The Perfumery, botany, cultivation, history, and distillation of the flowers for essential oil,
With odor snapshots and the uses of the oil.
YLANG-YLANG ~ Powerful Perfumery Flower
By Jeanne Rose ~ 09-20-22
YLANG-YLANG BOTANICAL & LATIN BINOMIAL ~ Cananga odorata Hook. F. & Thomson. “The species and its genus have a long and rather confusing nomenclatural history that has yet to be resolved completely.”3 —Turner and Veldkamp
Ylang has other common names, such as Macassar-oil plant or perfume tree. Ylang-Ylang is said to mean ‘flower of flowers’ in the Philippines. Another book I read said that it means ‘wild’. Wikipedia says it means ‘wilderness.’ However, I was not able to confirm either. The Tagalog name is ilang-ilang.
It is interesting to know that an antimacassar was a doily (decorative crocheted mat) designed for the back of a chair to protect it from the grease and dirt of a head that had been smoothed and scented with Macassar oil, that is, coconut or other solid oil plus Ylang as a scent.
Naming ~ There are two forms of the plant, called Cananga odorata forma macrophylla which produces the oil called Cananga, and the more well-known Cananga odorata forma genuina which is the oil we will be discussing. They are considered different trees with different plant descriptions, forma macrophylla from Java and other islands, while forma genuina is best from Madagascar.
I have been fortunate to have seen and smelled both types, although at the time (1990), I was not aware of a difference.
[Cananga odorata • Variety: forma macrophylla steenis • Common Name: Ylang ylang]
Family ~ Annonaceae
COUNTRIES OF ORIGIN ~ Native to India, Indonesia, and the Macassar Islands, and the Philippines, and it grows well in the Comoros Islands of Madagascar, Réunion, as well as Haiti, and Zanzibar. The Fairchild Tropical Gardens in Coral Gables, Florida have trees, as do the Palm Beach Garden Club (I believe that was the name of the place where I spoke about 20 years ago). Palm Beach Garden Club had the Cananga trees.
ENDANGERED OR NOT ~ Ylang-ylang is not currently considered endangered. However, it is a high-risk invasive species and is listed as invasive to many parts of the Pacific.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF PLANT, HABITAT & GROWTH ~ Ylang is a tall tropical tree growing over 60 feet high with large, up to six inches wide, drooping yellow flowers. The flowers first appear green and are without fragrance and covered in white hairs, then, roughly twenty days later, change to white, then to yellow and become very fragrant. Even the dried flowers will scent a room for up six weeks.
PORTION OF PLANT USED IN DISTILLATION, HOW DISTILLED, EXTRACTION METHODS ~ The flowers are harvested fresh and hydro- or steam-distilled. In 375 Essential Oils & Hydrosols, explicit instruction is given on how to distill Ylang-Ylang flowers. See p. 159.4
1) all parts of the still must be immaculate.
2) the flowers should be fully mature, not damaged, and harvested early in the morning.
3) flowers must be taken immediately to the distillery and distilled immediately.
4) the stills are direct fired, and the water should be almost boiling when the flowers are added.
5) proceed smoothly, quickly, and uniformly with supervised eyes on distillation.
6) condensation must be efficient, and the fractions sharply cut off.
7) complete notes should be taken on all parts of the growing, harvesting, and distillation, including information on the distillation weather, water, equipment, wind, and temperature during the distillation.
“The flowers of the tree are steam-distilled. “The first part of the distillation produced within the first 45 minutes produces the finest oil, the fraction known as “Extra” and the receiver is then removed, and another receiver put in its place. The “Extra” is used mainly in perfumery. The same flowers continue to be distilled for several more hours, and in 2 ½ hours, another receiver, when removed is called the 1st fraction, as the distillation continues for several more hours and the receiver is removed again and this is called the 2nd fraction, distillation will continue for up to 10-14 hours, and finally the end result is called the 3rd fraction. This last fraction is often used for removing varnishes. Sometimes the total distillation time for a ‘complete’ will take 6-8 hours. And often the entire process can take up to fourteen hours.
Ylang-Ylang oil can also be produced by solvent extraction, forming a concrète and absolute.4”
Yield ~ 1.5-2%. A mature tree gives 9 kilograms of fresh flowers yielding 30 grams of oil annually.
