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Glossary of essential oils

When reading technical information sheets on essential oils, you may not have understood certain technical terms and aromatherapy jargon. This little glossary will help you to better understand their meanings.

To save time, click directly on the letter that interests you :



Pungent, bitter.


Essential oils have a direct action on our cells (skin, liver, immune system, etc.), as well as on the pathogenic micro-organisms they destroy (yeasts, viruses, fungi). They exert an indirect action by modifying the terrain by stimulating the emunctories and enzymatic detoxification systems, and by eliciting psychosomatic responses via olfactory receptors.

Aerosol : see spray


A dry fruit containing a single seed that does not open when ripe.


Nitrogenous organic substances of plant origin (nicotine, caffeine, etc.). Plants synthesise hundreds of them.


The alcohols present in essential oils (terpene alcohols) share the anti-infectious properties of phenols, but are less powerful and non-toxic.


Substance causing an allergy


Said of leaves inserted one by one alternately on the stem.


Restores and restores strength. Tonic and stimulant


Causes a temporary loss of neurological sensitivity to pain.


A substance used in the treatment of diseases caused by intestinal parasites.

Analgesic or painkiller

To combat pain


A molecule that kills bacteria or inhibits their growth is called an "antibiotic". Certain essential oils are considered to be "natural antibiotics". Compared with synthetic antibiotics, they offer the advantage of not making their bacterial targets resistant and of better respecting the intestinal flora.


Fights mycotic infections


Fights inflammation. Many molecules present in essential oils have this property due to the presence of sesquiterpenes, oxides or aldehydes. The 1-8 cineole in ravintsara inhibits inflammation mediators.

Antioxidant : see oxidation


Destroys various sources of infection, bacteria and others. In aromatherapy, tea tree is a remarkable antiseptic.


Fights benign or malignant tumours.


Soothes anxiety


Aromachology is the science of inhaled aromas. Experiments have shown that we react to smells by emitting CNV (Contingent Negative Variation) waves. By measuring these waves, we can see that rose fragrances lower our heart rate and that lemon fragrances reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone).


Plant that gives off an odour


A natural medical technique using essential oils. In 15th century France, apothecaries and pharmacists were known as aromaterii. Aromatherapy is the application and use of essential oils for natural medical purposes. Its potential lies in its ability to promote relaxation of the body and mind and engender a feeling of joy and well-being in the individual.


The aromatogram is used to study the sensitivity of germs to essential oils and thus determine which one is best suited to the case being treated. In aromatherapy, it is the equivalent of an antibiogram.


Growing at the base of a leaf


Traditional Indian medicine


Fleshy fruit usually containing several seeds scattered in the pulp, like an orange.


with a balsamic odour


Provided with two lips by incomplete welding of the sepals or petals.


Piece of a plant intended to be replanted to produce a new identical plant.


Atrophied leaf on the floral stems or modified leaf between flower and leaf.


Small bract

Misting system : see Aroma fountain


The envelope of the flower consisting of the sepals, usually green.


Promotes the expulsion of intestinal gases and reduces their production.


An organic compound found in aromatic plants. Ketones are primarily mucolytic. They have the property of slowing down abnormal connective tissue proliferation (scarring). They must be used with care, however, as they are abortifacients and neurotoxic.


The chemotype of an essential oil is a precise reference indicating the majority or distinctive biochemical component present in the essential oil. It is the element that makes it possible to distinguish essential oils extracted from the same botanical variety but with a different biochemical composition. It's like a map. This vital classification allows us to select essential oils for more precise, safer and more effective use. For example, under the same botanical name, we know two large families of thymes, which are themselves subdivided by the definition of their respective chemotypes.

Thymus vulgaris ct thymol : Picked on the Mediterranean coast, thyme gives off a strong, characteristic phenol scent (phenols predominate in its composition);
Thymus vulgaris ct linalol: In Haute Provence, the scent of thyme is completely different: soft and sweet. It is the aromatic alcohol compounds that predominate in this thyme.


Activates bile transport (e.g. menthone, carvone, verbenone).


Activates bile secretion


Following chromatographic analysis of the essential oil, we obtain a chromatogram, a diagram listing the different chemical components and their concentration.

