Have you walked through a Cypress forest lately? If so, you undoubtedly became intoxicated with the sweet aroma. One of the most amazing things about the Cypress tree is its production of essential oils. These give the Cypress tree a strong aroma, which provides the richest of breathing air for anyone blessed with walking through such a forest.
In fact, the fragrant aroma produced by Cypress trees is not simply great to breathe as we walk through a forest: Breathing this aroma from its essential oils actually has curative effects upon the body. Anecdotal, you say? Read on.
The glorious Chamaecyparis Cypress
Cypress trees from the genus Chamaecyparis can grow from about 50 feet to 200 feet depending upon the species and location. These evergreen trees can pack densely into a forested area. The Cypress produces cones and is treasured for its rich rot-resistant wood. For this reason we find fine furniture made from Cypress.
In the U.S., we have two species of Cypress trees that adorn some of our forests. These are Chamaecyparis thyoides (Atlantic white cedar or cypress) and Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (cedar or Lawson Cypress). Atlantic white cedars grow up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Lawson Cypress trees grow throughout Oregon and California. Each of these will also grow sparsely in forested areas of the Southwest and Southeast as well.
In Asia, the predominant Cypress species are Chamecyparis formosensis (called Meniki) and Chamecyparis obtusa (called Hinoki). These two conifers grow among the forests of Asia and Japan.
Each of the species above produces a similar mix of essential oils that produce the aromas known to these Cypress forests. These have not only been thought to be therapeutic for centuries: Aromatherapy has been utilizing their essential oils medicinally for over a thousand years.
Note these species of Cypresses are not the same as Cupressus species such as Cupresses sempervirens – also called the Italian Cypress or the Mediterranean Cypress. But in fact, Chamecyparis species of Cypress do belong in the family Cupressaceae – which is shared with Cupressus species of Cypresses. Thus we can say with confidence that they are related species. Confirming this, their essential oils also share some of the same medicinal benefits – including those mentioned in this article.
Chamecyparis Cypress essential oils clinically studied
A 2015 clinical study has tested essential oils from two of these Asian Cypress trees: Meniki (Chamecyparis formosensis) and Hinoki (Chamecyparis obtusa).
The researchers extracted the essential oils from the wood of these two trees. Then they tested the two essential oils on 16 healthy adult volunteers.
They allowed each volunteer to inhale each essential oil for five minutes on separate occasions. This is what we might call a dose of aromatherapy.
Before and after the inhalation, the researchers tested the heart rate, blood pressure, heart rate variability and other vital signs of the subjects before and after inhalation of each essential oil. They also examined each subjects’ state of nervous system activity – including their parasympathetic activity and their sympathetic activity.
In addition, the researchers studied the subjects using several psychological tests: This included the internationally recognized Profile of Mood States (POMS) test.
The POMS test, designed in 1971, has the subject respond to a long list of reactionary states. These responses are then calculated, categorized and rated for six different mood profiles: anger, confusion, depression, fatigue, tension and vigor.
As the subjects’ responses are calculated into these mood profiles, this establishes the subjects’ general mood levels. This of course includes levels of anxiety, depression and so on.
Cypress aromatherapy increases cardiovascular health
Both Meniki and Hinoki essential oils improved the cardiovascular condition of all the subjects.
The researchers found that breathing the aroma of both essential oils reduced systolic blood pressure. It also reduced heart rate and decreased the parasympathetic nervous system while increasing sympathetic nervous system activity.
These are all positive signs for the heart. Stress on the heart is reduced, while its vitality and function are increased.
Furthermore, both essential oils increased heart rate variability (HRV). Heart rate variability has been shown in a number of studies to reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular events. Increased HRV means the heart is beating stronger and more responsively with respect to its needs.
Cypress aromatherapy improves moods
The above cardiovascular signs – especially the reduced parasympathetic nervous system and the increased sympathetic nervous system – that stress levels were decreased. This was also consistent with the results of the Profile of Mood States testing.
These tests indicated that both the Meniki and Hinoki essential oils stimulated what they classified as a “pleasant mood status.” These POMS results indicated reduced stress, increased positive moods and increased optimism among the subjects.
The researchers concluded:
“Our results strongly suggest that Meniki and Hinoki essential oils could be suitable agents for the development of regulators of sympathetic nervous system dysfunctions.”
What are sympathetic nervous system dysfunctions?
Because the sympathetic nervous system regulates the release of adrenalin and cortisol, there are a number of negative side effects of an overly stressed condition.
