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What's in a (Latin) name...

What’s in a (Latin) name- a quick guide to understanding the italicizes.

The Latin name found on the bottle of your essential oil under the common name might seem unnecessary, unpronounceable and even intimidating at first glance, but those are the most important details on the bottle.

So, what are Latin names?

Latin names are groupings of plants created by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in the mid 1700s, to serve as a universal language for identifying plants in all countries.

How do Latin names simplify our essentials oils?

They make accuracy easy. The Latin name gives us facts about the amazing plants that produce our favorite oils. I encourage everyone to learn their favorite essential oil’s Latin name. Remembering a plant’s Latin name is like doing the same with a friend’s first and last name: it's a simple and meaningful way of defining who they are.

 The Latin name for plants contains two parts: the genus and a species. While both names are italicized, the genius is always capitalized, while the species is lower case.

Example: Though there are many different types of Lavenders in the world, two types of popular, and totally different,  lavender Latin names are:

  • (Genus): Lavandula, (species): angustifolia - relaxing
  • (Genus): Lavender, (species): latifolia - stimulating

Latin names help us identify what we have in our hands, much like our own names when we were in school: there might be 5 Olivia's (genus) in a class, but it isn't until you say her last name (species) that others know exactly who you are talking about.

What Does the Latin name tell us?

It tells us exactly where the plants used to make the oils came from. Which helps define:

  • Aroma
  • Chemistry
  • Safety
  • Therapeutic properties

Other aspects you will find in a Latin name, after the genus or species is listed, are labels like “var”, or “forma”-meaning variety. These abbreviations inform us about the physical characteristics of the plant and sets it apart from other members of its species (such as a different colored flower).

Other designations include “ct”, meaning Chemotype, or the occasionally used term vars (cv), when the outside appearance of the plants is identical, but the chemical makeup within is completely different. giving it a different aroma, chemistry and set of therapeutic properties (another good reason to have a GC/MS report nearby).

Chemotypes (“ct”) are less common, and not all plants have chemotypes.

They occur due to different genetic and environmental factors, such as altitude, rainfall, soil changes, disease and insect resistance.

  • A good example of chemotypes at work is Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis ct camphor. (since the name includes ct -chemotype- Camphor, we know it is high in camphor.)
  • Another notable Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis ct verbenone- uses the chemotype “Verbenone” to demonstrate high ketones and monoterpenes. It's also more herbaceous and contains less camphor.

Another well-used notation is “x” Meaning Hybrid – two or more plants that cross paths naturally or artificially and become a new plant.

An example of this situation would be the Peppermint essential oil labeled Mentha X piperita, which is a blend of two different types of mint, (watermint and spearmint) usually fused in a lab setting and cloned repeatedly to produce new plants.

Try It!-

After learning some background information on essential oil Latin names, and how important it is to know them, here are a few quick examples to get you started:

  1. Frankincense- Boswellia carterii (Bos-Well-ee-yah, Cart-err-ee)
  2. Orange- Citrus sinensis (citrus, sin-en-sis)
  3. Cedarwood Atlas- Cedrus atlantica (SEE-druss, at-lantica)
  4. Oregano-Origanum vulgare (uh-RIG-uh-num, Vul-GAIR-ee)

And lastly, for extra credit:

  1. Cinnamon leaf- Cinnamomum zeylanicum (cin-namo-mum-zeylan-icum)