What are Terpenes?

March 1, 2023
What are Terpenes?

What are terpenes?

Terpenes have been a buzz word for a few years now mostly thanks to their new found fame thanks to the cannabis plant. Yes I said cannabis! I’ll explain the relationship between terpenes and cannabis later but for now let’s look at terpenes. What are these powerful little compounds?

Unearthing your passion for plants starts with attaining a knowledge of the materials involved.Let’s take a minute to discover the identifying characteristics of these aromatic materials and uncover their benefits for yourself. Helping you to fall deeper in love with the art of aromatherapy and plant science.

Terpenes start with essential oils which are ultimately a collection of phytochemicals (sometimes called compounds or constituents) which all have their own therapeutic capabilities. These phytochemicals canbe classified according to the functional group family they best sit within.

Understanding the difference between each functional family (also called groups in our aromatic world)helps us to identify different phytochemicals within essential oils. The functional group we care about here are terpenes which are included in both monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes.

Monoterpenes are unsaturated hydrocarbons with 10 carbon atoms and at least one double bond. The amount of hydrogen atoms in a Monoterpene varies depending on the number of double bonds the structure contains.

Monoterpenes are known to be some of themost volatile compounds. Due to their small molecular size,monoterpenes have excellent volatility and often contribute to the top note ofanessential oil’s aroma aswell as to your essential oil blend.

Many monoterpenes oxidise readily and may be irritating or sensitising to the skin and mucousmembrane. Therapeutically they tend to be tonifying, decongestant, analgesic, rubefacient.Monoterpenes’ decongestant activity has been known to be used for respiratory congestion and oedema.

Three common Monoterpene compounds arelimonene, alpha-pinene and camphene which can be foundin sweet orange essential oil, pine essential oil and rosemary essential oil, to name a few.

Sesquiterpenes on the other hand are slightly different, they are hydrocarbons that have 15 carbon atoms, a varying number of hydrogen atoms and no oxygen atoms.
Sesquiterpenes are known to be less volatile than monoterpenes due to their higher molecular weight.

Sesquiterpene rich essential oils tend to be more viscous and will pour slowly from their bottle.

They are generally non-irritant and non-sensitising and therapeutically tend to be anti-inflammatory, pain relieving and have tissue repair properties.

Three common sesquiterpenes are βcaryophyllene, chamazulene and zingiberene which can be found in Balsam Copaiba, Black Pepper, Tulsi, Melissa, Chamomile German and Ginger.

I didn’t forget, what about cannabis in this conversation? Within the world of cannabis terpenes are the natural phytochemicals that give cannabis, and many other herbs and plants, their aroma, colour and flavour. These distinctive flavours and scents are prized by cannabis enthusiasts and often help identify strains and even name them.

There are over 100 different terpenes have been identified in the cannabis plant. Every strain tends toward a unique terpene type and composition. These components belong together and work best when they combine!

Each terpene is associated with unique effects largely supported with research and clinical studies as we know. Use aromatherapists and herbalists have used the science of terpenes for years to affect the body and mind. For example, to promote relaxation and stress -relief or stimulate focus and clarity. Just another reason why we should confidently understand and work with the cannabis plant.

To learn more about Terpenes check out my Terpene course:

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