I purchased my first hydrosol in 1989, a lovely gallon of Rosa damascena from the May 1989 Turkish harvest. The well-known aromatherapist must have given direction on storage and use, but I don’t recall them. I still have some of that hydrosol, archived for decades in a refrigerator, brought out now and then to sniff, or transfer a bit to a sterile sprayer for use on the tips of my hair. No sign of microbial growth, the main problem with hydrosols, but I am aware that sometimes the growth does not show up as dark swirls or gunk on the bottom of the bottle, it can be invisible.
For readers who aren’t familiar with what hydrosols are, they’re the water from distillation, and they contain water-soluble aromatics of the plant. Many now distill just for hydrosol, which is a slightly different process from distilling for essential oils, wherein hydrosols are a “byproduct” of the essential oil process.
I often make “stovetop” distillations which don’t require a distillation unit, and pop them into sterile bottles and into the fridge, with an expected shelf life of a week or so. Care must be taken to avoid allowing microbes into the hydrosol, as it is easily contaminated by your fingers, microbes in the air and such.
Over the years, I’ve purchased organic hydrosols that I resold, and they were microbe-free. I purchased two hydrosols for personal use, one from a very well-known herbal supplier, and the orange blossom hydrosol quickly went bad. I knew it wasn’t my having a hand in contaminating it, as it had a spray top. When I wrote them, they said they had distilled it themselves from *dried*! orange blossoms, and didn’t know about needing sterile bottles. Mind you, this is a huge company, but I guess nobody did their research. Another bad hydrosol came from a friend who was in the essential oil supply business, but who didn’t know anything about hydrosols. It went bad very quickly.
In 2009, I distilled for the first time, in a glass still, and got a few milliliters of exquisite bay leaf essential oil, and some lovely hydrosol. Well, I wasn’t stringent about sterile bottles, and the hydrosol went bad, even under refrigeration. I should have known better, but the distillation was haphazard, as we were both learning, and scrambling around. I never made that mistake again!
Here’s my problem in 2017. Everybody is loving hydrosols and jumping on the hydrosol-making trend. Too many folks, in my opinion, although they may have taken a course with a great distiller, don’t understand all the need for sterilization of equipment, and good labeling.
A few months ago, a local friend received a gift of a hydrosol made from grapes at an herbal conference. She called me when the bottle developed an obvious microbial contamination, full of dark swirls. I was shocked, and told her to toss it. What made this so urgent in my mind is the fact she has an illness that requires her to have zero immune system. Yes, she must surpress her immune system to live. No eating at buffets, no digging in the soil, no public transportation, just a very carefully-controlled environment to prevent anything from attacking her because it can KILL her.
The person who gave her the hydrosol is known to me to be very sloppy and incompetent when it comes to safety, from making body butters that can cause citrus phototoxicity and permanent scarring, to not sterilizing her bottles for hydrosols. Ugh. I had warned her many times about her careless use of essential oils, hydrosols and such, but here was an event that could cause death.
I propose that not only do makers of hydrosols get highly educated on how to sterilize, store, and distribute these beautiful fragrant waters, but that they adopt a labeling standard that can help keep the waters safe(r).
Dear reader, can you think of anything else. Please help me correct any errors and spread the word about safety and hydrosols.
In 2003, a member of the Natural Perfumery group I host on Yahoo got in touch with the folks at Allured Publishing (Now Allured Business Media) and asked them if they could make the Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin (PFMNO) book available aside from the three-volume set written by Steffen Arctander. The other two volumes held little interest to natural perfumers, since they were on the subject of synthetics.
It was very difficult to find the PFMNO on eBay or other places for less than a small fortune, often around $700. I had snagged a book for $117 on UK eBay from a retired perfume chemist, but that was a rare score. Allured responded positively, and began selling the volume for about $350, if I recall correctly. That was great, and many snapped it up. I developed a relationship with Allured, and they gave 20-30% off with a coupon code I could publicize. What a great resource for us natural perfumers.
In the past few years, Allured has offered fewer books that before, and they are I suppose going through a business model re-do. The main publication I look forward to every month is Perfumery and Flavorist magazine, it’s relevant and educational.
So what is the PFMNO book about? Most regard it as the best reference for plant and animal essences used in perfume and flavors. I turn to it often, to clarify a point, dig deeper into research, or sometimes just for fun, to muse about these delightful fragrances we have for our art.
