Ravensara rant

OK, here’s the problem as I see it. And, if you’re not an essential oil aficionado, I advise you to stop reading now. There is an oil produced from Ravensara aromatica, and it is known by the (somewhat uninventive) name of “Ravensara” or, occasionally, “ravensare” It is produced only in Madagascar, and the name derives from a Malagasy word meaning “fragrant leaf” – or something similar.

But, and here’s the rub, there is another Madagascan oil, this one produced from Cinnamomum camphora leaves, and it is known as “ravintsara” in the aromatherapy community. I guess there are a lot of fragrant leaves in Madagascar. But really, is this the best we can do? And what am I to think when I read someone blogging about “ravinsara” oil, as I did yesterday – which one are they talking about? And in a discussion, lecture, whatever, every time you say ravensara, or ravintsara, you have to stop and make sure your audience knows exactly which oil you are referring to. How to create confusion with minimum effort!

So please, can we stop this nonsense? Chinese Cinnamomum camphora leaf oil is known as “ho leaf” oil – it comes in several chemotypes, and the 1,8-cineole chemotype is the same tree that grows in Madagascar. So, I’m just saying…”ravintsara oil” is actually ho leaf oil – from Madagascar. Lots of essential oils come from different countries, and have corresponding minor differences. We still call them by the same name. I’m not saying it has to be called ho leaf oil – call it anything you like, call it Malagasy oil, Moonbuggy oil, Make-my-day oil, but please, not Ravintsara!

13 comments to Ravensara rant

  • I am a huge fan of Ravensara aromatica. I vote for Moonbuggy oil for the Cinnamomum camphora leaf oil.

  • but but but… traditionally, Ho Leaf from China and most countries, is high in linalol. So caling it ho leaf will confuse people just as much, or more, as calling it RavINTsara. The real problem is that so many authors wrote, for years, about ravensara when they were really describing the characteristics and effects of ravINTsara… witness Kurt Schnaubelt’s books, etc. We had offered only the RavENsara for years, when we finally broke down and offered both we had to try to explain why… the results are here:
    http://www.naturesgift.com/Ravensara-Ravintsara.htm

    I’d love it if you could add to, or clarify, what I came up with, Robert.

    And BRAVO on getting the page up. have already bookmarked!

  • Most people in aromatherapy do not know that the supposed home of Ravensara oil happens to also be the worlds biggest importer of 1,8-cineol. The analyst I used to work for refused to import the oil for many years as he had never seen a genuine one. When he did get a genuine sample is was greenish and a bit murky. Yet when I was in the USA all I saw was crystal clear oil smelling like Eucalyptus. Buyer beware!

  • robert

    Martin – maybe the greenish, murky oil was from genuine plant material, but not very well distilled. Or, maybe the oil gets rectified at some point.

    Marge – I read your article, great piece of detective work! I, and I’m sure others have all come to the same conclusion. Ravinsara is not materially different from the cineole chemotype of ho leaf. It is not a different species, it’s the same species. Ho leaf (the Chinese name for “camphor leaf”) comes in three flavors – linalool, cineole and camphor. The linalool chemotype is popular in aromatherapy as a replacement for rosewood oil, so maybe is seen as the only ho leaf oil. As for names, “camphor leaf” would create confusion with white camphor oil, and since “ho leaf” does not designate which flavor, Kayla’s vote makes “Moonbuggy oil” the current favorite!

  • Chaeya

    I second Moonbuggy!

  • Ann Tisserand

    Quite off topic I know, but do you remember that we thought about naming Jade “Ravensara?”

  • robert

    Yes, and I think it’s a pretty name. James narrowly escaped being called “Resinoid Benzoin” – not one of my better ideas!

  • Ranting aside, whats your take on the Cropwatch status for Ravensara: “Destructive harvesting of bark (100 t/y) for production of essential oil from stem-bark threatens the species (Rasoanaivo 1997)” from their updated January report. Should we be avoiding the use of this oil to minimise threat to the species? I’m 2 years old to Aromatherapy and concerned with the environmental impact of our use of oils, resins etc. Are there other benchmarks (other than Cropwatch) that provide solid info to help us make informed decisions about our use of certain species and / or chemotypes?

  • robert

    Hi Stephanie,
    There are two ravensara oils – one from the leaves, and one from the bark. I would assume that only bark harvesting is destructive to the tree. Also, you should know that the bark oil is 90-95% estragole (methyl chavicol) a rodent carcinogen, which may be a further reason for avoiding it. In regard to your environmental concerns, I don’t know of a better single source of information than Cropwatch, though there are always different opinions.

  • lucy

    Sorry to dig up this old thread, it is just when I saw what Martin Watt wrote about being careful when coming across an oil sold as Ravensara but is clear and smells just like eucalyptus – which is exactly what I got – and with nothing else to compare it with, I thought I’d ask what a true Ravensara aromatica essential oil should smell like? The West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy mentions licorice to differentiate it from the …um, Moonbuggy oil.

  • catherine

    I wish, like the serious gardening world, we would avoid using common names for the oils and instead call them by their proper botanic names (genus/species). Wouldn’t this avoid a lot of confusion?

  • So the difference between Ho Wood (Cinnamomum camphora ct linalol) and Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora ct 1,8 cineole) is the chemotype? and they are both called Ho leaf?

  • robert

    Hi Audrey, ravintsara is currently only known as ravintsara, and is from the leaf of the tree (Madagascar). Ho wood is from the wood not the leaf, and if it’s a linalool chemotype then there’s that difference too, and the fact that it grows in China. My rant is based on the fact that the same plant growing in different countries generally gets called by the same name, as do different chemotypes of the same plant, whether chamomile, thyme, rosemary etc.

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