Featured Terpenes (general)

All About Farnesene

Written by Asia Mayfield

Farnesene, a terpene common in green apples and turmeric, is one of the compounds that helps cannabis benefit the body. Kevin Jodrey of Wonderland Nursery explains that farnesene is the “death smell of aphids,” which they emit on death, and plants use this terpene to drive away predation. He mentions a “woody” odor and describes it as “funky death.” Farnesene may be associated with skunky varieties from the 1980s and 1990s.


What is Farnesene?

Farnesene is a sesquiterpene, which means that it’s made up of three isoprene units (C15H24). There are two isomers of farnesene, alpha (α) and beta (β). α-Farnesene is present in green apple skins. [1] The apple begins to spoil and turn brown due to oxidation of α-farnesene. β-Farnesene, meanwhile, has the aforementioned insect-repelling properties due to being an alarm pheromone for aphids. [2]


What Plants Contain Farnesene?

Sources of farnesene in nature include ylang-ylang and chamomile. [3] Farnesene is the main terpene component of gardenia flower. [4] The terpene is common to several varieties of cannabis as well. [5] The Verdes Foundation dispensary in New Mexico cite cultivars including White Rhino and Tangerine Kush.


Farnesene Health Benefits

Sesquiterpenes have anti-inflammatory and bactericidal properties. [6] Farnesene is associated with a host of different benefits. For instance, in 2013, researchers looking at Eucalyptus globulus plants determined that the plants “may be useful in the treatment of oral disease” because its leaves are rich with α-farnesene. [7] α-Farnesene has anticariogenic properties, which is another way of saying that it helps combat tooth decay.

A 2015 study focusing on the composition of a β-farnesene-dominant chemotype of chamomile found that “it has been found to show antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antiviral and sedative activities. It is also used as a treatment against sore stomach, irritable bowel syndrome and also as sleep aid.”

Farnesene also has industrial uses as it is sometimes added to plastic and rubber.


What Does Farnesene Smell Like?
There are two main isomers of farnesene that occur most frequently, α-farnesene and β-farnesene. Each has its own unique smell. People often describe α-farnesene as having a spicy, earthy, or woody smell. In contrast, β-farnesene has a much fresher aroma. It’s often described as smelling tropical or fruity. Β-farnesene can have a citrus or even floral aroma.

Which Other Plants Contain Farnesene?
While farnesene isn’t all that common in cannabis, it is far more common in other plants. Green apples are most commonly associated with farnesene, but its also associated with plants that people encounter and use every day.
α-farnesene is commonly found in:
– Ginseng
– Pepper
– Nutmeg
– Ginger

β-farnesene is much more common. In addition to green apples, you can find β-farnesene in:
– Cedarwood
– Grapefruit
– Oranges
– Ginger
– Turmeric
– Chrysanthemum
– Sandalwood
– Chamomile
– Patchouli

Which Cultivars Are High In Farnesene?
Cannabis plants don’t typically produce much farnesene. In fact, it’s not one of the terpenes that cultivators or dispensaries typically advertise or even list. That said, there are a handful of cultivars known for higher levels of farnesene. Those cultivars include:
– Cherry Punch
– White Rhino
– Dutch Treat Haze
– Gainesville Green
– Zookies
– Comatose OG



1- Huelin F, Murray K. α-Farnesene in the natural coating of apples. Nature. 1966;210:1260–1261. https://doi.org/10.1038/2101260a0. [Impact Factor: 42.778; Times Cited: 86 (Semantic Scholar)]

2- Bhatia V, et al. Aphid-repellent pheromone E-β-farnesene is generated in transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana over-expressing farnesyl diphosphate synthase2. Annals of Botany. 2015;115(4):581-91. [Impact Factor: 4.005; Times Cited: 23 (Semantic Scholar)]

3- Ali B, et al. Essential oils used in aromatherapy: A systemic review. Asian Pac J Trop Biomed. 2015;5(8):601-611. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apjtb.2015.05.007. [Impact Factor: 1.903; Times Cited: 364 (Semantic Scholar)]

4- Wang S-C, et al. Gardenia herbal active constituents: applicable separation procedures. Journal of Chromatography B. 2004;812(1-2):193–202. doi:10.1016/j.jchromb.2004.08.033.  [Impact Factor: 3.004; Times Cited: 53 (Semantic Scholar)]

5- Booth JK, Bohlmann J. Terpenes in Cannabis sativa – From plant genome to humans. Plant Sci. 2019;284:67-72. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plantsci.2019.03.022. [Impact Factor: 3.591; Times Cited: 51 (Semantic Scholar)]

6- Buckle J. Chapter 3 – Basic plant taxonomy, basic essential oil chemistry, extraction, biosynthesis, and analysis. In: Clinical Aromatherapy, 3rd ed. St. Louis: Churchill Livingstone; 2015:37-72. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-7020-5440-2.00003-6

7- Ishnava KB, et al. Anticariogenic and phytochemical evaluation of Eucalyptus globulus Labill. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. 2013;20(1):69-74. doi:10.1016/j.sjbs.2012.11.003. [Impact Factor: 2.802; Times Cited: 26 (Semantic Scholar)]

8- Satyal P, et al. Composition and bioactivities of an (E)-β-farnesene chemotype of chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) essential oil from Nepal. Natural Product Communications. 2015;10(8). [Impact Factor: 0.554; Times Cited: 13 (Semantic Scholar)]


Image: Couleur from Pixabay


About the author

Asia Mayfield

Asia Mayfield is a freelance writer who focuses on the cannabis industry. She can be reached at a.mayfield18@gmail.com

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