The issue is called the ‘fight or flight’ response. While short-term sympathetic responses are not unhealthy, things can get unhealthy when the response is long-term or frequent.
When the body is activated in a sympathetic nervous system response, the body goes into overdrive, often at the expense of many metabolic functions.
This of course includes the heart and cardiovascular system because adrenalin and cortisol increase heart rate and narrow the blood vessels. But these also decrease the ability of the digestive system to do its job. The mucosal membranes of these linings shut down and the production of acids and enzymes are interfered with.
When a person’s body goes into this overdrive state for too much of the day, there can be a long-term effect: This is the same effect as too much stress. And too much stress has been linked with early death in a number of studies.
This all means that Cypress aromatherapy can help those who have indigestion, high blood pressure or any number of other maladies related to an over-engaged ‘fight or flight’ stress response.
Cypress inhibits inflammation
Another study – this specifically for Chamaecyparis obtusa essential oil. The researchers tested the essential oil in the laboratory among cells and found that the oil inhibited a number of components involved in inflammation.
These included tumor necrosis factor (TNF-alpha), IL-6, IL-1, pro IL-1beta, NO, iNOS, ERKI/2, JNKI/2 and p38.
The researchers concluded:
“Thus, the overall results indicated that C. obtusa wood oil had very good anti-inflammatory efficacies.”
Another study – from South Korea’s Chungbuk National University – had similar findings. Here C. obtusa was used, and found to reduce inflammation produced by prostaglandin E2. The researchers concluded:
“These findings suggest that C. obtusa essential oil may constitute a novel source of anti-inflammatory drugs.”
Cypress essential oil constituents
The researchers also chemically analyzed the Cypress essential oils carefully. They found many active components, including limonene, cadinene, cadinene, cadinol, muurolene, calamenene, linalyl acetate, myrtenol, terpineol, pinene, borneol and terpinolene.
In all, they identified 36 active constituents in the Meniki essential oil, and 29 constituents in the Hinoki essential oil.
Other research has found Cypress essential oils also contain thujopsene and terpinyl acetate, along with elemol, thujopsenal, erpineol, tau-muurolol and borneol.
Not surprising, since most plants produce hundreds of biochemicals – often medicinal.
Aromatherapy and health
While scientific and clinical research evidence for aromatherapy is growing, many still believe their effects are anecdotal. Yet research studies such as this – and others we have published here – establish their scientific basis.
There are so many plant species, and most of them produce some kind of aromatic essential oil. Thus we find literally thousands of essential oils to choose from. But practically every plant’s essential oil produces a different medicinal effect when used aromatherapeutically.
There is a good collection of literature to draw from in order to establish the effects of particular essential oils. Matching this with whatever clinical research is available is still prudent, however.
Using undiluted essential oils on the skin should be done with caution and only after careful spot testing for sensitivities. The easiest and safest way to utilize an essential oil is with aromatherapy – in which there is no physical consumption or application.
An aromatherapy diffuser can be used. To make a quick and simple one, simply shake a few drops of the oil onto a crumpled paper towel and set this on a plate. Put the plate close by and simply breathe the air for awhile.
Another way – at least when it comes to Cypress aromatherapy– is to simply make the effort to walk or run through a Cypress forest. This will render some of the same aromatherapy as a diffuser will. And it will have long-term benefits when this is done regularly. And there is evidence for this. We discussed research on forest walking here.
Discover: Hinoki Essential Oil.
Chen CJ, Kumar KJ, Chen YT, Tsao NW, Chien SC, Chang ST, Chu FH, Wang SY. Effect of Hinoki and Meniki Essential Oils on Human Autonomic Nervous System Activity and Mood States. Nat Prod Commun. 2015 Jul;10(7):1305-8.
Chien TC, Lo SF, Ho CL. Chemical composition and anti-inflammatory activity of Chamaecyparis obtusa f.formosana wood essential oil from Taiwan. Nat Prod Commun. 2014 May;9(5):723-6.
An BS, Kang JH, Yang H, Jung EM, Kang HS, Choi IG, Park MJ, Jeung EB. Anti-inflammatory effects of essential oils from Chamaecyparis obtusa via the cyclooxygenase-2 pathway in rats. Mol Med Rep. 2013 Jul;8(1):255-9. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2013.1459.
Chen YJ, Lin CY, Cheng SS, Chang ST. Phylogenetic relationships of the genus Chamaecyparis inferred from leaf essential oil. Chem Biodivers. 2011 Jun;8(6):1083-97.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.