Study and work is being conducted on capturing Ylang-Ylang scent by headspace technology. This is a process used to capture the odor compounds present in the air that surround an object. Once the scent is captured and analyzed, perfumers can try to recreate it using what they have available.
ODOR DESCRIPTION ~ There is more descriptive odor information in the Blending portion of this blog post and odor snapshots at the end. I am particularly fond of the Absolute of Ylang-Ylang and the Extra I have from 1995 and 2005. These two types of Ylang-ylang are so rich and floral, fruity with powder and honey back notes.
The absolute and the extra have deep rich colors and have a very satisfying and rich fatty, floral, a fruity odor that has great tenacity in a scent. The complete and the fine organic are also enjoyable with very special uses in blending and perfumery. In a blend, these top fractions have unusual power in the top note, and the fragrance fades out very slowly and elegantly in a long-lasting, floral-spicy, and very sweet way that is truly reminiscent of the fragrance of the flower.
NOSE DIVE, a book by Harold McGee, describes the scent of Ylang as as “has balsamic and wintergreen qualities from several benzenoid-ring volatiles, and a leathery variation on cresol.” This is a wonderful book for all scents, from the cosmos to the planet to cooked and fermented foods.
I have been able to enjoy many of the different variations of scents of Ylang: my first experience was a cheap reproduction that made me nauseous and years later, the flowers from the Cananga tree in West Palm Beach to the picked fresh off the tree flowers from the Fairchild Tropical Garden to the many fractions of the oil that were distilled in Madagascar, to the present day as shown below. My favorite of the modern lot is the organically grown essential oil from Madagascar, #234 as sold by Prima Fleur Botanicals.
SOLUBILITY ~ Years ago, I had a phone call from a student that the Ylang she was using was milky and not clear when she added alcohol as a diluent. She thought she had been sold adulterated Ylang. I went to my Guenther books and read all about Ylang and found that it is not soluble in certain amounts of alcohol. As an experiment in July of 2002, I decided to do various dilutions for my own knowledge and experimentation.
As follows: Ylang-Ylang is not soluble in 2 volumes of 95% alcohol. That means if you add 1-volume of Ylang-Ylang to 2-volumes of alcohol, it will be milky and not clear. You have to add enough alcohol as a diluent so it is not milky.
In September 2002, I mixed 20 drops of each of the four types of Ylang -Ylang with 10 or fewer drops of each with the two percentages of the alcohol and found that the color stayed golden color and that the mixtures were clear. However, 18 hours later, at 10 am on 9/7/02 – I looked at the mixtures and found that the Ylang-Ylang had settled out of the 85% EtOH and was still turbid in 95% grain EtOH.
Then I reread Guenther, If your Ylang -Ylang gets milky and opalesces in alcohol, it only means that you added too little or too much alcohol – it is supposed to get milky (up to 10 volumes), and if it doesn’t get milky then you have an adulterated Ylang -Ylang. In other words, the more alcohol you add, the milkier and cloudier it gets until up to 10 volumes of 90% EtOH, and it will begin to clear — See pages 267-316 in volume 5 of Guenther’s The Essential Oils.
This was a great experiment.
Ylang is so soothing and nice –
it makes up in scent with its price –
Add to perfume –
romance will loom –
And you may end up married with rice. —JeanneRose2017
YLANG-YLANG GENERAL PROPERTIES
If you apply Ylang-Ylang externally, it is antiseptic, with the “second” and “third” fractions being antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and antiparasitic. If you use the oil by inhalation, it is somewhat aphrodisiac, calming, and acts as a nervine and a sedative, antidepressant, calmative, cardiotonic, and euphoric.
YLANG-YLANG PHYSICAL USES & HOW USED ~
Application: Add a few drops in skin care products and use them to soothe the skin, and ease light pain; it is used externally in the bath or on the body or used in perfumery. Fraction #1 has often been recommended to be added to a blend to treat scabies and mange, although I had never had the opportunity to try this, and years later when I did, it was ineffective.
Inhalation of Ylang-Ylang: RELAX! Ylang-Ylang, inhale to soothe anger, relieve pain, for insomnia, a euphoric that serves as an aphrodisiac, and to treat impotence.
Add it to Lemon oil and Lavender oil to relax your blood pressure, as studies have shown that this is a very effective formula. This mixture was found to be effective in lowering systolic blood pressure and sympathetic nerve system activity. The blend was 2•2•1 (Lemon/Lavender/Ylang complete); you can read about it here. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21157172
It is so good in perfumery and is used in soothing skin care, and by inhalation, in dilution, it eases depression and soothes anger.
