8 Essential Oil Aroma Families

If you have started collecting essential oils, there may come a time when you want to experiment with making your own blends. Maybe you even want to try making your own perfume.

The best way to learn is to just start blending and sniffing your results. Take good notes so you can replicate the blends that turn out well.

It can be helpful though to approach blending with some background knowledge about the aroma families that essential oils belong to. When you choose oils that have complementary scents, you will have a headstart in creating amazing smelling blends.

In this article, we will cover eight aroma families and what essential oils belong in each category.

You will find some discrepancy on this subject among various sources. Some people separate minty oils from camphoraceous oils, or group the woody and earthy families together. I have chosen to separate woody and earthy oils as they do not smell that similar to me. I have grouped camphoraceous and minty oils as they are more similar.

Some oils have complex aromas that make their classification somewhat subjective. Take this guide as a starting point.

Usually the discrepancies between sources are minor, and since the purpose in classifying oils by aroma is mostly as a helpful tool for blending don’t let the differences trip you up.

And before we dive in, one last thing to remember is that oils in the same aroma family will have some similarities with each other, so we can make some generalizations about their aroma and usage. Yet, every oil is different so there are always exceptions to every generalization. The more you study oils, the more familiar you will become with the particular uses and scents of individual oils.

The eight aroma families of essential oils are:

Citrus, Floral, Camphoraceous/Minty, Resinous, Earthy, Woody, Spicy, and Herbaceous.

What follows are descriptions of the categories and a selection of oils found in each category as examples.

For more information about usage, I have linked to the oil’s profile on my site (where there is one, so far!).

  1. Citrus

The citrus family is an easy place to start because for most of us, it is pretty obvious which oils belong in this category. Familiar scents like lemon, grapefruit and orange are included.

Citrus oils tend to have a bright and clean aroma. This makes them popular in cleaning products and deodorizing blends. Their aromas are also generally uplifting and energizing.

Many citrus oils have a low to moderate odor intensity and are top notes, meaning their scent is mild and fades fairly quickly. Blending them with base note oils can help their scent to last longer.

Citrus oils blend well with oils from pretty much any other family, but especially the woody, camphoraceous, spicy, or floral families.

Lemon

Aroma: fresh, citrus, sharp, clean, fruity, sweet, smells like lemon peels

Odor Intensity: Moderate

Blending Note: Top

Blends well with: Lavender, Neroli, Ylang ylang, Sandalwood, Chamomile, Benzoin, Fennel, Geranium, Eucalyptus, Juniper, Elemi, and other citrus oils.

Lemon is certainly one of the more popular essential oils. This oil smells a lot like ripe lemons since the oil is actually pressed from the peels of lemons. Lemon is popular in DIY cleaning products.

Read more: Lemon Essential Oil Profile

Sweet Orange

Aroma: sweet, light, like orange peels, tangy, fruity, somewhat warm

Odor Intensity: Moderate-mild

Blending note: Top

Blends well with: Lavender, Neroli, Clary Sage, Myrrh, other citrus oils, spice oils

Sweet orange essential oil is a favorite of mine. It smells sweet and has an uplifting scent. Sweet orange is wonderful in fall and winter diffuser blends, and I love it blended with warming spicy oils.

Grapefruit

Aroma: Fresh, both bitter and sweet, warm, slightly floral, fruity

Odor Intensity: Moderate

Blending Note: Top

Blends well with: Palmarosa, Bergamot, Rosemary, Geranium, other citrus oils, and spice oils.

Grapefruit is another deliciously fruity smelling oil. This oil is uplifting but I find it really shines when you blend it with at least one other citrus oil.

Read more: Grapefruit Essential Oil profile

Mandarin

Aroma: sweet, tangy, citrus, slightly floral, fresh, mild

Odor intensity: Mild

Blending Note: Top

Blends well with: Basil, Lavender, Chamomile, Sweet marjoram, other citrus oils, spice oils

Mandarin is a beautifully scented oil that is great in blends for kids (or adults) who have trouble sleeping.

Bergamot

Aroma: fresh, sweet, fruity, citrus with notes of spice and floral, smells like Earl Grey tea

Odor Intensity: Mild

Blending Note: Top

Blends well with: Lavender, Neroli, Jasmine, Cypress, Geranium, Chamomile, Juniper, other citrus oils. Like lavender, this oil is one that goes well with almost any other oil.

Bergamot is one of those essential oils you see mentioned often, but you might not have it in your collection. Yet it would be a shame to not have this delightful oil around.

This oil comes from the gnarly looking bergamot fruit. It is often combined with more woodsy and masculine scents. Use it as part of a men’s cologne blend.

