What’s the difference between Flower Essences and Essential Oils? [Infographic]

There is a significant difference in the way flower essences, essential oils and other medicinal plant products are made as well as how they should be used safely, so understanding the terminology is quite important. To add to the confusion, medicinal plant products have similar names that are repeatedly misused by bloggers and even health researchers.

For example, when you read an article about using rosemary oil to massage your scalp, are you learning about rosemary infused oil or rosemary essential oil? I’ve seen many writers reference the shortened “rosemary oil” when they really mean rosemary essential oil, but some will also have articles about how to make your own “essential oil” which then actually gives directions for making an infused oil. At best this inconsistency in terminology is enough to make anyone researching health topics frustrated (if they realize there is indeed a difference). At worst, this nomenclature madness could cause unintended side effects and even injury. Personally it drives me a little more than crazy, given that in my previous career I dealt in information architecture and taxonomies. In a nutshell, using the wrong terms for things can cause all sorts of problems, whether in the information world or the complementary health world.

I’ve seen the essential oil/infused oil confusion going on for some time, but once I started making flower essences in addition to essential oil blends, I realized that there was an even bigger problem with that term. Many people I talked to didn’t know what a flower essence was, and because the name sounded so much like essential oil, they assumed it was the same thing. As these two products are at the complete opposite ends of a plant medicinal intensity spectrum, I realized that there was an even bigger opportunity to straighten things out. I love to try to make complex concepts simple and palatable – it’s always challenging and this was no exception since there is just no easy way to explain some of these thigs to the layperson.

So here you have it – an infographic defining and comparing plant medicine products and showing their relative physical concentration/intensity. Keep in mind that this is a simplification as a) the different extraction methods pull out different constituents, and b) the strength is also dependent on the dose. Flower essences have the least amount of plant constituents and work on a more subtle energetic level rather than chemically with the body, while at the opposite end of the spectrum are essential oils which have the highest concentration of aromatic plant constituents, and work on a very physical, chemical (as well as energetic) level on the body.

As with all medicine, the more powerful it is the more potential it has for harm and the greater the need for understanding safe usage and/or getting guidance from a professional.

What do you think? Does this help clarify what they are and their differences? What other terminology have you heard?


April 20, 2016 at 7:27 am

I love this! Well done graphic with good info, thanks for your work!

April 21, 2016 at 7:30 am

Well done Ro, a clear and appropriate illustration of plant medicines and their potency scale.

Trish Francis
April 21, 2016 at 7:32 am

This is a great graphic, easy to understand and the info in the article is very interesting.

April 21, 2016 at 7:34 am

love this – great for all to understand the differences. Fabulous.

Sarah Lake
April 21, 2016 at 7:35 am

Oooh! This is SO beautiful! I love the article which explains the differences between all of the botanical derivatives. There’s a need for this information, and the graphic is simply stunning. Very nice!

April 21, 2016 at 7:37 am

Well written. It is important that people comprehend the differences between distilled, infused, and hydrosols. There is frequent confusion especially in regard to Oregano, and the error can be hazardous.

Marge Clark
April 21, 2016 at 7:38 am

This is lovely… Permission to share please? you make it EASY to grasp the difference. And I get asked at least once a week if flower essences = essential oils. ARGH. Your graphic shows the difference far better than my words do!

April 22, 2016 at 7:41 am

Thank you so much for this article and beautiful graphic!! It is an excellent resource. Recently, I gave a public talk on Aromatherapy and a woman in the audience did not know the difference between essential oils and flower remedies. I wish I could have pointed her to your article. This is a very valuable resource as people might just take essential oils internally and undiluted as they might use flower remedy drops if they are unaware. Your article is very clear.

July 8, 2016 at 11:47 am

Thank you Roxanna for this article. As I stated in my original facebook posting I was confused about making flower essence and tinctures. Thanks to your graphic I now completely understand the differences. I have an elderly kitty who is becoming stressed when I leave the house. My neighbor who works for a vet suggested I try giving him lavender but I wasn’t sure how. After purchasing some books on herbs for animals I came across a recipe for lavender flower Essence.

    August 18, 2016 at 11:46 am

    Hi Brenda! I’m so glad this helps differentiate between flower essences and tinctures. I would agree that flower essences are at the safest end of the spectrum to use with cats. How is lavender flower essence working out for your elderly kitty?

January 13, 2017 at 10:18 am

This is one of the best infographics I have ever seen!!! Thank you for so clearly and effectively explaining the various forms of commonly confused plant medicine sources. This valuable resource is a beneficial to the new and experienced plant/flower enthusiast! Thank you!!!

November 1, 2017 at 7:24 am

I just came across your wonderful website and am so glad I did! This infographic is a wonderful way to portray and differentiate the most common plant preparations. I am an herbalist with an herb shop and I hear and see this confusion from my customers and clients all the time. Thank you so much!

June 18, 2018 at 8:49 pm

At some point, above Tincture with likes of EO, CO2, Absolutes; Do we say the constituents make up are different rather than say they are more ‘concentrated’?

I think decoction can be ‘different’ too when compared to Tincture, Infusion and Hydrosol. Are there any use for CO2 and Absolutes in medicinal herbalism?

    October 2, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    Great points. I struggled with trying to keep the graphic relatively simple to illustrate the most common questions I get. I agree that the various extraction methods extract different components, not just different concentrations, but I only really had room to show it as a footnote (“constituents may vary”). And yes, CO2 extracts are very valuable in aromatherapy and herbalism. -Ro

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