Aromatic components

There are over 10,000 known aromatic components in essential oils. This explains the breadth of their therapeutic arsenal.


"The cone or strobile is the reproductive organ of conifers (gymnosperms). It is made up of scales. Male cones are smaller than female cones.


The aromatic components of essential oils are very numerous, up to more than 1000 for true lavender. They mainly belong to 2 chemical types :

  • Terpenic compounds (mono, sesqui and diterpenes, i.e. C10, C15 and C20): alcohols, ketones, esters, aldehydes, oxides.

  • Aromatic compounds derived from phenylpropane: cinnamic acid and aldehyde, eugenol, anethol, anisic aldehyde, safrole.


A cortison-like essential oil acts like cortisone. It will stimulate the activity of the adrenal glands, which may be contraindicated in certain pathologies, but necessary in others. It has an anti-inflammatory action and acts in cases of low energy, temporary or chronic fatigue, minor depression, reduced organic resistance and repeated infections. It should therefore be avoided in the case of pathologies dependent on cortisone. Please seek medical advice. Here is a list of so-called Cortison-like essential oils: Ciste, Citron, Coriandre Graine, Criste Marine, Cyprès de Provence, Encens, Epinette Noire, Eucalyptus Globulus, Eucalyptus Smithii, Galbanum, Genévrier, Hélichryse de Madagascar, Helichrysum Italiana, Lovage, Greenland Cedar, Lentisk Pistachio, Green Mandarin, Marjoram, Spearmint, Red Myrtle, Green Myrtle, Neroli, Sweet Orange, Oregano Compact, Spanish Oregano, Green Oregano, Grapefruit, Douglas Fir, Scots Pine, Black Pepper, Hemlock, Rosemary Camphor, Rosemary Cineole, Rosemary Verbenone, Balsam Fir, Siberian Fir, Mountain Savory, Saro, Lavender Leaf Sage, Annual Tansy, Tea Tree, Turpentine, Savory Leaf Thyme, Thujanol Thyme, Thymol Thyme, Goldenrod, Sweet Verbena.


A natural organic substance. All essential oils derived from citrus peel contain them: bergamot, lemon, mandarin, orange, grapefruit, as well as lavender, verbena, angelica and lovage. The names of coumarins generally end in "-ene" (bergapten, psolarene), and they are powerful sedatives and calming agents for the nervous system. Oils containing furocoumarins are phototoxic and play a role in blood coagulation.


Cultivated variety of a plant


Protects the cell.


This consists of throwing the plant material into water and then bringing it to the boil for a few minutes.


Essential oils are lighter than water and therefore have a density of less than 1 (on average 0.9), with the exception of cinnamon, clove, sassafras and carrot oils, which are collected at the bottom of the essencier as they do not float to the top after distillation.


The daily use of a body deodorant has spread considerably. But it's important to choose the right one. Essential oils are excellent antifungal and antiseptic agents, providing a natural deodorant effect without the need for the much-criticised aluminium salts.

Dermocausticity or dermotoxicity

A dermocaustic substance attacks the skin and mucous membranes. Terpenes and phenols are irritants, and oils containing them (compact oregano, clove, thyme, savory), as well as essential oils containing aldehydes (cinnamon bark, lemongrass, lemon balm), must be used with caution as they can cause skin reactions.


Slows down abnormal proliferation (scars, cellulite).


Eliminates pathogenic germs. Black spruce, eucalyptus radiata, marjoram, niaouli, ravintsara, rosemary cineole and fir essential oils disinfect by diffusion into the atmosphere.


An essential oil is said to be deterpenated when it is partially or totally deprived of the monoterpene hydrocarbons it contains.


A device used to diffuse (nebulise) an essential oil into the atmosphere. If you don't have one, you can place a few drops of the essential oil on a saucer near a heat source.


An operation which consists of transforming a liquid mixture into vapour, in order to separate its various constituents.


The underground stem that propagates the plant.


Fleshy fruit with a stone (e.g. cherry, apricot). Not all drupes are edible (e.g. bay laurel).


Makes you vomit.


Causes or facilitates the onset of menstruation.


Extraction process by bringing plant substances into contact with a fatty substance.

