In my blog post about naturals (Part 1), I talked briefly about distillation. Distillation is the process whereby we get nearly all of our essential oils, cold-process being the other method that is used for citrus oils. In many cases, distillation begins at the beginning and continues to the end with temperatures and timing strictly controlled for highest quality and to yield a blend of desirable constituents. Various combinations of distillation techniques may be used to adjust oils, remove undesirable components, and otherwise produce a desirable and commercial product.
In the case of the ylang ylang flower, the distillation process is interrupted at very particular times to yield different products. The distillation of ylang ylang is an example of fractional distillation. By timing the distillation carefully, four different fractions can be separately created. Generally referred to as ylang ylang extra, ylang ylang I, II and III they are quite different in fragrance with the extra being quite sweet and ethereal for perfumery while the 3rd is more suited to making soaps, the other fractions are less commonly used. Over the course of about 24 hours, distillers interrupt the process and pull off each fraction separate from the others. During the first 1 to 2 hours the essential oil is collected and separated as the ‘Extra’. Using experience, fragrance, and specific gravity measurements distillers remove the other fractions in their time. Or, distillers may simply continue the distillation uninterrupted to create the ‘complete’ which is sometimes referred to as ylang ylang VOP or Very Old Process.
With six fragrant petals that transition from greenish-yellow to deep yellow with bright pink centers when mature, the ylang ylang tree is highly fragrant in a purely tropical way. The tree is generally kept pruned to 10 ft for flower harvest but a mature, fully grown tree has long drooping branches that create a muted green chamber underneath. A warm, humid summer day releases a fragrance that is softly floral, uplifting, and yet slightly creamy. It’s pretty much heaven to be able to stand under one and just breathe.
Ylang ylang is one of the flowers that can be distilled, often in lower capacity stills with a small charge to avoid damaging flowers. Distillation may last up to 24 hours and results in different fractions: extra, ylang ylang I, ylang ylang II, ylang ylang III, or a full distillation results in ylang ylang complete. To produce the different fractions the distillation is stopped at various stages depending on specific gravity indicative of each fraction. Rather than conducting a full distillation, sometimes the complete is produced by combining the less popular first and second fractions. You will want to use a trusted vendor and check if your complete is associated with the letters VOP which stands for ‘very old process’ and indicates a single long distillation. The extra is the very first product that comes over in the distillation. There is also a ylang ylang absolute produced by solvent extraction.