Imagine my surprise when I visited Abe Books, a supplier of used books I love for their great prices, and found that they’re now printing PFMNO on demand through Create Space, the branch of Amazon that prints on-demand books. This is where I get my textbook printed (unabashed plug: my perfume course is professional and comprehensive, and comes with a 350-page textbook).
Just visit this page on Abe Books and order PFMNO and you won’t be sorry you did. In fact, you should rejoice in this new age of fabulous opportunity to own such a classic book.
A perfume of color changeable tinctures from an organic garden in Miami, Florida. Read about a giveaway of this perfume, below.
Sustainable, cold-process extraction process of plant fragrance debuts
Launched May 31, 2017
Anya McCoy, perfumer, botanist, and founder of Anya’s Garden Perfumes in Miami has released Strange Magic, the first perfume composed of about 95% organic fragrant tinctures. Strange Magic is made with tinctures that reveal hidden colors in the flowers, leaves, and roots when they were placed in the alcohol. Anya has tinctured for herbal purposes for forty years, and for perfume purposes for twenty years. It wasn’t until she dropped snow white Michelia alba flowers into the alcohol and saw the alcohol turn pink, then red, then dark red that she realize there was some hidden secrets in some flowers – Strange Magic.
The magic appeared a few years ago when she dropped a handful of white Michelia alba flowers into 190 proof alcohol. She wanted to make a fragrant tincture of this delicious smelling flower to add to her array of natural raw materials for her perfumes. As soon as the flowers started to sink into the alcohol, the alcohol took on a pink tinge. It was quite startling, and by the second day, the alcohol was a light shade of crimson. The more flowers added to recharge the alcohol with scent, the deeper red the menstruum got, eventually becoming burgundy/opaque. Some said it was the dyes or waxes in the flowers revealing themselves, but she said it was Strange Magic.
Plant dyes have been known for thousands of years, but the colors extracted are somewhat related to the original plant material’s color. Onion skins make a golden dye, blueberries a bluish dye, and so on.
This was different.
She’s tinctured herbs, woods, roots, leaves, and flowers for many years, beginning with simplers herbal tinctures. What an epiphany the white champaca flowers were. Numerous tinctures that had changed color now flooded her consciousness. The yellow ylang ylang flowers turned the alcohol olive green, and eventually opaque, like the Michelia.
White jasmines such as the sambac Grand Duke of Tuscany turned deep gold. White gardenias and tuberoses again – deep gold. She had been using the orangy/brown jasmine absolutes and concretes from the 70s, but never put the color change together until the white champaca. She’d never seen any talk of the color change on any of the aromatherapy or perfume forums she’d been on for decades, other than the color change mentioned was the blue azulene color that developed when chamomiles were distilled, everyone seemed entranced by that. The azulene is not present in the fresh flowers, but develops in the distillation process.But white jasmines turning orangy/brown? No. No discussion.
Ylang Ylang essential oil is pale yellow. The absolute of the same flower? Green. Her tincture? Dark Green. It’s the alcohol wash of the concrete that reveals the green color, and the alcohol menstruum I used.
Well, it’s time to honor the Strange Magic of color change that happens, don’t you think?
Here are a few color-changing plants in Strange Magic, but not all are listed – after all, magic needs a bit of secrecy:
|Aglaia: yellow flowers||Dark amber tincture|
|Orris: pale white rhizome||Bright coral, orange tincture|
|Chamomiles: white flowers||Blue oils when distilled|
|Gardenias: white flowers||Dark amber tincture|
|Jasmines: white flowers||Deep amber tincture (some, not all)|
|White Champaca: white flowers||Crimson red to dark red tincture|
|Ylang ylang: yellow flowers||Olive green to dark green tincture|
|Cashmere Bouquet Clerodendrum: white flowers||Deep red tincture|
|Vintage white ambergris from Vanuatu||Orange tincture|
Artisan perfumers can work with sustainable fragrance materials with a “grow your own” plan to harvest and tincture the fragrant plants. If they can garden, and have suitable space in the garden, it’s possible to lessen the carbon footprint associated with purchasing essential oils and absolutes. All that’s needed is 190 proof alcohol, and harvesting and recharging the alcohol to make the tincture strong with fragrance.
It is not a fast or rushed process: Anya and her assistants spent many hours over the years hand-harvesting the flowers, placing them in alcohol, straining them out, recharging them over and over. If you know the heat and humidity of Miami, you know the dedication this took. Some tinctures have been recharged dozens of times to reach the scent strength desired. Still, it is worth it because the cold process, with no heat destroying some of the more delicate floral notes, and the sustainability of producing some of the raw product on-site are dual bonuses of the eco-conscious perfumer.