Floral water : see Hydrolat


Essences are the chemical substances in aromatic plants that enable them to control and regulate their environment by attracting pollinating insects, repelling predators, inhibiting seed germination and even communicating between plants (by emitting chemical signals indicating the presence of herbivorous animals, for example). They also have a defensive role, protecting wood against insects and fungi and repelling herbivorous animals. In aromatherapy and perfumery, essence is the product obtained by breaking up fresh citrus peel (essence bags). It may also be referred to as expression essential oil.


The essencier - or Florentine vase - is the receptacle that collects the essential oil and the water from which it separates at the end of the still. The distilled water from the plant (hydrosol) is also collected here.


Organ containing or carrying pollen.


Chemical compounds with analgesic (anti-inflammatory), sedative and antispasmodic properties.


Facilitates the expulsion, by coughing, of mucus secreted by the upper respiratory tract (sinuses) or lower respiratory tract (trachea, bronchi).


Substance oozing from a plant (e.g. cistus leaf).


Systematic classification of species with common morphological characteristics. Carnivorous plants are not a family but a group of plants with similar adaptations.

Intestinal flora

The intestinal bacterial population represents 10 times the number of cells in the body. Essential oils help to restore the delicate balance of this complex environment and control any dangerous proliferation.


A product used to treat diseases caused by fungi (cryptogamic).

Aroma fountain

Air humidifier capable of diffusing essential oils through the water vapour it releases.


A generally sparse, often sporadic type appearing in populations of a species with a single deviant trait.


With a sweet, pleasant odour.


Phototoxic molecules found in citrus essences in particular.


A unit of classification grouping a number of species with common characteristics, subordinate to the family.




With glands

Gum : See exudate


Strong odour.


Flower-bearing axis


Botanically and biologically defined essential oil


Concerning liver cells (e.g. hepatocyte reconstituent).


Like a herb, as opposed to woody like a tree.


As the herbalist diploma was abolished in 1941, the sale of medicinal plants is entrusted to pharmacists, unless exempted by decree.


One who considers his or her subject as a whole. Aromatherapy is a holistic medicine.


There is no incompatibility between homeopathy and aromatherapy. However, a minimum delay of one hour should be observed between taking a homeopathic medicine and an essential oil (in that order). However, as a precaution, avoid taking phenol-based essential oils (e.g. oregano, clove, cinnamon bark, etc.) orally at the same time as a homeopathic treatment.


Substance produced by plants that triggers the development of their organs. Synthetic hormones have been developed to help plants take cuttings.


An essential oil with a hormone-like effect has an action similar to that of a hormone. This is mainly due to chamazulene (action on the pituitary gland). They should therefore be avoided in the case of hormone-dependent pathologies. Please seek medical advice. The main essential oils known as Hormon-Like are as follows: Cistus, Cypress of Provence, Juniper, Red Myrtle, Thyme, Sweet Verbena.

Essential oil

Product obtained from an aromatic plant raw material by steam distillation, mechanical processes or dry distillation. World production of essential oils is estimated at around 60,000 tonnes. Their biggest market is the detergent and food industries, while the market for therapeutic essential oils is almost negligible by comparison, which explains why it is so difficult to find essential oils that are 100% pure and natural and meet HEBBD criteria.


Crossing between 2 different species of the same family. The hybrid is often sterile.


This is the water collected in the essencier. This water is loaded with soluble aromas and mineral elements present in the plant. Floral waters are remarkable natural cosmetics, and their subtle properties give them a gentle, reassuring approach to aromatherapy for babies. It contains less than 5% Essential Oil.


Decomposition of a substance by the binding of H- and OH+ ions resulting from the dissociation of water.


Reduces blood pressure.


Lowers body temperature.


Stimulates and strengthens the immune system.

Refraction index

Ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the speed of light in the medium in question. This ratio indicates the medium's ability to reflect light.


The floral part of the plant.


Infusion consists of pouring hot water over the plant material and leaving it to soak (infuse) for a few minutes.


Prevents a process from taking place.

Inversion of effects

Changes in the effects of a remedy in the opposite direction if the dose is too high.


Lactones are a highly developed chemical family. Found in certain oils (e.g. yarrow, chamomile, bay leaf, etc.), lactones are particularly psychoactive, expectorant and often allergenic.


