Ylang-ylang essential oil is distilled from the bright yellow flowers of the exotic Cananga odorata tree. This native of Indonesia and the Philippines is revered for its supposed aphrodisiac properties. An important constituent of many perfume blends, ylang-ylang’s heady fragrance has been described as delicately floral, with hints of jasmine, tropical fruit and custard.
Traditionally, petals of this tropical forest flower were scattered across the marriage beds of young couples in recognition of ylang-ylang’s perceived aphrodisiac qualities. When used topically, ylang-ylang is believed to offer relief from acne and oily skin, while aromatherapy uses have typically focused on relaxation. It is believed to help relieve anxiety and depression.
Modern research suggests that ylang-ylang essential oil helps lower blood pressure and promote stress relief. For example, Thai researchers evaluated the effects of ylang-ylang essential oil on healthy volunteers. During the placebo-controlled trial, subjects’ heart rates and blood pressure were monitored. Test subjects also described their subjective impressions regarding feelings of alertness, attentiveness, mood, relaxation and vigor.
Rather than inducing relaxation or sedation, most subjects reported feeling attentive and alert, but calm, while inhaling ylang-ylang. At the same time, researchers documented significant drops in subjects’ blood pressure and heart rates. Investigators concluded that ylang-ylang essential oil induces a state of “harmonization” rather than relaxation or sedation. In essence, they reported, ylang-ylang helps lower blood pressure, while inducing a state of calm attentiveness.
The same research team, with the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Srinakharinwirot University, Thailand, also evaluated the effects of ylang-ylang essential oil when applied to the skin. Investigators examined physiological effects, such as changes in heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature and breathing rate, among volunteers who applied either ylang-ylang oil, or an inactive placebo oil, to the skin.
Subjects who applied ylang-ylang oil reported feeling more relaxed than subjects in the control group. Objective changes were also significant. Subjects who absorbed ylang-ylang essential oil through the skin experienced significant drops in blood pressure and increases in skin temperature, compared to control subjects who did not receive the essential oil.
Investigators speculated that these findings suggest that ylang-ylang has a relaxing effect on humans. The results support the use of ylang-ylang oil in aromatherapy to promote relief from stress and/or depression, the researchers concluded.