Exploring the Lamiaceae plant family and its essential oils

You may recall that last month, I started a series on plant families and essential oils and provided an overview on this fascinating but complicated topic.  This month I shall explore one particular plant family and some of the essential oils that are extracted from its plants. 

The Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae) family is sometimes referred to as the Mint or Nettle family and is a plant family I particularly like, because its plants are especially aromatic, and the essential oils extracted from them consequently have strong, penetrating aromas.  Apart from being highly aromatic, the essential oils share other characteristics, for example, they are stimulating, balancing and antiseptic.  Some of the essential oils are also emmenagogic, anti-spasmodic and sudorific – see glossary below.

Essential oils from the Lamiaceae family

Essential oils from the Lamiaceae family are generally regarded as safe, although some, such as Hyssop (H. officinalis) and Lavender stoechas (Lavandula stoechas) may be considered to be the odd ones out because they contain a high proportion of ketones, which are neuro-toxic.  These oils should only be used by qualified Aromatherapists.  The majority of essential oils in this family are, however, commonly known for their gentle qualities, and include Basil (Ocimum basilicum), Clary Sage (Salvia sclarea), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) Lavender Spike (Lavandula lactifolia), Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia), Marjoram Sweet (Origanum majorana), Melissa (Melissa officinalis), Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), Peppermint (Mentha piperita), Rosemary, (Rosmarinus officinalis), Thyme ct geraniol and Thyme ct thymol (Thymus vulgaris) and Spearmint (Mentha spicata).  If you remember ‘ct’ means chemotype and indicates that the essential oil has been extracted from a plant with numerous variations within the chemical constituents.

Scientific support for their therapeutic effects

Some of the essential oils from the Lamiaceae family are particularly helpful when used in aromatherapy. For example, there is a plethora of anecdotal information recommending Lavender essential oil for sleep difficulties.  Some scientific studies support these observations.  For example, results from a review of eight studies on the effects of Lavender oil inhalation for enhancing sleep were promising.  Further research is needed due to the small number of studies reviewed, although four were random-controlled trials (Fismer & Pilkington, 2012).  A subsequent randomised controlled trial involving college students with self-reported sleep issues indicated that Lavender oil improved sleep quality, although as this study involved only 79 participants, I would suggest further research is required. (Lillehei, Halcón, Savik, & Reis, 2015).  

Try using Lavender True If you do find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.  The oil can be applied very easily and effectively.  Simply put up to four drops into a diffuser and inhale the odour or, alternatively, put two drops of the oil onto your pillow before going to sleep at night.  Make sure you do use Lavender True (Lavandula angustifolia) though, rather than Lavender Spike (Lavandula lactifolia), which may be too stimulating!

Rosemary has long been known for its memory enhancing qualities, and this is now supported by contemporary research.  For example, in an independent groups design study, forty school children between the ages of nine and eleven were exposed to either Rosemary aroma or no aroma in a classroom environment.  Results indicated that the Rosemary control group performed significantly better than the no aroma control group.  (Moss, Earl, Moss, & Heffernan, 2017).  

Rosemary can be used as easily and as effectively as Lavender.  For those of you wishing to enhance the opportunity to recall vital information in examinations, simply put a couple of drops of the oil onto a tissue and inhale. 

Finally, Clary Sage is reputed to be helpful in addressing menopausal symptoms, such as depression.  The anti-depressant like effects of the oil were examined on twenty-two menopausal women in their 50’s.  Results indicated that Clary Sage has an anti-depressant like effect (Lee, Cho, & Kang, 2014).  Although, more research is required due to the low number of participants involved, results, nonetheless, indicate that menopausal women may wish to use the aromatherapy oil as a natural intervention.  This can be done easily by diluting up to 5 drops of Clary Sage essential oil in 10ml of Rosehip Seed carrier oil and adding it to a bath of warm water, soaking for up to twenty minutes daily.

Next time, I'll continue exploring the plant families and their essential oils.  If you have one that you would like to learn more about, please drop me a line and I will do my best to include it in this series.

Christine Fisk
Consultant Aromatherapist

Disclaimer & Safety Advice

Glossary of terms

Antiseptic - destroys bacteria and germs

Anti-spasmodic - counters spasms

Emmenagogue – Induces or assists menstruation

Stimulating – promotes excitement and activity

Sudorific - promotes sweating

Reference List

Fismer, K. L., & Pilkington, K. (2012, December ). Lavender and sleep: A systematic review of the evidence. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, 4(4), e436-e447. Retrieved March 31, 2018, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1876382012010700

Lee, K.‐B., Cho, E., & Kang, Y.‐S. (2014, November). Changes in 5‐hydroxytryptamine and Cortisol Plasma Levels in Menopausal Women After Inhalation of Clary Sage Oil. Phytotherapy Research, 1599-1605. Retrieved March 31, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24802524

Lillehei, A. S., Halcón, L. L., Savik, K., & Reis, R. (2015, July). Effect of Inhaled Lavender and Sleep Hygiene on Self-Reported Sleep Issues: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine, 21(7), 430-8. Retrieved March 31, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26133206

Moss, M., Earl, V., Moss, L., & Heffernan, T. (2017). Any Sense in Classroom Scents? Aroma of Rosemary Essential Oil Significantly Improves Cognition in Young School Children. Advances in Chemical Engineering and Science, 7(4), 450-463. Retrieved March 31, 2018, from http://file.scirp.org/Html/8-3700853_79934.htm

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