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Often the names of herbal ingredients in certain cosmetics products are given by their scientific names like Anthemis nobilis instead of chamomile or Lavandula angustifolia instead of lavender.

Is there any reason why this practice is followed? Wouldn't those who have allergies to certain plant materials be better off reading "coriander leaf extract" instead of scratching their heads over what "Coriandrum sativum leaf extract" is? Why put something more complex when something simpler would be more beneficial to the consumer?

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The use of a genus-species notation gives more exact information. For example there are multiple species of chamomile: There is Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), German chamomile (Matricaria recutita, or Chamomilla recutita) and Dyer's chamomile (Anthemis tinctora). The first two species are appraised for their medicinal properties and help to calm upset tummies and to aid sleep, among other things. The latter species, however, does not have these properties and is used for dyeing. This illustrates the fact why 'chamomile' alone is insufficient.

Popularly, classifications of living organisms arise according to need and are often superficial. Anglo-Saxon terms such as 'worm' have been used to refer to any creeping thing including snakes, earthworms and intestinal parasites. The term 'fish' is used in shellfish, crayfish, and starfish. However, there are more anatomical differences between a shellfish and a starfish than there are between a bony fish and man.

In science it has been the convention to use the genus-species notation since Carl Linnaeus introduced it in the 1700's. This formal classification serves as a basis for a relatively uniform and internationally understood nomenclature. A uniform classification system simplifies cross-referencing and retrieval of information. The Linnaean taxonomical system aids in this purpose and is widely used. The genus-species system can be extended by including subspecies and varieties. Many (plant) species don't even have an (English) trivial name. Taking your lavender example: there are some 39 Lavendula species known and obviously, many of them don't have a trivial name. Here one has to fall back to the Latin names to be sure what it is.

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    $\begingroup$ If chamomile is sold as an herbal supplement I think it's safe to assume they're not packaging the variety meant for dyeing. It really seems like a marketing ploy to me. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jul 15 '15 at 7:27
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    $\begingroup$ @canadianer I strongly disagree. It's note safe to assume anything; the labels should be clear and unambiguous. $\endgroup$ – Ajasja Jul 15 '15 at 15:08
  • $\begingroup$ Why assume it will be called chamomile and not Roman chamomile, German chamomile and Dyer's Chamomile? Your first paragraph seems to counter itself by providing unique common names that could be used then saying you must use only the base term for some reason. I actually think it is--as you later suggest--scientific convention over user interface, scientists don't typically consider usability very important. $\endgroup$ – Bill K Jul 15 '15 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Ajasja There's a big difference between what should be done and what is done. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Jul 15 '15 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ @canadianer US law requires cosmetic labels adhere to given lists of ingredient names. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jul 16 '15 at 6:25
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The Latin names are known in all countries. The "popular" names are only popular in one or maybe two languages/countries. So, learning the Latin names, enables you to communicate international more easily.

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It generally won't be more helpful. Not only will the names be different in different countries, there may be different types of the same species with different properties, or even different species with the same common name. If you have an allergy to something like coriander, being able to read the label and see what contains actual coriander and what contains curry leaf is essential.

Lavender is a great example. Any gardener could tell you that English lavender (angustifolia) is a very different plant from French lavender (dentata), even though they're the same family. I've no idea what the essential oils will smell like, but I'm pretty sure they won't be identical. And more importantly, if you're talking allergies then I'm pretty sure they won't have the same chemical composition.

Even worse, consider bergamot. Bergamot oil should come from the skin of the bergamot orange, but there's also a species of flower (monarda) which is commonly called bergamot because its scent is similar to bergamot orange. If your contents just said "bergamot", which one? And even worse, there are two types of monarda which are completely different plants.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ditto on the "multiple species with the same common name". I was really worried the other day when I was reading about the risks of consuming the plant "fireweed", until I realized that my "fireweed" was a completely different plant from the "fireweed" the author was talking about: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fireweed_(disambiguation) $\endgroup$ – mmitchell Jul 16 '15 at 1:34

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