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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils.  As essential oils are derived from plants, it is also necessary to understand the botany of aromatic plants in the study of aromatherapy.

Botany is defined as the scientific study of plants; that is, in basic terms, understanding how a plant is structured and its ecological relationship to both the environment and its interactions with other plants and organisms.  Botany is a broad, and complicated, area of study, yet having a basic knowledge of botany can help greatly with understanding the study of aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is defined as the art and science of using the essential oils of plants in a variety of aromatherapy applications.  Essential oils are extracted from various parts of a plant including the root, flower, leaf, fruit and bark.  Essential oils are situated in tiny glands, hairs, veins or sacs of a plant.  The aroma, or essential oil, is the “part” of the plant used in aromatherapy.
Plants and Aromas

Plants evolved with a number of capabilities to equip them in dealing with the world around them.  In this evolution, plants developed an aroma, or smell, for both attraction and defense purposes.  If an aroma is found in the root, bark or leaf of a plant it is for defense against predators; if an aroma is situated in the flower or the fruit of a plant it is an attraction signal to others for pollination and dispersal of seeds.

The aroma, color and shape of many flowers attract various potential pollinators.  An aroma does not necessarily have to be a pleasant smell; rotting fruit is attractive to tropical bats.  However, the heady scent of night blooming Jasmine (Cestrum noctiflorum) is irresistible to hawk moths from a considerable distance.

The leaves of a plant may contain defense mechanisms within the essential oils they hold.  On a hot day, these essential oils evaporate, as all essential oils are volatile at or above room temperature.  If a predator attempts to eat the leaves of a plant it may result in nausea or even death, as the leaves commonly contain the chemical compound of terpenes.  Terpenes have also been known to hinder the growth of neighboring plants if they enter the soil on watering. 

Plants and the Storage of Essential Oils

Aromas in a plant are the by-product of metabolism.  Aromas are stored in a variety of places:

- Oil or Resin Canals – tubular canals or ducts are formed when neighboring glandular cells move apart; these spaces store essential oils of the Apiaceae plant family such as fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), coriander (Coriandrum sativum) and aniseed (Pimpinella anisum).

- Oil Cells and Resin Cells  – cells, sometimes living, which fill with resin or oils of the Lauraceae plant family such as cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) and bay laurel (Laurus nobilis).

- Oil Reservoirs – the formation of secondary cavities from the disintegration of lysigenous secretory cell reservoirs of the Rutaceae plant family such as lemon (Citrus limon)and bergamot (Citrus bergamia).

- Glandular Hairs, Scales and Cells  – single or multi cell convexities, on the surface of the plant's skin layer; found in the Lamiaceae plant family such as rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris).

The Link Between Aromatherapy and Botany

The study of basic plant anatomy, specifically in relation to aromas, makes it easier to understand the functions of essential oils in plants prior to their extraction for aromatherapy.  It is recommended to take further study of both botany and aromatherapy to fully understand the relationship between plant families and the properties of the essential oils extracted from them.  


Davis, Patricia 2005 Aromatherapy An A-Z UK: Vermilion
Rose, Jeanne 1999 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols USA: Publishers Group West

This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as Aromatherapy and Botany

It is expressively prohibited to copy or use this article in any way unless written permission is given by the author Sharon Falsetto.  If it is discovered that copyright laws have not been complied with, legal action will be pursued by the author Sharon Falsetto.

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