. A true lavender essential oil can contain between 93-102 chemical compounds; however, the two chemical compounds that dominate the oil are linalool and linalyl acetate.

Several in vivo, in vitro, (out of the body and within the body research) and some clinical studies on linalool have shown it to have anxiolytic, sedative, antifungal, antiviral, immunomodulating, and cognitive enhancing benefits. Linalyl acetate has demonstrated antibacterial and immunostimulant activities and, interestingly, it is suggested that linalool and linalyl acetate work synergistically to produce anxiolytic and anti-inflammatory benefits. No wonder true lavender essential oil is so popular! Additional chemical compounds that are common but less dominant in lavender essential oil include lavandulyl acetate, beta caryophyllene, (Z)-beta-ocimene, terpinen-4-ol, and borneol.

Research has shown lavandulyl acetate to have antimicrobial activity, beta-caryophyllene to have anti-inflammatory activity, (Z)-beta-ocimene to have antidermatophytic activity, terpinen-4-ol to have anti-inflammatory and smooth muscle relaxant activities, and borneol, sedative, and wound healing actions.

To help demystify the chemical variation within true lavender (L. angustifolia) essential oil we are going to look at lavender Hemus, lavender AOP, and lavender Maillette with certified aromatherapist Dr. Kelly Ablard, Phd. She offers us a side-by-side comparison of not just two, but four primary chemical compounds within each essential oil, as well each essential oil’s fragrance profile, fragrance energetics, and suggested therapeutic benefits.

Hemus Lavender

Origin: Bulgaria
Botanical Name: Lavandula angustifolia

Predominant Chemical Compounds: linalool (30.6%), linalyl acetate (23.5%), (Z)-beta-ocimene (6.3%), and terpinen-4-ol (4.6%)

Unlike Lavender A.O.P and lavender Maillette grown in France, lavender Hemus is grown in Bulgaria. This particular lavender has less linalool and linalyl acetate, but more (Z)-beta-ocimene and terpinen-4-ol compared to AOP and Maillette. (Z)-beta-ocimene and terpinen-4-ol are in low enough amounts that they are not included in the predominant chemical compounds for AOP and Maillette.

Lavender Hemus has a sweet-herbaceous, verdant, and floral-fruity fragrance profile. This may be due to the influence of ocimene’s herbal note, linalyl acetate’s fruity note, and linalool’s floral note. Overall, we can describe this essential oil as a pleasantly sweet and fruity-smelling lavender oil with distinctive hints of summer berries and pear. Energetically, this oil is cheering, soothing, and creates the feeling of liberation.

Lavender Hemus helps to ease overworked and inflamed muscles as well as support the healing and prevention of microbial infections.

Fine A.O.P Lavender

Origin: France
Botanical Name: Lavandula angustifolia
Predominant Chemical Compounds: linalyl acetate (32.5%), linalool (28.4%), beta caryophyllene (5.4%), and lavandulyl acetate (4.8%)

Lavender A.O.P comes from a genetically diverse variety with a distinct scent grown at high altitudes consistently and traditionally by specialized producers in the Haute province of France. Interestingly, lavender grown at high altitudes tends to have more linalyl acetate than those grown at lower altitudes, which is the case with this AOP oil compared to lavender Hemus and lavender Maillette.

Lavender AOP has a cool, floral-sweet, slightly minty-green, and balsamic fragrance profile which comes across as a characteristically ‘lavandacious’ smelling lavender oil. Energetically, this fragrance brings on feelings of calmness, and it soothes yet awakens the soul.

This oil could help relax a worried mind and bring ease to a panicked state while allowing for more focus. It can also help to build protection against invading pathogens.

Maillette Lavender

Origin: France
Botanical Name: Lavandula angustifolia
Predominant Chemical Compounds: linalool (39.7%), linalyl acetate (31.8%), beta caryophyllene (3.0%), and borneol (2.4%)

Similar to lavender AOP, lavender Maillette is also grown in France, but there are subtle differences between the chemical profiles of these two essential oils. Although they are both high in linalyl acetate, Maillette contains more linalool, but less beta caryophyllene. Lavender Maillette also contains more linalool than lavender Hemus, and unlike lavender AOP and lavender Hemus, Maillette contains at least 2% borneol.

Overall, this oil has a cool, light, floral-fresh, grassy, and slightly citrus fragrance profile. Its unique floral-fresh and slightly citrus fragrance are in part due to the high amount of linalool coupled with linalyl acetate; whereas its cool and light notes could be attributed to the camphoraceous scent of borneol. Energetically, this fragrance provides a nurturing touch and helps to refresh the spirit.

This oil would be useful to help cool and combat achy, inflamed, and overstretched muscles. It helps to open the lungs, keep invaders at bay, and relax the mind for a good night’s rest.

As is the case with many essential oil-bearing plants, true lavender’s (L. angustifolia) variation in its chemistry and therefore fragrance profiles in response to the environment, and a little TLC from our end, is one of Nature’s many healing aromatic gifts. And although some of the chemistry behind these true lavender essential oils may be demystified, there will always be a place for that special magic in every bottle.