Read more: Bergamot Essential Oil profile

Lemongrass

Aroma: strong, fresh, lemony aroma with grassy, herbaceous tones

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Top

Blends well with: Geranium, Bergamot, Lavender, Cedarwood, other citrus oils, herbaceous oils.

While not a citrus fruit, lemongrass has a strong lemony scent, which puts it in this aroma family. Lemongrass has many uses in aromatherapy such as for muscle pain and as an anti-fungal.

Read more: Lemongrass Essential Oil profile

Lime

Aroma: sharp, sweet, fruity, fresh, like lime peels (note: this oil comes cold pressed from the peels as well as steam distilled from the whole fruit and odors will be slightly different)

Odor Intensity:  High

Blending Note: Top

Blends well with: Neroli, Lavender, Rosemary, Clary sage, Citronella, and other citrus oils.

Lime is a great oil in diffuser blends for it energizing and uplifting aroma. It also is beautiful combined with lemon in a natural household cleaner.  Less well known is its astringent effects on skin.

Read more: Lime Essential Oil profile

  1. Floral

If you are wanting to experiment with perfumery, floral is definitely an aroma family to get to know. Many popular fragrances include floral components.

Floral oils go well with woody, spicy, and citrus oils.

Geranium

Aroma: Complex rose, green, floral, earthy and sweet tones, rich, sweet

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Middle

Blends well with: Lavender, Clary Sage, Basil, Jasmine, Rose, and citrus oils

Geranium essential oil has a pretty, floral scent but be careful, it can easily overpower a blend. It is often combined with other floral scents in blends. Its benefits include balancing out hormones and it is found in essential oil blends to help with mental health, such as anxiety and depression.

Read more: Geranium Essential Oil profile

Jasmine

Aroma: Sweet, floral, exotic, rich, warm, intense, with tones of tea

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Base

Blends well with: Rose, Sandalwood, Clary Sage, Bergamot, Ylang ylang, Neroli, Palmarosa, and citrus oils

Jasmine essential oil comes from the large white flowers of the jasmine plant. Jasmine is used in many floral essential oil blends, helping with things like depression, uterine conditions, and working as an aphrodisiac. It is a very expensive oil, so it often comes prediluted in a carrier oil to keep costs down.

Lavender

Aroma: Fresh, floral, sweet, with tones of camphor, herbs, powder, balsam, and spice

Odor Intensity: Moderate

Blending Note: Top/Middle

Blends well with: Clary Sage, Geranium, Rose, Bergamot, Patchouli, Rosemary, Cedarwood, Clove, Pine, citrus oils. Lavender blends well with almost any other oil.

Although it is a love it or hate it oil, lavender is probably one of the most popular essential oils out there. The reason is not just the fragrance of lavender, but its wide range of health and beauty benefits.

The aroma of lavender oils can vary depending on where in the world the lavender was grown. Some smell more green and herbaceous while others will have a sweeter floral aroma.

Read more: Lavender Essential Oil profile

Rose

Aroma: Intense, sweet, floral, like rose petals

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Middle/Base

Blends well with: Jasmine, Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Patchouli, other floral oils, citrus oils

Rose is a beautiful floral oil that smells, well, like roses. It can be cost prohibitive for many but rose can be used to help with women’s issues and as an antidepressant. Rose blends well with other florals such as geranium, but also works with woody or earthy scents.

Neroli

Aroma: Sweet, light, floral, warm, slightly spicy and fruity

Odor Intensity: Moderate-Strong

Blending Note: Top/Middle

Blends well with: Geranium, Lavender, Rose, Jasmine, citrus oils. Neroli blends well with many oils.

Neroli comes from the blossoms of the orange tree and is popular in perfumery. It is both floral and citrusy and is wonderful aromatherapeutically for sadness and grief as well as in skin care preparations.

Ylang Ylang

Aroma: Sweet, syrupy, floral, intense, creamy, rich, floral, a bit spicy

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Middle/Base

Blends well with: Bergamot, Jasmine, Orange, Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Rose, other florals, citrus oils

The last floral family scent on the list is ylang ylang. This oil is extracted from the star-shaped flowers of the ylang ylang tree. It is wonderful for beauty and health, including helping to promote relaxation and improve your skin and hair. This oil has a powerful sweet scent and a little goes a long way in a blend.

  1. Earthy

With earthy scents, we get more into love it or hate it territory. Some people adore the smells of wet earth and others of us don’t. Earthy oils tend to be base notes and some are quite powerful. When blending with them, start with small amounts and work your way up.

Earthy scents are popular in masculine fragrances, as base notes in perfumes, and for home cleaning products.