Ingestion: Ylang-Ylang has been taken in the past for PMS, to regulate circulation, as a uterine tonic, aphrodisiac, and cardiotonic. However, I am not sure that the appropriate way to use these flowers is by taking the oil, as it can cause extreme tiredness. The oil has devolved over the years. From my own personal exploration and knowledge and my uses of over 45 years, the best way to use Ylang oil is simply by inhalation for relaxation and emotional soothing and in perfumery.
Read Tomato tale #2 at the end of this article for a story about taking this oil.
EMOTIONAL/ENERGETIC USES (AP OR IN) ~
Inhalation: Aphrodisiac, nervousness, anti-depressant, euphoric, relieves tension, stress, irritability, and anger, cardiotonic, sedative, PMS, physical exhaustion.
Inhalation of Ylang #1 oil as an aphrodisiac and for insomnia, to soothe aggression and very useful in a man’s product for stress.
Valerie Worwood suggests that Ylang-Ylang (fraction used unknown) be used to counteract anxiety, tension, stress, and shyness, among other things, and it can assist self-confidence and warmth. She says the “Ylang-Ylang personality is intensely feminine. — The Fragrant Mind, p. 398.
DIFFUSE/DIFFUSION ~ All fractions of Ylang oil can be used with other oils and used in the diffusor. It seems especially lovely to mix with Lemon and true Lavender oil to soothe the atmosphere of a room.
Contra-Indications & Personal Note: In my experience, most fractions of Ylang-Ylang are not cardiotonic but an accelerator of heart rhythm. Please be extra careful with this lovely perfumery oil.
Do not use on children or the elderly.
BLENDING and PERFUMERY ~ “The top note, the first impression of the scent as it is applied to the skin, is rather fleeting and ephemeral but richly sweet and powerful. The middle and bottom notes are most lasting, fading out slowly over the course of a day.” 5
All fractions of Ylang-Ylang blend well with an enormous variety of oils and resins and scents from all parts of plants, such as the seeds (Cardamom), roots (Vetivert), stems (Lavender), flowers (Jasmin), barks (Cedrus), and herbs such as Spearmint. It would do you well to know what fraction you have and try some blends before deciding on your favorite.
Ylang, most fractions and the complete, are so good in that its unusual top note, “a fragrance that fades out very slowly and most elegantly in a long-lasting, floral-spicy and very sweet note, truly reminiscent of the fragrance of the flower” and used in perfumery and in soothing skincare and also by inhalation (in dilution) as it eases depression cools anger.
I have physical issues with my heart, so I cannot use the fractions of Ylang-Ylang called I, II, or III individually. They actually make me nauseous. So, I choose the absolute or extra in my perfumery of choice.
HYDROSOL ~ I am very fond of Ylang hydrosol and have it from several sources. Ylang-ylang hydrosol is quite lovely as a spray on the face and body. With a wee bit (1%) of Spearmint, it will bring joy and peacefulness. Spray this combination on pillows and bed linens for sweet sleep. By itself, it is a calming floral aroma; added to a toner, it will help combination skin or oily skin. . I would use it every day if it were available. It makes a sweet soothing spray after a warm bath and excellent facial skin toner. It can also be sprayed on the hair for a light aroma. Use it after you have shampooed and rinsed as a spray mist, and then comb it through.
I have used Ylang hydrosol myself many times and have always loved this particular hydrosol.
PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be distilled explicitly for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers precisely distill for a product by using fresh plant material.
HERBAL USE ~ These flowers can be worn in the hair, and the scent will relax the body. The flowers can also be dried and used in citrus potpourris. They will last for months, and then the entire potpourri can be added to water on the boil, infused, and used in the bath as a relaxant.
KEY USE ~ The Oil of Perfumery
SUSTAINABILITY ~ Ylang-ylang seems to be sustainable at this point, and several large commercial companies are working with planters and growers to maintain the healthy population of these tree flowers. They work to champion responsible sourcing and support the farming community. I hope that this is true going forward.
This work is sponsored and supported by Prima Fleur Botanicals.