Anya is currently in discussions with publishers about a book she has written Perfume From Your Garden. It’s the first of its kind, detailing extraction methods for the perfumer, soaper, gardener, hobbyist, or DIYer who wishes to capture the fragrant plants from their garden at the height of their beauty.
Samples and 15ml spray bottles of Strange Magic are available at http://anyasgarden.com/store.htm
Until June 20, 2017, there is a chance for you to win Strange Magic by registering and commenting on the Cafleurebon review of the perfume.
Founder and Instructor at Natural Perfumery Institute http://perfumeclasses.com
Owner and CEO at Natural Perfumers Guild http://naturalperfumers.com
Owner/Perfumer at Anya’s Garden Perfumes http://anyasgarden.com
Former Writer at Organic Gardening (magazine)
Former District Manager at USDA Soil and Water Conservation District (elected position State of Florida)
Former Adjunct Professor of Urban Planning and Design at Florida Atlantic University
Former Landscape Architect at Collier County, Florida
Studied Landscape architecture at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Masters Degree
Studied Economic Botany at University of California, Riverside Bachelors
I started collection essential oils and absolutes in 1966. At the time, I didn’t know my bottles of aromatics were supposed to be arranged on a tiered shelf called a perfume organ. Because I was a botanist, I categorized them by the part of the plant they were extracted from: florals, woods, leaves, etc., and kept them in plastic boxes for storage.
Later, I had a beautiful old wooden printer’s tray, which, when attached to a wall, provided a lovely display for the small bottles, but was impractical for working, and, of course, didn’t hold the larger bottles.
In 1990 or so, I stored my perfume organ in a beautiful Thai display case.
I finally located a man in Kentucky who made the wooden tiered racks for essential oils you’d see displayed in stores. I carefully measured what I perceived I’d need, and sent him the information. He constructed a lovely, modern-looking perfume organ out of pine, sweet and pale yellow and perfect for my needs – at the time.
All my bottles, except the ones that needed refrigeration were on the organ, interspersed with the dilutions I used in everyday blending. The dilutions sat right next to the undiluted aromatics, and that was okay for a while.
Top notes are on the top level, middle notes, of which there are hundreds, are on middle levels, and base notes along the bottom. Why dilute your essences? It saves a lot of money, first of all. Imagine using undiluted pricey oils, like rose otto, for all of your mods. Secondly, now you get the scent of the rose “opened up” by the alcohol in the dilution, too. Two great bonuses!
Don’t ever struggle with trying to use labdanum or tobacco absolutes by the drop again! The diluted essences are very fluid.
Now only dilutions are on the perfume organ. Most are 10%, some higher, some lower. The undiluted raw materials are kept in a refrigerator, with their specific gravity noted on a blending database. You may be able to blend a perfume modification with a diluted essence, but you need the specific gravity to be able to blend any quantity. This is taught in my Intermediate Level Perfumery course. Enroll now in the Basic course, which will prepare you to further your studies at the Intermediate Level.
I have been busy with new perfume labels and decided to try some new photos. I typically like a clean white background, and I may do that for the new website, but for this photo I decided to capture some sunlight with the back garden included. I’m very happy with the prisms that appeared, but did notice that the bottles were underfilled a bit. Corrected, up to the brim now!
Do you like this photo? It’s a departure from my usual backdrops, for sure.
If there is anyone in the Miami area who has experience with product photography, please contact me. I would like to discover new ways to showcase my perfume, soaps, botanicals, textbook and other related products. One problem is many of the printed words in my photos appear blurred, such as the words Anya’s Garden Perfumes within the botanical golden leaves of my logo. This is an ongoing problem, and I’d love to solve it!
This article originally appeared on Basenotes.net on Feb. 20, 2008
by Anya McCoy
20th February, 2008
Like everyone who has progressed with passion, training and persistence to become a perfumer, the new wave of natural perfumers started with an intense love of scents. Many can trace their formative moment – the zing of recognition – when a scent transformed their life, and put them on the path of creation. They probably smelled everything around them (as did I) from grass to dirt, flowers, other people, cement, perfume, cereal, ink, paper, plastic dolls, toys, food cooking, hair, furniture, the air before a storm, rotten wood, burning leaves – in other words, the full spectrum of fragrance in the environment. The natural environment, complex, challenging, and often sweetly rewarding enticed and enchanted us. We were hooked.
