The Spiritual Directors of Aromatherapy Lactones

Based on their distinguishing qualities, each of the 12 chemical families can be divided into 12 Archetypes and their characteristic Elemental Powers.

These 12 archetypes, and their chemical families, tell us about the therapeutic properties, actions and effects of essential oils.

You can select essential oils to use alone, or in a formulation, to promote healing for specific conditions, based on their specific archetype and therapeutic chemical properties, actions and effects.

PLEASE NOTE: Depending upon the percentage(s) of a chemical component that comprises an oil, it can be classed in more than one chemical family.

Lactone - Archetype: The Spiritual Director

Motivate, Clarify, Inspire & Encourage



Lactones may well be the most obscure chemical component in aromatherapy. Although Lactones are present in many plants, they are only found in small amounts in essential oils. Typically Lactones are only found in cold pressed or expressed oils, and some absolutes, like jasmine. This is because their molecular weights are far too high for them to come through in the distillation of a plant. 

Lactones are ‘cyclic’ esters in which the functional group of the ester has become part of a ringed structure with carbon atoms. They can be mono- or sesquiterpenoids. The cyclic nature of lactones lends a deepening and lasting quality to the protective and nurturing effect of plant esters.

The names of lactones are quite variable, though suffixes like, -olide, -in, -ine, -one and -lactone are fairly common.

Lactones contribute to the aroma of fruits, butter, cheese, and other foods. The scent that lactone contributes to a plant varies. Their fragrance and flavor characteristics have been described from coconut, peach, prune and vanilla-like to creamy, musky and oily.

Even though the percentage of lactones present in essential oils may be very low, lactones are thought to play an especially important role as healing and clarifying agents in aromatherapy, Their notable mucolytic, expectorant and fever-reducing actions, makes them especially effective for treating respiratory congestion and bronchitis.

Coumarins & Furocoumarins

A review on natural coumarin (a type of lactone) compounds for their pharmacological activity showed anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, antiviral, antimutagenic, and anticarcinogenic properties.

Coumarins act as anticoagulants (blood thinners) and hypotensors (lower blood pressure). Coumarins stimulate and uplift the senses, as well as have a calming and sedating effect.

Furocoumarins are found in Bergamot, Mandarin, Orange and Lemon.

Lactone Actions & Effects:

Mucolytic - breaks down mucous.
Expectorant - promotes secretion of the air passageways, especially good for treating coughs.
Anti-oxidant - removes potentially damaging oxidative agents, reduces oxidative stress.
Anti-coagulant - used to prevent formation of blood clots.
Anticoagulant - inhibits blood clotting, blood thinner.
Anti-pyretic - fever reducer.
Decongestant - relieves mucous congestion.
Anti-depressant - alleviates or prevents depression, lifts mood, counters melancholia.
Mild stimulant - quickens and enlivens the physiological functions of the body, temporarily increases body or organ function, good for convalescence, poor circulation, listlessness, physical fatigue.
Uplifting - morally or spiritually elevating, inspires happiness or hope. 
Sedative - exerts a soothing, tranquilizing, calming effect on the body, good for nervous tension, stress, insomnia, anxiety, palpitations.
Hypotensor - lowers blood pressure.
Anti-viral (some are) - inhibits, destroys virus.
Anti-fungal (some are) - prevent, destroy fungal growth.

Essential Oils in this class include:
Preferred distillation method, part of plant used, and some of best locations for production.

BERGAMOT - (Citrus bergamia), cold pressed peel, Italy
LEMON - (Citrus limon), cold pressed fresh fruit peel, USA or Italy
SWEET ORANGE - (Citrus sinensis), cold pressed fresh fruit peel, USA or Portugal
CISTUS - (Cistus ladaniferus), steam distilled leaves/stalk, Spain
LIME - (Citrus aurantifolia), expressed, Mexico
GRAPEFRUIT - (Citrus paradisi), cold pressed fresh fruit peel, USA

CAUTION: Photosensitizing. Some coumarins, like furocoumarin found in bergamot oil, are severe sun skin sensitizers and application to the skin should be avoided before direct exposure to the sun or using a sun bed. Check individual oils for specific cautions for each.

READ next article in this series, Aromatherapy Archetypes - 12 Natural Healers - The Liberators of Aromatherapy - Oxides.

READ first article in this series, Aromatherapy Archetypes - 12 Natural Healers - The Male Athlete.

†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All statements on this website are intended for informational purposes only.

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