Terpenes have been around for quite some time. People turn to them for their various uses and health benefits. People also consume them in different ways—some ingest them, while others apply them to their skin. However, not a lot know where terpenes come from or how they are produced.
In this visual guide, you’ll learn the plant sources of some of the most common terpenes found in nature. It will help you better understand how significant these aromatic compounds can be.
What are Terpenes?
More and more people are becoming curious about terpenes but have little knowledge of their nature and qualities. For the uninitiated, terpenes are compounds found in most plants and trees, including herbs and flowers. They are responsible for the scents produced by plants. They also give plants their characteristic flavors.
For instance, the sweet, sharp, and refreshing aroma emitted by pine trees is due to the terpenes they contain. Also, the citrusy, upbeat summer scent of oranges is due to their terpene content. Basil’s savory taste profile and minty undertones are attributed to terpenes, as well.
Due to their potent nature, terpenes are used for various applications in different industries. While they are mostly known in aromatherapy, they are also used as a major ingredient in fragrances, liquors, food additives, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical formulations.
Most Common Terpenes and Their Plant Sources
So, where do terpenes come from? Here’s a list of the most common terpenes found in nature and their plant sources.
This particular terpene exists in two forms: I-limonene and D-limonene. I-limonene gives off a pine-like aroma while D-limonene has a sweet orange-like smell, which is one of the most popular variant fragrances in the perfume industry.
This terpene is found in oranges, limes, lemons, and grapefruits. It’s also extracted from red pepper, rosemary, chamomile, ginger, and turmeric.
Limonene has several health benefits, including reduced risk of ulcers due to its anti-inflammatory properties, stress relief, and mood elevation.
Another popular terpene found in nature is pinene. This terpene has a cool, fresh, and woody scent reminiscent of pine trees. Like limonene, it also comes in two forms – beta-pinene and alpha-pinene – distinguishable with their unique scents.
This terpene is mostly sourced from pine needles, rosemary, dill, basil, parsley, and even orange peels.
Apart from its anti-inflammatory activities, pinene can also help increase alertness, especially when mixed with psychoactive substances. It can also help improve respiratory functions, reducing the risks of lung problems.
Linalool is one of the most widely used terpenes in recreational centers because of its soothing aroma that helps calm the user. Its sweet floral scent is likened to the French lavender, bergamot oil, and lily of the valley.
Its scent already gives a clue as to where it is extracted from — lavender, birch bark, and the flower. This terpene is also highly abundant in different herbs and spices, including thyme and basil.
Thanks to its therapeutic fragrance, linalool has become a major ingredient of sedative drugs for anxiety. Its high vitamin E content has also been shown to improve skin quality.
Myrcene is known for its fruity and earth-like fragrance. However, this terpene emits a pungent smell at higher concentrations. Some of its common plant sources include mango, basil, lemongrass, hops, and the plant flower.
Widely used because of its anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant characteristics, myrcene can help prevent cell damage and relieve chronic pain. It can also help improve sleep, thanks to its analgesic properties.
Caryophyllene has a strong smell ranging from woodsy to musky and spicy. Its strong aroma contributes to the distinctive smell of black pepper and cloves. The scents of rosemary, oregano, basil, cinnamon, lavender, and black caraway are also due to this terpene.
This compound is also responsible for the earthy smell of thousands of plants, including flower-producing ones.
As to its health benefits, caryophyllene’s antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties help facilitate the healing process. Studies suggest that these properties make caryophyllene a potential treatment agent for stroke.
This terpene has an earthy smell with spicy notes. It can also give off a floral and peppery aroma. While it is abundant in several flower strains, it is also found in other plants, such as hops, basil, black pepper, coriander, sage, and ginseng.
When consumed, humulene can have healing effects on the body due to its anti-bacterial characteristics, especially against the strain Staphylococcus aureus that causes respiratory and skin infections. Humulene can also be used to treat arthritis, thanks to its inflammatory properties. Moreover, it can help suppress the appetite, making it a valuable substance for those who want to lose weight.
As the name suggests, this terpene is derived from eucalyptus leaves and oils. It is also extracted from tree tea oils, mango, ginger, mint, and sage. Indeed, its fresh mint-like smell is unmistakable.
Eucalyptol can effectively treat nasal inflammation because of its anti-inflammatory properties. It has also shown potential for eliminating leukemia cells. Moreover, its analgesic properties have been found to relieve pain.
This terpene has a floral, nutty, and fruity scent. When inhaled, the aroma activates the brain’s feel-good chemicals while suppressing stress hormones. It’s no wonder people love to smell lavender and chamomile — two plants with the most bisabolol content.
This terpene is also found in herbal teas, Candeia, lavender, rosemary, and sage. According to research, its antioxidant properties can help lower the risks of malignancies.
Similar to eucalyptol, borneol has a cool and spicy fragrance with a slightly sharp, peppery-earthy note. This terpene is usually extracted from ginger, sage, cardamom, nutmeg, rosemary, and thyme. Besides being anti-bacterial, it can also help improve memory and relieve anxiety.
This monoterpene is popular for its hypnotic effect that can help improve sleep. Abundant in cedar trees, pine trees, basil, pepper, lime, and rosemary, it has a woodsy and citrusy fragrance with pine-like undertones.
3-Carene has shown potential for enhancing memory by reducing the risks of degenerative memory disorders. It has also been found to repair damaged bones. Moreover, its antihistamine properties can help dry excess fluids in the body.
Terpenes and Their Origins
Terpenes have become more and more popular due to their various health benefits and applications, and knowing where these aromatic compounds come from is equally important. With the visual guide above, you now have a more holistic idea of terpenes.