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There’s much more to the aromatic world and essential oils than Eucalyptus and Tea tree, no matter how lovely those plants of Australia are. Earth’s varying and vast regions host an array of plants, including aromatic plants, who have grown and evolved to suit those locations. Plants are a direct expression of “sense-of-place,” a reflection of their environment. Who better to showcase a sense-of-place than Madagascar’s Saro? This Plant Talk article takes you through Saro’s personality, aroma-therapeutic applications, blending notes and incorporating Saro into wellness-supporting aromatherapy products.
Parting is Such Sweet Saro?
Saro is not sorry or sorrow but rather a fragrant plant with a propensity for settling the nervous system and metaphorically holding the heart and expanding the lungs. Named Cinnamosma fragrans by botanists, Saro is a small, evergreen and aromatic tree endemic to Madagascar and classified in the Canallaceae family. This relatively small family (nine species in four genus) is distributed around the world between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn—its members are happiest in tropical environments. C. fragrans is a tropophyte; adapted to climates with periods of episodic heavy rains followed by periods of drought. A flowering tree, Saro offers its flowers to pollinators in the Spring (September into November) and bears fruit during Madagascar’s rainy summer.
Saro’s Many Names & Traditional Applications
Cinnamosma fragrans is also known as “Sakarivohazo,” “Mandravasarotra,” and from there you get “Saro.” The Latin binomial name loosely translates to Cinnamon smell (Cinnamosma) and fragrant (fragrans). Yet the essential oil obtained from Saro’s leaves has but a whisper of Cinnamon’s warmth. Saro’s local name is “Mandravasarotra” which literally translates to “which keeps bad things away” or “annihilates diseases.” Indigenous application of C. fragrans ranges from preparation of the roots for coughs, asthma and dysentery; leaves (decocted) for wounds and abscesses, and a remedy for poisoning. The leaves are prepared for antioxidant boosts. The plant overall is used for diseases of the nervous system. This is hardly an exhaustive list of Saro’s ethno-botanical uses. Saro seems to be a veritable, stand-alone medicine chest for Malagasies, a reflection of a “sense of place”.
Saro Stands on its Own
Many people compare Saro’s aromatic essential oil to tea-tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) and Ravintsara (Cinnamomum camphora (leaves)) and I disagree. True, I do get a feeling of Melaleuca ericifolia from the oil and am overall reminded of Myrtus communis and the Myrtaceae family in general. Saro is reminiscent of Agonis fragrans (Fragonia) as well as Laurus nobilis from the Lauraceae family. Yet Saro stands on its own—it’s not fair to compare it against other oils. This commonality highlights how nature is not redundant: several chemical components are shared across the aromatic plants (hence “this smells like…”), then some are unique to families or possibly to a genus likely due to its unique environment. No matter: each plant writes its own poem, it lives its own life and reflects this in its chemistry (i.e., research indicates there are sesquiterpene components unique to C. fragrans).
Impressions of Saro Essential Oil
Obtaining Saro Essential Oil
Saro essential oil is obtained by steam distilling the leaves of Cinnamosma fragrans. This may be considered a specialty oil given its niche location (endemic to Madagascar) and limited availability. The distilled leaves yield an average of 1 kg of oil for every 40-80 kg of prepared leaves (Holmes, 2019).
Overall Personality of Saro Essential Oil
Saro’s signature is that of a stimulating quality on the breath and heart—to promote pneuma yet calm the nervous system. This is the classic paradox of most essential oils, i.e., “calming but uplifting.” Saro has a reassuring, easeful tenderness that nudges the heart to open, awaken, thus fostering self-compassion and self-confidence through the spark of the breath. Saro builds vigor by kickstarting deep, clear breathing and awakening the heart. Saro is a balsamic bridge for lung-spirit to fully dance with heart-soul.
