article, recipes, and product photos by Jessica Shepherd
Night blooming flowers intrigue me, especially those reaching peak scent production during the night—their romantic fumes perfuming the evening air. One such flower is that of the “heavenly-sensual” Ylang ylang tree, pronounced EE’-lang EE’-lang, with its botanical name being Cananga odorata. The tree’s starfish shaped yellow clusters of flowers are not only night bloomers, but are considered the “Queen of Perfumes” emitting a scent often described as sweet, intensely-floral, exotic, creamy-custard, rounded with rich balsamic notes. Ylang ylang is also called the “flower of flowers” because it smells like many flowers swirled into one sexy scent.
It takes five years for the ylang ylang tree to even begin producing these fumy blooms and after it does, she will go on producing an average of 45 pounds of flowers annually for somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50 years! Ylang ylang trees in the wild can reach 60ft. if not higher, and are native to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and other lowland countries of East Asia. The trees also grow, and are cultivated in other warm tropic locations as well, like Madagascar—a top exporter of ylang ylang essential oil.
So how is Ylang ylang essential oil made? Reaching their “crescendo” of scent during the night, the careful hand collection of ylang ylang flowers ideally begins during these night hours, and usually by dawn the harvest is in full swing. Harvest timing is crucial, as the freshly harvested flowers begin to lose their scent once exposed to the light. The best essential oil is said to come from flowers that have gone from a green color to reach their mature rich yellow color and that are harvested in dry weather—not during rain. It takes on average 50 pounds of fresh flowers to yield 16 ounces of essential oil.
Once harvested, the flowers go through a steam distillation process also called “fractional distillation”, Depending on the expertise of the distiller, the distillation process is interrupted at precise times to pour off and collect fractions of the essential oil. It is important to keep this in mind when you go to purchase ylang ylang essential oil because you’ll often find a range of options, including:
Ylang ylang Extra grade—Extra grade is the very first fraction collected from the still, taken after the initial first hour or so of distilling. This fraction includes the smallest molecules making its scent the sweetest and most floral in aroma compared to the other fractions—highly valued in not only aromatherapy, but also for perfumery. Some aromatherapists find this to be the most delicate in scent and have noted it is the least to cause a headache in highly sensitive individuals verses ylang ylang III.
Ylang ylang I grade: this fraction is collected after approx. 4 hours into distillation
Ylang ylang II grade: this fraction is collected after approx.7 hours of distillation
Ylang ylang III grade: this fraction is collected after approx.10 hours of distillation. These grades (I,II,III) are commonly used throughout the food and flavor industry and additionally in the cosmetic/perfume industry, and sometimes in aromatherapy. These grades also have a bit of a “greener” smell to them.
Next is the Ylang ylang Complete grade– after the approx. 15 hours of distillation this last fraction of essential oil is collected and then is often mixed with the previous four fractions into one blend called Ylang ylang Complete– encompassing all the different chemical components from each fraction. Having a rounded delicate floral scent, it too, especially when obtained from an organic reputable source, can be lovely for skin care and aromatherapy.
And finally, the ultimate full spectrum essential oil is Ylang ylang Complete-Fine grade, also sometimes called VOP (very old process). This essential oil indicates that the steam distillation process was never interrupted resulting in a “complete” distillation–not a blend of the separate fractions. It is deep and delicate in its floral scent, custard-rich, and is a most excellent choice for use in aromatherapy and hand-made body products.
No matter the grade, Cananga odorata is always the botanical name for true Ylang ylang–remember to cross-check your botanical name to confirm you have the correct plant! All choices of course have their own special value and slight variations in scent. My current favorites available from Humboldt Herbals are Veriditas Botanicals organic Ylang ylang Extra, and Primavera Life’s organic Ylang yang Complete and from Eden Botanicals all choices they offer are great, but their Ylang ylang Compete VOP is my recent favorite.
What are the healing properties of Ylang ylang essential oil?
