EO Extras

How to Categorize Essential Oils – 2 Ways You Can Do It

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Last Updated on November 4, 2020 by Lynn

I find it quite interesting that each essential oil can be put into a category. This helps you when you are ready to start blending oils. There are actually two ways I’ve found that you can categorize essential oils. The first one is by the aroma of the oil and the second is by the aromatic note of the oil. I’ll discuss both ways and give some examples as I go.
glass bottles flowers


Categorizing essential oils becomes very useful when you want to use oils for specific purposes. You can blend them together to get the benefits of several oils. So it’s important to know which category each oil is in. Let’s start with the scent category. There are 6 basic families of scent. Some information I’ve come across have a few more, but most oils will fit into one of the 6 families. There may be some that would fit into more.

  • CITRUS – This family, as you can probably guess, is made up of citrus fruits. They smell clean and fruity, with maybe a bit of sour in there. You can usually identify these easily, because of their citrus aroma. They are fresh, uplifting oils. Examples would be Orange(Sweet Orange), Lemon, Lime, Tangerine, Grapefruit, Bergamot, Mandarin, and Lemongrass
  • FLORAL – This family smells like the fragrance of the flowers they come from. They smell sweet and rich and can smell powdery. These oils include Lavender, Rose, Geranium, Ylang Ylang, Jasmine, Neroli (this can also be citrus), Vanilla, and Helichrysum
  • HERBAL – These smell as if you were walking through an herb garden. They have a sharp, pungent scent. They are mostly extracted from their leaves. Some examples of Herbal oils would be Basil, Thyme, Marjoram, Rosemary, Clary Sage, and Oregano
  • SPICY – These scents are more intense than the Herbal. They have a warm, sweeter smell. cloves on tree image Spicy examples would be Cinnamon Bark, Ginger, Black Pepper, Cardamom, Clove, Nutmeg, Cumin, and Aniseed.
  • WOODY This scent family are made up of wood oils with rich, woody, nutty smells. They are extracted from leaves, needles and woods. They are grounding and stabilizing oils. Some examples would be Cedarwood, Juniper, Sandalwood, Fir Needle, Pine, Myrrh, Frankincense, Juniper, and Cypress.
  • EARTHY – The Earthy oil family is similar to the Woody family in that they have grounding and calming properties. These oils have dirt and soil scents that smell of earth and thick, heavy forest. These are deep, rich aromas that last for hours. The oils in this family include Patchouli, Vetiver, Valerian, Oak Moss, and Angelica Root.
  • CAMPHORACEOUS/MEDICINAL – The oils in this family are clean, clear, invigorating, pure and intense. These are used for the respiratory system to open the airways and also to improve circulation. They also have strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. These oils include Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Rosemary, Tea Tree (Melaleuca), Cajuput, and Laurel Leaf.
  • RESINOUS – This family of oils comes from tree resin, thus the name Resinous. When these trees become injured from various reasons, they heal themselves by producing a resin that covers the injury. sweet myrrh resin Resin is a thick, sticky substance. These oils are steam distilled and some are solvent extracted from the resin. The scent from these are similar to the Woody oil family; rich, warm and woody. Included in this Oil Family are Frankincense, Myrrh, Benzoin, and Elemi.


Another way to categorize essential oils is by their aromatic note. The words “Aromatic Note” (given by Aromatherapists) come from the rate of evaporation an oil has, from the most volatile to the least volatile. Volatility influences the shelf life and the fragrance of the oil. This Aromatic Note category consists of three ‘notes’; Top Note, Middle Note and Base Note. We’ll discuss each note and give examples of oils in that Note. Some oil fragrances can have more than one note, creating a richer experience.

TOP NOTE – These are oils evaporate quickly and are the first thing you smell. The fragrance is light, fresh, and penetrating. Usually they are derived from leaves, flowers and flowering herbs. Top notes clear the mind, and are uplifting and stimulating and can be used for depression, lethargy, fatigue and focus.

They have the ability to effect the emotions. In an oil blend, they are the first ones to stimulate and start the healing process. They make up between 5%-30% of a blend. Shelf-life for these oils is 1-3 years. Some top note oils include Eucalyptus, Basil, Tea Tree, Bergamot, Rosemary, Peppermint, Grapefruit, Orange, Lemon, Roman Chamomile, and Juniper.

