Constituent Study: Hydrocarbons & Oxygenated Compounds

NOTE: I am NOT a doctor, certified nutritionist, or anything of the like. I am in NO way suggesting that essential oils cure, prevent, treat, etc. any disease, ailment, etc. Your health is your job, I'm just sharing what I have found based on research to better my own knowledge on the constituents of essential oils that come from plants. By continuing to read this article, you understand this and agree to never hold me liable for any reason at any time for anything I have written below. Please see a doctor prior to continuing use of essential oils in any way.

Research is so important when it comes to our health and wellness. I encourage you to do your own research on what you see below, and dig even deeper into the properties these compounds possess. I can't possibly get into everything here, so please do a little research for yourself! Here's a start to what I've found, so I hope you learn something and enjoy!

These constituents, when 100% pure, can be divided into two categories of chemical constituents: hydrocarbons and oxygenated compounds


Hydrocarbons are almost exclusively made up of terpenes, which inhibit the buildup of toxins and help get rid of existing ones from our bodies. They're found all throughout nature in varying degrees of concentrations.

Their basic molecular structure is called an isoprene unit, and is made up of Carbon and Hydrogen. If you want to nerd out like me, you'll find it interesting and be glad to know that there are 5 Carbon atoms and 8 bonded Hydrogen molecules, as shown in the diagram below.

A terpene is defined as any of a large group of volatile hydrocarbons found in plants. Volatile means that it's a substance that evaporates at normal temperatures - which is why you can smell an essential oil from across the room when someone opens the bottle. 

Fun fact: High concentrations of terpenes are found in a plant directly after it flowers.

There are couple types of terpenes:  monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes. Their prefix is determined based on the number of isoprene units they have in their compound.  

MONOTERPENES (C10) - Two Isoprene Units

Monoterpenes generally have stimulating effects but can also be soothing to tissues that are irritated too. 

A few specific types of monoterpenes include the following:

Anti-viral, anti-septic, and anti-fungal

Antisesptic, antibacterial, antifungal, and expectorant 

Insect repelling


SESQUITERPENES (C15) - Three Isoprene Units

They're antibacterial, strongly anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic. They have a soothing affect on skin tissues and are very calming. They help to stimulate the liver and glands in our bodies, and have the ability to surpass the blood-brain barrier, entering our brain tissue. Their aroma is very strong, and they have larger molecules than monoterpenes do.

Examples of sesquiterpenes include:

Anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and an insect and termite repellent

Highly anti-inflammatory and antibacterial



Oxygenated compounds are mainly esters, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, phenols, and oxides. 

Result when there's a reaction between an alcohol and an acid. Their properties are anti-fungal, calming, relaxing.

Contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and are highly reactive. They're anti-infectious and have a sedative effect on the central nervous system. They're irritating to the skin when applied topically without a carrier, but can have an extremely calming effect when inhaled. 

Most known for having anti-septic and anti-viral activities, and also create an uplifting quality.

Anti-septic, anti-bacterial, antioxidant

Compounds that include an oxygen atom in their structure.

Constituents Example: Lavender

linalol, a-terpineol, lavendulol, geraniol, nerol

linalyl acetate, lavendulyl, gerantyl, a-terpenyl

b-ocimene, d-limonene, a and b-pinenes, camphene, carene

b-carophyllene, x-farnesene


benzaldehde, cuminal, geranial, nexanal, myrtenal, neral

cineol, caryophyllene oxide, linalol oxide

*This list does not contain all of Lavender's constituents, but you can see how many make up a single botanical's components.

This overview couldn't be more basic, but I wanted to give you guys a little intro to the properties that make up the properties of plants, and allow you to become a bit more familiar with them as you continue on your wellness path!

It's obvious that these compounds contain a wide array of beneficial properties. What we do with this knowledge is up to us! I'm so anxious to continue my research on the components and discouver ways that I can use them each and every day!

As you do your own research, I'd love to see what you find so please share!


  2. Book: Modern Essentials, a contemporary guide to therapeutic use of essential oils