Earthy oils combine well with camphoraceous and woody oils.

Patchouli

Aroma: musky, earthy, musty, with herbaceous and floral tones. Older oils have more vanilla notes.

Odor Intensity:Moderate-Strong

Blending Note: Base

Blends well with: Vetiver, Cedarwood, Geranium, Lavender, Rose, Neroli, Clary Sage, and citrus oils

Perhaps more than any other oil, people either love or hate patchouli. Some people call it the hippy fragrance, as it was popular in the 60’s.  It has a strong aroma but makes a good base note in men’s or unisex perfumes.

Patchouli is one oil that improves with age, and aged patchouli takes on a rich, slightly floral, warm and sweet vanilla tone. If you make perfumes you need a little patchouli in your cabinet, even if the smell on its own is not your thing.

Vetiver

Aroma: sweet, heavy, wet soil, roots and earth

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Base/Fixative

Blends well with: Lavender, Patchouli, Clary Sage, Sandalwood

Vetiver is another essential oil with an earthy aroma. Vetiver has hints of citrus and resin in its aroma profile. This is a calming and grounding scent and also works well as a fixative in perfumery.

Carrot Seed

Aroma: woody, pungent, dry, roots, slightly herbaceous and spicy

Odor Intensity: Moderate-Strong

Blending Note: Middle

Blends well with: Geranium, Cedarwood, citrus oils, spice oils

Carrot seed oil is distilled from the seed of the Wild Carrot plant. It has a warm, earthy scent and is a grounding and relaxing oil. It is more loved for its skin care benefits though than its aroma. It tones complexions, reduces redness and stimulates cell rejuvenation.

Read more: Carrot Seed Essential oil profile

  1. Resinous

Resinous oils are often found in blends for meditation and relaxation. As the name implies, they come from the resins of trees and shrubs.

Resinous oils tend to blend well with citrus and floral oils.

Frankincense

Aroma: spicy, sweet, woody, balsamic, warm

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Base/Fixative

Blends well with: Patchouli, Myrrh, Sandalwood, Lavender, Pine, Vetiver, Geranium, Basil, citrus oils, floral oils

Frankincense comes from the Boswellia tree and is very popular in aromatherapy. It works well blended with many other oils but is also popularly combined with myrrh. The latter no doubt due to it being part of the three gifts of the wise men.

Read more: Frankincense Essential Oil profile

Myrrh

Aroma: spicy, warm, slightly earthy and woody, balsamic

Odor intensity: Strong

Blending note: Base

Blends well with: Frankincense, Lavender, Sandalwood, Benzoin, Cypress, Juniper, Mandarin, Patchouli, Rose, Lemon, Bergamot

Aside from being one of the gifts of the wise men, Myrrh is famous for being used by Queen Esther in the Bible as a beauty treatment. This would have not been an essential oil, but likely myrrh resin infused in an oil such as olive oil.

Benzoin

Aroma: vanilla, sweet, warm

Odor Intensity: Mild

Blending note: Base

Blends well with: Bergamot, Cypress, Juniper, Lavender, Myrrh, Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Frankincense, Lemon, Rose, Orange

Benzoin is sometimes overlooked as an essential oil, but this resin is good for respiratory conditions, skin care, and for emotional support in stress, anxiety and depression. It’s lovely vanilla aroma makes it useful in perfumery.

Read more: Benzoin Essential Oil profile

  1. Woody

There are quite a few popular oils that fall into the woody family of aromas. Some are obvious, because we know them as trees (e.g. fir) while others have the word “wood” right in the name (e.g. cedarwood).

Like citrus, woody oils blend well with most other aroma families, but go particularly well with camphoraceous, herbal, floral, spicy, and citrus oils.

Sandalwood

Aroma: soft, woody, a little balsamic and sweet, warm

Odor Intensity: Moderate

Blending Note: Fixative/Base

Blends well with: Geranium, Vetiver, Bergamot, Lavender

Sandalwood is an elegant essential oil prized in perfumery. This oil is extracted from sandalwood trees, the older the better as the aroma is typically stronger.

It is steam distilled from the wood from trees as young as 30 years old, but those 80 years old or older are preferred. Of course, this means it is in danger of being depleted since once harvested, it takes decades for a new tree to take its place. Ensure you are buying from shops that supply ethically sourced Sandalwood.

Fir

Aroma: fresh, pine, forest, rich, a little resinous and balsamic

Odor intensity: Moderate

Blending Note: Top

Blends well with: Rosemary, Lavandin, Pine, Juniper, Patchouli, citrus oils

Fir or fir needle essential oils are popular in Christmas and holiday blends for obvious reasons. These oils have a fresh scent, so it smells a little lighter than other woody aromas in this list. There are several varieties of fir including Douglas Fir, Siberian Fir, and Balsam Fir.

