If I asked you to describe the scent of Ylang essential oil, but then I said you couldn’t use the words “floral” or “sweet” … What else would you say?

It can be really difficult to find the right words to describe the way different essential oils smell. This is because smell and language happen in two different areas of the brain.

Luckily, the language of scent can be learned.

This is one reason why we love Tony Burfield’s Natural Aromatic Materials: Odours and Origins. Tony and his team of smell analysts worked with over 600 aromatic extracts, essential oils, CO2s, and absolutes to offer their scent descriptionsincluding the dry-down after 24 hours.

But we’ll let Sylla teach you more about this reference, with her usual enthusiasm, charm, and depth of knowledge in this field.

For a closer look, here is an excerpt from the Ylang entry that Sylla references in Natural Aromatic Materials. You might already know this, but Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) is unlike other oils in that it is distilled in fractions. A single distillation will produce several different versions of Ylang that all smell different. This is why the oils are labeled as Extra Superior, Extra, First, Second, Third, and Complete.

These entries are all from the same distiller in the Island of Comoros near Madagascar.

Ylang Oil Extra Comoros

Odour is heady, sweet, radiant heavy floral odour with somewhat medicinal character, and with spicy notes of clove in the background. There is a very slight fruitiness (probably from prenyl acetate) and a very slight greenness. The dry-down is round and full-bodied, sweet, warm and with a slightly spicy-carnation-powdery character. The sweetness in some samples almost takes on a honeysuckle aspect.

Ylang I Comoros

Top odour note is similar to II. It is a slightly less heady and more ­rounded than Extra. Dry-down is very similar to Extra; but not so strong, with hay-like nuances.

Ylang II Comoros

Odour has a little (but not much!) of the heady floral quality of Extra; radiant but not to the extent that the extra shows; not particularly ­medicinal. It is also without the fruity lift of the extra quality, which is, by comparison, more rounded floral-medicinal. It is not as clean and pure. Dry-down is full-bodied, floral, rounded and glowing, but not to the extent of the Extra’s dry-down. It is also cruder more medicinal and more powdery-carnation as opposed to warm-carnation.

Ylang III Comoros

The top note odour profile has none of the floral radiance of extra with spicy notes more to the fore, and a somewhat woody-hay character is revealed after a few moments. Dry-down is thinner and less powerful than extra with some suggestion of carnation character but rather oily and generally floral.

Ylang Oil Complete Comoros

The overall odour impression by comparison with Ylang II is that it is dirtier in a phenolic sense and has minimal radiance. It has a rich floral character, however, but is interwoven with phenolic and woody notes. Many commercially complete oils are fairly disappointing. Dry-down is sweet floral carnation like with a salicylate-like lift.

Try it Yourself!

Now get out your Ylang and see how these words compare to what you smell! Let us know how your Ylang smells and use these words as inspiration to create your own description.

For bonus points, place a drop on a scent strip (or make one at home with a piece of cardstock or an index card) and make notes on how it smells immediately as well as in different increments later (15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, several hours … up to 24-hours.)

Leave a comment with what you find!

We hope to keep inspiring you to learn about your oils from one of the best ways you can – by smelling them! Thank you for letting us share the joy of aromatherapy with you.

Aromatically Yours,


Natural Aromatic Materials, Second Edition

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