Ylang Ylang is prized by perfumers for its intoxicatingly seductive scent. Ylang Ylang has a very bright, fruity-banana, feminine scent with complex undertones that I will go into more detail later on in this article. I will also discuss Ylang Ylang’s possible value in therapeutic applications, how Ylang Ylang can affects behavior & cognitive function, etc.
Table of Contents
What is Ylang Ylang?
So what is Ylang Ylang exactly? Well, Ylang Ylang is actually a tropical flower that blooms out of the Cananga tree. The Cananga tree has the scientific name Cananga odorata, and is scientifically classified as a part of the custard apple Family of Annonaceae plants. The Cananga tree originated from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines- which then spread to many different countries in the Indian ocean such as Madagascar, Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia and the Comoros. Which is a good thing- plants that are spread out and proliferously grown are less likely to go extinct.
Note that Ylang Ylang flower is made up of 6 yellow-greenish petals that are narrow, and droops down in a curly fashion. The concentration of this flower’s highly fragrant scent is in its essential oil, which is the volatile part of a substance that easily evaporates into the air.
This makes being near a Cananga tree an interesting experience, because the essential oil of Ylang Ylang is easily carried away by the wind. Imagine walking down a dirt road past a Cananga tree, and as you feel the breeze pull at your cloths, an intoxicating aroma of Ylang Ylang washing over your face, feeling as if it were enveloping your whole being with a kind embrace.
The main product of Ylang Ylang is its Essential Oil (EO). The EO is extracted through steam distillation, and about 100kg of flowers are required for the production of 1-2kg of Ylang Ylang EO.
Why is Ylang Ylang Important in Perfumery?
The essential oil of Ylang Ylang is an important ingredient for many modern high-end perfumes because it provides a seductive and intoxicating sweet-fruity scent that is quite desirable for women’s perfumes. In fact, the popular Chanel No. 5 perfume using Ylang Ylang as one of it’s key ingredients.
Perfumers look for scents that not only smell good, but have also capture the attention of people who smell the perfume. Perfumes have the power to influence the way other people think about you, just by catching a whiff of the scent while they are close by. Perfumes also have the power to influence the wearer of the perfume.
For example, perfumes can inspire confidence, boost happiness, promote calmness & compassion, increase sexual desire, etc. Indeed, perfumes are made of essential oils and/or other chemicals that can definitely influence on the function of the brain.
For Ylang Ylang specifically, you’ll notice that it has a calm-sedating quality which is good for promoting sleep. And you’ll also notice that the extremely sweet, but spicy smell of Ylang Ylang may evoke sexual desires or thoughts. That’s probably why Indonesians have traditionally laid out Ylang Ylang flowers in the bedrooms of the newlywed, such as to spark intimacy and promote bonding between the bride & the groom. Ylang Ylang is also used by the Indonesians to increase the pleasure derived from sex.
Ylang Ylang improves sexual experience by lowering anxiety; where anxiety can cause erectile dysfunction for the male & “non-receptiveness” for the female. Ylang Ylang also lowers blood pressure by improving blood circulation, which is also good for erectile dysfunction.
The 5 Main Types of Ylang Ylang Essential Oil
The essential oil of Ylang Ylang has its exotic scent profile concentrated into a very volatile liquid. This makes the essential oil of Ylang Ylang much sought after by perfumers. However, the essential oils of the Ylang Ylang flowers are not all the same. Indeed, within this single exotic substance, there are further nuances you have to consider when you are trying to make a perfume using Ylang Ylang essential oil.
To be more specific, the distillation process influences the type aroma that the essential oil of Ylang Ylang gives off. There are 5 main types of Ylang Ylang essential oils include extra, 1, 2, 3, and complete.
What happens is that many companies steam distill Ylang Ylang in a fractionated fashion. That means the volatile components of Ylang Ylang are separated according to temperature. “Extra” would be the lightest, #1, #2 and #3 are proceedingly heavier, and complete refers to a distillate that has all the volatile components of Ylang Ylang.
