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22 February 2022 / Caitlin Devlin

Commonly confused essential oils - which is which?

Ever wondered what separates two similarly named oils? You're not alone.

Open essential oil with dropper cap.

Sometimes understanding the difference between essential oils can be confusing.

From bay laurel and bay leaf to aniseed and star anise, some oils are so similar in name that it seems that they must be interchangeable. In actual fact, many of these similarly named oils have important distinctions that it’s important to be aware of in order to use them correctly.

We know that separating these oils can be difficult, and so we’ve gathered some of the most commonly confused oils in order to clearly lay out their differences. Read on to find out what these oils do and don’t have in common.

Aniseed oil / Star anise oil

Aniseed (anise) and star anise are highly similar in scent, which leads to many people treating them as the same oil. In reality, despite the resemblance in scent, these two oils are distilled from completely separate plants.

The anise plant is native to Egypt, whereas the star anise plant is native to China, and they are so dissimilar in properties that aniseed is actually a closer relation to carrots or celery! Both of these oils are also sometimes confused with fennel seed oil due to the liquorice scent that they all share.

Cinnamon bark oil / Cassia oil

Cinnamon bark oil and cassia oil aren’t exactly the same oil, but they are very close cousins. Both are members of the cinnamon family, and they’re highly similar in both scent and properties. However, cassia is said to have a more bitter scent and a higher potency.

Bay laurel oil / Bay leaf oil

This is a confusing one. Bay laurel oil, or Laurus nobilis, is extracted from the Mediterranean bay laurel tree. It has different properties from bay leaf oil and differs in scent. Despite this, bay laurel oil is sometimes also referred to as bay leaf oil, which means that these two separate oils sometimes have the same name.

The oil more commonly known as bay leaf oil is Pimenta racemose, extracted from the West Indies bay tree. This oil is also sometimes known as bay rum oil or West Indies bay oil. Still with us? The two oils have some similarities but are still distinctly different in scent and benefits.

Eucalyptus oil / Citriodora oil

Citriodora oil comes from the lemon eucalyptus tree, a subspecies of eucalyptus. Its scent is a cross between that of eucalyptus and citronella and it shares benefits with both.

Clove bud oil / Clove leaf oil

As we would expect, clove bud oil is extracted from the buds of the clove plant and clove leaf oil from the leaves. The two oils are very similar in benefits, but clove bud oil is more potent, with a stronger scent and higher levels of eugenol. Clove leaf oil is milder and safer for topical use.

Neroli oil / Petitgrain oil

Neroli and petitgrain are both extracted from different parts of the orange tree – neroli is extracted from the blossoms and petitgrain from the leaves and twigs. Despite their proximity, they have different scents and properties.

Geranium oil / Rose geranium oil

Rose geranium oil comes from a variation of the geranium plant with a rosier scent. The two oils have fairly identical properties and only really differ in smell.

Person applying essential oils to skin.

Many essential oils share similarities but it's important to know how to use each one correctly.

Citronella oil / Lemongrass oil

Both of these citrussy herbs have similar scents and similar insect-repelling abilities. However, they are extracted from two different plants and have different properties.

Mandarin oil / Tangerine oil

Tangerine is a version of the mandarin that evolved after the mandarin was brought from China to the west. The oils have similar benefits and a similar scent but with some subtle differences between the two. Tangerine is considered the more potent.

Black pepper oil / Pink pepper oil

There are some similarities shared here but these are still two distinctly different oils. Black pepper oil is distilled from the dried peppercorn fruits of a flowering vine native to India. Pink pepper is extracted from the ripe fruits of an evergreen Peruvian tree. Whilst they both have a warm spicy scent, pink pepper’s is sweeter and more fruity, and the two have different benefits.

Peppermint oil / Spearmint oil

These two minty oils share many of the same benefits. The only real difference between the two is that spearmint is sweeter and slightly more relaxing than stimulating peppermint.

Carrot oil / Carrot seed oil

The confusion between these two oils is slightly different, as carrot oil is not an essential oil but a vegetable carrier oil. It therefore has completely separate uses from carrot seed oil, which is a potent essential oil with a range of natural benefits.

Sage oil / Clary sage oil

Sage and clary sage come from the same family of herbs. However, they are distilled from different plants and therefore have different benefits.

Marjoram oil / Oregano oil

Oregano is sometimes known as ‘wild marjoram’, leading to the confusion between these tow oils. However, marjoram is a different herb altogether and the two have entirely different properties.

Still not sure how to tell a pair of oils apart? Use the chat feature on our website to ask us any questions you have and we’d be happy to help.

Shop our essential oils here.

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