MIDDLE NOTE – Middle Note oils sometimes are called heart notes, because they are harder to detect and make up between 50% – 80% of a blend and also known as the body. When the top note starts to wear off, the middle note becomes more prominent, usually 20-60 minutes after starting diffuser or applying. These oils mainly come from the Spicy and Herbal family. ginger root image Middle Notes give balance physically and energetically, helping the digestive and cardio-vascular systems. They sooth and harmonize the body and mind. The shelf-life for these oils is between 3-5 years. Their fragrance lasts an hour or two, then you start smelling the Base Note along with the Top and Middle. Some examples of Middle Notes are Oregano, Black Pepper, Lavender, Marjoram, Thyme, Ginger, Peppermint, Chamomile, Clove, Geranium, Ylang Ylang, and Jasmine.

BASE NOTE – Base Notes last the longest, but still have hints of the Top and Middle Notes. They are from the Floral, Woody, and Resinous families, having an earthy aroma. They have a deep, calming and grounding quality. The heavy aroma of these oils rise up slowly. These Notes are good for nervousness, erratic behavior and flighty feelings.

They also work with chronic conditions, helping the mental state these conditions can cause, i.e.,stress, anxiety and insomnia, and also help to make us feel safe as we go through these traumatic journeys. Base Notes make up 5% – 20% of a blend. The shelf-life of Base Notes is from 6-8 years or longer. Oils in this group include Frankincense, Patchouli, Vetiver, Myrrh, Cedarwood, Cinnamon Bark, Sandalwood, Neroli, Ylang Ylang, and Pine


I hope this helped you understand how to categorize essential oils. It’s amazing to understand that they were created to work together in the healing of our minds and bodies. When you learn to categorize essential oils, you’ll be able not only to use them singularly but also as a blend to create a greater experience as they work together to help bring healing.

Check out my post about blending and find out which ones blend well together. I hope you enjoyed reading about essential oil categories and you’ll come back and see what else I have to bring to you. If you liked what you read, please leave me a comment and let me know.

As always, thanks for reading!



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10 thoughts on “How to Categorize Essential Oils – 2 Ways You Can Do It

  1. Lynn, what a beautiful site, full of wit and great insights. Do you have some favorite brands? There are so much synthetic products circulating. Thank you for adding them. Would be a great asset

    1. Hey, Thanks for your comments. Yes there are some brands I like more than others. I do like Plant Therapy and they are a good company. I will be adding these to my site soon. Come back again to see what I add…..

    1. Sidney,
      They’re great, aren’t they? That sounds like a good combination. I have yet to use a roller. I make my own inhaler with Patchouli, lavender and Ylang Ylang to deal with anxiety issues that I have. It really does help… Thanks for your comment!!

  2. Hi and thanks for this interesting layout.

    The first time I read about the aromatherapy specifications. It is very interesting I think.

    So if I would want to mix my own perfume or aroma oil I’d best want to mix a part of all three aromatic notes right?

    What do you think works best in a family house that already is very harmonic but might need some stimulus sometimes?

    1. Hey, Stefan…
      In answer to your questions, yes, it is better to use all three because you will get the benefits of each one and they work together to bring you better results. Plus, some notes last longer than others thus prolonging the benefits. If you want the best results, use all 3 notes. For stimulating oils, the best would be citrus, such as Grapefruit, Lime, Orange. Then you can use minty oils like peppermint, and eucalyptus. Herbal oils like Basil and Thyme can be added to them. Use them in a diffuser by adding a couple drops of grapefruit with a drop of lime and peppermint. Diffuse for a few hours. You can also put them on a cottonball and just inhale. I hope this helps. Thanks for reading my post. Come back soon….

  3. Very informative article on essential oils. I have used them on and off for years and know that they have many health benefits. I have learned quite a bit here, and will use this new knowledge in my own health quest. Thanks for sharing. Tom

  4. This article is an eye opener for me! I didn’t know essential oils can actually be classified like these. My favourite are the citrus scents, followed by woody.
    The section on aromatic note is so useful and informative. I’m going to try the top notes, for healing.
    Thank you!

    1. So glad this helped you to understand more about them. I did not realize about the classifications until I was learning about them. Yes, I do like the citrus, too. I especially like the sweet orange. It is very uplifting. The top notes help when you blend them. I’m gonna talk more about that at some point. Thanks for your comment.

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