Because extra is the lightest variant of Ylang Ylang essential oil, it is the most volatile and thereby the most aromatic distillate of Ylang Ylang. The downside is that it dissipates very quickly on its own; it is purely a top note for initial impress, but without lasting power.
But the heavier distillates of Ylang Ylang, in the order of #1, #2, #3, have a different story. Because these essential oil fractions were separated later on in the fractional distillation process, they are not as heat sensitive. These essential oils are literally denser in nature, and thereby are a lot less volatile. That means that although #1, #2, and #3 Ylang Ylang essential oils do not have the explosiveness of the “extra” variant, they have a much longer staying power that can last throughout the whole day or longer.
In other words, Ylang Ylang #1, #2, #3 may be used by perfumers as a base or middle note.
Finally, Ylang Ylang “complete” refers to a product that contains all of the distillates of Ylang Ylang. All of Extra, 1, 2, and 3 combined- either in one full steam distillation, or separately distilled and then blended together. Ylang Ylang “complete” is therefore a complete perfume on its own.
The Scent Profile of Ylang Ylang
Simply, Ylang Ylang can be described as a sweet-fruity scent. But there is so much more depth and complexity to scent of Ylang Ylang that the words “sweet & fruity” neglect to reveal it.
Sources have described the fragrance of Ylang Ylang to have notes of rubber, custard, jasmine, and neroli.
Ylang Ylang Extra scent description:
I personally have found Ylang Ylang “Extra” has a candy-sweet, a fruity sweetness that is reminiscent of Jasmine, and a very faint balsamic note of crushed pine needles.
Ylang Ylang #1 scent description:
Scent-wise, Ylang Ylang #1 has a “heavier” smell than Ylang Ylang extra. There is a sweet smell that is mellow with a hint of spice. Ylang Ylang #1 also has the sharpness of alcohol, a floral-fruitiness, a hint of a mellow banana, and a mild but heavier balsamic note compared to Ylang Ylang extra.
In terms of likability (which you could equate to quality), I would say that Ylang Ylang extra has a more beautiful scent than Ylang Ylang #1.
Ylang Ylang Complete scent description:
Finally, Ylang Ylang Complete essential oil is the true or actual scent of Ylang Ylang. I would say that its scent is a combination of Ylang Ylang Extra and Ylang Ylang #1. I would imagine that Ylang Ylang #2 & 3# also share scent similarities with the complete essential oil, but I haven’t actually gotten the chance to smell test Ylang Ylang 2# & 3# to be honest.
Ylang Ylang Complete has the top notes of fruity-sweet combined with Jasmine, heavier balsamic notes, and the inviting creamy scent of bananas. As the apothecary Dan Riegler would describe it:
The fragrance of this Ylang Ylang essential oil can be described as heady, sensuous, full-bodied, (inebriating). It is sweet without being cloying and has soft, honey floral notes woven through with caramel and delicate spices. As it dries down it reminds me of forest moss and fresh ocean breezes.
Dan Riegler also offers artisanally distilled Ylang Ylang Complete essential oil for sale from his online apothecary.
Composition of Ylang Ylang
The composition of Ylang-Ylang’s essential oil is directly responsible for its scent and its influence on the body & the mind. Specifically, Ylang Ylang essential oil is composed of:
- Geranyl acetate
- p-cresyl methyl ether
- Methyl benzoate
The main aromatic compounds that are responsible for the odor of ylang-ylang oil are benzyl acetate, linalool, p-cresyl methyl ether, and methyl benzoate.
Linalool has anti-inflammatory effects, protects the brain from oxidative stress, protects the cholinergic function of the brain, and protects the synaptic plasticity of the brain.
Germacrene acts as a pheromone for insects, and has antimicrobial and insecticidal properties. Plants typically manufacture chemicals to protect themselves from pests. Germacrene is one of them. Traditionally, the plants with a high amount of insecticidal chemicals may be used to kill off stomach parasites, or ward off insects. Wormwood is a good example; gardeners or farmers usually plant wormwood near plants that they want to protect from insects.
