Different Distillates of Ylang Ylang

An article about the different distillates of ylang ylang essential oil. A quick guide provided by certified aromatherapist and author Sharon Falsetto Chapman.

Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) is an exotic, aromatic essential oil used extensively in perfumes and aromatherapy. It is unique in that it produces several variations (or distillates) of essential oil. Here’s a quick guide to which distillate of ylang ylang essential oil you should be using, depending upon your goal and/or purpose. 

How Ylang Ylang is Extracted

Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) essential oil is extracted from the flowers of a tropical tree native to Indonesia, the Comoros, Madagascar, and Reunion. The flowers of ylang ylang are pink, yellow, cream or mauve with a strong, exotic, and floral fragrance. The aroma earns ylang ylang the nickname (rather unfairly) of Poor Man’s Jasmine, as its scent is somewhat reminiscent of jasmine (Jasminum officinale).

The flowers of ylang ylang are usually picked in the morning for the best distillation of the essential oil; the scent of ylang ylang is strongest in the afternoon and early evening.

The essential oil of ylang ylang is of varying qualities; usually the first distillate is of the highest quality and the latter distillate, being the poorer quality of essential oil, is sometimes sold as Cananga rather than ylang ylang. Let’s take a closer look at how those distillates break down.

Distillation of Ylang Ylang 

Ylang ylang is usually steam or water distilled. It is produced by what is called fractional distillation. This simply means that the distillation is stopped many times and the essential oil is drawn off at each stage. The essential oil is collected and put to one side before the next distillate is drawn off at a set time/density.

The distiller may have a specific time or density in mind when they stop the distillation and draw off the essential oil at that stage. Arctander explains that “By controlling the specific gravity of the distillate, the various producers make the interruptions at the moment when they feel that the oil can be classified within one of these groups.”1 He is referring to the various distillates (Extra, I, II, and III). However, he adds that “There is no standard as to the physio-chemical properties of ‘Extra’ or any of the other grades, but it is left to the distiller’s discretion to make the correct fractionation during the distillation.”1 Arctander was writing in 1960, but I am not sure if this process has changed much since then (feel free to contact me if you have further information).

The whole process can take a couple of days.

Various Distillates of Ylang Ylang

Here’s a table showing which distillate is drawn when and their main uses:

Distillate When Drawn from Distillation Uses Aroma
Extra Lightest molecules and drawn off first Used in the finest perfumes Floral, sweet, slightly balsamic in dry down.
Distillate I Medium density; heavy in sesquiterpenes. Drawn off after Extra Cosmetics and body care Sweet, floral, candy-like, balsamic.
Distillate II Medium density; increasing heaviness in sesquiterpenes. Drawn off after Distillate I Cosmetics and body care Sweet, floral, some spice notes, balsamic.
Distillate III Heavy density; drawn off after Distillate II Candles and soap Sweet, floral, spicy, woody-balsamic.
Complete Continuous distillation with no fractionation* Aromatherapy “Powerful, extremely sweet, spicy, bold tropical, fruity/floral aroma with a green, woody undertone.”2 I find this distillate to have a banana-like aroma to it as well.3

*Writing in 1960, Arctander was skeptical about this “new” type of distillation, although it is widely available today.

The distillates are drawn off from most expensive to cheapest, and the quality reduces accordingly. You might find that Distillates I through III are cut with other essential oils of a similar aroma, other ylang ylang distillates, or other chemicals.

Learn More About Essential Oils

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  1. Arctander, Steffen, 1960, Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin, US: Pathfinder, pp.664-671.
  2. Eden Botanicals, Ylang Ylang, accessed from: https://www.edenbotanicals.com/ylang-ylang-aroma-family.html
  3. Author’s personal opinion.

About the Author:

The author of this article has been working in the health care industry since the 1990’s and in the aromatherapy industry since the 2000’s. She is a UK-certified aromatherapist, a NAHA Certified Professional Aromatherapist®, a gardener, and a certified herbalist with several years of study. She is also a botanical perfumer, working on launching her first fragrance line.

Sharon is both a published author and editor in aromatherapy, a consultant, and custom blend formulator. She is the author of Authentic Aromatherapy and the current chief editor of the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal. Sharon works from her garden studio in Sedona, Arizona, where she gardens and distills plants from her own aromatic gardens, surrounded by natural fauna and flora on an original pioneer homestead property.

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