The Oils We Love to Hate: Patchouli, Geranium, Ylang Ylang and Fennel

The Oils We Love to Hate: Patchouli, Geranium, Ylang Ylang and Fennel

At The Apothecary, we can’t pick favourites — at least not officially. We know that every essential oil has its place and its known benefits, and we value each of them for what they are. However, off the record (until now), there are a few oils that are fairly contentious among our staff. We know that these same oils are divisive among our customers as well. We’re talking specifically about patchouli, geranium, ylang ylang and fennel, and we know that with each of these, you either love it or hate it.

Here’s what happened when we decided to have a frank conversation about patchouli, geranium, ylang ylang and fennel essential oils around the (figurative) water cooler…

Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)

Patchouli is a deep, earthy oil that draws you in. Common among those who meditate, its scent is often described as 'damp soil', and has the most subtle hints of spice to it. For a full description of patchouli’s applications and benefits, click here.

4/10 Apothecary/All Things Jill staff hate it (two have no strong feelings either way)

People who love it say:

“I love it so much! It’s a beautiful fixative. It grounds every blend and just brings it down, like smooth jazz or something. It’s dirt. It’s great!” - Katie

“I think it’s overwhelming if it’s used incorrectly. I enjoy its uses in perfuming.” - Katherine

“I like patchouli. It’s very, very earthy. It depends how you feel about the earthiness. It’s warm, and rich, and smells earthy-sweet to me.” - Randi-Lee

“I love it, I think it just has so much depth. It’s so deep and earthy and dirty.” - Bisayo

People who hate it say:

“It’s like someone plugged your nose and you can’t get a proper whiff. There is such a wall there. It’s so stuffy. It’s like something you find that’s been locked up for so long.” - Anita

“It’s kind of a sick smell. I think it’s a beautiful name, but it smells like antiseptic dirt. It’s okay; it’s fine; I’m not offended by it. I’d go to the bar and have a beer with it. I wouldn’t want it to sit beside me though.” - Louise

“Aw, god, nope! Ugh, it just smells like blech. It generates a feeling of nausea. You don’t have to like what you sell. I’m very passionate about its properties. Oh now everything just smells bad after that.” - Jill

“I once went on and on about something that smelled terrible in our apartment and apologized profusely to my cousin who was visiting because obviously something had gone mouldy. Then I found out she was wearing patchouli, which is what I was smelling, and was mortified.” Lindsay

Why you might want to use it even if you hate it:

Patchouli is one of the finest fixatives around when it comes to perfuming, making the overall scent stick around longer. Both patchouli and vetiver are useful in blends because they increase the viscosity of the whole blend, increasing the evaporation rate as well and making it less volatile.

How to blend it so you can bear the smell:

You only need a small amount in your blend — anywhere from 5% up will do it! 10-15% of the total blend is generally a good amount of patchouli to use. A great example of patchouli in a very nice (and popular!) blend is our Balance synergy.

Alternative oils with similar benefits:

Bergamot, rose and lavender have similar relaxing benefits. Vetiver has a similar scent and some overlapping qualities. Other great fixatives when perfuming include lavender, frankincense, sandalwood, oakmoss and thyme.

Geranium (Pelargonium roseum)


A versatile and highly beneficial oil, geranium is helpful with everything from asthma to menopause and from stress-related issues to soothing broken hearts. It is even known to repel insects and can be useful in the prevention or removal of lice. (For a full description of properties and benefits, click here.) We describe its scent as “bold, thick, sweet and floral,” with “hints of Rose flowing through it.” Some people do not love it, though.