Cedarwood

Aroma:  balsamic, sweet, warm, slightly camphoraceous, dry

Odor Intensity: Moderate-mild

Blending note: Base

Blends well with: Juniper, Clary Sage, Vetiver, Rosemary, Patchouli, Bergamot, Cypress, Jasmine, Frankincense, Ylang ylang

This is a lovely and versatile woody essential oil. Cedarwood essential oil can be used for its woody scent in masculine blends  and is also popular combined with rosemary for helping with hair growth.

Varieties of cedarwood include Atlas and Himalayan Cedarwood. Virginia Cedarwood is also a woody oil but is from the Juniper family.

Read more: Cedarwood Essential Oil profile

Cypress

Aroma:  Fresh, spicy, sweet, balsamic, smoky, slightly nutty

Odor Intensity: Moderate-mild

Blending Note: Middle

Blends well with: Juniper, Bergamot, Pine, Cedarwood, Lavender, Clary Sage, Rosemary, Sandalwood, Chamomile, Benzoin, and Marjoram

Cypress essential oil is good for oily skin and scalp as well as in blends for relaxation.

Read more: Cypress Essential Oil profile

Juniper

Aroma: fresh, woody, peppery, pine, balsamic

Odor Intensity: Medium

Blending Note: Middle

Blends well with: Cypress, Benzoin, Sandalwood, Lavender, Rosemary, Geranium, Cedarwood, Clary Sage, Grapefruit

Juniper oil comes from an evergreen shrub commonly grown in Europe. Both the leaves and stems can be distilled, but oil from juniper berries is especially favored. It helps with respiratory issues, supports the digestive system, is detoxifying, and calming.

Read more: Juniper Essential Oil profile

  1. Camphoraceous/Minty

Camphoraceous scents are excellent clearing oils with sharp, menthol aromas. Use them in blends for the respiratory system. Some people separate out some of these oils into a separate mint aroma family.

These oils blend well with citrus, herbaceous, woody, and earthy oils.

Peppermint

Aroma: minty, fresh, somewhat grassy, sweet, sharp

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Top/Middle

Blends well with: Rosemary, Spearmint, Eucalyptus, Lavender, citrus oils

Peppermint oil shines for headaches, nausea, and congestion. A mellower alternative is spearmint essential oil. This is a strongly scented oil so go easy when blending.

Eucalyptus

Aroma: camphor, slightly woody, sharp, medicinal, fresh

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Top

Blends well with: Lavender, Pine, Rosemary, mint oils, citrus oils

Eucalyptus is a great oil to have on hand during cold season. It has a menthol aroma that can be used in a steam or a diffuser when you are congested. It blends nicely with lemon and peppermint.

There are a few different varieties of eucalyptus available but the most common is Eucalyptus globulus. I find this variety to have the strongest aroma, while e. radiata and e. smithii are somewhat mellower.

Read more: Eucalyptus Essential Oil profile

Tea Tree

Aroma: pungent, medicinal, slightly peppery and earthy, reminiscent of eucalyptus

Odor Intensity: Moderate

Blending Note: Top/Middle

Blends well with: Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Rosemary, Lemon, Lavender, Clove

Tea tree oil is a well known essential oil that comes from Australia. Tea tree oil is antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal making it a great oil to have on hand. Its aroma is not quite as pleasant as the other camphoraceous oils, but it blends nicely with lavender and lemon.

  1. Herbaceous

The herbaceous aroma family is associated with popular kitchen herbs. These are versatile essential oils used both for their scent and their healing benefits.

Herbaceous oils blend well with camphoraceous and woody oils.

Oregano

Aroma: peppery, spicy, slightly woody, green

Odor Intensity: Moderate

Blending Note: Middle

Blends well with: Bergamot, Cedarwood, Chamomile, Cypress, Pine, Lavender, Tea tree, citrus oils

Oregano essential oil is distilled from the Oregano herb but is not to be confused with oil of Oregano. The latter can be found in health food stores as capsules for internal use. The essential oil and oil of Oregano are NOT interchangeable as the essential oil should not be ingested.

Oregano essential oil has strong antiseptic properties and would be good for occasional diffusion when a person has a viral or bacterial illness such as a cold or the flu.

Clary Sage

Aroma: herbal, heady, sweet, wine like and/or tea like, green

Odor Intensity: Moderate

Blending Note: Top/Middle

Blends well with: Lavender, Bergamot, Geranium, Cedarwood, citrus oils

Clary sage essential oil is sometimes described as having a floral scent, but it belongs to the herb family. It is wonderfully relaxing and versatile. It is one of the 12 essential oils that beginning aromatherapy students must learn which tells you how important it is!

