What Does Ylang Ylang Smell Like?

What Does Ylang Ylang Smell Like

Ylang ylang is a deep, rich aroma with slightly sweet, earthy, green and floral notes. It elicits hints of custard, jasmine, banana, neroli (bitter orange), honey and spice. 

If you’re a fan of great-smelling scented candles and scented oils, you’ve probably come across the phrase “ylang ylang” on ingredients lists a time or two. Although it’s becoming increasingly more common in scented stuff, this is one aromatic that’s still quite misunderstood. In this guide, we’re going deep on the botanical extract known as ylang ylang so you can decide if this is a scent you want to add to your daily rotation. Hint: If you’re all about sweet and sophisticated yet earthy aromas, you’re definitely going to want to say yes to ylang.

ylang ylang facts graphic

Fun fact: Ylang ylang is pronounced like “e-lang e-lang.” The name is derived from the Tagalog word “ilang,” which means wilderness. It is often interpreted to mean “flower of flower,” but this is largely considered a mistranslation.

What Is Ylang Ylang?

Ylang ylang is the name of a yellow star-shaped flower of the cananga tree (Cananga odorata). This tropical, climbing evergreen is found throughout the world, primarily in Southeast Asia and Australia, and is prized for its fragrant-smelling flowers which produce an extract used in some of the world’s most beloved perfumes. The tree is a member of the custard apple family, which may explain why people often detect a subtle custard smell in its flowers.

To produce ylang ylang essential oil — the aromatic substance that’s added to candles and perfumes to give them their characteristic scent — producers extract oil from the tree’s blossoms via the steam distillation method. Through this distillation process, they are able to extract multiple forms of the oil, from the highly sought-after ylang ylang extra used in perfumes and high-quality essential oils to softer, less fragrant extracts that may be used in cosmetics or soap.

In fact, there are five unique designations in the production of this highly sought-after essential oil. You may have noticed phrases like “ylang ylang complete” on the labels of fragrant products, and this can tell us a lot about the quality or strength of the ylang ylang in the formula. A grading system is used to indicate quality and characteristics of ylang ylang extract.

  • Extra. Ylang ylang extra is the first extract to come from the distillation process and is harvested after one hour. It’s the richest and most potent version of this essential oil. It’s usually what’s added to high-end perfumes and candles used for aromatherapy. Naturally, because it’s so powerful and beloved, extra-grade ylang ylang is also the most expensive.
  • First through Third. After the extra-grade ylang ylang has been harvested, producers will allow the distillation process to continue for several hours before harvesting another round which is slightly subtler than extra. The first, second and third rounds of distillation each produce different distillates with progressively subtle properties and aromatic strengths.
  • Complete. When ylang ylang oil is referred to as “complete” that means that it is a combination of all four distillates mentioned above. Typically, it takes around 10 to 20 hours of distillation to produce. Though it’s not used as often in perfumery, ylang ylang complete is still desirable in applications where a milder scent is preferred, so don’t discount it altogether. 

ylang ylang flower

Uses for Ylang Ylang

In addition to its strong aromatic potential, the ylang ylang flower has been employed in medicinal and wellness applications for centuries. 

All over the world, people have used the flowery extract as a remedy for an assortment of ailments, from asthma to malaria to pneumonia to stomach ache. Because it is believed to calm the heart rate and lower blood pressure, ylang ylang is also used as an antidepressant and anti-anxiety treatment, though more research is needed to determine the safety and efficacy of this use. It is also believed to slow down the production of sebum (skin oil), so it may be added to skincare products.

From an aromatherapy perspective, ylang ylang certainly has a way of impacting the vibe of a space and it can elicit certain feelings. It’s known to be a calming scent, which makes it a good choice for more chill applications and relaxing aromatherapy uses, such as massage or meditation. 

Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that cultures have used this powerful plant in sexual wellness endeavors for centuries, earning it the nickname “the oil of lovers”! Indeed, ylang ylang has a history of use as an aphrodisiac and sexual stimulator, so it’s a great smell to keep around if you’re looking to bring a little steaminess to the room. In fact, in Indonesia, it’s traditional for ylang ylang flowers to be spread over the bed of newlyweds to enhance romance! 

Whether you think of it as purely a lovely scent or a powerful therapy tool, ylang ylang is a great option to have in the rotation.

Ylang Ylang Smell and Properties

ylang ylang properties graphic

Ylang ylang can be described as a deep, rich aroma that’s slightly sweet and floral. It brings hints of custard, jasmine, banana, neroli (bitter orange), honey and spice. It also bears characteristics of earthiness and greenery. Some people detect a subtle rubbery or metallic note with this essential oil. 

