Essential Oil Business Will Be Given A Boost With New Database
To encourage more research and new discoveries in essential oils, a new database has been developed in the UAE to profile the country’s aromatic plant species.
Part of a wider research project into native plant selection, Suzan Shahin, a Ph.D. candidate at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), has developed the database in a bid to highlight and document the aromatic wildflowers of the UAE, as well as make it easier for the public to access information for essential oil-based research.
With demand for plant-based consumer products rising, from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to food flavoring and preservation, Shahin says the database is of great importance to scientists and researchers working across multiple disciplines. “Including medicine, pharmacology, engineering, science and agriculture,” she adds. “In addition, the databank offers the essential oil research centers, universities and manufacturing companies the opportunity to highlight the most important aromatic species in the UAE, which have the capability to produce expensive raw materials locally, rather than importing the same from outside the country.”
The main aim, says Shahin, is: “To provide a solid base to enable quick decision-making in plant selection; in order to facilitate an innovative essential oil-based research pathway, that can lead to new chemotypes and potential discoveries.”
Out of the total plant species in the UAE, which is between 700 to 750 plants, there are 135 native and naturalized essential oil-bearing plants, all of which are supported with detailed information in the database.
“The database includes in summary the plant scientific names and their families in Arabic and English, the plant form, life cycle, characteristics, difficulties, status, availability in the country, economical value, functional parts for essential oil extraction, essential oil yield, essential oil extraction method and extract biological activity,” explains Shahin.
In the UAE specifically, aromatic plants have been used in traditional medicine for a number of years. For example, teucrium stocksianum, Ya'dah in Arabic, was used in UAE folk medicine to treat the common cold and kidney and stomach pains. Similarly, eruca sativa, which is the Girgir in Arabic, was used, among other things, as a diuretic, hair tonic and antimicrobial. Meanwhile, seeds of Ammi majus, Sannout in Arabic, was used to treat asthma and heart diseases.
Described as a comprehensive resource for scientists, researchers and farmers, the database was constructed based on different methodologies – including an extensive literature review for around 800 native species and a series of field surveys and consultations with researchers, plant scientists, farmers and people with experience in the UAE wildflowers.
Shahin is now hoping to expand the database further. “It is worth mentioning that, based on our extensive literature review results, some o the UAE wildflowers have no information related to their essential oil. Consequently, our result could be underestimated and further investigation is required. For example, although some of the native and naturalized plants have great value in herbal medicine, the compositions of their essential oils have never been studied. Also, it is worth mentioning that climate plays a major role in the quality and the quantity of the produced essential oil, and almost all the UAE wildflowers have never been investigated under the native climatological conditions.”
For now, the database will be made available to everyone. “Thus, we will publish it in an open access journal, which is easily accessible through the internet,” says Shahin. “Also, we are thinking to publish a book, supported with a CD, for the UAE essential oil-bearing wildflowers”.