Rosemary

Aroma: woody, camphor, slightly minty, pine notes

Odor Intensity: Moderate

Blending Note: Middle

Blends well with: Basil, Lavender, Peppermint, Eucalyptus, Citronella, Cedarwood, citrus oils

Rosemary essential oil is another oil that smells similar to the herb that it comes from. It has a fresh, strong, scent with a hint of mint. You could make a case for classifying rosemary as a camphoraceous oil.

Rosemary essential oil helps with stimulating hair growth, dry scalp, and various respiratory conditions.There is more than one chemotype. Rosemary ct. cineole is best for respiratory conditions, while Rosemary ct. verbenone is better for hair and skin.

Marjoram

Aroma: warm, sweet, slightly camphoraceous, spicy and woody

Odor Intensity: Moderate

Blending Note: Middle

Blends well with: Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Rosemary, Bergamot, Lemon, Cedarwood, Juniper, Pine

Marjoram essential oil has a slightly sweet, herbal aroma. It comes from the sweet marjoram herb, though some marjoram oils can be found that are from the Spanish marjoram herb. These two oils are not interchangeable as they have different properties.

Basil, Sweet

Aroma: Fresh, sweet, spicy, green, anise

Odor Intensity: Moderate/High

Blending Note: Top

Blends well with: Bergamot, Geranium, Lemon

Basil essential oil comes from the basil herb. Sweet basil helps with fatigue and muscle pain. This is yet another oil with multiple chemotypes. Basil ct. linalool is good for respiratory issues and has an uplifting scent.

Read more: Basil Essential Oil profile

  1. Spicy

Like herbs, spice oils have analogs in cooking that help us envision their scent. These oils are popular in fall and winter blends. Here are some examples of oils in this aroma family.

Spice oils blend well with citrus, woody, or floral oils.

Nutmeg

Aroma: sharp, spicy, warm, sweet, a little nutty

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Middle

Blends well with: Lavender, Orange, Mandarin, Coriander, Petigrain

Nutmeg is a popular essential oil in this aroma family. Nutmeg is often found in spice blends for cool weather treats like pumpkin pie and snickerdoodle cookies, or in mulled wine inspired Christmas blends. It goes great with other spices like cinnamon and ginger as well as citrus oils like sweet orange.

Cinnamon Leaf

Aroma: spicy, sweet, hot, peppery, woody

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Middle

Blends well with: Frankincense, Ylang ylang, Sweet Orange, Mandarin, Benzoin, Ginger, Grapefruit, Lavender

 Cinnamon is also popular in seasonal blends. There are oils from the bark and the leaf and both are powerful so should be used with caution. It is antiseptic and is often found in DIY four thieves blends.

Clove Bud

Aroma: spicy, woody, hot

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Middle

Blends well with: Lavender, Clary Sage, Bergamot, Ylang ylang, floral oils

Clove essential oil is another powerful essential oil that should be used with care.  You can use clove oil to help with toothaches and other oral health issues but be careful to dilute it properly.

Ginger

Aroma: warm, earthy, sharp, peppery

Odor Intensity: Moderate

Blending Note: Middle/Base

Blends well with: Lavender, Ylang ylang, Cedarwood, Rosewood, citrus oils

Ginger is a wonderful and versatile oil. It can be used for pain, nausea, and as a warming spicy note in seasonal diffuser blends. Ginger is distilled from the ginger root and is popular blended with other spicy oils as well as lavender and orange.

Read more: Ginger Essential Oil profile

Cardamom

Aroma: sweet, spicy, warm, slightly balsamic, can be a little camphoraceous

Odor Intensity: Strong

Blending Note: Middle

Blends well with: Bergamot, Ylang ylang, Cedarwood, Frankincense, citrus oils

Cardamom has an intricate, aromatic aroma. Cardamom pods are used in Scandinavian baking. It is grounding, warming and often a component of aphrodisiac blends..

Conclusion

Knowing the main categories of essential oils is helpful when blending as certain families go well with each other. This applies to blending for both aromatherapeutic and perfumery purposes.

The best way to get to know these scents is get some samples and let your nose get acquainted with them. Not only will you discover which scents you prefer, but over time you will begin to intuitively select oils that blend well together.

If you want to know more about getting started with blending, sign up for my free 5 day mini course. You’ll get 5 short lessons on making your first blends and gain the confidence to create your own customized creations.

aroma families with collage of spices, herbs, fruits

Pin this for later

Comments?

Leave a reply