I have been asked several times over the past couple of months about the difference between Ravintsara and Ravensara. This is my attempt at understanding the differences, the misinformation and the controversy of these two essential oils.
Ravintsara and Ravensara are both obtained from trees belonging in the Lauraceae family. The Lauraceae species are mostly trees or shrubs with a few parasitic climbers which lack true leaves. They grow in tropical and subtropical regions. The family consists of approximately 50 genera and 2500 species. (Avocado: Persea americana also belongs in the Lauraceae family.)
The Lauraceae family includes camphor (Cinnamomum camphora ‘Monum’), cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora), ho wood (Cinnamomum camphora), may chang (Litsea cubeba), Ravensara (Ravensara aromatica), Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora).
Let’s begin with the Cinnamomum genus then we will explore the Ravensara connection.
The term ‘cinnamomum’ is derived from the Greek root ‘kinnamon’ or ‘kinnamomon’ meaning sweet wood. The genus Cinnamomum has approximately 250 different species, many of which yield a volatile oil on distillation. The composition of the oil, and therefore its value and the use to which it is put, depends very much on the species that is distilled as well as the part of the plant which is utilized. The most important Cinnamomum oils in world trade are those from C. verum syn. C. zeylanicum (cinnamon bark and leaf oils), C. cassia (cassia oil) and C. camphora (Ravintsara, camphor and Ho oils). The latter species provides oils which are utilized as sources of chemical isolates.
The camphor tree is native to China, Japan, and Taiwan. It was heavily exploited as a source of camphor in Japan and Taiwan until the Second World War. Trees were felled and logs, stumps and branches distilled to give crystalline camphor and camphor oil. According to Dalby, camphor was once among the most sought-after of aromatics. Roots, branches, leaves, and wood of C. camphora can be used for extracting camphor and camphor oil for pharmaceutical use and as a flavoring.
NOTE: Traditional uses of camphor are varied, but relate mainly to colds, influenza (flu), fever, pneumonia, inflammation and diarrhea. Externally the oil is specifically used to treat rheumatic conditions of the muscles; internally for circulatory disorders. It is used both internally and externally against inflammation and congestion of the respiratory system.
Cinnamomum camphora produces a wide range of essential oils as evidenced above. The essential oils extracted from C. camphora include:
1. Camphor (Japan),
2. Ho wood or leaf oil (China),
3. Sassafras (China: called Chinese sassafras)
4. Ravintsara (Madagascar)
The essential oils differ in their chemical profile depending on the country of origin as well as the part of the plant used to extract: leaf or wood/bark. For instance, Japanese C. camphora tends to be rich in the chemical ‘camphor’ upwards of 50%. The Japanese camphor tree is commonly called the ‘Hon-Sho camphor tree”.
To make things more interesting, there are at least four recognized chemotypes of C. camphora including:
1. ct. 1,8 cineole (eucalyptol): around 55-76% 1,8 cineole with 20% alpha-pinene and alpha-terpinene (this is Ravintsara oil)
2. ct. linalol: around 80% linalol and 10% monoterpenes (this is ho wood or leaf essential oil)
The use of C. camphora as a source of Ho leaf oil, on the other hand, has expanded in recent years and it is now an important source of natural linalool (which is still preferred over the synthetic form for some fragrance applications). Chinese Ho oil has largely displaced the use of rosewood as a source of natural linalool.
3. ct. safrole: around 80% safrole and 10% monoterpenols (called Chinese sassafras oil)
NOTE: Chinese sassafras is obtained not has a whole oil but as a safrole-rich fraction from the crude oil distilled from C. camphora. The principal use of Chinese sassafras oil is as a raw material for the isolation of safrole. Safrole is converted by the chemical industry into two important derivatives: heliotropin, which is widely used as a fragrance and flavouring agent, and piperonal butoxide (PBO), a vital ingredient of pyrethroid insecticides (insects and mosquitoes).
4. ct. nerolidol: 40-60% nerolidol with 20% each of mono and sesquiterpenoids
Returning to country of origin: The Cinnamomum camphora tree growing in Madagascar tends to be rich in 1,8 cineole. This chemical chemotype has been given the name: Ravintsara. It is not called camphor oil due to this difference in chemical composition.
Although Behra and Rakotoarison state the chemotypes of the C. camphora species, it also appears that fractionation of the mother essential oils gives two different essential oils: White camphor is the first distillation fraction which is a colorless or nearly colorless liquid with a cineole-like odor. Brown camphor is a fraction with a boiling point higher than that of camphor and it is a pale yellow to brown liquid with the odor of sassafras oil.
