Ylang ylang is the flower of the Cananga, a tree that grows rapidly in tropical climates and still performs well in temperate zones. It’s a pretty flower resembling a curling star and offsets its complementary green foliage with a dash of yellow – enough to light up the whole tree.
Introducing Ylang Ylang Essential Oils
The flowers of ylang ylang aren’t admired for their beauty. Instead it’s their essential oils that give it a star quality and makes it revered around the world by perfume and oil purveyors. The scent is not too dissimilar to jasmine but it offers deeper, richer notes that comfort the senses and makes it ideal as a massage oil.
The only downside to ylang ylang massage oil is its price. Obviously an economical supply and demand issue, obtaining good quality oil is getting harder to achieve.
The Javan’s have begun production of Cananga oil, a far less superior alternative by using flowers from C. odorata var. macrophylla, as flower production from the much more perfumed C. odorata (Annonaceae) starts to dissipate.
For every 1 kg of flowers that the cananga tree produces 20 ml of ylang ylang oil is extracted and a mature tree only produces 10-15 kg of flowers per year – resulting in a mere 250 ml each year.
Second, third and fourth distillations can happen extracting more oil and these are referred to as Ylang Ylang 1, 2 and 3 respectively. The first “press” is known as ‘extra’ much like EVOO.
What Ylang Ylang Variety to Use?
So, if you wanted to start making your own ylang ylang massage oil at home, how would you go about it? First, it starts with a tree – and not just any old cananga. As previously mentioned, the best variety for subtleness of perfume and quality characteristics is Cananga odorata (Annonaceae).
This tree produces smaller flowers and reduced yields compared to the Indonesian species but is of a far greater quality. And, it grows quickly, maturing within 10 years or less.
Once your tree is producing enough flowers to make it worthwhile you can begin thinking about how you're going to extract the essential oils from them. The best known method is via steam distillation.
Extracting Ylang Ylang Essential Oil
This process requires a steam distillation kit consisting of a few glass flasks, some rubber tubing, a method of heating (your gas stove may be adequate) and some plant material – namely your ylang ylang flowers.
The first vial contains water and sits on the stove or bunsen burner simmering away. The steam then passes into the second vial where the flowers are placed and it begins to “sweat” the flowers into giving up their essential oil.
The steam, mixed with the oils, then passes through a condenser tube effectively cooling the steam mixture until it begins to condensate. This process begins to turn the steam back to a liquid and the oils begin to solidify a little.
From there, the steam distillation process leads to the final point – where a separatory funnel is required. This final process separates the ylang ylang essential oil from the hydrosol (flower water) and gives you the final product.
This process can be used for a myriad of other plants including lavender, roses, jasmine and even some of your herbs.
Making Your Own Ylang Ylang Massage Oil
Once you have extracted the essential oils from the ylang ylang, massage oil creation is the final step.
The oil is a concentrated extract and needs to be mixed with other fat such as kukui nut oil, jojoba, almond oil or even Shea butter oil – which are often readily available at health & body shops. The ratio of mix is usually 6 teaspoons of “carrier oil” to 6 drops of essential oil.