The eminent American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered”. Well, the plant from where Fragonia™ is extracted is a perfect example of a ‘weed’ that has only recently found its place in the annals of medicinal plants. Dismissed for decades as just another variety of the Tea tree, it took a husband-and-wife team to explore the possible use of the shrub and discover a new essential oil in the new millennium 1. With its subtle fragrance and mild yet potent action, it is only appropriate that this native of Western Australia should be included in griffin+row’s patented centess+complex™.
Introducing Agonis fragrans (Taxandria fragrans)
Fragonia™ essential oil is the name given by John and Peta Day, who painstakingly selected one variety of Agonis fragrans for its oil. After much experimentation with the fresh twigs and leaves of the shrub, the Days distilled an essential oil which they called Fragonia 2.
The genus Agonis is native to Australia, with most of the members restricted to the south- western coastal region. It has 16 known species, the most prominent being Agonis flexuosa which is a common avenue tree in cities. The genus Agonis was named for the tightly clustered inflorescence (“agon” in Greek means “to gather’).
The overwhelming fragrance of peppermint and eucalyptus gives the species its name. Like most members of the genus Agonis, Agonis fragrans is a tall shrub. This shrub was known by the name ‘Fragrant Agonis’, ‘Coarse Agonis’ or ‘Coarse tea tree’ by cut- flower specialists, when John and Peta Day selected it for its enchanting fragrance. It was formally placed under the genus Agonis in 2001 3. However, the genus has now been trifurcated into the genera Agonis, Taxandria and Paragonis based on the arrangement of leaves and the inflorescence. Agonis fragrans is now classified as Taxandria fragrans 4.
Fragonia™ from Agonis fragrans (Taxandria fragrans) is the trademarked name of the oil and hydrosol which is extracted and exported from select plantations by the Paperbark Company (owned by the Days) in Harvey, Western Australia 2.
Traditional uses of Agonis fragrans (Taxandria fragrans)
As a shrub that is endemic to Australia and possesses aromatic leaves, the native Australian peoples should have used it for its medicinal or aromatic properties. Unfortunately, the Noongar community which inhabits this particular region have certain traditions of meeting with the elders who might possess such knowledge. As of now, there has been no such interaction between the Indigenous Landcare Facilitator in the Agriculture department and the Noongar community. And so, the traditional use of Agonis fragrans (Taxandria fragrans) remains largely unknown 5.
There has been no mention of uses of the shrub by early European settlers, either. Even its botanical classification was confused with Agonis juniperina (commonly called Warren river cedar). This is despite obvious differences of being a shrub with thicker leaves and erect flowering bracts as opposed to A. juniperina’s tree-like growth with softer leaves and weeping flowering branches 3.
It was John and Peta Day who set up the plantations of Agonis fragrans in the 1990s and selected the best twigs and flowers of the shrub and distilled a light essential oil which they christened Fragonia™. The use of the oil in aromatherapy was described by the French aromatherapist Dr. Daniel Penoel in 2005 2. The shrub was then studied in great detail and its essential oil was characterised.
Bioactivity and associated components of the plant
The fresh twigs and terminal leaves of the Agonis fragrans shrub yield a non-viscous oil upon steam distillation. The oil has a soft, clean and refreshing fragrance. It is camphoric with balsamic undertones. The oil is so light that it can be used neat or blended with other essential oils in suitable carrier oils. There appear to be no adverse reactions other than possible oxidation of the constituents over a period of time. It has also been certified to be safe for children.
Gas chromatography analysis of the oil has revealed a unique 1:1:1 ratio of monoterpenes: monoterpene oxides: monoterpene alcohols. This ‘golden ratio’ has made Fragonia™ ideal for use as a diffusing oil for aromatherapy. The detailed composition of the oil is as follows 6 –
- Monoterpenes –α-pinene, β-pinene, myrecene, limonene, p-cymene and γ-terpinene
- Oxides – 1,8-cineole
- Monoterpenols – linalool, terpinene-4-ol, a-terpineol and myrtenol
1, 8- Cineole and α- pinene: a spotlight on the main bioactive components
- 1, 8 Cineole is a cyclic ether monoterpene 7.
1, 8- cineole is commonly known as eucalyptol. It has the signature fragrance of fresh mint and eucalyptus. It is found in a number of aromatic plants and has been classified as a GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) additive. It is used for its fragrance and its high antimicrobial activity.
