By Gofire Staff
Even if you can’t define the word, you know what terpenes are. You smell them when you use lavender soap, walk through a pine forest or cut up a lemon. They’re organic compounds that give plants their flavor and scent, and we use them in countless products, including food, beer, household cleaning products and pharmaceutical drugs. (For a quick review of terpene basics, check out our post A Beginner’s Guide to Terpenes.)
We’ve known that eating plants is good for our health. Now we know that plant terpenes may offer health benefits beyond nutrition. In a heady reference work created by botanists, Natural Products: Phytochemistry, Botany and Metabolism of Alkaloids, Phenolics and Terpenes, the editors highlight the “important therapeutic uses of terpenoids,” which include “antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, antihyperglycemic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiparasitic” properties.
Caryophyllene is one of the major players on the terpene stage. You’ve come into contact with it through cloves, rosemary, hops, basil and black pepper. Spices such as cinnamon and oregano also contain high concentrations of caryophyllene.
Caryophyllene doesn’t just contribute spice and delicious flavor to food and drinks. Some research indicates that it plays an important role in modulating inflammation and neuropathic-pain responses; after doing a study on mice, researchers concluded caryophyllene “may be highly effective in the treatment of long-lasting, debilitating-pain states.” Another animal study found that caryophyllene reduced the behavioral symptoms of anxiety and depression.
While rosemary contains many terpenes, caryophyllene is a major component of the herb—and studies show that rosemary may have astounding effects on brain function. Rosemary has long been associated with improved memory: Legend has it that students in ancient Greece wore rosemary garlands during their exams. And now there’s some science to back up this idea.
In a study by Northumbria University’s Department of Psychology, 150 healthy people aged 65 and over were placed either in a room scented with rosemary essential oils or in an unscented control room. The subjects who had been in the rosemary-scented room displayed significantly enhanced prospective memory and alertness, scoring 15 percent higher on memory tests than those who had been in the room with no rosemary.
Rosemary’s effect on memory may be due to its blend of assorted terpenes, not just caryophyllene alone. Nevertheless, this herb offers a powerful example of how intensely terpenes can affect us.
The famous Korean forest-bathing study noted that caryophyllene was shown to protect against neuroinflammation in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease, as well as reduce alcohol-induced liver injury and inflammation. The study’s authors conclude that while data around the positive impacts of terpenes is increasing, we need more study.
Science continues to explore plant compounds and how they affect human health. In the meantime, you may want to add more rosemary, basil, black pepper, cinnamon and oregano to your food—for health and flavor. Whether they’re in food, drinks, topicals or inhalables, compounds such as caryophyllene could be a valuable addition to your plant-medicine regime.
At Gofire, we’re excited about the role that terpenes play in improving our health. The Gofire Inhaler was designed to modernize plant medicine, including precision temperature settings to maximize the volatilization of terpenes at lower temperatures. You can learn more by downloading the Gofire App here.