Essential oil chemotypes: The less-known side of aromatherapy


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Sometimes there are several different kinds of one essential oil called chemotypes. These are not laboratory variations of an essential oil, but biological variations of a plant caused due to effects of light, soil, temperature, weather conditions during plant life processes. Different chemotypes can produce different effects when used in healing or therapeutic applications. This is because, in a chemotype, the original plant’s biology undergoes a slight yet permanent change that lasts for ages. Though botanically the two plants are identical, the chemical make-up of a chemotype changes so much so that it becomes a separate species that carries qualities of both the new variant and its older kin.

What are chemotypes? The first fact about chemotypes are, they are not laboratory-created variations, but botanical variations of plant species. Chemotypes occur when the natural energies and elements like sunlight, water, soil, climatic conditions and environmental issues have an impact on a plant species and induce it to grow in a particular way. In trying to adapt to a particular environment, a plant may undergo mutation, isolation and evolution, which may in turn, affect its chemical framework and botanical identity. The changes that happen in such an atmosphere are subtle yet permanent and last for ages. Chemotypes are botanically identical but show slight yet distinct chemical differences. Essential oils produced from chemotypes show variations in aromas, therapeutic effects, blend properties and a lot of other things. This is why it is important to choose the right oil before planning to make a blend.


For instance, most people do not know about chemotypes and think all oils called Lavender are extracted from Lavendula officianalis. But it is always not so. All commercial essentials labeled Lavender oil are generally one of the chemotypes of Lavender. These can be extracted from  Lavendula officianalis or Lavendula latifolia or can even be a variant of Lavandin oil.

Essential oils with chemotypes: Essential oils that demonstrate a variety of chemotypes are – Thyme, Geranium, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Myrtle and Spike Lavender. Research is under way in this area of aromatherapy and botanists hope to discover many more chemotypes of plants in future. Below are some of the plants with prominent chemotypes:

Rosemary chemotypes: Certain Rosemary plants have a natural preponderance of camphor. Oils produced from such plants are called camphor chemotype Rosemary oils. A rosemary plant with no trace of camphor notes will produce pure Rosemary oil. On the other hand, if the plant has decreased notes of camphor, the yield will be verbenon. Verbenon is a popular Rosemary oil chemotype with balsamic-piney aroma and refreshing notes of a typical camphor chemotype.

Basil chemotypes: Basil demonstrates a lot of chemotypes and most popular among them are licorice, lemon and cinnamon scented plants. Two major chemotypes of Basil oils are Sweet Basil oil and Reunion Basil oil. Sweet Basil or European Basil oil is extracted from a strain of Basil with exceptionally high concentration of linalool. Since linalool has a delightful aroma, Sweet Basil is sweet and aromatic. All of Europe’s finest Basil oils are made from the Sweet Basil chemotype. Reunion Basil is a chemotype that grows on the Reunion and Comoro islands off the east coast of Africa. The Reunion type has a woody aroma which often has a camphoraceous note. All commercial Basil oils are somewhere between these two chemotypes of Basil.

Lavender chemotypes:
Lavandin oils are popular oils extracted from the chemotypes that are hybrids of  Lavendula hybrida. This Lavendula hybrida is actually a cross between true Lavender (Lavendula officianalis) and Spike Lavender (Lavendula latifolia). Unlike Basil, the various types of Lavadin are not influenced by climatic or soil conditions, but by the varying ratios of the two parent plants. Lavadin oils are used to scent soaps, detergents and cosmetics as they have herbaceous camphoraceous notes.