3/10 Apothecary/All Things Jill staff hate it (Jill has no strong feelings either way)

People who love it say:

“Geranium’s nice. I love geranium.” - Anita

“Oh I don’t mind that. I don’t find it offensive in any way.” - Carine

“Oh that’s nice. I like that.” - Louise

“I love that one but mostly on its own. I struggle mixing it with stuff because it often overpowers so I might as well just have geranium. To me it kind of smells like a grandma. Comforting, warm, floral, coddling kind of smell.” - Christine

People who hate it say:

“This smells to me like when you go to the washroom in a gas station, and it’s that really strong smelling chemical soap from the soap dispenser, and you can’t get that strong chemical smell off your hands for hours.” - Lindsay

“I don’t enjoy the smell. I much prefer geranium absolute.” - Katherine

“I don’t like geranium. I find it way too much — heady. Not cloying, but more someone that’s wearing too much perfume. But it can still be worked into blends nicely and is a really excellent facial oil, with a nice floral scent in small quantities.” Randi-Lee

“Geranium -- I have a love/hate relationship with it. I can tolerate it in certain blends, but to have just straight geranium it just smells like or something. It’s just too much. It’s just in your face.” Bisayo

Why you might want to use it even if you hate it:

Geranium is amazing for your skin and your circulatory system, so it’s worth using!

How to blend it so you can bear the smell:

Any citrus oil will freshen geranium right up, while jasmine will bring out its more floral notes.

Alternative oils with similar benefits:

You could use Chamomile for skin benefits; and Cypress or Tangerine for circulatory benefits.

Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)

ylang ylang

Ylang Ylang complete (being the full, or complete and not fractionated, 24 hour distillation) has a deep, floral and honey-like note that is known to permeate through any blend that it's added to. Because of its "aromatic intensity," we do suggest using hints of ylang ylang in your blend, rather than making it the dominant essential oil. This essential oil is commonly found in blends that promote love, peace, and sexuality, but it can be a source of contention amongst our team.

3/10 Apothecary/All Things Jill staff hate it (three have mixed feelings)

People who love it say:

“I like it. It’s just, like, a floral scent. It doesn’t offend me.” - Carine

"It gives me a headache if I use too much, but I like the scent. I like it in blends more than on its own." - Lindsay

People who hate it say:

“Eugh. It’s way too potent, it’s nasty. I’m not even on the fence. I’ve jumped that fence and I’m running.” - Bisayo

“I hate it. I think it smells like a urinal cake. It’s a selfish oil and it takes over everything. You really have to disguise it in a blend.” - Anita

“Oh god, I hate it. It smells like urinal cakes.” - Katie

Why you might want to use it even if you hate it:

Ylang ylang is great for skin as well as for heart problems, and is an effective sedative. It lends a buttery, deliciously sweet candy-like smell to blends.

How to blend it so you can bear the smell:

A tiny bit of ylang ylang goes a very long way, and this oil can work well in blends when blended mindfully. Use a drop or two, no more — ylang ylang should never comprise more than 5% of the total blend.

Alternative oils with similar benefits:

Jasmine is a good alternative, but it is also more expensive.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)


Fennel has a fresh, sweet and deep aroma that smells much like traditional licorice. While not everyone is a fan of its fragrance, there is no denying its therapeutic qualities and uses, which include digestive benefits and combatting stress and nervous tension.

4/10 Apothecary/All Things Jill staff hate it

People who love it say:

“Love it. Straight up, I love it. ‘Ooooh, child, things are gonna get easier…’ Yeah, that’s how I’d describe it.” - Bisayo

“I don’t mind it at all.” - Louise

“It just makes me think of candy. It’s a nice smell.” - Lindsay

“I like it but don’t know what to say about that, it’s like a spicy herb but without being warm or fresh.” - Randi-Lee

People who hate it say:

“Black licorice, yeuch. It’s disgusting and you’re deranged if you like it. It’s horrible. Just awful. I can’t believe people could actually like it.” - Carine

“Nope. It’s a trap! It smells like black licorice, of which I am not a fan.” - Jill

“GROSS! I hate it, it makes me feel uncomfortable and uneasy. And I hate the taste of black liquorice too.” - Katie


Why you might want to use it even if you hate it:

Fennel is good for indigestion, nausea and loss of appetite, and is super detoxifying. Perfect when used topically for digestion issues because it’s also detoxifying and helps with our digestion.

How to blend it so you can bear the smell:

This oil adds a certain amount of sweetness and lift to a blend. Knowing that a lot of people don’t enjoy the anise-like odour, you may wish to cover the smell with grapefruit.

Alternative oils with similar benefits:

You could use coriander or cardamom instead for digestive issues.

Posted by Lindsay on 6/12/2018 to Ingredients

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