One of the most fun jobs I’ve ever had is as a formulator. Blending raw ingredients to make genuine herbal products to find that perfect scent or healing blend actually enriches our space or helps ourselves or others; it never gets old and I doubt it ever will. There truly is an art and a music to the craft of pairing and blending essential oils. But the basics are not that difficult to pick up and master.
The Music of Essential Oils
A love of scents and herbs is really the first requirement of becoming an effective and creative formulator. There is an art and a craft to blending essential oils, one that is not too dissimilar to mastering any creative skill. Even if you think you don’t have a lot of creative bones in your body, passion for scents is just about all you truly need to get started in essential oil blending. And, the more you practice, the more you study about scents and blends, and the more you exchange ideas with those who have a similar interest, as well as share your blends and ask for feedback; the better you will become at blending.
And, for me, the most important rule I follow when starting a new blend, is to have a vividly clear mental picture of what I want the blend to do. Knowing exactly the purpose of the blend will instantly make you a much better formulator from the start. So, even if you think that you might want to make a formula based on lavender to help you sleep, think about the bigger picture, such as whether you just need something that helps induce sleep, or if you need an essential oil that is known to calm the mind as well.
If you need to help calm your mind, you might want to consider adding calming oils such as rosemary, sweet marjoram or Roman chamomile to your blend. Or, perhaps you have some pain, which is why you have difficulty falling asleep. You may want to include sweet marjoram, citronella, or basil essential oil.
And, from a cursory look, it seems that sweet marjoram might be a great choice for either blend, which, to me, seems like a great place to start. Now, a consideration is that lavender, chamomile, and marjoram are all “Middle Note” oils (explained below). So, you may want to find an oil that is a top note to help balance those middle notes out — you get the idea, yes?
So, having a clear idea of your intent will go a long way towards blends almost formulating themselves! It’s all about fun and health and healing and energizing our spaces, minds, and bodies, so don’t forget to have fun!
Okay, back to the technical stuff: In technical terms, essential oils are typically categorized in terms of musical notes. Most individual essential oils have a main note. Oils can have 2, or even all 3, but most aromatherapists agree that EO’s typically have one note that dominates. Here are the 3 Main Notes:
TOP NOTE: As you gather the INITIAL “Big Picture” of an essential oil, as you approach it and observe it from a distance, gathering your first impressions of an essential oil, all of this is referred to as the “top note” of the essential oil. Often, the Top Note can be fleeting; it can be what first hits your nose and then dissipates. If you think of this as the “spirit” of the note, you would have a good analogy to begin from.
MIDDLE NOTE: The middle note can be thought of as the main “body” of the note. It’s also often referred to as the “heart” of the essential oil. These notes typically last longer than Top Notes. On a test strip, the Middle Note scent will remain furtive for at least 1-2 hours, sometimes longer. Middle notes are key when working with aromatherapy blends that will be used in oil warmers or vaporizers.
BASE/LOW NOTE: These are just as you would think; they’re the foundation of an essential oil’s scent, often appearing after the Middle Note dissipates in an hour or two. If an oil is left out all day, or placed into something such as a scented sleep pillow, this is the essence of the scent that will linger for hours and often, for days. For items like bath and body products such as soaps and body washes, these are the scents that allow the scent to remain when products are made exclusively of essential oils.
And this might be a good time to mention fragrance oils: Fragrance oils consist of mostly synthetic scents intended to mimic natural scents as best they can. The downside to fragrance oils is that they are artificial, carrying no genuine scent or essences from the living plant.
The Balance of Essential Oils
Another key tool in your beginning toolbox is understanding the inherent strength and concentration of individual essential oils. The best way to learn this, I feel, is to dig right in with a few droppers and testing trays (which can be anything made of glass that you have around the house).
Take the oils you plan to work with, let’s say that you’re going to make a relaxing evening blend of oils to help melt the stress of your day away, but you don’t want to get too relaxed. One of my favorite blends is lavender, sandalwood, and peppermint.
Lavender is renowned for promoting a sense of calm and relaxation. When used in meditation, it promotes feelings of clarity and may help intensify intuition. Lavender is also often used because it is known for helping to ease feelings of anger or frustration. Sandalwood is lesser known as a powerful relaxant and stress reducer, partly because it is most-often associated with meditation because it helps support feelings of peace and inner tranquility. Sandalwood, like lavender, is also known to intensify intuition.
So far, we’ve got two powerful relaxers that are also known for their ability to help calm and clarify the mind. But, if we’ve got stuff we still need to accomplish, perhaps a dash of energy would be appropriate, which is why the unlikely choice of peppermint. Peppermint is one of those sneaky scents that are widely used in aromatherapy blends without most people realizing. Peppermint, when used sparingly, will change the overall characteristic of the blend without making it minty.
In aromatherapy, peppermint is known for its aphrodisiac effects! That can be a potent energy booster when carefully added to a blend. But, it’s also used because it promotes a calm mind and sharper mental focus. I’ve also found it to be a perfect accompaniment to both meditation blends and relaxation blends.
