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Terpene Profile: Alpha-Pinene

Alpha-pinene is a terpene found in a number of coniferous trees, as well as in rosemary. Some natural sources of alpha-pinene include pine trees, other coniferous trees, eucalyptus, sage, rosemary, frankincense, and ironwort.

Alpha-pinene has a woody and earthy aroma, with clear cedarwood and pine tones. The compound has two isomers, both of which are common in nature. The 1S or 5S variants are more commonly found in European pines, while the R variants are more commonly found in North American pines. 1

This terpene is used in a number of different applications, including in aromatherapy , cosmetics, and as food additives in small quantities.

Alpha Pinene

The History of Alpha-Pinene

During ancient times, people collected drops of resin from the bark of trees and used the resin to treat a wide variety of ailments. The resin would be mixed with milk, water, or wine and used to help relieve respiratory ailments, especially ones that resulted in congestion. The mixture of resin and a base liquid acted as an expectorant that loosened phlegm, relieving congestion.

Another way that the resin was used was to treat a parasitic infection. The tree resin would be mixed with beeswax or animal fats and used as a pain-relieving balm or antimicrobial ointment.

In the 17th century, the Dutch used juniper berries to make tonics. In fact, that tonic is now widely-known as Gin and is consumed recreationally. The French, on the other hand, used the distilled bark of juniper trees to make topical treatments used to help relieve eczema and other skin conditions.

Resins containing alpha-pinene were also common in Aboriginal cultures, where they were used to treat open wounds and prevent infection.

Research is still being conducted into the main properties of alpha-pinene to determine whether it could be used as a drug. There are some promising tests into its performance as an anti-catabolic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-osteoarthritic treatment, meaning it could have potential uses for individuals suffering from arthritis.


Uses for Alpha-Pinene

Alpha-pinene is a terpene with many properties left to be researched, however, it has a lot of promise. Some of the key health benefits that alpha-pinene has been shown to provide are highlighted below.

Protects Organ Systems

Treatments using alpha-pinene have been found to have protective effects on the pancreas and lungs. In one study into pancreatitis, such treatments reduced the production of TNF-alpha, the pancreatic tumor necrosis factor. Because it can inhibit certain forms of cell death, alpha-pinene could potentially be formulated into a treatment for pancreatic cancer. 2

Acts as an Antibacterial

Another benefit of alpha-pinene is that it has been found to be toxic to certain bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus , and Streptococcus pneumoniae , when tested using solid medium diffusion techniques. 3

Boosts Memory

Many dementia drugs work by inhibiting cholinesterase and thereby enhancing cholinergic activity. Alpha-pinene could act as a supplement to help with such conditions, especially when used in small concentrations alongside other essential oils such as sage, camphor, or bornyl acetate. 4


How Alpha-Pinene Improves Respiratory Function

One of the main reasons that people like to use alpha-pinene as a chemical compound found in essential oils is because it is a powerful bronchodilator. It is also highly bioavailable, with around 60 percent human pulmonary uptake and quickly metabolized, meaning its benefits will be experienced quickly.

Repels Insects

This terpenoid is seen frequently in nature, with plants using it as a defense mechanism. It also acts as an insect repellant, meaning that when plants secrete it, the odor deters insect and reduces the frequency and duration of insect attacks on plants. Consequently, it can provide similar effects when used by humans.

Alpha Pinene Infographic


Whether used aromatically or topically as parts of an essential oil like rosemary, frankincense, juniper berry, or wild orange, the many benefits of alpha-pinene prove promising in improving overall health and well-being.

The chemical formula for alpha-pinene: C10H16

Molar mass: 136.23 g/mol

Melting point: –62°C (–79.6°F; 211.2 K)

Boiling point: 155°C (313.2°F; 428.2 K)

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