You’ve probably heard the phrase, yet still wondering what are botanicals?

A quick outline of the differences between natural, organic and botanical products and ingredients
Range Of Botanical Product Types

Natural skincare and homeware is now the new normal and growing; along with the latest “superfood” trends – from moringa leaves, acai berries to hemp. The demand for natural, organic and plant based foods and products are not slowing down.

Yet some may still be wondering what the difference is between a botanical, organic and natural product or ingredient. You may have noticed everything seems to be labelled as containing something natural too. But what is considered a true natural source? Just because a product has been labelled natural, organic, botanical or herbal, does not mean that ALL the ingredients are of that origin. Rather, it may refer to only one or two of the constituents in the complex list of ingredients that make up the product. As consumers we need to stay informed. So let’s look a closer look at these.

Natural Products & Ingredients

Naturally-occurring ingredients are extracted from plants, animals or the natural environment, micro-organisms, naturally occurring minerals or even chemicals in the earth and sea. For it to be considered a natural ingredient however it needs to be unprocessed and extracted without changing it’s chemical composition. Surprisingly, steam distillation (such as those used to extract some essential oils) and solvent extraction may create ingredients that do not meet the Australian Government’s legal definition of ‘naturally occurring’.

Truely natural products don’t use these ANY artificial and synthetic ingredients, which is why they don’t have an exceptionally long shelf life.  Natural preservatives such as essential oils and alcohol based herbal extracts also loose their effectiveness over time, hence the need for manufacturers to produce their product batches in smaller quantities, often increasing the costs. Look out for those product labels which boast it contains some natural ingredient with attractive properties and sneakily makes it seem like it’s going to be a better product choice – yet only acts a disguise for the nasties.

Organic Products & Ingredients

Organic does not merely imply “chemical free” or “non-GMO”. It encompasses a whole system of growing, handling and manufacturing of food and ingredients.

“Organic” is fairly well defined and understood now, with the help of standards which are regulated by certifications.  Organic certification itself however is not actually legally required for a product supplied in countries like Australia to be described as organic. However, businesses that make any organic claims must be able to substantiate those claims.

“Certified Organic” food labeling on the other hand requires a business to have its products and processes certified to Australian Certified Organic standards. These are then able to carry the ACO Certified Organic Standards stamp such as these:

Australian Certified Organic StandardsA fairly new addition to organic certification is COSMOS (COSMetics Organic & natural Standard) – an approved certifier of Organic and Natural cosmetics as well as cosmetics raw materials, following an accreditation process through the International Organic Accreditation Service (IOAS).

Botanical vs Herbal Products & Ingredients

Botanicals are often used in conjunction with naturals or herbals. The terms are of often used interchangeably and it’s can be confusing.

Think aloe vera. It’s a plant (a succulent in fact) and valued for it’s medicinal or therapeutic properties – hence can easily be associated with herbs while it’s not technically a herbaceous plant (which all herbs are, as opposed to shrubs or trees).

Herbs are a subset of botanicals which are used to for culinary purposes, therapeutic or medicinal purposes to maintain or improve health aspects.

Botanical ingredients or products are those that are directly derived from plants; in other words ingredients or final products pertaining to, made from, or containing plants (be it herbs, trees, vegetables, seaweed, grasses or micro-greens even). Botany of course also includes the study of plants. Hence, using botanical in the name or labeling may provoke a sense of “backed by science” feel while “herbal” infers that the products are therapeutic – but make sure you read the fine print!

Botanicals are extracted from plants or plant parts including flowers, seeds, roots, leaves, nuts, berries, bark or fruits. The useful chemical components (the secondary metabolites) are extracted from plants using ethanol (alcohol), water (or steam), essential oils, oleo-resins and other modern cellular extraction methods (not necessarily always chemical-free). The real science in botanical ingredients hence lie in the extraction process and formulations used to create them.

Botanical extracts are used in a wide range of products in the personal care, supplement, food & beverage and cosmetic industries. Botanical food & drink products are sold in many forms such as fresh or dried products; liquid or solid extracts; tablets, capsules, powders, loose leaf teas or bags and other forms.

What else do botanicals encompass? Naturally, not all botanical products are edible or presented in packaging. Some of it is ART!

Botanical Art

Botanical Art

Let us not forget the beautiful world of botanical art and illustration. Botanical art and illustration combine art and science.
Botanical artists aim to record accurate information about the shapes, colours, life cycle and habits of unique species of plants and flowers while also providing a pleasing art piece.

Natural dyes or colourants are mostly derived from plant sources and other biological sources such as fungi.

Eco printing is another fabulous plant based art form where natures gifts in the form of leaves and flowers are used to create a transfer print to paper or fabric without the use of ink or painting. Eco leaf prints was first created by artist and teach India Flint.

Nature photography, including floral or botanical photography, captures the beauty of nature and inspiring action to preserve, conserve, and protect natural resources.

The ABC created this show and tell about how artist Renata Buziak creates ‘Biochromes’ where she combines plants and photography to produce striking images of decay. Truly fascinating.

So there you have a broad outline of the differences between natural, organic and botanical. Of course the plant kingdom offers us so many rich and rewarding gifts, most of which have roots in our very own DNA and of course ancient & modern history.

Botanical Bliss