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!
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.
There are times I just want to spray a delectable floral, spice, herb, or other botanical water on my face or body. The well-known botanical waters, rose or orange blossom, are also known as hydrolats, distillate waters, or hydrosols. I’ll call them hydrosols for this article, because that is perhaps the best-known name for them.
When you boil a botanical, whether it’s a rose or oolong tea, you are making an infusion. All of the properties of the botanical are being drawn out into the hot water, and you can drink it ‘as is’. When you make a hydrosol, many of the chemical properties of the botanical are left in the water in the bottom of the pot, as in making tea. It’s the volatile, scented properties of the botanical that rise with the steam, condense on the iced top of the container (more about that below) and drip down into a container that will collect the hydrosol.
Hydrosol is much more concentrated than the tea, and should always be diluted before using it in food or drink. However, if you’re like me, you make it mostly for spraying on the body or hair, or for splashing on the face, like a toner.
Why hydrosol? Besides the health benefits of using a botanical with beneficial chemical components, maybe I just want to capture the ethereal citrusy scent of a rare lemongrass (C. flexuosus) from my garden. It’s sweeter and lighter than the bulbous “regular” lemongrass we all know from Asian recipes, and I find it very refreshing. Maybe I only have a few dozen golden campaca flowers, or a few handfuls of ylang ylang, in all their rare and glorious sensual beauty. Let’s not forget the lemon leaves, rosemary, lime leaves, patchouli, pineapple sage and other fragrant beauties I have in my garden — the list is long, and I love them all!
I have several distillation devices: a 2 Liter glass hydrodistillation unit from Heart Magic, and a gorgeous piece of art in the form of a 20 Liter copper hydro- or steam- distillation unit from The Essential Oil company. Due to their small size, I mostly get hydrosol, and a little bit of essential oil. Using them, I get anywhere from a pint to three liters or so of hydrosol. These units are great for production, but sometimes when I just want a quick hydrosol, I don’t set up the formal distillation units. Instead, I use a method that was probably used thousands of years ago, and is still efficient and productive today.
I call it a simplers’ distillation, paying homage to the ancient simplers’ method of herbal tincturing and infusion. The simplers’ way means nothing is measured, and the botanical is simply covered by the menstruum – water, in this case – and the process is adapted for a stovetop or campfire.
Our ancestors in northern climates probably used cold water from a stream or well, but since Miami’s tap water (which I filter) rarely goes lower than 78F, I have to resort to using ice to facilitate the necessary condensation. This condensation of the rising steam is what chills the steam and allows the scented hydrosol to fall into the bowl for collections.
After steam appears, place a ziplock bag filled with ice on the lid. You will have to replace with a new bag with ice several times during distillation. They can be refrozen and reused over and over.
This method is easy any season of the year, anywhere you live, and with any fragrant botanical you have on hand, which can be from your garden, the grocery, or even dried – dried rose petals work well with this method, as do many other dried botanicals.
All of the equipment needs to be made of non-reactive material, such as stainless steel, enamel, or pyrex.
– A large pot or saucepan
– A lid with a slight dome, no flat lids. Turn the lid upside down, so the hydrosol will drop down into the bowl.
– A platform to elevate the bowl. It should be as small as possible to do the job, because the area around it needs to be sufficiently generous to hold as much plant material as possible. I use an upside-down custard cup aka a ramekin, with a flat bottom
– Plant material: fresh is best, but you can experiment with flowers, seeds, bark, roots and other materials that are dried.
– Filtered water
– Appropriate size ziplock plastic bag to fit onto the lid. I use one gallon bags.
– Ice to fill the plastic bag. You may need to refill the bag several times as the ice melts, so have a backup supply of ice. After the distillation is completed, I let the melted ice in the bag refreeze by placing the bag inside the lid and placing it in the freezer. That way, the bag is conformed to the lid, and in a solid chunk, which slows down the melting time for the next distillation.
– Sterile container for the finished hydrosol. Directions on how to sterilize the container are detailed below.
1. Place the pot or saucepan on the heat source
2. Place the platform to elevate the bowl in the bottom of the pot, centered.
3. Place the plant material around the platform, up to the top of the platform. Pack the plant material to fit as much as possible in the space.
4. Pour in enough water to cover the plant material.
5. Place the bowl on the platform
6. Place the lid on the pot, inverted, so that the dome faces down, to allow the steam to drip into the bowl. The hydrosol will drip from the handle into the bowl
7. Turn on the heat to high, and when the water begins to boil, turn it down to medium and place a bag of ice on the lid.
8. Maintain an even temperature for the heat, and replace the bag of ice as needed with a fresh bag of ice.
9. The distillation is finished when the plant material looks “spent”, or you detect an odor that indicates no more fragrant molecules are being extracted.
