What are terpenes

Terpenes are hydrocarbon compounds that are unknown to many, but by no means uncommon. There is talk of over 20,000 terpenes and even 30,000 terpenoids in science. In contrast to terpenes, terpenoids are secondary plant substances which – from a purely structural point of view – derive from isoprene, are regarded as functional groups and provide species-specific information about plants. That is why terpenoids are also used to uniquely identify plants. The large group of terpenes, on the other hand, can be further divided into monoterpenes, diterpenes and triterpenes.

Where are terpenes found and what do they do?

In the animal and plant world, terpenes fulfill very important functions: Plants spray terpenes as a defense mechanism in a dangerous situation or as an attractant , for example to make them “interesting” for pollinating insects. Terpenes, even known as clouds of smell, can also indicate that a plant or tree is under stress. In insects, for example, terpenes are used when the animals communicate with one another.

As unknown as terpenes may sound at first glance, they should be well known to the human nose, because terpenes are also aromas in food and fragrances in cosmetic products. Lemongrass, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemon tree and even thyme are examples of where terpenes can be smelled. Against this background, it becomes clear why terpenes are often used in aromatherapy, because they quasi stand as an “aroma” for the fragrance and effect of the oil. The fresh scents, for example the citrus scent, are used in aromatherapy to ensure a fresh mind. Lavender, on the other hand, is the well-known scent that is said to soothe the body and senses.

In practice, this works so well mainly because the molecules are tiny and can be easily absorbed. But the use of terpenes is (still) limited. They are known in aroma lamps; As a remedy, terpenes lead a rather neglected existence. They are rarely processed into tinctures and ointments.

Lemongrass is used in the kitchen by amateur cooks. It is often used to season Asian dishes. The associated terpene, myrcene, is said to have a relaxing effect.

Where are terpenes used in medicine?

There are a handful of terpenes that are already used in (alternative) medicine, as it became clear what benefits they can be used here.

  • Myrcene, for example, the most well-known terpene found in bay leaves, mango, thyme, lemongrass and lemon fruits, is used as a natural agent to reduce inflammation, germs and fungi. Myrcene is also classified as relaxing.
  • Limonene , which has been found in juniper, peppermint and citrus peel, can regulate stomach acid, inhibit the growth of fungi, relieve fears and be used as an antidepressant. They are classified as stress relieving and mood enhancing.
  • Humulene , a terpene found in coriander and hops, can relieve pain, reduce germs and reduce inflammation. Humulene has an earthy, almost woody taste and also curbs the appetite.
  • Pinene dilate the bronchi and reduce inflammation. The sweet and piquant aroma that occurs in sage, but also in pine needles, also has a positive effect on the mind: It is supposed to optimize alertness and memory.
  • Linalool is found in bay leaves, citrus fruits, rosewood and birch and is said to have a relaxing and almost sedative effect. As a result, Linalool is used as a natural antidepressant and used to reduce stress and relieve fears, pain and cramps.
Squalane belongs to the group of tripers. Squalene is part of the human skin layer; Squalene is celebrated today as an antiaging agent.

How can terpenes be differentiated?

Science distinguishes 20,000 terpenes that are clearly identifiable. Myrcene is one of the best-known terpenes. This terpene is said to have anti-inflammatory and muscle-relaxing effects. Limonene and pinene promote the ability to think and concentrate, linalool and beta-caryophyllene soothe. These best-known terpenes are found in peppermint, sage, coriander, anise, oregano, citrus fruits, mango, lavender, basil, roses, ginger, mint, mugwort, rosemary, dill, and some types of hemp and cannabis.

Terpenes are divided into subgroups that represent a more or less typical fragrance. These subgroups can be defined here:

  • Monoterpenes are known (though not by this name) as the scent of lime, coriander, caraway, rose, and citrus. Monoterpenes can be detected in more than 2,000 plants.
  • Diterpenes are also rather unknown in the wild. They often come in conjunction with resins or vitamin A. The vitamin is also better known as retinol, which is found in beets, pumpkins, spinach and kale.
  • Trispirane are mainly known in the cosmetics industry and also in the pharmaceutical industry. One of the best-known trippers, squalane , is currently literally being celebrated as a true fountain of youth for hair and skin. Squalane was obtained in its most original form from the liver of sharks, today it is a mix of sugar cane and olive oil – and: Squalane (or squalene) is part of the protective layer of human skin.

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