Essential Oil Essentials: 5 Heavy Hitters - Vetiver, Frankincense, Myrrh, Patchouli & Benzoin

Some of the most sacred and valued scents over the centuries are those deeper aromatics—Frankincense, Myrrh, Benzoin and others—whose use predates the millennia-old religious texts in which they’re noted.  These scents are “heavier” because the chemicals they’re made of are heavier than those in “lighter” oils such as lemon or bergamot.  Another way to look at it is that the scents of these heavier oils have a lower vibration than the vibration of the lighter oils.  

In perfumery, these heavier oils are often referred to as “base notes,” as in a musical scale. Along these lines, oils such as lemon or bergamot are “top” notes. Base notes ground the blend, giving it some heft and often preserving the blend so that it lasts longer. The scents of these heavier essential oils aren’t necessarily stronger than other oils, though some are quite strong (for example…vetiver, patchouli, ylang ylang, cedar moss, and vanilla). Others, like frankincense, myrrh, and benzoin have distinctive but not very strong scents, despite being heavier oils.

These heavy base oils tend to be grounding emotionally, offering some support for folks dealing with chronic anxiety or for those who tend towards spaciness. 

Here are the five heavy hitters that I use most often.

1. Vetiver Essential Oil

(Vetiveria zinzanoides aka. Andropogon zinzanoides)

Vetiver window coverings and fans are used in India for their cooling effects when wet.  You can try this at home. Buy a bundle of vetiver—it’s easy to find online—wet the end and hold it close to your face. It feels cold even without actually touching your face!

Properties of Vetiver

  • Extracted from roots of a grass.
  • Cooling physically - Headache, feeling overheated, fever, being overheated out in the sun, fever, acute sprain. 
  • Cooling emotionally - Burning anger, irritability, reactivity, insomnia.
  • Strongly grounding and centering - Meditation. Fear, anxiety, tension, feeling knocked off base.
  • Protective - Buffers negative energy of others. Combines well with juniper for this. 

2. Frankincense Essential Oil

(Bosewllia carterii & others)

Frankincense resin, from the Arabian Peninsula and Northeast Africa, was the foundation of the ancient incense and spice trade in the 5th and 6th centuries BCE. It was one of the most valuable substances at the time. 

Properties of Frankincense

  • Extracted from the resin exuded when the tree bark is sliced.
  • Calming, elevating, clearing. Encourages deeper, slower breathing - meditation, ritual, prayer.
  • Respiratory infection - Breathe in, chest rub (dilute first).
  • Digestive tract distress - Belly rub (dilute first).
  • Sun damaged, aging skin. Was used in kohl, the dark eye makeup used in ancient Egypt to protect eyes from sun.

3. Myrrh Essential Oil

(Commiphora molmol & others)

Myrrh resin was even more expensive than frankincense in ancient times. King Tutankhamun’s golden third coffin was discovered to be encased in a dark, hardened resin thought to be Myrrh. 

Properties of Myrrh 

  • Extracted from the resin exuded when the tree bark is sliced.
  • Warming, fortifying yet calming scent - meditation. Supportive for healers who take on the pain of others.
  • Oral health - Traditionally used for gum health. Note: Don’t use undiluted essential oils in mouth. In this case powdered resin added to a tooth powder may be good way to go.
  • Bug repellent
  • Skin and hair care - Dry, sensitive and/or mature skin; dry hair and scalp. 

4. Patchouli Essential Oil

(Pogostemon cablin, P. heyaenus)

Patchouli brings out peoples’ likes and dislikes, and, indeed, people tend to love or hate patchouli.  Hint…the older the oil is, the better it smells!

Properties of Patchouli

  • Many are surprised to learn that this heavy, earthy, and (if it’s old enough) sweet scent comes from a mint.
  • Grounding - Folks stuck in their head or lost in daydreams. 
  • Perspective, lucidity - Used to get a clearer take on things.
  • Bug repellent - Used for silks and other natural cloths to repel moths.
  • Skin and hair care - Balancing for dry or oily skin. Mature or sensitive skin, scars, acne.

5. Benzoin Essential Oil

(Styrax benzoin & others)

This sweet, balsamic resin is one of the most popular perfume fixatives…A fixative is something that preserves the blend, slowing evaporation.

Properties of Benzoin

  • Extracted from the resin exuded when the tree bark is sliced or tapped.
  • Opens energetic blockages, heart, and mind - especially useful for decision making.
  • Spiritual protection - A use found on every continent where it grows.
  • Skin care - Fissures, cracks, wounds, itching, blisters, psoriasis, eczema, and other issues.  Note that for some folks benzoin is a potential skin sensitizer with repeated use. 
  • Respiratory system - Used as sweet pastilles in France for infection and asthma.