Sexy, nuanced and refusing to be pigeon-holed, ylang ylang is a complex aroma that brings many layers to the table. In other words, it’s not your basic candle ingredient! One of the things we love so much about this smell is that it’s so layered. What you detect one day might reveal something totally different from the next. That’s not to say ylang ylang is overpowering. In fact, it’s known for being a great complement to other aromas and can bring a nice balance to other essential oils.

Need a more concrete descriptor? People have compared the smell of ylang ylang to the smell of a stick of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum. It sounds weird, but it actually makes sense since the gum is made from natural fruit extracts, kind of like ylang ylang itself. But don’t mistake this essential oil for low-brow — it’s actually famously used in one of the world’s most beloved fragrances, Chanel No. 5. Hints of jasmine are abundant in ylang ylang essential oil, which is why it’s often used in the best floral perfumes. 

ylang ylang essential oil bottles

Described as alluring, feminine and romantic, ylang ylang can bring warmth and romance to the mood. It also suits the tastes of those who prefer light, elegant aromas that aren’t overpowering. Because it’s so multifaceted, many people don’t have strong associations with the smell of ylang ylang, which makes it a great option when you want to create space designed for focus and creativity.

Nothing compares to smelling something for yourself, so make sure to peruse our selection of ylang ylang scented candles to find some great products that enhance your home and fill it with the warm, welcoming scent of ylang ylang. This aroma lends itself very well to our place candles, since all cities and states are complex and varied, just like the profile of this versatile essential oil. 

Our Favorite Ylang Ylang Candles and Reed Diffusers

Because of its unique aromatic profile and complexities, ylang ylang is a great candidate for high-quality scented candles and reed diffusers that bring an enjoyable scent to the room. In fact, we use it in many of our most popular products to help bring that sweet, floral earthiness into the mix. If you want to try it out for yourself, pick up one of these amazing ylang ylang scented candles from Homesick.

Our Favorite Ylang Ylang Candles

  • Los Angeles Candle — Given that La La Land is such a diverse city, it only made sense for us to toss some ylang ylang into our LA candle. This great-smelling candle features top notes of orange, bergamot and rose, which make way for mid notes of ylang ylang and lemon and base notes of jasmine and musk. It reminds us of clean sea breezes and desert sand. Heavenly, right? You can also get this scent in an LA reed diffuser if you’re not big on flames or in an LA car freshener if you want to take it with you as you cruise the freeway.
  • South Carolina — Ylang ylang is the perfect addition to a candle crafted in honor of the great state of South Carolina! This state lends itself well to botanical candles in honor of the most ubiquitous blossom — the magnolia. This one is reminiscent of the state’s coastal charm, tropical florals and relaxed people, with top notes of bergamot, grapefruit and lemon and mid notes of magnolia, hibiscus and sugar. The fragrant floral candle comes to life with the addition of a little ylang ylang, vanilla and black tea to round out the Southern vibes. 
  • Gender Reveal Candle — Looking for a fun and unique way to announce the gender of your baby? Our Gender Reveal candle does just that thanks to a special color-changing label. Since it has aromatics that we associate with both masculine and feminine qualities — although, let’s be honest, all scents are for all genders — it was an obvious choice for this candle. In addition to ylang ylang, it features notes of cedar and musk to treat the nose. This candle makes an awesome pregnancy gift for a friend who just announced she’s expecting!
  • Thank you, Mom Candle — If your mom is the kind of lady who loves a complex, flowery perfume (Chanel No. 5, perhaps), then she will adore the way this candle smells. It really cranks up the botanical power thanks to top notes of bergamot, lavender and sage with mid notes of jasmine and ylang ylang. The sandalwood, musk and lily base notes will have mama melting with joy! This candle makes the perfect Mother’s Day gift because it tickles the nose with the bouquet of fresh-cut flowers, and you know mom will love that.

ylang ylang flowers candles

The Best Ylang Ylang Candles

Whether you’re looking for thoughtful personalized candles handpicked for a loved one or want to enhance your life with vibrant aromatics, we hope you’ll consider ylang ylang as a great addition to your library of scents. This richly scented essential oil is a spectacular standby that works regardless of if you’re feeling sweet, spicy, relaxed or energetic. At Homesick, we take special care to preserve the purity of our essential oils, and all of our candles are made from natural soy wax with premium cotton wicks and custom fragrance oils.


Image Credits


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