Aromatic Herbs for Aromatherapy
Aromatic Herbs for Aromatherapy

Herbaceous plants are common in aromatherapy use. But when you hear someone talk about a herbaceous plant are they talking about a true herbaceous plant, or simply describing a herb – which, by the way, is a herbaceous plant, just to confuse you further!

Many herbs are used medicinally, aromatically, and in culinary dishes, whereas other herbaceous plants are not. Here’s a brief look at understanding aromatic herbaceous plants and oils; herbaceous plants not used in the practice of aromatherapy are not mentioned here.

A Herb as Used in Aromatherapy and Herbalism

In general, a herb is usually a plant that is used in medicine – for example, in aromatherapy and/or herbalism – or aromatically in perfumery, or as a flavoring agent in cooking.

A herb has leaves, flowers, and/or seeds. The leaves or flowers – either fresh or dried – are used as a “herb” in herbalism and cooking. In aromatherapy and natural perfumery, the relevant plant part is distilled for its (essential) oil, absolute and/or extract. Some herbs are infused in a carrier oil base to produce an infused oil. Herbs have historically been used for such purposes for centuries and were in common usage during ancient Egyptian times. There are records of the use of herbs in many ancient Egyptian documents, including the Ebers Papyrus (1550 B.C.).

Herbs are often categorized via their common use; for example, medicinal or culinary. However, some herbs fall into more than one category of use. Herbs such as rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) are used medicinally, in culinary dishes and for perfumery purposes. Other examples of common herbs include:

  • dill (Anethum graveolens)

  • oregano (Origanum vulgare)

  • coriander (Coriandrum sativum)

  • mint (Mentha spp.)

  • parsley (Petroselinum sativum)

  • helichrysum (Helichrysum angustifolium)

  • ginger (Zingiber officinale).*

*Note: Ginger is classed as a “spice” for culinary purposes.

Sometimes, in the practice of aromatherapy and herbalism, the word herb is used for plants that are neither herbs or herbaceous plants. Finally, the word herb is often (but not always) used as a synonym for herbaceous plant.

A Herbaceous Plant as Defined Botanically

A herbaceous plant is an annual, biennial, or perennial plant with flowers and/or leaves. It differs from a woody plant in that the stems are soft and usually green in color; a herbaceous plant is “the term given to any plant that does not form a persistent woody stem.”1

The leaves of a herbaceous plant (above ground) die at the end of the growing season. Annual herbaceous plants do not re-grow from the same plant; as annual plants only live for one year, all annual plants can be described as herbaceous. Biennial and perennial herbaceous plants have living underground stems that lay dormant until the next growing season.

Examples of herbaceous plants which are used in aromatherapy and herbalism include:

  • carrot (Daucus carota)

  • mint (Mentha spp.)*

  • sage (Salvia spp.)*

  • sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

  • palmarosa (Cymbogon martinni)

  • honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.).

*Examples of both a common herb and a herbaceous plant.

Herbaceous as a Descriptor in Aromatherapy and Perfumery

In the study of aromatherapy and perfumery, aromatic plants and oils are often classified into “groups” or “categories” which describe their scent. In aromatherapy, a herbaceous aroma is “an aroma that is reminiscent of herbs.”2 Herbaceous, or herbal, aromas include:

  • fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

  • basil (Ocimum basilicum)

  • lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

  • oregano (Origanum vulgare)

  • angelica (Angelica archangelica).

Learn More About Herbs and Herbaceous Plants with Sedona Aromatics

This article is a brief introduction to how herbs and herbaceous plants are used and described in aromatherapy. If you would like to learn more about aromatic plants, take a look at the Certificate in Professional Aromatherapy.


  1. Texas Tech University website, Herbaceous Plant ID Lab, accessed July 4, 2016

  2. Sedona Aromatherapie LLC, Linguistics of AromaticsTM Study Program

  • Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils: The Complete Guide to the Use of Oils in Aromatherapy and Herbalism UK: Thorsons

  • Author is a 20 year veteran in the health care and aromatherapy industry, a UK-certified aromatherapist, published author in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, a consultant, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.

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