Understand the difference between these two different genus of the Cupressaceae family of Evergreen/Conifers and then use them for their best traits.
Cypress and Blue Cypress
Herbal Use, Essential Oil and Hydrosols
Jeanne Rose – January 2017
Conifer/Evergreen ~ Don’t confuse even the conifers with the evergreen. Conifer is a term meaning cone-bearer and has to do with reproduction while evergreen means a plant that is always green and has to do with the nature of the plant. Most conifers are evergreen but not all (Ex: Larch). Not all evergreens are conifers (Ex: Ivy). However, in this article we will assume that you know the difference.
Common Name/Latin Name: The Coniferae are the Conifers now known as Pinopsida. Yes, those botanists drive us crazy with their name changes. That is why you must know your plants by their Latin binomial and not just common name. How many times do you hear the word Cypress when the person actually means blue Cypress referring to the beautiful color of the essential oil of a particular plant. Blue Cypress is Callitris intratropica and Cypress generally refers only to Cupressus sempervirens. As you read on you will see the vast difference between these two related conifer trees.
Chart 1. Taxonomy
Naming: The word cypress is derived from an Old French word cipres, which was imported from the Latin word cypressus and this word was Latinized from a Greek word Kyparisso.
Australian Blue Cypress Oil Northern Cypress Pine Callitris intratropica R. T. Baker & H. G. Smith. The blue Cypress, Callitris intratropica is from the Greek word calli or beautiful and treis or three, alluding to the beautiful 3-fold arrangements of its parts, leaves i.e. scales and intratropica within the tropics.
Countries of Origin: Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens this tree, the pencil-pine or Italian Cypress, is from Southern Europe, Libya or SW Asia. Eden Botanicals organically grown Cypress branches and leaves are steam-distilled in France.
Callitris intratropica, the so-called Blue Cypress because of the color of the essential oil; is native to Australia and grows in the Northern Territory (including Melville and Bathurst, Indian and other islands), the Kimberly region of Western Australia and, Cape York to Bowen in Queensland. Its range of altitude is from near sea level up to 900 meters. The tree usually grows in open forest but also found in heath forest, vine thickets, monsoon forest and on rain forest edges. Callitris intratropica is a medium to large sized tree, from 15 to 45 meters in height. The timber is very aromatic, resistant to termites and is known in modern times by aboriginals of Arnhem Land as “Kerosene Tree” because of its flammability, and “Mosquito and Sand fly tree” because of its effect on repelling these insects while being burnt and is mainly used in the wet season.
fig. 1. Blue Cypress ~ Callitris intratropica – photo by Jeanne Rose©
Other Named Cypress: There are many Genus of trees that are given this common name ‘Cypress’. They include trees the genera of Widdringtonia, Taxodium, Callitropsis, Callitris, Chamaecyparis, Fitzroya and more. It can be very confusing. Some Cypress trees are even called Cypress-Pine. However, our main concern in this short profile is the genus Callitris and Cupressus and specifically the species called sempervirens.
Endangered: Callitris intratropica can live for over 200 years, although the population has declined significantly since European settlement, because of over exploitation and the change in fire regimes and the introduction of grasses that burn with a greater intensity than the native grasses.
Some of the world’s ancient populations of Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens, have declined in Europe and Iran due to overpopulation and war. Cypress trees can live a very long time such as the longest living Cypress, the Sarv-e-Abarkooh in Iran’s Yazd Province, whose age is estimated to be approximately 4,000 years.
Storage: All the blue-colored oils are likely to oxidize in time due to the azulenes and they should be kept cool. Since Blue Cypress is a somewhat viscous oil and comes from the bark and wood, do not freeze but keep in the fridge, probably in the door section. It will get more viscous but the colder air of the fridge will delay any deterioration and the essential oil will last longer. Just remember to bring it out of the fridge several hours before you are going to use the oil so that it warms up some. With the blue oils you must be very careful and conscious of their color. If it is oxidizing, it will go from a beautiful blue to green and eventually to brown. If brown put it down and do not use for therapy or medicinal use. This is why you must always check the organoleptic qualities of your essential oils – there is much to be learned by their color, clarity, viscosity and intensity.