- α- Pinene is a monoterpene 8.
α- Pinene is a compound commonly found in coniferous trees. It is characterised by its heavy turpentine smell. Highly volatile, this compound is easily absorbed through the skin, lungs and intestine. This makes oils that contain α -pinene ideal for use through inhalation, topical application and ingestion. However, it is recommended that oils that contain α -pinene are restricted to inhalation and topical application. α -pinene has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity.
General health benefits and uses of Fragonia™
Fragonia™ was first popular as an essential oil for aromatherapy. As it gained prominence, systematic scientific studies were carried out to discover its other properties. Some of the properties that have medicinal use are given below –
Botany and grow it yourself
The genus Agonis is placed under the family Myrtaceae which includes aromatic plants such as nutmeg, mace, allspice, clove, myrtle, tea tree and eucalyptus. Plants that belong to Agonis have a brown bark and dull green leaves. The flowers are generally small, white and clustered close together. The crushed leaves emit a strong peppermint- eucalyptus odour.
The shrub grows to a height of about 2.5 m. The shrub is partly woody (ligno-tuberous). The branchlets have short as well as long hairs. The thin leaves are placed alternately and resemble those of Rosemary.
Its natural habitat is swampy land especially acid peat soil, suggesting that it prefers soil with high water content. Flowers are self-pollinating and bloom in clusters from February to May. 3. Fruits appear between May and November and persist on the shrub till the next season 4.
Agonis fragrans (Taxandria fragrans) has been cultivated in plantations restricted to Western Australia 5. It is not known if the shrub has been grown in other countries.
Fresh bracts and leaves are collected for oil extraction. Extraction is carried out by steam distillation in metal drums for 90 minutes.
Gas chromatography: Gas chromatography is a separation technique that is used to analyse volatile compounds. Volatile compounds in a mixture are vapourised and are separated on the basis of mass as they move through a chromatography tube with a carrier gas. As they emerge from the tube, they can be identified by comparing the retention time with that of known compounds. Gas chromatography is a useful technique to identify the components of essential oils.
Inflorescence: The entire apparatus of the stems, stalks, bracts and flowers forms the inflorescence of a plant. In botanical terms, the pattern of arrangement of flowers is also termed as inflorescence.
Cytokines: Cytokines are chemical messengers in the immune system. They are produced by immune cells and can traverse through the blood stream to trigger reactions in other cells at the site of infection or injury.
Chakra: A node relating to a psychic energy centre that controls the functions of a certain part of the body. According to Kundalini yoga, there are seven chakras in the body arranged in increasing complexity from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. In Buddhist tantra, there are four main chakras. Keeping the chakras in balance is believed to be the basis for a healthy mind and body.
- Webb M. (2013). Fragonia™ – Taxandria fragrans. International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapy. 2(1): 38-42.
- Earle G. (Undated). The essential oil of Fragonia™. Retrieved from http://www.nmoils.com/uploads/5/0/0/8/5008341/nmoils_fragonia_article.pdf (5th August, 2017).
- Wheeler JR, Marchant NG and Robinson CJ. (2001). Agonis fragrans (Myrtaceae) a new species from Western Australia. Nuytsia 13(3): 567-570.
- Wheeler JR and Marchant NG. (2007). A revision of the Western Australian genus Agonis (Myrtaceae) and two new segregate genera Taxandria and Paragonis. Nuytsia 16(2):393–433.
- Robinson CJ. (2006). A new essential oil – Agonis fragrans. A report for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. RIRDC Publication No. 06/090. Retrieved from https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/downloads/06-090 (7th August, 2017)
- Lowe R F, Russell M F, Southwell I A, Robinson C J, Day J. (2007). Composition of an essential oil from Agonis fragrans. Journal of Essential Oil Research. 19, 342– 344.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=2758, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/2758 (accessed Aug. 7, 2017).
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=6654, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/6654 (accessed Aug. 7, 2017).
- Hammer KA, Carston CF, Dunstan JA, Hale J, Lehmann H, Robinson CJ, Prescott SL, Riley TV . (2008). Antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activity of five Taxandria fragrans oils in vitro. Microbiology and Immunology. 52 (11):522-30.
- Battaglia S. (2016). Essential oil monograph- Fragonia. Retrieved from http://www.perfectpotion.com.au/news/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/A4_EssentialOilOfTheWeek_FRAGONIA.pdf (5th August, 2017).