Many who love perfumes in general, whether they contain all-natural ingredients or not, cite the kiss goodnight from a mother swathed in evening clothes, diffusing an exotic perfume as she bent over them before setting out to a party as a defining moment, a moment when perfume’s magic of transformation of their mother into an otherworldly, fragrant unknown star in the sky touched them deeply. Perfume profoundly moves us, and natural essences move us the most – we are entranced with their beauty, complexity and “aliveness.”
When the synthetic chemical scents coumarin and vanillin were discovered in the 1880’s, they were quickly added to the corporate perfumer’s palette, and natural perfumery as it had existed up until then disappeared. Looking back in time perhaps four or five generations, it must be acknowledged everyone who loved perfume knew only perfume with synthetics blended in with the naturals.
Whether floral and discreet, or Oriental and animalic, loaded with civet, musk, castoreum and ambergris, the all-natural perfumes created in the pre-synthetics era disappeared.
The pre-1890 natural perfumer had a rather limited range of aromatics to choose from, as many of the Indian and Asian essences we now have easy access to were not used in western perfumery at that time. Today, champaca, lotus, ambrette, agarwood and many other exotics round out the number of botanicals available to the natural perfumer. That, along with the adoption of classic French techniques of blending using top, middle and base notes, helps differentiate the modern natural perfumer from the 19th Century one.
A look back to the 19th Century would be little more than an intellectual exercise for a perfumer without the eternal beauty and complexity of the fragrant botanical extracts to kindle the fire of passion in the modern natural perfumer.
Since aromatherapy had opened the doors of small-scale distribution of essential oils, all the natural perfumer had to do was nudge open a few more doors, and suppliers were providing them with concretes and absolutes, attars and other raw materials. The aromatic palette was complete, and the niche field of modern natural perfumery was launched.
Some of the beginner natural perfumers liked, and had, all sorts of perfumes in their possession, from the classics like Chanel No. 5 to modern niche Serge Lutens creations. Still others professed a dislike to the strong sillage and diffusion modern perfumes. There was no common ground on like or dislike of perfumes containing synthetic chemical – only a professed love of natural aromatics.
Yes, even though they had easy access to aromachemicals – synthetic versions of the naturals, and fantasy scents – they chose to work with only naturals.
Why have you decided to be a “naturals-only” perfumer is a question we often get. The person asking the question may list the negatives:
Your raw materials are very expensive.
Your perfumes don’t last as long as those with synthetics, and they don’t have great diffusivity or sillage.
The raw materials are difficult to work with.
You’re artisans, often working out of a spare room in their house, isolated.
You have to for the most part, train yourselves and fund your own business.
You have to search out distribution networks, or, more realistically, depend on the internet or local stores for sales.
You realize they’ll never get rich at this, or have a corporate safety net.
We answer – Because.
We’re in it for the art.
We regard the natural essences as providing the richest, most beautiful, complex, challenging liquid artform to work with.
The fragrances evolve on the skin in a way synthetics don’t, and captive us with their slow, seductive nuances.
We don’t like big-volume perfumes with a lot of sillage or diffusivity.
We like subtle, complex aromatics that stay close to the wearer’s body and evolve slowly on the skin.
We take delight and pleasure in experiencing a unique natural aromatic.
The discovery and unlocking of a complex accord within a natural is rewarding.
The ability to connect on a level that speaks to an eternal fragrance is wonderful e.g., the cypriol we use is the same cypriol that was used in ancient Egypt.
The excitement of being in on the ground floor of a new art as it develops, and realizing that if we’ve come this far in approximately five years, how far we can go with natural perfumery in the next fifty?
There is no competition with mainstream perfumery. We’re just two different artforms, like oil painting is different from digital art. There are completely different aesthetics, mediums and results, and so it is and will always continue to be. These parallel arts will always have things in common, such as the need to respond to market trends, sourcing, R&D, and the need to always keep learning, keep on top of the perfumery and keep current, and that is our common ground.
Natural perfumers will always create for those who appreciate hand-made items from natural sources, and they are fortunate to live in the time of the internet and global transport that delivers raw aromatics and customers orders to their studio, allowing them to develop their art and business outside of the closed world of corporate perfumery schools.
We have a pronounced advantage in our pioneering of tincturing and infusing rare botanicals for our own use. Natural perfumers are as apt to create their own jasmine bases and tuberose tinctures as buy it from the supplier, if they have a garden to grow the botanical in. Others are tincturing seeds and soil to recreate some of the more exotic scents out of India, such as ambrette and mitti, which is soil attar.
