Ravensara / Ravintsara Confusion
Please note, this topic has made my brain ache for the past three months, as I tried to wade through the various references on the subject. There are few more confusing essential oils than Ravensara and Ravintsara. The years of literature written on the subject only serve to deepen the confusion. Never have I seen more contradictions about the chemical analysis of an oil. After researching every bit of information available I’ve decided that in many cases, when an authority wrote about one oil, he or she was often describing the other.
I’d like to thank Beverley Hawkins, principal of the West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy, Michel VanHove of Cevenat Sarl, Tony Burfield of Cropwatch, Sylla Sheppard-Hanger of the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy, and Kathy Duffy, instructor par excellence, for helping me reach clarity. I’ve waded through, and present, a LOT of information about the two oils, but if you are interested primarily in which oil to use for which circumstances, we’ll cut to the chase immediately:
Which should I buy? (Because this is the basic bottom line question for the end user, wishing to maintain health and well-being.)
For years we have used true Ravensara Aromatica oil for all the uses recommended by the authorities cited, whether they were describing true Ravensara, or the oil now recognized as Ravintsara.
For healthy adults, who wish to remain so, I would continue to buy and use true Ravensara Aromatica for treating shingles, herpes, and other viral ailments, or for diffusion to kill airborne viruses.
HOWEVER, if I were dealing with children, with pregnant women or nursing mothers, I would substitute the gentler and safer Ravintsara.
For personal use, in the future, I will probably use a blend of Ravensara aromatica AND Ravintsara in my diffuser.
For respiratory or bronchial problems, it seems self evident that RavINTsara, with its high component of 1,8-cineole would ease breathing. (In the past we’ve received rave results from practioners using our Ravensara Aromatica to treat cases of whooping cough. Hindsight being 20/20, I would use Ravintsara for this situation.)
I have received an unpublished case study in an elementary school where the use of Ravensara Aromatica in an aloe vera gel as a “hand cream” three times a day dramatically lowered the absenteeism rate in the classrooms studied. For a use like this, with school aged children, I would use RavINTsara, both because it may be safer for small children, but also because it is less apt to be a skin irritant.
I have had feedback from several clients who had used both oils that true RavINTsara is less irritating to the skin. So for topical use, the new Ravintsara may be safer and gentler.
(But, if I EVER develop shingles, I will use our traditional, Ravensara Aromatica, in Calophyllum. We know, based on years of successful feedback, that it quickly eases the pain and inflammation. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”)
What I know, for certain about the two oils:
Ravensara Aromatica is distilled from the leaves of the tree named Ravensara aromatica Sonnerat also known as Agatophyllum aromaticum. It contains small amounts of methylchavicol (estragole), sabinene, and alpha-terpinene with a large percentage of limonene, and VERY little 1,8-cineole.
This is the Ravensara essential oil that we have imported and made available for over a decade. It is what we have personally used and recommended as our most powerful antiviral essential oil. We have a tall stack of grateful testimonials from clients who have used it, blended with Calophyllum inophyllum,to ease the pain and inflamation of shingles. It has been successfully used to treat all forms of herpes, again, blended with Calophyllum.
We have successfully used it to repel attacks by any and all viral ailments. We have supplied it to hospitals, to doctors, nurse aromatherapists, various aromatherapy teachers and students.
There are some contraindications to using any oil high in methyl chavicol. Estragole is a suspected carcinogen and I have seen it listed as a possible hepatoxin. Limiting use with children or pregnant or nursing mothers seems appropriate. Also, true Ravensara aromatica can be a skin irritant. Although I have seen it recommended in as high a ratio as a 50% dilution, I would strongly question the wisdom of such a potent dilution.
Ravintsara is distilled from the leaves of Cinnamomum camphora in Madagascar. This is a very different species than the camphor trees grown in Asia. Rather than being high in camphor, it is high in 1,8-cineole eucalyptol, the plant chemical that give the various eucalyptus oils their penetrating aroma. True Ravintsara essential oils contain at least 45% 1,8-cineole, rather than the approximately 5% found in true Ravensara aromatica oil.
The two oils are clearly very different aromatically, and in chemical composition.
Ravensara Anisata is sometimes described as a separate species of tree. However based on all the evidence I have been able to find, it is more apt to be distilled from the BARK of Ravensara aromatica Sonnerat (Agatophyllum aromaticum). It is much higher in methyl chavicol than the leaf oil from the same tree, sometimes as much as 50% methyl chavicol.
For well over a decade, various well respected aromatherapy authors and teachers have recommended the use of Ravensara Aromatica as an antiviral. Not surprising since our experience has shown that Ravensara Aromatica is, in fact, a powerful virus preventative.
