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AROMATIC AND MEDICINAL PLANTS RESEARCH STATION, ODAKKALI


Aromatic Plants

     Aromatic  plants possess odorous volatile  substances  which occur as essential oil, gum exudate, balsam and oleoresin in  one or  more parts, namely, root, wood, bark, stem,  foliage,  flower and  fruit.  The  characteristic aroma is due  to  a  variety  of complex chemical compounds. The term essential oil is concomitant to  fragrance  or perfumes because these fragrances are  oily  in nature and they represent the essence or the active  constituents of the plants. They are called volatile or ethereal oils as  they evapo­rate when exposed to air at ordinary temperatures. Essential oils are highly concentrated, low volume, high value products.

     The  world of essential oils has  since then come  out  from the narrow field of definition to a wide variety of  applications in    flavours, disinfectants, oral hygiene, tobacco, pharmaceuticals and in almost all spheres of human  activity.  In the  world  wide  flavour and fragrance  market,  essential  oils constitute about 17 per cent. The estimate of world production of essential oils varies from 40,000 to 60,000 tonnes per annum. The demand for spice oils is placed at 2,000 tonnes per annum.

     Out of a total of about 1500 species of aromatic plants which serve as a source of raw materials for the perfumery, information on the chemistry and properties of essential oils  of only  about  500 species is known in some detail at  present.  Of these,  about  50  species  find  use  as  commercial  source  of essential  oils and aroma chemicals, though the  number of  those having  regular  and large scale utilization hardly  exceeds  two dozens.

     Essential oils and aroma chemicals constitute a major  group of   industrial products. These oils form indispensable ingredients of the necessities in many spheres of human activity. They   are   adjuncts  of cosmetics, soaps, pharmaceuticals, perfumery, confectionery, ice‑creams, aerated waters disinfectants,   tobacco,  agarbathis  and  a  host of related products. However, with the recent advances in organic chemistry, the synthetics have outnumbered the  naturals  in  a ratio  of about 200:1 due to limitations in the  availability  of the  latter  in sufficient quantities at a steady  price  over  a period  of  time.  Naturals are seen as good  and  safe. The concern  for nature and the love for all things which  are  basic and  natural  has  been  spearheading  to  a  green  movement  of everything  natural and nature‑based consumer products  all  over the world. A future shock is awaiting the industry as the already dwindling  world resources of coal and petroleum on one side  and the philosophy of going back to the nature is gaining  acceptance  internationally   on  the  other  side. This will revert the dependence of the industry on the petrochem­icals to the perennial source of naturals. Thus, because of a large spectrum of usage in the  everyday life of man, the essen­tial oil and  aroma  industry has a bright future.

     In  today's  world of consumer boom, the role  of  essential oils  has  increased many folds. Apart from  the  hitherto  known applications  of essential oils, more and more areas are  opening up  which  will benefit the industry. Use of  essential  oils  in therapeutics is becoming popular in Japan and European countries. Aromatherapy  involves  the use of essential oils  and  aromatics derived from plants to cure diseases. Some of the essential  oils are  reported to be in many ways better than antibiotics  due  to their safety and wide spectrum of activity. Synergistic  activity of  essential oils needs further probe. Application of  essential oils  in  agriculture  as  antifeedants,  repellents,   botanical insecticides,  natural herbicides and growth boosters  are  still open  to fascinating realms of research. Production of  secondary metabo­lites in bioreactors under controlled conditions using cell and tissue culture offers exciting frontiers of future research.

     Hot humid tropics offers an invaluable array of plant species which yields essential oils of fragrance and flavours. Some are commercially cultivated while others have potential for large scale planting.  For the sake of practical convenience the crops are classified under the following four broad groups.

a) Aromatic grasses: Lemongrass, palmarosa, citronella, vetiver
b) Aromatic herbs and shrubs: Mints, ocimums, patchouli, rosemary, clarysage, thyme, celery, coriander, cumin, fennel, ajowan, davana, chamomile, geranium, cardamom, ginger, kacholam.
c) Aromatic trees: Sandalwood, eucalyptus, clove, camphor, cinnamon, nutmeg, linaloe.
d) Aromatic flowers: Rose, jasmine, tuberose, marigold, champaca.

For more details on the above plants see the following reference.

Joy, P.P., Thomas, J., Mathew, S., Jose, G. and Joseph, J. 2001. Aromatic plants. In Tropical Horticulture Vol. 2. (eds. Bose, T.K., Kabir, J., Das, P. and Joy, P.P.). Naya Prokash, Calcutta, pp. 633-733

MAJOR SOURCES OF AROMATIC OILS

Camphor
Cedar wood (Himalayan)
Chamomile
Cinnamon
Citronella (java)
Davana
Eucalyptus
Geranium
Lavender
Lemongrass
Linaloe
Mints
Ocimums
Palmarosa
Patchouli
Sandalwood
Vetiver

OTHER SOURCES OF AROMATIC OILS

Ajowan
Ambrette
Caraway
Celery
Champak
Clarysage
Dill
Galangal
Greater galangal
Hops
Jasmine
Juniper
Kewda
Lippia
Litsea
Marigolds
Rose
Rosemary
Skimmia
Sweet flag
Sweet marjoram
Tea tree
Thyme
Tuberose
Ylang-ylang

For more details on the above major and other sources of aromatic oils  see the following reference.

Baby P. Skaria, P.P. Joy, Samuel Mathew, Gracy Mathew, Ancy Joseph and Ragina Joseph. 2006. Aromatic Plants. In Horticulture Science Series – I (Ed. K.V. Peter). New India Publishing Agency, New Delhi.

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