And the clincher? Our mothers, who first turned us on to the world of perfume love our scents, and we now give back to them and their generation our liquid treasures, botanicals made liquid – naturally.
You may wish to sample the creations of the Certified Natural Perfumers in the Natural Perfumers Guild. Their perfumes undergo a rigorous certification process and are also held to high standards of packaging and ingredient transparency. http://NaturalPerfumers.com
There are ten species and cultivars of jasmines in my gardens, and I want to share information about two very rare ones that are particularly rewarding. Jasmine auriculatum is a vine/bush with heady, green, sharp, somewhat indolic (if harvested at night) flowers. In India, this species of jasmine is called Juhi, and I first smelled the absolute in 1976 at the Magic Dragon shop in West Los Angeles.
Here’s a photo of me with my young J. auriculatum vine in 2011. It was taken by my front door, but the auriculatum didn’t last there long – I had to move it. Why? Because around 10:00 PM at night, the scent would go so indolic, I thought a dog left a deposit by my front door! Sweet during the day, deadly stink at night, it had to be moved to the back fence, far from the house.
In the back garden, the transplanted vine grew into a huge bush, with a sturdy main trunk. My apprentice Brian recently harvested the flowers at 6 P.M., before the indole developed. Such a sweet, delicate scent, this flower is a true delight. Into the tincture jar it went, adding to the earlier harvests’ menstruum.
But first I had some fun showing jasmine love
jasmine auriculatum flowers arranged into a heart shape
The flowers can be harvested, tinctured, strained, and recharged daily.
At the front of my property, greeting visitors as they walk to drive up the driveway, is a very aggressive Jasminum azoricum vine. It completely covers a huge hibiscus bush, and I explain by calling it the jasmine-hibiscus bush to confused viewers.
This multi-branched vine is about ten years old, and without any supplemental fertilizer or watering, rewards me with flowers almost every day of the year. Like the auriculatum, the azoricum flowers are very fragile and star-like in appearance. The azoricum needs to be harvested by noon, because it cannot take the heat of the day. The jasmine scent is lightly accented by a vanilla note, making it particularly delightful.
The tiny flowers need a lot of patience in harvesting, and the yield is small, but, oh, so beautiful.
When all is said and done, it’s a wonderful feeling to have these two lovely, rare jasmines growing in my garden, because they go into the tincture bottle and provide a unique fragrance for my natural perfumes.
As head of the Natural Perfumers Guild, founder of the Natural Perfumery Institute, and a perfumer who only uses 100% natural aromatics in my perfumes, I am often asked about the differences between natural and mainstream (contain synthetics) perfumes. I created the following chart years ago for my textbook, and it’s a good, quick reference on the subject.
|Natural||Mainstream (contains synthetics)|
|Perfumer’s Goal:||Beauty and Health||Beauty|
|Aromatic Palette:||Essential oils, concretes, absolutes, CO2s, tinctures, and infusions||Primarily synthetic aromachemicals, minimal essential oils and absolutes|
|Number of Aromatics per Blend:||10 – 30||30 – 100+|
|Creative Process Goals:||Blend to create unique classic artisan vision with top/mid/base notes||For corporate perfumers: meet market demands; can use top/mid/base structure, or linear|
|Diluent:||Typically undenatured alcohol; sometimes oil, cream, or solid base||Typically synthetic denatured alcohol; solid, dry spray|
|Customer Experience:||Perfume unfolds on skin, revealing layers of scent||Strong aesthetic statement, trendy, or nod to vintage|
|Drydown time:||1 – 8 hours;base may persist for 24 hours||1 – 24+ hours|
|Cost per pound of undiluted compound:||Extremely expensive; some aromatics are $10 – $100,000 per pound||Very inexpensive; corporations insist on lowest cost; there are rumors of a $20 per pound limit|
|History:||Link to ancient Egypt, historical figures, use naturals in both ancient and modern style blends.||Link to ancient Egypt, historical figures, use of synthetics to replace naturals began in 19th century.|
|Diffusion of Scent:||Arm’s length, slight sillage, unobtrusive||Can scent an entire room; strong sillage|
|Known respiratory issues:||Little or none. If you are allergic to roses, rose oil in a natural perfume might trigger an allergic response.||Well-documented; some municipalities have enacted no-fragrance laws|
I hope this guide will clarify some issues on natural versus synthetic perfumes. If you have any questions on this issue, feel free to comment.
If you want a quality education in natural perfumery, click here to read more.