Cypress oil from Cupressus sempervirens should be handled the way most conifers are and that is
“Keep in a cool dry place and replace every year or so.”
Portion of the plant used in distillation, how it’s distilled, extracted:
The Cypress leaves and young branches are steam-distilled for the essential oil. Cypress used to be used in distilleries as staves to hold mash ferments to make alcohol before the invention of stainless steel and now used sometimes to scent the alcohol. Commonly seen throughout New Mexico, the Mediterranean Cypress is also known as the “drama tree” because of its tendency to bend with even the slightest of breezes. It is also the traditional wood used for Italian harpsichords.
The Blue Cypress, “The essential oil of Blue Cypress, Callitris intratropica, is composed of a considerable proportion of rather unique lactones like callitrin (I), callitrisin (II) and columellarin (III). “During the investigation of the volatiles obtained by hydrodistillation of the wood of this Cupressaceae species it was noticed that the oil yield increases with distillation time while the oil composition is shifted more and more towards the high boiling components. Both the method of production and oil are patented.” “Clear oil is produced if the heartwood is distilled by itself, containing clear azulene compounds, which requires a separate National Industry Chemical Assessment to produce and is not covered by the registered Chemical abstract number.”
Yield: Yield is hard to ascertain as the numbers vary and parts of the distillation style is patented.
fig. 2. Cupressus sempervirens • 2nd oldest tree in the world ~ Sarv-e-Abar, Yazd Province, Iran
Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens is almost colorless to pale-gold, clear, non-viscous, intensity of 5 (scale is 1-10) and the taste is bitter and astringent.
Australian Blue Cypress Oil is a vivid and pure cobalt-blue colored oil (see fig. 1), opaque, viscous like cane syrup, medium intensity odor (5 on a scale of 1-10). The taste is bitter. Turns green when oxidized. “…The oil was widely promoted in the essential oils and aromatherapy professions a decade past, and can be steam distilled from the powdered heartwood when a colorless oil is obtained according to Webb (2001) (other sources say pale lemon-green oil), but when this oil is reacted with natural resinous compounds in the bark & cambium, a cobalt blue oil containing guaiazulene is obtained – presumably the secret process referred to by Domio…” in the article written by Cropwatch.
fig. 3. Cypress & Blue Cypress from Eden Botanicals
There are two other species of Callitris that are used for essential oil. See this link for Australian Essential Oils. http://www.aromaticplantproject.com/articles_archive/Australian_Essential_Oils.html
Australian Victorian Emerald Cypress Oil, Coastal Cypress Pine, Callitris columellaris F. Muell. The essential oil is a beautiful emerald green color, clear like green water, sticky and viscous like cane syrup, medium intensity odor (5-6 on a scale of 1-10), the scent is predominantly fruity, woody sustaining note and green/vegetal and floral back notes. Bitter taste.
Australian Jade Cypress Oil, White Cypress Pine, Callitris glaucophylla (syn. Callitris glauca) The essential oil is a pleasant jade-green color, clear like greenish water, sticky and viscous like cane syrup, medium intensity odor (5-6 on a scale of 1-10), the scent is predominant green/vegetal and woody, sustaining notes of herbaceous and a floral back note. Bitter taste.
Cypress (C. sempervirens) has a wood predominating note, sustaining notes of green and herbaceous and a spicy back note.
Australian Blue Cypress Oil (C. intratropica) scent is predominating wood, with vegetal sustaining notes and back notes of herbs and floral.
Properties of the EO, Hydrosol and Herb
General Properties and Uses: Both of these ‘Cypress’ oils are used as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-irritant.
Cypress is stimulating and warming and antiseptic and also known for its very durable, scented wood, used most famously for the doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City of Rome.
Blue Cypress is mainly analgesic, insect repellent, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral.
