Scent glossary: a simple guide to understanding "notes"

We might recognize some of the notes in our favorite perfumes if they're scents or tastes we’ve encountered in other products. Vanilla, mint, lemon, and lavender are all pretty identifiable. (We've got more on how notes can evolve for you here.) But for those of us who weren’t born in a patchouli patch, this guide will help explain some other commonly used perfume ingredients and blended notes, as described by the noses at Jules & Vetiver.

Amber A note, not an individual ingredient. Old-school perfume scent that might remind you of a classy older relative. A blend between the incense-y quality of labdanum and the sweetness of vanilla. (In no way related to the fossilized resin that it's named after...this note is a combination of ingredients blended into a classic "accord" used as the foundation of a lot of scents.)
Bergamot A very zesty citrus. Close to lemon, but not quite.
Benzoin Vanilla’s less-sweet cousin, with a slightly boozy twang...maybe also a hint of pink bubblegum and baby powder to it.
Bitter almond Sweet, potent candied cherry.
Black currant bud More green leaf than black fruit. Fresh greenery, with a tart, almost slightly vinegary edge.
Carnation Spicy, warm floral with a fermented hint….think flower with cloves and honey tucked between the petals.
Cedarwood Light aroma of freshly shaved pencil.
Champaca Sweet, spicy fruity smell with a hint of powder.
Clary sage Ultra green, herbal smell.
Coriander Freshly chopped cilantro. Spicy and rich, a jovial addition to the party, but not everyone’s favorite.
A note, not an individual ingredient. If the fruit part, a sweet dried fruit smell, almost like creamy coconut. If the leaves, more boldly green, a little like unripe olives, a little metallic.
Geranium Super green. Wet, mashed up leaves.
Guaiacwood Fermented and smoky. Think ripe-cheese-meets-wood.
Iris (root) One of those liqueur-filled chocolates, with a slightly powdery, floral hint.
Jasmine Think jasmine rice or jasmine tea. Relaxing, perfumey, floral. Some similarities to gardenia.
Labdanum Sweet, slightly fermented incense. Brings to mind a very old Italian church.
Melissa A cross between lemon and sweet mint.
Mimosa (aka acacia) Powdery, pollen-like floral scent...classic "springtime" aroma.
Musk (white) Includes a whole category of ingredients that are intoxicating and bafflingly hard to describe. Sometimes a little like fresh laundry, sometimes a little like clean, warm skin. Draws you in with its softness, something you like to keep coming back to smell.
Neroli Earthy, green, with a slightly floral hint.
Oakmoss Smoky, wet forest floor when it’s been raining for days.
Orange blossom Similar to neroli (both come from the flowers of the same tree), but the extraction method for the oil is different. A bit more floral than neroli. Soft, white flowers.
Osmanthus Sweet, like dried apricots being cooked with honey, with a little bit of spice.
Pink peppercorn Black pepper’s lighter, livelier sister. A strong kick to start, but doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Palo santo Minty, menthol wood. Powerfully fresh.
Patchouli Hemp-like. Grassy, funky, hippie smell.
Sandalwood Cedar-y, like warm, freshly chainsawed wood shavings. Sometimes a little softer and muskier depending on where it's grown.
Tuberose Soft-but-potent floral. Gardenia meets Dr. Pepper in a strangely hypnotic way, with an edge of wet earth.
Vetiver A woody, slightly herbal smell. In the patchouli ballpark, but less funky. Potent, but not overwhelming. It sits in the background and sticks around for a while. (One of our favorite ingredients, in case our name isn't a dead giveaway.)
Violet leaf Fresh, green tea. Lightly dried herbal quality.
White lotus Floral, but with a powdery, vanilla-like edge at the end.
Ylang ylang Classic floral, but with some powdery, slightly sweet fruitiness (and maybe a touch of bubblegum?) hidden inside.
Yuzu A citrusy cross between tangerine and lemon.

Any other notes or perfume descriptions that makes no sense to you? Let us know at and we'll add it to the list!

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