However, such authorities as Kurt Schnaubelt have described Ravensara Aromatica as being high in 1.8 cineole. An obvious confusion with Ravintsara oil. In the early ’90s, in a paper presented at Purdue University, Sylla Sheppard-Hanger wrote “For many years now, in the aromatherapy market, there has been trading of Ravensara aromatica Sonnerat (leaf), typically high in 1,8 cineole. “She concludes:“So far, therefore, the species of both Ravensara and Cinnamomum camphora, and their oils offered on the current aromatherapy remains confusing. There is a definite need for some certified samples of botanical materials to distill and analyze. All we can conclude from this research project is that the typical chemistry of what is being sold on the market asR. aromatica is consistent, but variable. More research is obviously needed and as this is obtained, additions to this report will be published. As far as aromatherapists are concerned, care should be taken in the use of these oils because as yet there still remains to be any formal safety testing by an internationally acceptable agency.”
However, in 2004 Dr. Arthur Tucker analyzed a sample of our true Ravensara Aromatica and found only 5.68% of 1,8-cineole, as well as high percentages of estragole. He wrote in his comments: “Aromatic ravensara, is distilled from the leaves of Agathophyllum aromaticum (Ravensara aromatica) and is high in estragole (methyl chavicol). This oil matches the few reports of the leaf oil of this species.”
Years ago, Olivier Behra, Madagascar producer and conservationist, wrote the following:“For aromatic ravensare, the botanical name is ravensara aromatica whereas the ravintsara botanical name is cinnamomum camphora. The main component of ravintsara oil is the 1,8-cineole. If I remember right it must not be less than 40%. Our ravintsara production 1,8-cineol is 50–58%.”
From the International Journal of Aromatherapy, Vol 11. Number 1, edited by Robert Harris:
Cinnamomum camphora is not indigenous to Madagascar. The tree was introduced onto the island during the middle of the 19th century. This tree is native to China, Japan, and Taiwan. Interestingly enough there are a number of different subspecies or chemotypes of this tree and it has been found that the chemical profile of the essential oil distilled will be very different depending on where the tree was grown. Cinnamomum camphora grown in Taiwan and Japan is known as Formosan Ho Oil, Ho Oil Taiwan or Japanese Ho Oil and has linalool (80–85%) as it’s major constituent. Production of the linalool type oil is paramount in Japan, but in India and Sri Lanka the camphor type remains the most important. Cinnamomum camphora cultivated in Madagascar contains high levels of cineole and no camphor. This is the oil that we are interested in. In order to avoid any confusion this oil should be labelled Cinnamomum camphora ct. 1,8-cineole. Ravintsara is recognized as having strong antiviral and antimicrobial properties while being an excellent nerve tonic as well. It is also considered to have respiratory and immune-boosting properties. Its aroma is pretty strong, camphorous and eucalyptus-like.
Ravensara aromatica, when discovered in 1782 by Sonnerat was named Ravensara aromatica. In 1950 Danguy described a species named Ravensara anisata because of its aniseed odour. Recent studies have shown that R. aromatica and R. anisata are technically the same species and Ravensara aromatica has been chosen as the correct botanical name. One possible reason for thinking that these were two different species is that the essential oil produced from the bark of Ravensara aromatica is very different to the essential oil produced from its leaf. The oil obtained from the bark is known as Havozo and has a strong aniseed odour due to high levels of methyl chavicol and sometimes anethole. When De Medici examined Ravensara anisata in 1992 he found that methyl chavicol was its main constituent at around 90%. Although his study did not identify whether it was the leaf or bark oil that he examined, based on later information it is thought that the sample he analyzed most probably came from the bark. This oil is not generally used in aromatherapy. Ravensara aromatica has a different chemistry to Cinnamomum camphora ct 1,8-cineole with sabinene, myrcene, 1,8-cineole, linalool and limonene as its major components. It is strongly antiviral and is also recognized as a general tonic and an anti-stress remedy. In addition it is considered effective for detoxification and digestive complaints as well as stress. It has a very much softer aroma than Cinnamomum camphora ct 1,8-cineole and this has been described as licorice like with an earthy citrus backnote.”
In 2004 Tony Burfield, author of “ Natural Aromatic Materials: Odours and Origins” wrote:
However it is the Ravensara leaf oils from Madagascar, or perhaps Mauritius, which are invariably sold by aromatherapy e.o. sellers. This is can be steam distilled from the heavily exploited evergreen tree ‘havozo’ Ravensara aromatica (syn. Agatophyllum aromaticum as discussed above) and is principally composed of the monoterpene hydrocarbons a-pinene, sabinene, myrcene, limonene, & the azulene: iso-ledene.
However an introduced species of Cinnamomum camphora from Formosa is also confusingly called “ravensara” by oil sellers, and even worse, is often incorrectly described as Ravensara aromatica, and it is this species which corresponds to Behrer’s “Ravintsara” above. As the plant has become adapted to the Malagasy climate, it has lost the ability to produce camphor, and the oil is mainly composed of sabinene (13–15%) and over 50% of 1,8-cineole.
Sorry this is so complex, but if you just walk away with the idea that commercially traded Ravensara oils are generally either distilled from the leaves of R. aromatica or a naturalized C. camphora species, then you are not going far wrong. I discuss further complexities and Lawrence’s suggestion of chemotypes forR. aromatica in my book but let’s leave it there for now!”
Hope all this sheds some light on a very confusing subject!
For more information please see the translation of the GreenHealth page.