In cosmetics these two ‘Cypress oils’ are used as astringent, for firming, to reduce oil in the hair or skin and in shampoo to reduce dandruff,
Specific Uses of Herb and Oil
Application ~ Australian blue cypress EO also contains eudesmol’s known for their anti-viral properties hence its reputation among aroma-therapists for the topical treatment of warts and cold sores (it has not worked well for me in this regard). It is used externally in men’s cosmetic products and in lotions for skin irritation, diaper rash and muscle aches and pains. This is a superb ‘first-aid’ oil and can be mixed with Tea Tree for this purpose. Both Blue Cypress and Cypress work particularly well in blends for aching muscles and joints.
Cypress is great in skin and hair care products for oily skin, and sweaty palms and feet. It works well at reducing overactive sweat and oil glands. It may be used in massage oils for rheumatism, aching muscles, abdominal cramps, circulation problems in blends with Lemon and Juniper berry oil for varicose veins and even hemorrhoids and for fluid retention and cellulite.
- Inhalation ~ Cypress is a wonderful oil used for respiratory issues and congestion in a blend with other oils such as Eucalyptus and Blue Cypress not so much.
- Ingestion ~ I would not use either of these oils internally, although the diluted Cypress hydrosol can be gargled for coughing or sore throat.
- Emotional uses ~ Cypress oil is inhaled for nervousness, tension and grief and is thought to promote comfort and strength.
- Diffusion ~ Mix either of these oils in blends for diffusion, particularly for cleansing the air and uplifting the psyche. Make blends that suit you as they work well with other conifer oils, Rosemary or Lavender Oil and some of the other Mediterranean oils such as Cistus.
- Perfumery and other ~ Cypress EO it is anti-aging and as fragrance in perfume. Blue Cypress EO can be used as a base note in many perfumes or particularly men’s colognes and scents. Use it where the other essential oils have no color so that the beautiful blue of the Blue Cypress shines through.
fig. 4. Blue Cypress and Cypress showing the beautiful color
- Hydrosol Properties and Uses ~ There is a Cypress hydrosol coming from France and it is considered to be cleansing and detoxifying and a good toning addition to a skincare facial spray. Samara Botane sells a hydrosol from the leaves and branches of Callitris intratropica that is preserved with alcohol and is said to have many uses. Personally, I have not as yet experienced either a Cypress or a Blue Cypress hydrosol.
PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most of which are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil, or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh. Also, a hydrosol does not have the same components as does the essential oil, the components are often very different and in very much smaller amounts.
- Herbal Uses ~ Any of the conifer needles including Cypress and Blue Cypress can be used in infusion form in the bath for aching muscles or simply to cleanse the skin and provide a natural sort of deodorant for the body. I have on occasion used the branch tips in tea for its forward coniferous taste and especially for respiratory distress.
fig. 5. Cypress – Cupressus sempervirens
Chart 2. Lush Perfume
- Skincare ~
CYPRESS SHAVING BALM
Using a premade shave lotion or thin cream or make one with Lavender hydrosol, Calendula extract, Oat protein, aloe gel, and glycerin, and then scent it with Cupressus sempervirens (Cypress) oil, Lemon oil, Cananga odorata (Ylang Ylang) oil, Melaleuca quinquenervia (Niaouli) oil and preserve it with vitamin E and Rosemary extract. The scent should be at no more than 2-5% of the total.
- Hair Care ~ Make an infusion with the needles and branch tips of either of these Cypress types, add to your shampoo and shampoo as normal, especially for oily scalp or dandruff. The EO can also be added to the conditioner to provide extra therapeutic action.
- Body Care ~ The ancient use is that the decoction of wood of Cypress is an ‘excellent footbath against the feet stinking with perspiration’.
- Formula for Hemorrhoids & Varicose Veins ~ Varicose Veins and hemorrhoids are pretty much considered the same if treated by an herbalist. And Cypress oil is a good oil to use. Here is a favorite formula that various people have commented upon. Mainly, that it makes them and their hemorrhoids smell good.