Shaped like a narrow spearhead and tapering to a point.


A monoterpene alcohol with immunostimulant properties found in essential oils from many botanical families (Apiaceae, Lauraceae, Myrtaceae, Rutaceae, Burseraceae).


Having a particular affinity with fats. Essential oils are lipophilic.


The action of soaking plant material in water to impart certain properties. More generally, exhaustion of the odorous substances contained in a body by contact with a solvent.

Scent molecules

Only one plant in ten has developed scent molecules over the course of evolution. There are between 25,000 and 30,000 of these, which modern aromatherapy classifies as positive or negative depending on the electrical charges they carry. Negative" molecules include aldehydes, ketones, esters and sesquiterpenes. Positive molecules - terpenes, phenols, oxides, alcohols, ethers - are invigorating and stimulating.


Momoterpenes, the most common molecules in essential oils, are abundant in citrus peel and conifer leaves. They are antiseptics, decongestants of the respiratory tract and analgesics.


Dissolves mucus congested in the respiratory tract or female genital tract.


Harmful to the kidneys.


Some essential oils are neurotoxic. They cause dysfunction of the central nervous system, peripheral nerves or sensory organs. This can result in impaired vision or other senses, convulsions and paralysis.

The risk is high when taken orally, but lower when taken through the skin. Never use neurotoxic essential oils on children under the age of 7, pregnant women or people with epilepsy. For adults, the cutaneous route is preferable. Oral use is prohibited.

Do not use for too long (more than 3 weeks) and beware of overdosing. Be sure to follow the recommended doses. The molecules responsible for this neurotoxicity are ketones (triggering degradation of neuronal tissue and convulsions), monoterpenes (alpha-pinene; beta-pinene; alpha-terpinene: these molecules can also cause convulsions but only in high doses. Avoid taking orally), or 1.8 cineole.


Characteristic of an odour.


The oestrogen-like (oestrogen-like) action of certain essential oils is due to the presence of molecules such as sclareole from clary sage or viridiflorol from niaouli. They should therefore be avoided in the case of oestrogen-dependent diseases. Please seek medical advice. Here is a list of so-called oestrogen-like essential oils: Basil, Cade, Wild Chamomile, Matricaria Chamomile, Atlas Cedar, Cistus, Sea Fennel, Cypress of Provence, Sweet Fennel, Juniper, Helichrysum of Madagascar, Peppermint, Spearmint, Nutmeg, Red Myrtle, Himalayan Nard, Niaouli, Patchouli, Clary Sage, Thyme, Sweet Verbena, Complete Ylang Ylang, Ylang Ylang III.


Spontaneous exudate or obtained after incision or perforation of the trunk of certain trees. Some oleoresins are called balms (Tolu balsam, Peruvian balsam). They are distilled to remove the non-volatile resinous part.


Inflorescence in which the flower stalks are all inserted at the same point on the stem.


A mixture of a fatty substance and a perfume, used as a rub.


Organ which serves as a lid to close the urn of certain plants.


Reaction during which a body loses electrons. It is a biochemical process of combination with oxygen.


Essential oils play a vital role in the manufacture of perfumes.


Lasting all year round. We speak of a perennial crop.


Small stem bearing a flower or, more generally, an organ.


Primary stem or axis of the flowering stem.


Lower part of the leaf which connects the blade to the stem.


Phenols (monoterpenes) are the most antibacterial molecules in the plant world, as over 92% of pathogenic bacteria are sensitive to them. The most common are thymol, carvacol, australol and eugenol. They are found in Ceylon cinnamon, clove, bay, oregano, savory, etc. essential oils. Phenols are dermocaustic


Odorous substances emitted by animals and plants (phytohormones), chemical messengers used to create a favourable environment, for example, by repelling harmful insects or attracting pollinators.


Activates venous circulation.


Increases the skin's sensitivity to sunlight to the point of causing skin spots.


Characteristic molecules of the Apiaceae family. They detoxify the liver and stimulate the elimination function of the kidneys.


Treatment of certain ailments using plant extracts. Compared with aromatherapy, phytotherapy requires less plant material (a few milligrams to a few grams), compared with the tens of kilos sometimes required to obtain a few grams of essential oil.


Female organ of the flower comprising the ovary, style and stigma.