YLANG-YLANG TOMATO TALES -1
Ylang Dog use
“Many who have the books of Jeanne Rose, aromatherapist and author of many books concerning herbs and aromatherapy, know the story of Sumo and Wolfie. Sumo-dog was a full-grown Akita-Shepherd cross with the face of a puppy. Sumo was run over by a car and dragged along the pavement on his right side for some distance. The injury to his rear right leg was severe, including severed ligaments and tendons, torn off skin, and muscles in a 180-degree rotation around the hock joint! Veterinarians recommended amputation. Jeanne refused to allow this and treated the dog’s wounds with Tea Tree and Lavender oils as well asTea Tree water washes, and hydrosol. Months later, there was only an almost unnoticeable scar on the length of his leg and a slight limp in Sumo’s happy gait.
At the same time, Jeanne used Ylang-Ylang oil-#1 in a diffuser to treat her other dog, Wolfie-dog, the beautiful blue-eyed Siberian Husky. Wolfie was emotionally traumatized by the terrible incident”5 as she was also thrown by the car and then returned home refused to leave her bed while Sumo was in the hospital. She also would not go outside unless attended. Jeanne would add Ylang-Ylang #1 essential oil to the diffuser and noticed that Wolfie would get up and lie down nearer to the diffuser at times during the day and then return to her bed. When Sumo came home, she was much more at ease”. ………… (these words have been slightly altered from my book, The Aromatherapy Book” to bring them up to date.
Warning -do not trap a dog near a diffuser without a way for it to get away. Some odors are just too strong for a dog’s sensitive sense of smell.
YLANG-YLANG TOMATO TALES -2
Gio Costanzo, Ylang, and Champagne – Gio is a really lovely friend who happens to have just become single again. Geo is just learning about essential oils and became very intrigued when another friend of ours mentioned that they could act as ‘aphrodisiacs.’ “HOW?” was the first question asked? “Well, you can use them to make things smell really fragrant like you can put a drop or two of Eucalyptus in your sauna to make the place smell better; you could put a drop of Ylang-Ylang in your champagne and drink it with your girlfriend; you can add essential oils to the last rinse of your laundry to make your bedding smell really sweet,” was our collective response.
Several months later, I found myself on a plane with him, flying to Texas for a football game, and asked about the aphrodisiac and if he had used it and here is his story.
He had grabbed hold of the Ylang-Ylang in the champagne answer but hadn’t listened to the part about “a drop” and had added something like 1-drop to each glass poured from his expensive bottle of champagne. He told me that he and his girlfriend had spent the evening together and had several glasses each of the bubbles but didn’t much like the taste and so went to bed, where they promptly fell asleep. “I didn’t like it, and It didn’t work very well as an aphrodisiac, but it did work to put us to sleep.”
He also told me that I had forgotten the most important part of his story that the Ylang-ylang did not make them smell good. “I thought we were going to smell good but after drinking the champagne, we smelled so bad we couldn’t stand each other in the same bed. That was the worst part of it, and you can mention that. Jeanne what we did was put a drop in every glass of champagne until we had used up all the Ylang. We hopped into bed, started getting hot sweats, and then the pungent smell overcame us. It was a horrid smell, and we could not wash it away. We slept in different rooms that night because of the smell. There went that romantic night! Also bad for me on the plane the next day. That’s the way my first experience with Ylang went.”
1Guenther, Ernest. The Essential Oils. Volume 5, pages 267-316.
3 A history of Cananga (Annonaceae). IM Turner, J.F. Veldkamp -Gard.Bull.Singapore, 2009- nparks.gov.sg
4 Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils & Hydrosols
5 Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations.
Alpharnd@aol.com. Nadim Shaath. http://www.alpharnd.com
Harman, Ann. Harvest to Hydrosol
McGee, Harold . Nose Dive, A Field Guide to the World’s Smells. Penguin Press, New York. 2020
Mabberley, D.J. Mabberley’s Plant Book. 2008 3rd Edition with 2014 updates. Cambridge University Press
Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils & Hydrosols. http://www.jeannerose.net/books.html
Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations.
Turner, I.M. and J.F. Veldkamp .A History of Cananga (Annonaceae). Gardens’ Bulletin Singapore 61 (1): 189-204. 2009
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose & Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1992
SOME CAUTIONS TO REMEMBER for all Plants and their Parts
DISCLAIMER: This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor. The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©
One thought on “YLANG-YLANG”
Ylang Ylang is one of my favorite essential oil scents. I loved your article, especially General Properties and Physical Uses.