To make a balanced blend aromatically, it’s important to take into consideration the mix of Top, Middle and Base notes. All blends are ultimately a recipe, and just like with cooking, it needs the right mix of ingredients to be pleasing and to develop aromatically over time. A good blend is somewhat like a sauce and does get richer and better as it ages, so this first principal of blending will be required no matter how you blend, whether that be medicinally or energetically.
While all blends don’t need to have a Top, Middle and Base note – some blends may only have two oils for example, or depending on your intention of the blend, you may choose to focus only on Top or only on Base notes – but I think it’s still important to learn the fundamentals of creating a balanced blend to maximize your blending skills. As you move forward in your aromatherapeutic life you can choose to blend however you like, and depending on the purpose of my blend I personally may not always have all 3 notes, but as they say, it’s important to learn the rules before you break them.
So let’s look at the characteristics of Top, Middle and Base notes so that blending for aromatic balance underpins most your blends, most of the time.
- Top notes Volatile and aromatically light, top notes are the first to reach your nose and the first to leave your skin. Delicious and beautiful, we can use more of this oil in a blend relative to the other oils, as they evaporate most quickly. Top notes are reliably citrus fruits, like lemon, orange, lime, lemongrass and bergamot. Some leaves and woods are top notes, like eucalyptus, peppermint, basil, juniper berry and birch. Some oils, like lavender, are considered Top/Middle as they fall somewhere in between or may serve as one or the other, depending on the blend.
- Middle notes Middle notes tend to be the “heart” of the blend, perhaps the oil you build the blend around, finding complementary Top and Base notes for it. It holds steady on the skin for a fair amount of time, and drives the aromatic quality of the blend. Middle notes are typically seeds, leaves and flowers, although there are exceptions (jasmine is a base note, for example). Many herbs are middle notes, like sage, nutmeg, cardamom, fennel, marjoram and oregano, as well as some of our most favored oils like lavender, rose, neroli, chamomile, tea tree and cypress.
- Base notes Base notes are quite strong, lingering much longer on the skin than the other two notes, and can overpower the blend if not used sparingly. Base notes are typically woods, roots and resins, including myrhh, ginger, frankincense, cedarwood, vetiver and patchouli, with some exceptions like vanilla, which is a seed (and not a true essential oil but actually an absolute), and jasmine, a flower. Always use base notes in a much smaller quantities relative to the other oils, starting with less and adding more if needed. Once you have too much of a base oil and it takes over your blend, there’s little you can do to remedy it. So I usually start literally with 1 drop of a base note and go from there.
So let’s look at a sample blend guided by the top-middle-base note practice. Let’s say you love jasmine and want to create a blend around that oil. Knowing it’s a base note, we’ll use it very sparingly relative to the other oils. To counter-balance its heaviness, we’ll look for a light top note, but one that won’t completely disappear against jasmine, so perhaps we go with mandarin, which is a bit stronger than grapefruit, for example. And to round out with our middle note, we choose cardamom. So for aromatic harmony this blend may include 1 drop Jasmine, 3 drops Cardamom and 6 drops of Mandarin in a 10ml roller ball of carrier oil for a sweet-smelling, yet balanced blend.