In aromatherapy Ylang ylang is used for anxiety, stress, anger, irritability, tension, shock, and insomnia. It is has calming, balancing, sedative properties widely used to combat many forms of stress. With its romantic aroma ylang ylang has a long history of use as an aphrodisiac and sexual stimulant– relieving tension and imparting joy. It can help support breakthrough in blockages of fear and timidity around intimacy providing a sense of relaxation and letting go. It is said the scent of Ylang ylang can “calm the passions of jealousy by generating the ability to feel more loveable.” The scent encourages enthusiasm, uplift, and is considered anti- depressant. It is one of the best at relaxing the mind and body as it sweetly soothes jangled nerves and emotionally charged states. Renowned Aromatherapist Valerie Ann Worwood says that ylang ylang “may soften the hard-hearted and allow those who use judgement against others to feel the soft seduction of heaven”—beautifully put indeed.
The scent when inhaled, stimulates the adrenal glands, supports the thymus gland, and also stimulates the immune system and liver. Topically, when diluted, it is antiseptic and antifungal and is a great addition to your herbal “all purpose” healing salves. Ylang ylang being a sedative, can help lower mildly elevated blood pressure even just a few drops of the essential oil diluted in a carrier oil (jojoba, olive oil etc.) and applied topically over the heart area of the chest can have a remarkable effect in producing relaxation, and calmness. Ylang ylang is antispasmodic and relieves muscle spasms, also relaxes nerves, stimulates circulation, and is effective for musculoskeletal cramps and digestive cramps—making it a nice addition to massage oil blends.
Ylang ylang essential oil is especially suited in skin care for treating dry, mature skin, but will benefit any skin type. It promotes healthy supple skin, balances oil production, gently stimulates circulation, and strengthens the capillaries. Ylang ylang soothes a dry scalp and indigenous people of the tropics have long mixed ylang ylang in coconut oil to use as a hair and scalp tonic, and to protect hair from salt water damage (add 3-4 drops of essential oil to every ounce of conditioner or ¼ cup of coconut oil).
When using ylang ylang essential oil—remember it is highly concentrated and powerful in its scent intensity. A few drops go a long way and too much can be over-powering—potentially causing a headache. So, when I blend with ylang ylang it is always one drop at a time and I smell as I go, gauging the intensity. I aim for a delicate but rich floral addition, while not letting it dominate over the other scents I have chosen to combine it with. In my experience people respond most positively to the scent of ylang ylang oil in light amounts. I recommend starting with just 1-3 drops per ounce of carrier oil. You can always add more drops to your blends, but you can’t take them back out!! Ylang ylang combines nicely with many other essential oils such as: bergamot, clary sage, vetiver, most citruses (blood orange, mandarin), spice (cardamom), and wood oils (sandalwood, cedarwood).
Now time to enjoy the gifts of Ylang ylang with some recipes to caress your skin and soothe your soul! Craft with Love and Enjoy!
Sensual Ylang ylang Spritzer
Use as a mist for your body, bedroom, linens, sheets, and lingerie—divine!
You will need the following:
2 ounce size glass bottle with atomizer top
5 drops Ylang ylang Extra essential oil
3 drops Bergamot essential oil
2 drops Peru Balsam essential oil (optional)
1 teaspoon organic Vanilla extract
1 oz. Ylang ylang hydrosol/or Rose Hydrosol
Put drops of essential oils, vanilla extract, and hydrosol in the bottle. Fill the rest of the way with purified or spring water. Shake well, mist as desired to feel the bliss!
Romantic Cananga No. 5 Roll-on Perfume
Ylang ylang essential oil was actually used in the famous perfume Chanel No. 5 and other popular fragrances. With this recipe you can make your own romantic scent to adorn with–minus the yucky synthetics normally utilized in commercial perfumes. The “flower of flowers” takes center stage, with a touch of vanilla, and hints of robust coffee bean.
You will need the following:
1/3 oz. glass perfume bottle with roll-on top
1/3 oz. of organic Vanilla infused jojoba oil (to make this simply split and chop one organic Vanilla bean, next put in a glass jar, then cover with 4 ounces of organic jojoba oil, seal the lid on and put in a cool dark place allowing it to infuse for 2-3 weeks, then strain off and store in a glass bottle for use on its own or in endless other recipes!)
9 Drops of organic Ylang ylang Extra essential oil
4 Drops of organic Coffee essential oil (optional)
Put drops of essential oils in bottle, then fill with your vanilla infused jojoba oil, put roller cap on bottle. For an added touch, I left a tiny piece about ¼ inch of chopped vanilla bean in the bottle with all the above. Shake well before applying your roll-on perfume to pulse points, and neck.
