Terpenes are getting a lot of attention these days, and not necessarily for the reason they should. There is a lot of misinformation about the fragrance molecules and the many health benefits they can provide. The truth is that if you’ve ever smelled sage, oranges or lavender, you’ve smelled terpenes at work. In this article, we will discuss what terpenes really are, the many health benefits of terpenes and the most common terpenes. And to clear up any confusion, we will talk about the difference between cannabinoids and terpenes.
What are terpenes?
Terpenes are the naturally occurring compounds that give flowers, fruit, herbs and vegetables their fragrance. If you have ever cut into an orange and enjoyed the fragrance of the fruit, you have smelled terpenes. These compounds are found in your favorite essential oils, in kombucha and—believe it or not—craft beer.
Terpenes are a scented oil that can be extracted from plants. They interact with the body’s cells and messenger systems to produce health benefits. They are, for example, responsible for the relaxing and sedative effects of lavender.
While much of the hype surrounding terpenes are because of cannabis, it doesn’t mean that terpenes have to be part of the cannabis industry. Terpenes can be extracted from many natural sources, such as lavender, mangos, citrus fruits and lemongrass and there are at least 20,000 in existence. Of those 20,000, only about 100 are extracted from cannabis plants.
Benefits of plant terpenes
Inhaling the scents of terpenes has been associated with a boost in your health, in the same way that aromatherapy has been shown to benefit your emotional and physical health.
Josh Kaplan, a neuroscientist at The University of Washington explains, “The fragrant molecules are basically oils that release a therapeutic scent… The scent is greater when the terpenes are combusted because they become aerosolized at high temperatures, but they also release a scent in their natural state.”
Dr. Kaplan goes on to add, "For years it was thought that people benefited from inhaling terpenes because our olfactory system, or sense of smell, is tied to emotional centers in the brain, thus having a positive effect on our mood. However, recently, it's been identified that the terpenes also act directly on brain cells to modulate their activity."
Beta-caryophyllene, the terpene found in black pepper, oregano, basil and—yes—cannabis, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving and antioxidant benefits.
A study that examined the Japanese practice of forest bathing in terpene-rich forests has beneficial impacts on human health, including anti-inflammatory, anti-tumorigenic and neuroprotective effects.
Some of the more common terpenes that you may encounter naturally every day are:
This terpene has a musky, earthy and sometimes fruity fragrance. It can be found in mangos, lemongrass and cannabis and has been shown to have a number of health benefits, including pain relief, anti-inflammation, muscle relaxation and sedation.
As you would expect from the name, this terpene has a strong citrus aroma and flavor. It’s found in all citrus fruits as well as cannabis and has been shown to boost serotonin pathways to provide mood-boosting and energizing benefits.
This terpene tastes and smells exactly like it sounds—like pine. It can be extracted from pine trees, rosemary, parsley and cannabis. It’s been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory properties and even ease congested breathing airways. The benefits don’t end there, though. It’s also been shown to help with both memory and mental clarity.
Found in lavender and cannabis, this stimulating floral aroma has been shown to have a calming and relaxing effect that can improve sleep and help manage the symptoms of anxiety.
Mentioned earlier, this terpene has a woodsy, spicy scent and can be extracted from black pepper, basil and cannabis. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may even improve sleep.
Plant Terpenes and What You Need to Know
The most important thing to understand about terpenes is that they are the fragrance molecule found in herbs, fruit, flowers and vegetables. Terpenes give them the natural aroma that we love and has even been shown to have a variety of benefits for your mental, emotional and physical well-being, including:
- Memory boosting
- Mental clarity
- Sleep improvement
It’s important to note that while terpenes have developed a bad rep because of their connection with cannabis—and the vast amount of misinformation online about them—that there are well over 20,000 different types of terpenes. Of those, only about 100 are extracted from cannabis.
To take advantage of the amazing benefits of terpenes—both to your olfactory system as well as your emotional and physical well-being—check out the ingredient list on essential oils like lavender, peppermint, sage or lemon. Or just take a hike through a coniferous forest for some nature therapy. Just two hours of “forest bathing” has been shown to have health benefits.
Don’t miss out on the amazing benefits that these plants have to offer.