If you study aromatherapy, you will learn about botanical families; but if you study perfumery, you will learn about fragrance families. So, what exactly is the difference between these two types of families – and is there any overlap? Here’s a quick look at defining both botanical families and fragrance families for aromatherapy and perfumery

Botanical Plant Families in Aromatherapy: Photo Credit, ISP
Botanical Plant Families in Aromatherapy: Photo Credit, ISP


The Definition of a Botanical Family

A botanical family defines a group of plants that share common botanical features and, in the case of aromatherapy, therapeutic properties. Aromatherapists learn the common traits of each botanical family that produces aromatic plants (and essential oils) so that they become familiar with making suggestions for alternative essential oils with similar properties.

A plant classification system was devised a long time ago to bring an “order” to the numerous plant species in the world. Many plants are mistaken for others due to the usage of common English names. The plant classification system gives each plant an unique Latin name within the classification system. Further study of botany is needed to understand this complex subject.

The Definition of a Fragrance Family

A fragrance family defines a group of scents (or chemical components) of plants (or synthetic components) that share similar aromas. Perfumery concentrates on the note and scent of an essential oil in comparison to the overriding notion of a therapeutic property for aromatherapy purposes; in addition to essential oils, a perfume may be made up absolutes, extracts, and/or artificial aromas and substances.

Just as the plant classification system is complex for botanists and aromatherapists, the fragrance classification system can be complex for perfumers too. There are various fragrance classification systems and perfumists may also adapt a system to suit their own needs. Past and present fragrance classification systems include:

  • the fragrance wheel

  • genealogy charts

  • industry personalization.

The Properties That an Aromatherapist Looks for in an Essential Oil

If you wish to use an essential oil for aromatherapy purposes, you will probably be looking for the following criteria; if you study aromatherapy, you will learn how and why you need to know these factors:

  • botanical family (as discussed above)

  • therapeutic properties – for example, antiseptic, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial

  • chemical components – for example, ketones, aldehydes, monoterpenes

  • notes – top, middle, or base

  • aroma – for example, citrus, floral, spicy.

The Properties That a Perfumist Looks for in an Essential Oil

If you wish to use an essential oils for perfumery purposes, you will probably be looking for the following criteria; if you study perfumery, you will learn more about each of these factors:

  • fragrance families (as discussed above)

  • aroma – for example, citrus, chypre, floral, oriental, fougère (notice the difference in some of the aroma names; these are in reference to the fragrance family)

  • notes – top, middle, or base.

Botanical or Fragrance Family?

The study of aromatherapy takes into account both the botanical plant family and chemical family of an essential oil and relates each to a therapeutic property; in perfumery, the chemical components of fragrance families denote a particular aroma that the perfumist uses to create a perfume blend.

Although aromatherapy and perfumery are two different practices, just as botanical and fragrance families are two different types of classification, there is an overlap between the two modalities. If you are interested in both subject areas, it is possible to combine the different aspects with further study.

Study Aromatherapy with Sedona Aromatherapie

If you would like to learn more about aromatherapy, consider one of the Sedona Aromatherapie home study courses; to learn more, visit the courses home page.


  • Clarke, Sue, 2008, Essential Chemistry for Aromatherapy, UK: Churchill Livingstone

  • Gilbert, Karen, 2013, Perfume: The Art and Craft of Fragrance, New York: CICO Books

  • Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, UK: Thorsons

  • Author is a certified aromatherapist

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