30 drops (1 ml) Cypress, +
30 drops high linalool Lavender, +
30 drops Lemon
Put into a 1-oz. glass bottle. Succuss and mix completely. Then fill with either Calendula infused oil or Jeanne Rose Bruise Juice 90% + St. Johnswort oil at 10%. Mix together. Apply regularly to the hemorrhoids/spider Veins/varicose veins by applying with gentle massage from bottom to top (from your extremities to your heart. — from 1-20-10
- Energetic Use ~ Heart or Base note is Cypress, and depending on your ingredients can be used for broken veins, astringent, oily skin, rejuvenating, wrinkles and in spiritual/energetic use to inhale for loss of friends and for smoothing transitions and for indecision, and to soothe an irritable spirit.
The genus Cupressus, whose taxonomy has been reviewed eight times during the last 80 years, includes to date twenty-five species of evergreen plants diffused in the Mediterranean area, in the Sahara, in northern-western America, in central China. There is just a lovely article about this Mediterranean Cypress at http://www.photomazza.com/?Cupressus-sempervirens
Key Use: Cypress is the Oil of Astringency while Blue Cypress is like Tea Tree the Other Oil of First-Aid.
Chemistry and History ~ “Cupressus sempervirens L. is a medicinal plant. The dried leaves of this plant are used as an emmenagogue and for stomach pain as well as for diabetes. Its dried fruit decoction is used for inflammation treatment, toothache, and laryngitis and also as a contraceptive, astringent, and antiphrastic (?) drug. The dried seed of this tree has been used for wounds, ulcers, bruises, sores, pimples, pustules, skin eruptions, and erysipelas. Cupressus sempervirens essential oil is used externally for headache, colds, cough, and bronchitis. Studies on phytochemical compounds of Cupressus sempervirens L. revealed that it contains active constituents such as flavonoids (cupressuflavone, amentoflavone, rutin, quercitrin, quercetin, and myricitrin), phenolic compounds (anthocyanidin, catechins flavones, flavonols and isoflavones, tannins, and catechol), and essential oils (EO). It has been demonstrated that the principal’s active from Cupressus sempervirens L. display antiseptic, aromatherapeutic, astringent, balsamic, and anti-inflammatory activities. Cupressus sempervirens L. antimicrobial activity has been reported in several studies.” —https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jchem/2015/538929/
GC/MS analyses of the cones of Cypress showed up to 50% a-pinene, and many other terpenes as well as a-cedrol and other alcohols.
Chart 3. Blue Cypress Chemistry
Contraindications: Do not confuse Cypress oil with Blue Cypress oil or the oils from other Cypress-like trees. Blue Cypress is only licensed for cosmetics while Cypress has many uses.
References & Bibliography:
Harman, Ann. Harvest to Hydrosol. botANNicals. 2015
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose & Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1992
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.
Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols. Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999
Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. San Francisco, California:
Rose, Jeanne. http://www.aromaticplantproject.com/articles_archive/Australian_Essential_Oils.html
Patch Test: If applying a new essential oil to your skin always perform a patch test to the inner arm (after you have diluted the EO in a vegetable carrier oil). —Wash an area of your forearm about the size of a quarter and dry carefully. Apply a diluted drop (1 drop EO + 1 drop carrier) to the area. Then apply a loose Band-Aid and wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction, then go ahead and use the oil in your formulas. —The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations, p. 64
Do not Ingest essential oils: Although some oils are important flavoring oils in the flavor industry and thus ingested in very small amounts in many foods, especially meats and sausages, it is not a good idea to use them yourself either in capsules or honey to take internally.
Safety Precautions: Do not apply the essential oil neat, especially to the underarms or delicate parts of the body. Most oils are probably not to be used on babies, children or pregnant women. Many aromatherapist suggest that there are some oils not be used at all. However, as with many plants, essential oil chemistry is subject to change depending on species and terroir.
DISCLAIMER: This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor. The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©
fig 6. Blue Cypress herbarium sample
~ JR ~