Category Archives: Ask the Perfumer

Helpful tools for perfumemaking

Monday - 29 July 2019

Essentials pictured above very useful, but not an exhaustive list represented here in this photo. More perfumemaking tools are shown below in this post.

PHOTO: stainless steel tray for surface protection when pouring, filling bottles, etc. Stainless steel measuring cups and spoons. Borosilicate beakers, stainless steel funnels, stainless potato ricer for straining botanicals from alcohol tincture. Stainless steel strainers when filtering tinctures. Thermometers for heating materials. Graduated cylinders, droppers, and offset spatula for enfleurage lids. Not pictured: stainless steel bowls, filter papers.

It’s not just beakers, and pipettes and scales, there are many interesting and inexpensive tools for perfume making that I have found indispensable. Here are some of the tools and gadgets I’ve found helpful in the perfumemaking process. Please google or do further research into any process you’re interested in, as I won’t be answering individual questions about them on the blog. My students learn about these at different stages of their studies and receive in-depth training and have questions answered in their forums. When my new teaching site launches, there will be over 100 pages of supplemental materials for their enjoyment/learning at http://PerfumeClasses.com

Monprene dropper

For years, I used rubber dropper tops, and finally gave up, due to evaporation of the alcohol and essential oil dilutions, rendering my carefully-weighed dilutions useless. Then I found out about laboratory-grade monprene bulbs. They’re made to resist any solvents, and my perfume organ is now evaporation-proof! I think the smallest size the monprene droppers come in is for 15ml/half-ounce bottles, which you see in the picture. Available in black or white.

Ah, visual serenity, aesthetic beauty, and so much more refined! This perfume organ should be the desired type for artisan perfumers. Modern, cost-effective, and so easy to use!

Ah, visual serenity, aesthetic beauty, and so much more refined! This perfume organ should be the desired type for artisan perfumers. Modern, cost-effective, and so easy to use!

Scale

I make my perfumes by diluted aromatics/dropper method, and then, using specific gravity calculations, measure the undiluted aromatics I need to make the perfume. A scale helps in both processes. First, I dilute using the aromatic and alcohol weights to the desired concentration, and then I later measure the aromatic for the finished perfume. A good, inexpensive scale can work for this, especially in the dilution phase. Find a scale that measures down to the hundredths (0.00) and up to 200 grams, even 100 grams will do. Use borosilicate (lightweight) 50 ml beakers for the dilution measurements. Upgrade to a 0.00 to 500-gram scale as your business grows šŸ˜‰

 

Wax-Carving Tools

When working with thick aromatics like labdanum, tonka bean absolute and such, nothing makes it easier to remove from the bottle for dilution or weighing than wax carving tools. They’re stainless steel so they’re non-reactive and very sturdy, they won’t bend or break off in the bottle.

Separatory Funnel

This is handy for both perfumes and distillation, i.e., separating essential oil from the hydrosol. I’m using this illustration because it’s labeled, but separatory funnels are glass and require a metal stand to hold them upright.

Conductivity meter aka Total Dissolved Solids meter

I make a lot of tinctures from flowers, leaves, roots, etc., in alcohol. The essential oils in the botanicals dissolve in the alcohol and you can measure the amount with these inexpensive meters. Alcohol equals 0 on the meter, and each time you recharge the alcohol by straining out the spent botanical and adding fresh botanical to the alcohol, you can check the TDS number. At a certain point, you will see the number stops rising, and that means the alcohol is saturated with the essential oil, and you can cease recharging. Very handy device.

