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 you can categorize essential oils. The first one is by the aroma of the oil and the second way is by the aromatic note of the oil. I’ll discuss both ways and give some examples as I go.
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 what each oil is in, in both ways of categorization. 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. 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. 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. 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
My Final Remarks
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 heal the mind and body.
At some point I will be talking more about blending and 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.
Thanks for reading!