Talking about essential oils and aromas can get tricky. How do you describe a scent to someone who has never smelled it?
One of the best ways Aromatherapists have found to describe a scent is to create “families” or “categories” of similar aromas, and to come up with words that describe the families.
So we have words like “camphoraceous.” We use it to describe essential oils like Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) and Rosemary (Rosemary ct. camphor). “Camphoraceous” is that clean, sharp, slightly medicinal smell you notice when you inhale these essential oils.
Some oils fall into more than one scent family/category. White Spruce (Picea glauca) is camphoraceous, but you can probably imagine it’s got strong notes of pine in there too! Aromatherapists call that aroma “piney” (creative, I know!).
Sometimes aromas can show up in oils where you wouldn’t expect to find them. Spike Lavender (Lavandula latifolia) has a familiar floral note, but it’s also got a noticeable camphoraceous note.
Here are a few more words to help you get a feel for how to describe a scent:
Balsamic — A balsamic scent is deep and sweet, like vanilla, with tones that might remind you of balsamic vinegar. (You might only notice the balsamic aspect at the edge of the aroma, so smell it right after you smell balsamic vinegar and you will notice the similarity!)
Citrus — This one’s pretty easy to get . . . it smells like fruit! Lemon and Lime are examples.
Herbaceous — Herbaceous oils are pungent and herbal, with high fresh aspects. Imagine walking through a field in spring, full of new life, and rubbing an aromatic leaf between your fingers. Examples are Marjoram and Rosemary.
Earthy — Earthy aromas smell like the earth after it’s rained. They bring to mind damp soil and living things on a forest floor. Vetiver and Patchouli are good examples.
Woody — Another simpler aroma to recognize—these oils smell like wood! Examples are Sandalwood and Cedarwood.
A book that explores the language and characteristics of aromas in depth is Listening to Scent by Jennifer Peace Rhind. I highly recommend it! We also talk about it in Aromahead’s FREE class, the Introduction to Essential Oils. In the free class, we cover the nuances of top, middle, and base notes, and how to use this understanding to create blends.
It is so much fun to sit with your essential oils in front of you and categorize them according to scent. (Yes . . . I am an “aroma head”!) When you see your oils grouped by family, and see which ones fit into more than one family, you can get all kinds of ideas for new blends.
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