Advanced Aromatherapy : Plant Families
Botany is the scientific classification of plants and it is useful to aromatherapy because it allows the correct identification of the tools of its trade : essential oils.
There are millions of species of plants living on the planet, with a diversity of characteristics. Fortunately, botanists have completed the difficult task of correctly identifying one plant from another by setting up a system of classification and assigning species according to their common characteristics. These might be similarities in germination, growth, shape or chemistry.
A universal classification system is useful because it avoids the confusion caused by different common names for plants. For example, there are various names for sage – common sage, garden sage and Dalmatian sage, but if an aromatherapist uses its botanical name (in Latin), Salvia officials, she can correctly identify the species used for the essential oil to an aromatherapist in any country. By giving every plant a botanical name according to its place in the plant kingdom, misunderstandings such as these can be avoided.
Just one species, sage, may be known by as many as three common names.
The Hierarchy of Plants
Classifications of plants in the plant kingdom follow a set hierarchy like branches on a tree. The kingdom Plantae is the trunk (“plantae” meaning “plant”), which branches into divisions, which then branch into classes and subclasses, which branch into orders, then families, genera and finally species. Let’s take the rose oil produced from damask roses (Rosa damascene) as an example :
– Kingdom – Plantae
– Division – Trachaeophyta
– Class – Angiospermae
– Subclass – Dicotyledoneae
– Order – Rosales
– Family – Rosaceae
– Genus – Rosa
– Species – Rosa damascena
– Common Names – Turkish rose, Bulgarian rose and rose Otto.
This system has been ini use for 250 years, though it’s always under review. Aromatherapists should be aware of the need to update their records even though it’s rare for a plant to be re-classified.
Good essential oil books include the plant family and Latin name.