Physical Impressions of Saro Essential Oil
Pardon the continued pun but I cannot help myself: there is no sorrow about Saro. Lungs are where grief is stored, and Saro seems to support the breath (pneuma) and specifically target the cardiac notch: where breath meets the organ of circulation. Saro’s sweet, gentle nature brings direct attention to the lungs in this heart area offering an opening to quiet, settle and rest into peacefully deep breath. Where grief and doubt may sit, Saro offers ease and movement. Saro’s pattern is to foster continually fresh, airy-delicate spaciousness with further affinity to go to the “slow depths of the lower lungs.” Many of us are deficient in deep belly breathing, often due to a default “fight/flight” mode of tenseness that fosters shallow breathing. Saro helps us readjust this pattern.
What does Saro Essential Oil Smell Like?
Saro starts off fresh, crisp and bold with eucalyptol dominating the air. It is clean & penetrating, giving an anti-septic yet balsamic sensation with notable cooling on the throat and lungs. The aroma is reminiscent of Green Myrtle’s demure fresh sweetness with a kick of Laurel’s warm, spicy slight heat. Smooth, warm and sweet notes emerge once the initial camphoraceous-cineole impact dissipates. There are nods to Frankincense with light, soft resinous notes. I am taken to a spa environment of salted and chlorinated indoor pools and wood-lined saunas surrounded by damp forest. The uplifting aldehydes and sweet esters finally emerge with a gentle, fruity-citrusy-candy Rosalina-meets-Laurel feeling. The end is light-powder; quiet with a bit of rosy-linalool lingering like a light, soft comforter. A soft, quiet smile that is soothing to the psyche and as peaceful as being in a spa in the middle of a quiet, gentle forest that whispers the word “pneuma” over and over again.
Blending with Saro Essential Oil
Saro essential oil blends well with so many oils. I suggest refraining from pairing Saro with other oils high in 1,8 cineole as it already has a grand representation of that powerful component. Following are but a few essential oils to pair it with depending on your therapeutic intention: Lemon (Citrus limonum), Red mandarin (Citrus reticulata), Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara), Elemi (Canarium luzoncium), Benzoin (Styrax tonkinensis), Sandalwood (Santalum sp.), Black spruce (Picea mariana), Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea), Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii), Rosmarinus officinalis ct verbenone, Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), Thymus vulgaris ct. thymol or ct. linalool, Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum), the Lavenders (Lavandula sp.) and many more.
Saro Essential Oil Affinities and Usage Applications
From an aromatherapy perspective, Saro essential oil is found to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial (anti-viral qualities of note), anti-infectious, analgesic, expectorating, decongesting and immune stimulating properties. It shines for supporting respiratory health (as a prophylactic and when an infection is present) and overall immunity. It is an all-around anti-microbial and uplifts the mind in a rather quieting way—it is not over-stimulating and rather comforting. Indeed, Saro is comfort for the heart-soul.
Turn to Saro essential oil to support the following aspects.
- Emotional support: Lethargy, fatigue, shock, lack-of vigor and lack of self-confidence as Saro can be uplifting, clearing, focusing (enhance concentration), refreshing, energizing and comforting, promote a sense of ease.
- Immune support: Antimicrobial (a noted anti-viral, antibacterial, antifungal), anti-parasitic, anti-infectious, immune modulator.
- Musculoskeletal support: Analgesic, indicated for general cramping, spasms, aches & pains.
- Respiratory support: Infections (overall ENT), sinusitis, congestion, mucus and as a prophylactic/preventative and convalescence/restorative.
Notes on Saro Essential Oil Chemistry and Safety
Saro is well represented by 1,8 cineole (sometimes nearly 60% depending on the year/location) and supported by monoterpenes (of note: limonene, sabinene and alpha & beta pinene) and monoterpenols (of note: linalool, alpha-terpineol, terinene-4-ol). There are several trace components in the oil—an overall chemical profile may have well over 50 components. Saro essential oil presents as 2 chemotypes according to Holmes: cineole and a limonene.
Saro essential oil is generally regarded as safe and non-toxic. However, avoid using the oil near the face of infants or children due to its high content of 1,8 cineole. According to Tisserand and Young, this component is shown to cause CNS and breathing problems in young children. Despite that caution, I find this oil’s overall chemical make-up balsamic, calming and soothing. This is an argument for not focusing on isolated components and rather focusing on the compete distilled essential oil. The oil may oxidize readily; observe good storage practices by keeping the oil away from oxygen, heat and light. Should the oil oxidize, do not use it for therapeutic use. Add it to your arsenal of cleaning products instead.