 

Mixer with Teflon bars

Mixers work to blend perfumes before bottling. They’re not always necessary, but are helpful when there are 1) oils that are very different in consistency, or 2) you want to help the “aging” or “maturation” process of your perfume.Ā  See the vortex in the beaker? The Teflon bar is on the bottom, and a force in the mixer causes it to churn. Keep your perfume covered with a plate, and run the mixer in short bursts, stopping every 12 hours or so to evaluate the change in the perfume.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sterilize Equipment with UV light

After washing your bottles, caps, and equipment, it’s a good idea to sterilize them, especially true if you’re making hydrosols. These UV units are sold to the tattoo and nail arts businesses but are suitable for small scale sterilization for our purposes. Get one with a top rack, as shown. I put clean bottles on the top rack, and it’ll fit two one-quart jars or many smaller bottles. I put the caps facing upwards on the bottom, as the light will pass through the glass and sterilize the caps. Some hydrosol equipment is shown in the photo below.


 

Vacuum pump for filtration

 

These are primarily used drain brake fluid from cars but have been adapted to aid in the filtration of perfumes with a Buchner filter and Erlenmeyer flask. Make sure to wear eye protection when using this, the spring inside may fly out. Inexpensive but a bit tricky. There are more expensive, different filtering devices on the market.

Potato Ricer to Strain Tincture material

I use a stainless steel food press as an herbal press for small amounts. I was able to fit about half the spent flowers into the first pressing.

I use a stainless steel food press as an herbal press for small amounts. I was able to fit about half the spent flowers into the first pressing.

Microplane grater

I’ve seen people grinding precious ambergris in a mortar and pestle, and I’d never do that! Too much waste of the gris, and who needs a scented mortar? I use these instead, and they’re fast and non-reactive.

Microplane grater suitable for making ambergris tincture

Microplane grater suitable for making ambergris tincture

That’s all for now, I’ll follow up with more tools and techniques I’ve found useful in perfumemaking in my decades of experimenting and refining the process. In the meantime, subscribe to my blog to see the latest in modern techniques for natural perfumery, and any aromatic observations I make.

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Make Hydrosol the Simplers Herbalist Way

Sunday - 17 January 2016

Simplers Distillation to Create a Quick and Easy Hydrosol

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.

What’s the difference between Hydrosols and Simply Boiling the Botanical?

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 Make Hydrosols?

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 sensualĀ 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!

Some ideas for a simplers' hydrosol - lilies, rose geranium, citrus rinds, leaves, or flowers, dried patchouli or other herbs or teas - etc., etc.

Some ideas for a simplers’ hydrosol – lilies, rose geranium, citrus rinds, leaves, or flowers, dried patchouli or other herbs or teas – etc., etc.

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 donā€™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 simplersā€™ distillation, paying homage to the ancient simplersā€™ method of herbal tincturing and infusion. The simplers’ way means nothing is measured, and the botanical is simply covered by the menstruum ā€“ water, in this case ā€“ 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 thanĀ 78F, I have to resort to using ice to facilitateĀ 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.

simplers hydrosol pot with bowl lid and steam small_opt

Inverted glass lid with metal handle (all non-reactive materials) showing steam starting to materialize after a few minutes of water and rosemary in pot being heated.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.

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.

Equipment needed:

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 lidĀ 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.

Directions

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 ā€œspentā€, 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.

Sterilizing The Hydrosol Container

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 containerĀ 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.

 

Quick and easy way to sterilize materials with UV light.

Quick and easy way to sterilize materials with UV light.

Refreshing rosemary simplers' hydrosol made with fresh rosemary from my garden. Note the bottle and cap from the UV sterilization unit.

Refreshing rosemary simplers’ hydrosol made with fresh rosemary from my garden. Note the bottle and cap from the UV sterilization unit.

My photos don’t do the process justice. The first link is a good documentation of the process. The author uses dried elderflowers.

http://ourheritageofhealth.com/elderflower-water-a-homemade-hydrosol/

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Vnv4gTeTv8

Combo hydrosols

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!

Ask the Perfumer Sunday: More on making perfume

Sunday - 21 September 2014

The Ask the Perfumer forum is sporadic now, as I am caught up in so many projects, but I still love to assist others in making perfume, tinctures, enfleurage, etc. Feel free to post a question between now and 10 PM ET USA. For fun, a lovely photo of a Florida green orchard bee from photographer Mark Lenz.

marklenz-green-orchard-bee-arcadia-fl