By Gofire Staff
Terpenes, which comprise the largest class of secondary metabolites found in fragrant plants and herbs, are responsible for producing the specific aroma and flavor profile of any given aromatic plant. This diverse class of volatile organic compounds forms fragrant oils, which exert important medicinal properties and provide flavor and smell characteristics.
Terpenes also play a vital role in the health and success of plants themselves. Many terpenes are associated with plants’ defense mechanisms against potential herbivores and against hostile environmental conditions.
Thousands of terpenes exist in nature, and many have been found to demonstrate a range of therapeutic properties. But, as with many medicinal main ingredients found in over-the-counter cold or pain remedies, you can have too much of a good thing, and moderation is important.
It is believed that the intrinsic pharmacological properties of terpenes can modify the effects of other therapeutic compounds found in plant-based medicines, making them key elements in the efficacy of plant-based medicines.
One of the most common terpenes, pinene, is found in conifer trees, pine needles, rosemary, dill, basil, parsley and other plants. In addition to exuding a piney scent, pinene has been linked with various health and wellness benefits, including analgesic, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory and bronchodilatory effects. (A bronchodilator is a substance that improves airflow to the lungs.)
Other terpenes such as myrcene—which has an earthy, musky odor and is found in fragrant plants and herbs, including mangoes, hops, thyme, lemongrass and basil—have been linked with anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antibiotic and sedative effects. Limonene smells of citrus and may be helpful for relieving anxiety and depression, among other ailments. Caryophyllene, which smells peppery, may help with analgesic pain and ulcers. Linalool, which has a floral odor, has been linked with many of the aforementioned therapeutic and medical properties.
With all these health and wellness benefits, it’s no wonder terpenes are an increasingly important facet of effective plant-based medicines. In concentrated plant-derived formulations, however, the process of isolating and extracting individual chemical compounds from a plant typically has the effect of separating that compound from all other compounds found in the plant of origin, including terpenes. This may result in the reduction or elimination of certain desirable therapeutic properties attributed to the interplay between terpenes and other active plant compounds. That’s why many manufacturers of concentrates and extracts often add terpene oils back into their formulations. And that’s where problems can arise—because high terpene levels don’t necessarily correlate with better plant medicine. In fact, the opposite may be true.
While terpenes are generally regarded as safe, some terpenes may not be safe to inhale at high concentrations or high temperatures. Certain terpenes in their purest form, much like certain essential oils in their purest form, can be quite harmful when consumed at high concentrations.
That’s why it’s extremely important to make sure any extracts you use are produced by a reputable manufacturer, one that understands both the importance of not overloading terpenes and that the best formulations use nature as a guide for gauging appropriate terpene levels.