An organoleptic test is the process of utilizing one’s senses to evaluate ingredients/substances. Organoleptic tests are conducted by observing, smelling, feeling, and tasting. Organoleptic tests are not only a way to familiarize with unique characteristics, but also a way to evaluate the quality of ingredients.
For example, citrus essential oils have high limonene content and oxidize faster than other essential oils; if a citrus oil loses the strength in its aroma, then likely the therapeutic quality is also decreased. If an essential oil has been extended with dipropylene glycol, it will taste unusually sweet, and obviously the therapeutic quality of the extended oil will also be questionable.
In this article, as a demonstration, we’ll conduct a organoleptic evaluation of German chamomile Matricaria recuitita as an herb, a tea, an essential oil, and as an ingredient in a body oil.
For medicinal and culinary uses, German chamomile flowers are often dried for preservation. The yellow pistils dry into little balls about 1cm in diameter. The white flower petals shrink significantly and many easily detach from the pistil. Chamomile tea bags often contain the dried herb with pistils, petals, and stems crushed together, sometimes the yellow pistils will be intact in whole leaf teas.
Dried German chamomile flowers have a very faint scent of dried leaves, when the pistils are bruised or crushed, the flowers will release a slightly sweet scent and the yellow pollen will colorize the rest of the plant material.
Chamomile tea is perhaps the most recognized herbal tea for relaxation. Chamomile smells like dried sweet grass and tastes mildly bitter. After steeping a tea bag or dried flowers in an tea infuser for about 5-10 minutes, I frequently enjoy this neutral-tasting soothing tea any time I’m looking for a calming sensation. If the herb is steeped longer, the taste will be more bitter. Though I enjoy pure herbal chamomile tea, I also think it is nice when paired with other herbs. I recently tried Tazo® Calm™ Chamomile Full Leaf Tea at a Starbucks, and the tea had the faint neutral taste of chamomile as the baseline, with the other herbs including lemongrass, lemon balm, lavender and a few others rounding the tea out with slight citrus & floral undertones. I personally don’t find the need to mix more than 2-3 herbs in a tea at a time, but sometimes multi-herb blends are what you have to choose from.
To read a previous post about an enhanced sore-throat calming chamomile tea variation, click here.
Essential oils have differentiating properties of color, viscosity, feel, aroma, taste, stain and evaporation rate.
German chamomile essential oil has a bluish tint due to its high chamazulene content and has high viscosity, if the oil is clear and fluid, then you will know immediately that the oil has been substituted or adulterated. It dries quickly and is not oily when rubbed in between the fingers. The aroma is a deep middle note; it lacks a floral scent and smells to me like a liqueur of nuts. I tasted just one drop of oil on the tip of my tongue, and noted a strong bitter taste.
Since essential oils are highly concentrated substances, they almost always should be diluted with a carrier oil for topical applications. German chamomile essential oil is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties when applied to skin, making it a good choice for eczema, acne, and other skin irritation. For this exercise, I utilized sweet almond oil as my carrier oil. Sweet almond oil is an excellent carrier oil because it closely resembles sebum, the lubricant naturally produced by our skin. Almond oil has a faint floral scent and absorbs easily into the skin without greasiness. I mixed 6 drops of German chamomile essential oil with 1/2 oz of sweet almond oil for a 2% dilution. I used this oil on my upper body, particularly the back of my neck and shoulders after a day in the sun. With a 2% dilution, the scent of the body oil is noticeable on application but dissipates within a couple hours.
As you can see, quite a bit of time can be spent getting to know an herb and its identifying properties. An herb will change significantly from its original form as a living plant depending on the final form of use. The more time you spend with an herb, the more comfortable you become with its identifying properties and uses.
Matricaria Recutita – Plants for a Future (2014) Retrieved from: http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Matricaria+recutita
Lemon on the Rocks – Keep Your Essential Oils Cool. Retrieved from: http://roberttisserand.com/2013/07/lemon-on-the-rockskeep-your-essential-oils-cool/