Feelin’ the Love Massage and Body Oil
Sensually sweet, with a touch of spice and warmth relieving tension while centering the heart and soothing the soul. Perfect for a relaxing massage and as an aromatic moisturizing body oil.
You will need the following:
2 ounce glass bottle
1 ounce og. Macadamia nut oil (or any other oil you like for massage)
1 ounce og. Vanilla infused jojoba oil (or jojoba oil)
6 drops og. Ylang ylang Extra essential oil
3 drops Atlas Cedarwood or Sandalwood essential oil
2 drops Cardamom essential oil
Put all essential oils in bottle, then fill with the vanilla infused jojoba oil, and macadamia nut oil. Cap up, label, and shake well before use.
Sexy Organic Coconut Milk Soak
The ultimate “treat yo’ self-soak”! Not only does this soak smell richly divine– it completely relaxes the body melting all your tensions away. After getting out of the tub your skin feels like silk from the moisturizing coconut milk and will be delicately perfumed from the ylang ylang all night long!
You will need the following:
1 can of organic coconut milk
½ cup Dead Sea salt
1 teaspoon of organic Vanilla extract
8 drops of organic Ylang ylang essential oil
1 drop of Cinnamon bark essential oil (or Cinnamon leaf)
1 cup of organic dry rose petals
4×6 muslin cotton bag (for the rose petals)
To the can of coconut milk add the vanilla extract, and essential oils, then stir a bit to mix. Fill your muslin cotton bag with the dry rose petals and tie. As the tub is filling, pour into it your can of aromatic coconut milk, the Dead Sea salt, and toss in your yummy bag of rose petals. Be sure and stir everything around just a little bit to mix the coconut milk throughout the bath water. During my soak I always squeeze the rose petal bag letting the water rinse my face—rosy and delicious feeling. Prepare for relaxation and euphoria! *Caution your tub and you will be slick after this, and you will also be in a state of euphoric bliss so be careful when getting out!
Love Me More Body Butter
There’s nothing better than a body butter to caress the skin—especially one that smells of sweet ylang ylang flowers and cocoa butter. The consistency of this body butter is on the softer side, making it easy to get out of the jar and slather on. Highly moisturizing and protective to the skin, it can also on occasion be used as a hair and scalp treatment. Perfect too for massaging tired hands and feet after a long day. This smells so delicious!
You will need the following:
2– two ounce size salve jar or other glass jar (recipe yields about 4 oz. total)
2 Tablespoons organic Coconut oil (I used “heaping Tablespoons”)
1.5 ounces organic Cocoa butter
1 teaspoon organic Vanilla infused Jojoba oil or jojoba oil
½ teaspoon organic Vanilla extract
12 drops organic Ylang ylang Extra essential oil
In a saucepan of gently simmering water, place in a pyrex measuring cup and melt down in it the coconut oil, cocoa butter, and jojoba oil. Remove the pyrex from the water bath, then to the melted oils add the essential oil and vanilla extract stirring well to combine. Pour into your jars, label, and enjoy!
Sweet Dreams Ylang ylang Laced Lingerie
Last but not least, this one is recommended by the famous Jeanne Rose and is too easy not to try! Just take a few cotton balls and on each put a drop of ylang ylang essential oil, then tuck it into your lingerie drawer to have your garments smelling kissed of ylang ylang.
photo of ylang ylang flower courtesy of: http://www.baseformula.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/ylang-ylang.jpg
The Healing Trail: Essential oils of Madagascar by Halpern/Weverka
Aromatehrapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art by K. Keville and Mindy Green (this is one of my “must-have” aromatherapy books!)
Aromatherapy for the Soul by Valerie Ann Worwood
Essential Oils: A Handbook for Aromatherapy Practice by Jennifer Pace Rhind
The Aromatherapy Book by Jeanne Rose
Vibrational Aromatherapy by Deborah Eidson
*This article is intended to be an exchange of information in hopes to keep the herbal healing traditions alive and well. It is not intended to treat, or diagnose, nor is it intended to replace the care and treatment from a licensed practitioner or health care provider. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.