The fame of Ylang Ylang (cananga odorata) started in Bali, Indonesia. The fragrant, pale yellow petals of ylang ylang were traditionally used to decorate and perfume the nuptial bed.
The flowers and their oil were used as an antidepressant, aphrodisiac, treatment for impotence, to reduce sexual anxieties, and for calming.
Ylang ylang evokes feelings of deep, languid calm that melt away anxiety, tension and stress.
The ylang ylang (pronounced lang lang and e-lang e-lang) tree grows in low-lying tropical areas of several countries stretching from India southwards and eastwards to the northern parts of Australia.
Ylang ylang is known by different names in different countries, however it is from the Tagalog language of the Philippines that the tree came to be known as ylang ylang, or more correctly álang álang, a Tagalog term meaning "flower of flowers". The flowers have a very pleasant, sweet and relaxing smell.
Cananga odorata is just one of about 130 genera contained within the large botanical family of tropical plants, shrubs and trees, the Annonaceae.
It is quite a large tropical evergreen tree, growing to 20 meters high is often planted as an ornamental tree because of the shade it gives and the attractive aroma of its flowers.
The dark green leaves are arranged alternately on the twigs, they are about 10 cm long, 4 cm wide with wavy margins.
The flowers have six narrow petals and may be yellow, white or mauve, in colour. The yellow, starfish-shaped flowers are produced year-round. Small green fruits are formed after the flowers.
The flowers possess the oil and because the they attract night-flying moths, the flowers are usually harvested after dusk or in the early morning when their oil is highest.
The flowers are distilled in steam and the first fraction of oil produced (about 35 - 40% of the total) is considered to be the best quality, this first fraction is called ylang-ylang extra.
As distillation continues a second fraction simply called "ylang ylang" is taken, finally a third fraction is collected which is of a lower grade, this is often sold as "cananga oil" and is used commercially to perfume many household products.
Some distillers do not fractionate the oil, in which case it is known as a complete oil.
For skin care, ylang ylang has been used to treat eczema, blemishes, oily skin, irritation associated with insect stings or bites.
Ylang ylang oil is thought to promote hair appearance and was a constituent of macassar, a popular hair oil extensively used in Victorian England.
Ylang ylang has also been used to calm persons and help reduce stress-related conditions such as anxiety, rapid breathing, rapid heart beat (tachycardia) and high blood pressure. It has been used to calm aggressive dogs.