Making Aromatherapy Products with Saro Essential Oil
Breathe: Respiratory & Immunity Support Stock Blend
- 5ml bottle (approx. 130 drops)
- 60 drops Saro (Cinnamosma fragrans)
- 40 drops Ledum (Ledum groenlandicum)
- 30 drops Bitter Orange Petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara) (or another leaf oil from a conifer tree like Balsam Fir)
Usage suggestions: Create a stock bottle and add 1-2 ml of the blend to a nebulizing diffuser; diffuse 5 to 10 minutes a day for 14 days to support immunity during cold and flu season (or, add 10-15 drops to a water diffuser and diffuse on a timer for 14 days). Add 25 drops to an aromatic inhaler and use daily to support respiratory health.
Cooling Aches and Pains Blend
- 2-ounce bottle with flip top
- 3 Tbsp Aloe Vera Gelly (Click here for an example)
- 1 Tbsp Lavender hydrosol (Lavandula angustifolia) (Optional)
- 25 drops Saro (Cinnamosma fragrans)
- 25 drops Spike lavender (Lavandula spicata)
- 10 drops Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Usage suggestion: Apply a thin layer on target sites and massage into the skin. Use as needed.
Sensual & Warming Massage Oil
- 2-ounce bottle with flip or pump top
- 1.5 fl oz of Jojoba or Sunflower oil
- 0.5 fl oz of Sesame oil
- 12 drops Sandalwood (Santalum sp.)
- 10 drops Saro (Cinnamosma fragrans)
- 1 to 2 drops Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans)
Usage suggestions: Add a small amount to your palms and warm the oil by rubbing your hands together and massage into the skin. Use for self-massage, couples massage and enhancing sensuality.
An Invitation to Pause: Calm & Comfort Blend
- 12 drops Saro (Cinnamosma fragrans)
- 8 drops Red mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
- 5 drops Benzoin (Styrax tonkinensis)
Usage suggestions: Add the entire blend to an aromatic inhaler, a 2-ounce spritzer with distilled water or to a 10 ml roller ball applicator with your choice of carrier oil. Use as needed, especially when you feel the need for comfort and time to find a gap for quiet joy.
In Closing: Parting is Indeed Such Sweet Saro!
Have you noticed how many of the aromatic plants live in challenging and unique climates—like Saro does in Madagascar? How they synthesize chemical components using sunlight to help them thrive and adapt to these conditions? It requires specific allocation of energy for a plant to create a specialized metabolite such as an essence. Can you imagine how exhausting and resource intensive this may be for a plant? It’s probably similar to when we decide to focus our energy on one activity for primal survival (e.g., working, buying groceries) versus another for enrichment (e.g., reading, creating, dancing, spending time with loved ones). Those enrichment activities are vital to our well-being—just like a plant. I know you love these precious plants as much as I do. When we love the essential oil, we also love the plant and the special place it calls home and respect how much plant material it takes to obtain the concentrated essential oils.
Thank you for spending time with Cinnamosma fragrans and me.
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Sources of Note:
Behra, Olivier, et al. “Saro (Cinnamosma fragrans Baillon) Essential Oil: Application in Health and Medicine.” African Natural Plant Products: New discoveries and Challenges in Chemistry and Quality, Juliani et al, ACS Symposium Series, American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2010, Chapter 26, 485-494 Vol. 1021.
Holmes, P. (2019). Aromatica A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics (Vol. II). London: Singing Dragon.
Quero, Anthony, et al. “Sesquiterpene composition of Cinnamosma fragrans: A Malagasy Endemic Plant Used in Traditional Medicine.” May 2016, www.sciencedirect.com, 1/8/2019, Elsevier.
Tisserand R, Y. R. (2014). Essential Oil Safety Second Edition. Edinburgh: Elsevier.