Now to Ravensara: Ravensara aromatica
According to Burfield the situation regarding the exact botanical identification of the source (s) of Ravensara essential oil has previously confused and even lead to arguments amongst some learned and academic researchers (let alone aromatherapists!) and has been the subject of a number of articles. He goes on to report that the Ravensara genus now contains about 30 endemic Malagasy species. R. aromatica is found as an aromatic tree growing to a height of 20m. at elevations of 700-1000m in humid evergreen forests in the East of the island of Madagascar with a few stands growing on the Eastern coasts. The tree has fragrant leaves, bark and nuts.
Burfield reports that the confirmed chemistry of the bark oil from this species (R. aromatica) contains up to 90% methyl chavicol. Ravensara aromatic leaf essential oil, on the other hand, has been reported by Behra and Rakotoarison (2001) to contain 53-68% 1,8 cineole supported by a number of monoterpenes. Burfield, however, dismisses this based upon analysis by Ramanoelina e. al. (2006) who analysed 5 Ravensara aromatica leaf oils all of which contained a high (upwards to 80-92%) methyl eugenol content. This lends itself to the idea that there may be chemotypes of this species, similar to the C. camphora species.
So where does this leave our beloved Ravensara aromatica? I am not quite sure. My brain is swimming in all the information I have been reading about it and as I review my much trusted suppliers of essential oils (from www.fragrantearth.com to www.originalswissaromatics.com and www.florihana.com) I find that none of these suppliers sell R. aromatica. In fact, www.florihana.com lists the Latin binomial of Ravintsara as: Cinnamomum camphora ravintsara (ex:Ravensara aromatica).
The confusion continues….. For now, my own personal recommendation would be to only purchase Cinnamomum camphora commonly called Ravintsara and avoid the purchase of R. aromatica until such time as more information is available or you can get a full gas chromatography report on the essential oil you are purchasing.
Applications for Ravintsara: Cinnamomum camphora
In researching all of the above information, I have also found the information on the application of both Ravensara and Ravintsara to differ from website to website. On Natures Gifts site: Marge Clark writes:
“RAVENSARA AROMATICA also Agathophyllum aromatica, leaves, wild, Madagascar: There is no oil more useful for combating the flu, or any sort of respiratory virus, preferably in a bowl of warm water with the aromatic steam inhaled. STRONGLY antiviral. Useful for chronic respiratory conditions, and sometimes helpful in cases of asthma. (try this with care, as ANY essential oil can trigger an attack with some subjects.) Many authorities recommend Ravensara aromatica blended with Calophyllum as the best treatment for shingles. We have had terrific feedback from clients using this combination. (END of QUOTE)
However, the statements above should really be connected with Ravintsara and not with Ravensara aromatica. I believe it was Kurt Schnaubelt who popularized the application of Cinnamomum camphora and Calophyllum for the treatment of shingles. Ravintsara is rich in 1,8 cineole making it incredibly beneficial for the respiratory system. According to www.originalswissaromatics.com on the essential oil of Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora): “The oil is nontoxic, nonirritant, effective antiviral agent and safe nerve tonic. It is effectively used to ease Shingles outbreaks, best applied topically with in a 50:50 blend with Calophyllum inophyllum.”
Remember from above, Ravintsara from Cinnamomum camphora contains 55-76% 1,8 cineole. According to Harris , 1,8 cineole is known to possess the following properties:
- Antimicrobial (marginal activity)
- Ciliary transport promotion
- Lung function improvement
Ravintsara can be effectively used for the following actions: Antibacterial, anti-infectious, antispasmodic, antiviral, expectorant, immune stimulant, nervine
Core aromatic applications include:
Lymph/immune system: lowered immunity
Musculoskeletal system: muscular aches and pains, arthritis
Nervous system: herpes simplex, shingles, neuralgia, stress and stress-related conditions
Respiratory system: bronchitis, catarrh, sinusitis, allergies, influenza, common cold
Safety and Ravintsara
As with all essential oils rich in oxides, oxidation can increase the likelihood of dermal irritation or sensitization. Care should be taken when applying to individuals who have asthma. Avoid application to the face or in steam on children under the age of 5.
According to Florihana.com, Ravintsara is contra indicated by oral route to children under 6 years old. Contra indicated by oral route in pregnant women. No cosmetic use.
 Dalby, A. 2000. Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Van Wyk B. and Wink, M. (2004). Medicinal Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc
 Behra O. & Rakotoarison, C. (2001). Ravintsara vs Ravensara: A Taxonomic Clarification. The International Journal of Aromatherapy 11,1.
 www.cropwatch.org. Burfield, Tony. Ravensar-Ravintsara Confusion. Retrieved on November 8, 2009 from: http://www.cropwatch.org/Ravensara-Ravintsara%20Confusion%20Update%201.pdf Harris, B. (2007). 1,8 cineole – a component of choice for respiratory pathologies. International Journal of Clinical Aromatherapy 4,1: 3-8.