10. Lift the bag of ice from the lid
11. Do not open the lid. Allow the pot and contents to cool down to room temperature.
12. Remove the lid and pour the contents of the bowl into a sterile container and secure a lid on the container.
13. Label the container with date, plant material, and method used.
14. Store in a cool place, out of sunlight.
There are several methods that you can choose from to sterilize the container you use for storing the hydrosol, whether it is a jar or bottle. Of course, glass is the best choice, due to its non-reactive properties, and a tight fitting cap is necessary, as a cork will allow microbes to migrate into the container.
1. While the hydrosol is cooking on the stove, place your container and its lid into a separate pan and gently boil for at least twenty minutes. Carefully remove the container and lid with tongs, and place them upside down on a clean towel. Allow them to cool. You may also boil a pyrex or stainless steel funnel at this time if you wish to use it for transferring the hydrosol to the container.
2. Use an alcohol wash of the container and lid and funnel (optional) by diluting 190 proof undenatured alcohol to 170 proof and washing the inside of the container and the lid and funnel with it.
3. I use a UV light box, such as the ones used by tattoo artists and cosmeticians. I place the container and funnel on the top shelf, and the cap on the bottom, facing upwards, so the UV light can reach the inside of it. Put the UV machine on for 15 minutes to sterilize.
My photos don’t do the process justice. The first link is a good documentation of the process. The author uses dried elderflowers.
This video is a great tutorial on simplers’ hydrosol making. She uses fresh rose petals, so it’s a great visual. My instructions and preferences differ a bit from hers: I like a glass lid so I can observe the process, and I think it’s a lot more convenient to place the ice cubes in a plastic bag. Also, as noted above, I’m very strict about sterilization. Hydrosols can grow microbes very quickly if not transferred into sterile containers with sterile lids.
Experiment and find some combinations of plant materials that you like. Mint, rosemary, and bay leaf. Rose and jasmine – yum! Patchouli and cedar wood shavings. Citrus and ambrette seeds. Have fun!
This sale is on until midnight, December 31, 2015
Stock up on rare and beautiful 100% natural oils at 30% off
I’ve long been obsessed with a tropical member of the Mint family Labiatae and focused on obtaining some plants of it to grow in my fragrant garden. They were harder to find than I imagined, but I got two in small pots about a year and a half ago. You can read more about them here.
These plants are as aggressive in their growth habit as mints; instead of growing horizontally via runners, they grow vertically, leaping skyward at an astonishing rate. I don’t fertilize them, and they don’t have any pests or diseases. On a sunny Sunday in Miami, Angie and Julia showed up to harvest them and we worked together on the distillation of the big, soft, velvety, fragrant leaves. The leaves smell like a combination of balsam, tobacco, mint, and sweetness.
This photo gives you a sense of the size of the leaves: “grandifolia” for sure. Some are as big as your head, most will cover your hand, even with fingers outstretched.
Here’s a shot of a leaf covering my hand:
Once the branches were harvested, they were brought immediately inside, and the leaves were stripped off of them, and torn into pieces. From harvest to distillation pot, approximately a half hour. Cornutia is amazing: no insects, no diseases, very healthy foliage. We did find one ladybug who hitched a ride inside!
Angie kept meticulous records throughout, and she is still refining the record sheet to adjust it as we learn more of the process.
So the retort (hydrodistillation pot) and the steam column were packed, and we used Ann Barker Harmon’s book Harvest to Hydrosol as a guide, finding the ratios of water to plant material very helpful.
The beautiful 20L copper alembic is from The Essential Oil Company, and is adaptable for either hydrosol or essential oil production. It’s the minimum size required for essential oil, as the yields of that are typically very low, so you need a critical mass of plant material to get some. We were happy to get hydrosol, because distillate waters have a beauty and magic all their own, and we wanted to explore this rare plant’s hydrosol.
We were so excited when the hydrosol started dripping into the jar, I had to remove the sound from the video! 🙂 Anyway, this may be the first-ever video of Cornutia grandifolia being distilled in the USA.
This is my first attempt to embed a youtube video into a blog post, I hope it works.
The first part of a hydrosol that appears is called the “head”, and it is typically very beautiful, sweet, perhaps full of esters. Not only did the Cornutia fill that description, it was the palest of silvery blue. I was wondering if it might contain chamazulene, the antiinflammatory agent in Roman Chamomile. The undersides of the leaves are silvery, and maybe the blue is present because of the blue flowers – which we did not distill, but might be present in other parts of the plant. After I posted about this on Jeanne Rose’s Hydrosols group on Facebook, she informed us that the flowers are mixed with lime(stone?) in France to make a blue ink.
Here is a photo of the “head” hydrosol:
We then switched to another sterile jar, and go the “body” of the hydrosol, and all the time, including while the “head” was processing, we were chatting about the scents we were observing coming from the still. Artichoke, ghee, floral, tobacco, mint were the first observations. Then in the “body” the artichoke receded a bit, and a balsam scent came through. I think we were a little perplexed, because we had never smelled anything like this before. We all agreed that the fragrance was strong, and an analogy could be made that it was a big and powerful looking as the plant and leaves.