Young plant intended to be replanted

Aromatic plant

Plant containing sufficient odorous molecules in one of its organs to extract an essential oil or essence. Aromatic plants account for around 10% of recorded species.

Glandular hair

Hairs on the leaves or petals supporting a gland containing an essence sac.


Because they are made up of many different aromatic molecules, essential oils are versatile. Lavender is just as effective for sleep as it is for skin infections or pain. Unlike conventional medicines, essential oils can be both antibacterial and antiviral. For example, essential oils containing beta-caryophyllene are, to varying degrees, depending on the percentage, ati-inflammatory, immunostimulating, etc.


Stimulates the body.


The quality of an essential oil depends on many factors: the plant's chemotype, the harvesting and extraction conditions, in particular the quality of the water used for vaporisation, the pressure and duration of distillation.


With 10 million olfactory receptors, some human beings can identify up to 1,000 odours. The receptors in the olfactory mucosa are renewed in 30 to 40 days throughout life.


An essential oil is said to be restified when certain unwanted components have been removed. For example, it may be deterpenated or dementholated.


The yields of essential oils from aromatic plants vary widely. For example, 1 kg of essential oil requires 7 to 8 kg of cloves and 4 tonnes of Damask rose petals. These differences persist within a species: for example, a linalool thyme produces 30 to 40% fewer leaves on 1 ha than a thymol thyme.


Makes insects flee. Some molecules have this repellent property: cinnamic aldehyde in Ceylon cinnamon bark, camphor in ravintsara, citronnellal in lemon eucalyptus and lemongrass or eugenol in cloves.


Cylinder with a massaging ball at the tip for applying a mixture of essential oils with a specific therapeutic indication to the skin by pressure or massage.


A plant that feeds on putrefying organic matter.


Calming and soothing.


Subdivision of a species into a number of individuals that occupy their own distribution area within the species and have a number of characteristics in common that distinguish them from the typical individuals of the species. The abbreviation for subspecies is: ssp.


Spatula-shaped, enlarged at the top.

Botanical specification

The Latin name of a plant defined by the international botanical nomenclature is the only one that allows precise identification. In Australia, for example, there are 500 species of eucalyptus with very different chemical compositions and properties. It is vital to distinguish between them. For example, sage oil, sold without further specification, has been known to cause epileptic seizures, as clary sage has been confused with common sage. The botanical specification inherited from Linnaeus includes the genus (Citrus, Mentha, Eucalyptus), the species and possibly the subspecies, and is completed by the following details: var. For cultivated variety or cultivar, hybrid often represented by an "x", if there is a cross between cultivated varieties and/or species. Example of lavandins: Lavendula x intermedia clone abrialis, or Lavandula intermedia clone grosso.

Biochemical specificity : see chemotype


Projection of a liquid into the air in fine droplets. By extension, atomiser or propellant. Propellants are harmful to the bronchi and are not recommended in aromatherapy.


The upper part of the pistil which receives the pollen grains during fertilisation.




Contains a lot of juice: succulent fruit.


Sometimes very hard seed coat. Vesicle of the cell's protoplasm.


Composed solely of carbon and hydrogen, terpenes are divided into monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and diterpenes. They play a very important role in the general stimulation of the body. Oils containing terpenes should be used with caution, as they are revulsive and aggressive to the skin. Conifers are a major source of terpene compounds, whose natural diffusion in the forest has an antiseptic action.

Herbal tea

A liquid with curative properties resulting from the extraction of active principles from a plant by decoction, maceration or infusion.


Just because something is natural does not mean it is harmless. Essential oils are never dangerous in the usual doses, but a certain toxicity, for example in the case of phenol oils, can occur with long-term treatment or high doses.


With 3 lobes. Three-lobed leaves.


Particular affinity with an organ and ability to treat a given ailment.


Plant differing from individuals of its species by one or more characteristics of shape or colour (abbreviated to var.).


Activates the circulation.


A virus, which Pasteur called an "infrabacterium", takes its name from the Latin virus "poison", as it uses the components of a host cell to multiply and destroy it. Scientific experiments have shown that many essential oils have an antiviral action (e.g. ravintsara).


A plant that lives for several years.

(sources : dictionary of French, hachette)