I mentioned that Germacrene is a insect pheromone. Plants may release certain chemicals to attract insects; for example, the honey bee is attracted to flowers in a symbiotic exchange. The flower is able to spread its pollen, and the bee is able to gather food for its colony. And it makes sense Ylang Ylang as a flower would have insect pheromones.
Properties & Uses of Ylang Ylang
Ylang Ylang has many interesting properties that makes it useful in aromatherapy & other applications. The properties for Ylang Ylang are as follows:
- Lowers high blood pressure
- Mood Enhancer & Antidepressant
- Balances sebum (skin-oil) secretions
- Skin whitener (antimelanogenesis)
- Preventing skin itchiness
- Insecticidal & Insect-Repellant
As I mentioned before, Ylang Ylang is used in perfumery, and blends well with floral, fruit, and wood scents. In fact, one of the ingredients for the Chanel No. 5 perfume may be Ylang Ylang.
Ylang Ylang as an ingredient to hair conditioning oil
In the past, Ylang Ylang was used in perfumery, as it is used today. For example, Ylang Ylang was used in the development of macassar oil, which was used by men & women in the Victorian & Edwardian times. Back then, European barbers used their own custom hair preparations to groom and style their customer’s hair. One such barber known as Alexander Rowland developed his own hair conditioner called “Rowland’s Macassar Oil”. Ingredients included coconuts, palm, or Kusum oil as the base to keep the shape of the hair- as well as Ylang Ylang & other fragrances to give the oil a nice aroma.
My Observations with Ylang Ylang
I find that Ylang Ylang promotes sedation, and stimulates libido. I find that the sedating attribute of Ylang Ylang to enhance its libido enhancing effects. That’s because sedation causes you to think less clearly, and thereby lowers your “guard”, so to speak. Not to an extreme degree, but enough to allow you to get aroused much more easily. The smell kind of stimulates your sexual desire when you inhale it, a bit like nutmeg.
Encyclopedia Excerpt on the Uses of Ylang Ylang
Ylang-ylang has a variety of medicinal properties and traditional therapeutic uses. In Tonga and Samoa, the bark is used to treat stomach ailments and as a laxative. In Java, the fresh flowers are pounded into a paste for use in the treatment of asthma, and the dried flowers are reportedly used for treating malaria. Many parts of the tree are used in traditional medicine in India. The fresh flowers are reportedly prescribed as a carminative and in the treatment of asthma, and an infusion of the flowers is used after bathing or rubbed on the skin to prevent skin itching. Also in India, the essential oils from the flowers is used as an external application for treatment of headache, ophthalmia and gout. The leaves are considered useful for treating diarrhea in infants, and rubbed on the skin to relieve itching and boils. The fruits and seeds are used for treating fevers. The bark, rich in alkaloids, is sometimes given as a decoction for treatment of rheumatism, phlegm, ophthalmia, ulcers, fevers, and to improve complexion. The essential oils are also used in aromatherapy and are thought to be beneficial for treating depression, distressed breathing, high blood pressure, anxiety, and as an aphrodisiac.
Where to Find Ylang Ylang Essential Oil
- Artisanally Distilled Ylang-Ylang Complete Essential Oil
- NOW Ylang Ylang Extra Essential Oil, 1-Ounce
- Ylang Ylang 100% Pure Therapeutic Grade Essential Oil by Edens Garden
- The Protective Effect of Lavender Essential Oil and Its Main Component Linalool against the Cognitive Deficits Induced by D-Galactose and Aluminum Trichloride in Mice [Evid Based Complement Alternat Med.]
- Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry, and Bioactivities of Cananga odorata (Ylang-Ylang) [Hindawi]
- Cananga odorata (LAM.) HOOK. F. & THOMS., 1855 [fs.fed.us PDF]