I feel the hydrosol could be used in perfume, a tiny bit added to round out and give a complex, beautiful note.
When we detected that the scent coming out of the distillation was going flat, we knew we had reached the “tail” or end of the great-smelling distillate.The hydrosol was now finished, so we turned off the gas, capped the jar, and began the process of disassembling and cleaning the still – no easy task! Angie and Julia were so helpful, I can’t thank them enough.
Here is what the spent Cornutia leaves from the retort pot looked like when we took the column off:
Ann Harman’s book has instructions for evaluating the marc, how to examine the texture and look of the plant material, and despite the few odd green leaves, the marc fit the description of what it should look and feel like. You also have to examine the marc in the column, the part that was steam distilled. There were no dry spots, no areas where the steam did not pass through, so we felt pretty good about the project.
We now have almost two liters of “body” hydrosol distillate, and slightly less than one pint of “head”. We all took samples of the “body” to evaluate as it slightly aged. Over the course of this week, the artichoke has disappeared, and some sage notes, and then black tea notes (it even smells like sweetened iced tea!) have emerged along with floral, balsam, and others that are hard to define. No, no essential oil. Perhaps like the other Mint family plant that yields *very* little essential oil – Lemon Balm – this plant is to be prized for its hydrosol. What are the medicinal properties? Good question.
Angie Gonzales is an Ayurvedic practitioner and she will be delving into the large body of Spanish language written materials on this plant . It’s an ancient, powerful medicinal plant, and there have been a number of studies done on its medicinal properties in Central and South America. Since it was used by the Mayans, and Angie is from Mexico, she feels a special affinity for it. We will be reporting more on this wonderful plant in the future. Subscribe to this blog to be informed when we update it regarding Cornutia.
I just revised my insert card that I include when customers buy my sample box of 12 perfumes. I decided years ago that it’s best to make a suggestion about the sampling process, and the parallel to wine sampling. If you’ve ever visited a winery, or attended a wine sampling event, you’re familiar with this process.
At the wine event, you’ll be given the light, crisp whites to experience first. You inhale the bouquet (smell) and then taste the wine. Then you’ll move on to a more robust white, something like a Chardonnay, and so on, through light reds, to deep, full-bodied reds.
Why? Because the fuller-bodied, deeper, more robust wines will dull your taste buds and sense of smell a bit, overwhelming them so that if you taste a lighter wine afterwards, all the nuances of that wine will be lost. Light first, then move on through the more assertively scented and tasting wines, and you’ll be able to enjoy and fully experience all the nuances. It’s the same with perfumes!
Ironically, my lightest perfume is named Light, so I worked out the sampling progression from there, and each perfume from that starting point gets stronger and more full-bodied. By including this card, I help my customers in two ways: they have learned about the intensity and sampling system of wines and perfumes, and they don’t overwhelm their nose by choosing Fairchild or Star Flower first!
Hope this helps everyone understand and use a logical way to enjoy perfumes.
When you make perfume from flowers, there are several ways to extract the scent. I love to enfleurage rare flowers. Enfleurage is placing flowers on a bed of semi-hard fat, such as shortening, or rendered leaf lard and suet. The next step in the process is to “wash” the fat in alcohol. This post isn’t about enfleurage, except to point out why I don’t enfleurage a flower that seems ripe for the process.
Some flowers, even though they emit a lovely fragrance, shouldn’t be enfleuraged. There are several reason for this. Orange blossoms are fragile, and would fall apart in the enfleurage tray, requiring laborious defleuraging process – picking the petals out, one by one, with tweezers. Tweezers are routinely used to remove flowers from enfleurage fat, but not these, it would be a greasy fiasco, with much fat clinging to the petals, enveloping them.
My golden champaca tree is in full bloom, and I have never enfleuraged these flowers. Why? The edges of the flowers tend to start to ‘brown’ or slightly decay shortly after harvest. They would be a watery, moldy mess in enfleurage fat. I also don’t macerate them, which is place them in heated oil. The French, and before them, ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians, routinely placed flowers in warm fat or oil to extract the scent, but I find champaca so delicately scented, so ethereal, I use alcohol to tincture them.
I have been making my golden champaca tincture for several years now, and probably have about 20 charges of replenished flowers in the menstruum. The tincture is divine!!
This is why solvents are used to extract champacas. It’s quick, and saves the flowers from decomposition. Alcohol is a great solvent, and does the job. I have a glorious extract to work with, a statement every artisan perfumer can relate to. To make perfume with raw materials is fun, and you often get rare plants into the mix that you might not otherwise have access to.
Do you enfleurage? What observations have you made as to the limits of the materials you choose to work with?
PS. White champaca, Michelia alba – same decomposition problem, but to a lesser degree. An added problem with them is their tendency to shatter, thus the same problem as orange blossoms.