Why Do Plants Have Essential Oils?

Published on Oct 05, 2014 in Essential Oils

Plants & Essential Oils

A living plant has two categories of metabolites – primary metabolites are cells needed for survival (enzymes, protein, etc.) and secondary metabolites are not necessary for survival (flavanoids, essential oil).

Essential oils stored in plants may not be considered necessary for survival, however they do play a role in extending the average lifespan of the plant that carries it. There is nothing in nature by accident – essential oils are considered ‘therapeutic’ for the plant as well.

There are four primary reasons why a plant would contain essential oil, which I’ll explain in the next few paragraphs.

Allelochemics in Plants

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Allelochemicals are the plant’s way of preventing competing plants from growing within its specific areas. Essential oils are allelochemicals, and there are plants in which this role is played so that no competing plants can take away its source of precious minerals and nutrients from the soil.

However, more recent studies have also shown that certain plants can be seen as ‘companion’ plants and in turn, actually help each other to grow or provide other benefits that may enable both plants to benefit from each other.

Allelochemicals are not made up of a single type of chemical compound, but rather a chemical cocktail of different chemical compounds. These can consist of phenolic compounds, terpenoids, flavonoids, alkaloids, carbohydrates, steroids and amino acids to name a few.

These chemical defense mechanism can be triggered by a wide variety of different factors that occur in nature – not only by the presence of other plant types. This may include everything from solar radiation, pests, general environmental stresses and herbicide among many others and could worsen the allelopathic process of certain plant types.

This could have an effect on the quantity and quality of the essential oil produced by the plant and should be taken into consideration when cultivating plants for the express use of essential oils.

Attracting Pollinators

Without the help of pollinators, most plants would not be able to produce fruits and seeds. Essential oils within certain plants provide an attractive aroma to potential pollinators.

However, since the 1940’s, the use of synthetic growth stimulants, suppressants, germination, maturation and post-harvest chemicals has lead had a negative affect on the quality of the essential oils produced by plants grown for aromatic purposes en masse.

So, as an alternative, many have turned to using organic farming methods to help preserve the quality of the essential oils that the plants produce and to help bolster their natural aromatic qualities.

Because of this, I would highly recommend sourcing essential oils from plants that have been cultivated according to organic farming practices as this is both better for the overall quality of the essential oil in terms of it’s medicinal and aromatic properties and for the greater environment as a whole.

How Plants Deter Dangerous Insects and Pests

Plants are vulnerable to various threats within their geological area. Those threats include bugs and insects to eat away or damage the plant. A plant can attract or deter an insect based on other

Close-Up Of Yellow Buttercup Flowers

factors, such as color, however the majority of plants make use of this most effectively by aroma.

In our bodies, these same chemical compounds help with regards to treating various health ailments and infections and are often extracted from essential oils for use in pharmaceutical drugs or other forms of natural and homeopathic medicine.

Some of the more common varieties of these chemicals are nitrogen compounds, terpenoids, phenolics, proteinase inhibitors and growth regulators.

However, the best way to make use of them is when they’re closest to their natural form i.e. essential oils. That being said, certain natural products may be added to essential oils (such as Turmeric essential oil and Hairy Basil essential oil) to increase the fixative properties of these oils and maximize their effectiveness.

Plants & Their Natural Anti-Fungal and Anti-Microbial Properties

Simply put, essential oils are known to carry anti-fungal, anti-microbial, and other defensive constituents to protect itself from microbial and other similar threats. These are generally made up of the same chemical compounds that are contained in the natural deterrents that the plants carry to fend of insects and bacteria.

However, when used topically and internally in humans, they can produce wonderful medicinal effects that can really help fight off infections, harmful bacteria and dangerous germs that may worsen the effects of an infection or cause them to form in the first place.

They’re incredibly versatile natural products and can be used to treat everything from Athlete’s Foot to yeast infections and the dangerous candida bacteria that leads to leaky gut syndrome and other nasty, painful infections.

The added benefit of these natural remedies is that they’re generally free of any harmful chemical side-effects and will help to boost your bodies natural immune system and defenses against the development of harmful infection in the first place.

So if you find yourself at the gym more often than not, or simply want to ensure that you don’t get any nasty skin irritations or infections, I’d recommend keeping a vial of Geraniol, Thyme, Cedar Wood, Peppermint or Clove essential oil with you at all times – ready to apply before and after workout sessions, long jogs or simply when you start to feel the onset of an itch.


There may be more roles played by essential oils, and the four outlined above are just the beginning. Essential oils should not be thought of as therapeutic only for the human body – the plant itself maintains good health from this precious resource of the constituents available.

So essential oils are an all-around natural therapy and should be treated with respect. It’s always astounding to me just how resourceful mother nature can be and so long as you know what to look for, you can basically find a cure for (almost) anything in nature.

Even better, you can often reap the greatest benefits from these natural products when they’re closest to their natural form – so be sure to stop by at your local health co-op more often and take a look a what’s available – you may be able to stay healthier and save money at the same time, something that’s almost unheard of in medical terms these days.

Whatever the problem, nature will provide, just keep your ears to the ground and stay up to date as best you can with new research and new techniques. They could be the difference between a clean bill of health and more money in your pocket at the end of the year – who wouldn’t want that.