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Threatened Essential Oil Species

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

Inside a bottle of essential oil, we can capture an aromatic experience of plants spanning the world. From the comfort of our home, the scent can send our imagination far away from hiking deep in the forest, sunbathing on an exotic island, or traversing a spiritual pilgrimage.

In recent years, there has been an enormous increase in the production and sales of essential oils, as more and more people realize the benefits of aromatherapy. Sadly, with growing consumption, some essential oil plants are in grave danger of ceasing to exist. Wild harvesting and natural habitat destruction have contributed to certain species becoming threatened or endangered.

Aldo Leopold, famous author and conservation advocate, wrote the book: The Sand County Almanac, in 1949.

What is wild harvesting?

Traditionally, many herbs would be gathered from their natural habitat to use or sell commercially. However, as demand has increased dramatically, some plants are seriously over-harvested, and fragile habitats destroyed. We must realize that each plant species is an integral part of a broader ecosystem that sustains a variety of plants and animals. To ensure the continued sustainability of the demand, commercial plantations, and farms that cultivate these precious plants need to increase worldwide.

List of Some Key Species of Concern

Included below are plants with species found on the IUCN Red List. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has a thorough assessment process to determine which species are threatened. Their categories include least concern, near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, extinct in the wild, and extinct. 1

Also significant is if a species is included in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) listing, which is an international agreement between countries to limit the trade of threatened plants and animals. 5

Also, the United Plant Savers is an American organization dedicated to the preservation of American medicinal plant species. 6


  • Agarwood, also called Oud wood, includes dozens of different Aquilaria and Gyrinops species. Considered one of the most expensive woods in the world, it is created when a fungus infects the wood of these Asian trees. On the IUCN Red List, there are over 20 species. The two species most commonly used to make essential oil are Aquilaria crassna and Aquilaria malaccensis, which are both critically endangered. 1 Both species are also listed at CITES. 5

  • Cedarwood Atlas, Cedrus atlantica essential oil is derived from the wood of this endangered Moroccan tree. 1 Additional Cedrus, Juniperus, and Widdringtonia species also have lowering populations and include Cedrus deodara, Cedrus libani, Juniperus procera, Juniperus cedrus, Juniperus thurifera, and Widdringtonia whytei. 1

  • Guaiacum is a Caribbean tree whose resin is used to make essential oil. Guaiacum unijugum is critically endangered, Guaiacum officinale is endangered, Guaiacum sanctum is near threatened, and Guaiacum coulteri is vulnerable. 1 These species are also listed by CITES. 5

  • Rosewood includes dozens of endangered species over-harvested from the dwindling forests of Brazil and Madagascar. The most common species used to make essential oil is Aniba rosaeodora, which is endangered. 1 This tree is also listed by CITES. 5 Over a hundred more Ocotea and Dalbergia species are also endangered or critically endangered. 1

  • Sandalwood, Santalum album, once listed as endangered, is now vulnerable, but decreasing. 1 Other Santalum species are listed, including Santalum macgregorii, and Santalum freycinetianum which are endangered. 1 Similar species, Osyris lanceolata of Africa is listed as least concern and Pterocarpus santalinus of India is listed as near threatened. 1 In addition, multiple Hawaiian trees are listed as threatened by United Plant Savers, including Santalum album, Santalum ellipticum, Santalum freycinetianum, Santalum haleakalae, Santalum involutum, Santalum paniculatum, and Santalum salicifolium. 6

  • Spikenard essential oil is derived from the rhizomes of various Aralia and Nardostachys species out of India and Nepal. The most commonly used is Nardostachys jatamansi (aka Nardostachys grandiflora), which is critically endangered. 1 It is also listed by CITES. 5 A few dozen Aralia species are also threatened. 1 In addition, two American species; Aralia racemosa and Aralia californica are on the “To Watch” list of United Plant Savers. 6


  • Copaiba is an Amazon tree whose resin is collected to make essential oil. Nearly 20 Copaifera species are listed on the IUCN Red List. 1 CITES also contains a few species. 5 The species used most frequently to make essential oil include Copaifera officinalis, Copaifera langsdorffii, and Copaifera reticulata. Currently, only Copaifera reticulata is listed on the IUCN Red List as being of least concern. 1 However, with the growing loss of the Amazon forest, sustainable harvesting is crucial.

  • Frankincense Boswellia trees grow in Oman, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa, including Somalia and Ethiopia. The essential oil is from the tree’s resin. Multiple Boswellia species are on the IUCN Red List. The most commonly used essential oil species is Boswellia sacra, which is listed as near threatened. Other species on the list include but are not limited to Boswellia ameero, Boswellia bullata, Boswellia dioscoridis, Boswellia elongate, Boswellia nana, Boswellia popoviana, Boswellia socotrana, Boswellia ovalifoliolata, and Boswellia ogadensis. 1 Overharvesting of the resin is common and can kill a frankincense tree.