But, peppermint can be extremely overbearing in blends, and this is where the balance of essential oils is key to our understanding of making effective blends. If we simply added 10 drops of each oil to our relaxation blend, it would end up smelling like peppermint and little else. What would likely be more effective and balanced for this blend, is 10 drops of lavender, 5 drops of sandalwood, and 1 drop of peppermint.
Sandalwood is quite expensive and quite rare these days, but it’s also a potent scent. Even though we’re using varying amounts of each oil, when we blend the oils together and diffuse the scent into the air or add it to a relaxing massage oil, we find that it is a perfect balance of the 3 scents, almost creating a new single scent with very noticeable effects.
Trust Your Intuition
Remember to have fun and to rely on your senses, rather than endless charts and books and guides on how to blend essential oils. Know what each oil does, and then experiment, explore, and discover the inner formulator you didn’t know was there, inside each one of us.
When you blend your first two oils together, take time to inhale the new aroma. Take a break. Come back to it in a few minutes. Make a test blend of perhaps 30 drops total, placing a few drops in a vaporizer or oil warmer. Place a few drops on a piece of paper. Notice what the scent is like just after blending, and then in 5 minutes, and 30 minutes from your initial blend.
You will be surprised at the things you will notice. And, you may find parings that create a new, almost single scent that you may then use as a base for other blends. Peppermint, for example, dissipates quite quickly. When we smell the drops we placed on paper in 30 minutes, it will have a scent of lavender with some notes of sandalwood, as the peppermint will have dissipated.
Aromatherapy is a powerful means of altering our moods and emotions, and is not new age mumbo jumbo. Aromatherapy also dates back to ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian times. Scents can activate memories, stir up latent or deeply buried emotions, and can have very tangible effects on both our bodies and minds. And, one of my favorite things about essential oils is that they provide us with a direct connection to Mother Nature and our origins.
So, be mindful of these connections while you’re formulating and pairing, and you will be a better formulator. Take the knowledge embedded into our genetic coding, and feel the connection to the plants and your states of mind.
Some Basic Mechanics
01. HOW MUCH OIL?: This is perhaps the most-often asked question I get at EOX and at Florapathics. As a general rule of thumb, formulators use between 25-30 drops of essential oil per 1/2 ounce of carrier oil for their blends.
02. HOW TO BALANCE?: Lighter, thinner oils are typically more aromatic (more volatile) than heavier oils that pour from their containers more slowly. It’s important to craft blends that use both yin and yang; a lighter note with a heavier note to balance the blend. This is not a had and fast rule, but when starting out, your blends will be more complex and more appreciated by your mind and body when they are balanced.
03. HOW TO STORE?: As you might suspect, it’s best to keep essential oils out of sunlight. Amber bottles are best for essential oils, with at least a small amount of air space so the oil can breathe without oxidizing. Even the best storage techniques, away from any light and direct heat source, oils will lose some of their original brilliance and clarity within 6-9 months. I have oils on the shelf from 2 years ago, and they are still quite scented, but they definitely have lost some noticeable character. So, blend in small batches and waste as little oil as possible.
04. LESS IS MORE: Always start out conservative with essential oils. Look for any precautionary statements regarding how much an oil needs to be diluted for safety. Some oils can easily irritate skin when used at full strength, so always conduct a test by applying a drop of the oil you plan to use to the underside of your forearm, or on your upper thigh if you’ve got shorts or a skirt on.
05. USE GLASS EVERYTHING: Metals can react with essential oils, so it’s best to never use any metal anywhere in the process of working with essential oils. This means no steel spoons to stir your blends, no steel containers to hold them, and no steel pans or whisks or blades or anything metal to come in contact with your oil. Glass stir rods are easy to find, as are glass bottles.
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TABLE OF ESSENTIAL OIL NOTES
Please know that this table is simply a starting point for you. These category assignments are not hard and fast rules; they are just what’s been generally agreed upon by experts in the field of aromas. Most oils have a single category, but some do ease into a second one. For those, there is a “+” sign.
|Basil (+ Middle)
|Bergamot (+ Middle)
|Cassia (+ Middle)
|Cinnamon (+ Middle)
|Clary Sage (+ Middle)
|Coriander (+ Middle)
|Fennel (+ Top)
|Ginger (+ Middle)
|Hyssop (+ Middle)
|Hyssop (+ Top)
|Neroli (+ Top)
|Lemongrass (+ Middle)
|Lavender (+ Top)
|Neroli (+ Middle)
|Melissa (+ Top)
|Rosewood (+ Middle)
|Ylang Ylang (+ Middle)
|Tea Tree (+ Middle)
|Thyme (+ Middle)
Use this table as a general reference when beginning, but I encourage you to create your own chart. As Buddha said; “Until you make my teachings your own, you will have learned nothing.” This could be applied to the creation of your own chart of essential oils. Experiment. Trust what your senses are telling you. And most of all; have fun!
Lastly, all opinions expressed on this blog and website are my own, formed through decades of personal and commercial experience with herbs. This article is for informational purposes only and the information contained within is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. Always consult your primary care physician or other health or mental health care professional before making any decisions that may affect your health and well-being.