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.
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
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.
I’ve neglected my blog for a few months, while cultivating and nourishing other aspects of my life as a natural perfumer. I chose today to rebirth the blog in celebration of Earth Day. It feels right, and I look forward to posting regularly again, reporting on discoveries, musings, and general fanciful natural aromatic news.
I took part in the first Earth Day celebrations on April 22, 1970. It was a “happening” on Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia. Fairmount Park is the largest park in an urban area in the world, encompassing woodland trails, meadows, wetlands and manicured grounds on 9200 acres.
I was very familiar with the park, because as a child growing up in Philly, the park was just a few blocks from my home. It’s the largest urban park in the world and it provided a playground for the kids. I loved the pine forest, the open meadows, and all the fragrant beauty it offered. Earth Day seemed an extension of my fun days of childhood, and was a signal of an awakening of the general population that we need to take care of Mother Earth.
A video of Belmont Plateau and why we needed Earth Day in Filthydelphia:
Did you know that the first Earth WEEK was that week in Philly? It was conceived at the University of Pennsylvania, right in my neighborhood. Interesting fact, and one I’m proud of. I was distributing a local underground paper at that time, and writing a bit for Rolling Stone (very informal stuff), and the city was abuzz with the big event upcoming at the Plateau.
I don’t have any photos of myself at the event, this was a time waaay before every event was memorialized on film. Yes, of course, we had film in those days 🙂 I can’t even find any photos of myself around that time, since I’ve moved so much in the intervening years things, like photos, got lost.
However, memories remain: I’m sure I was wearing patchouli or sandalwood oil that day, and later, when I was able to collect absolutes and a wider range of aromatic oils a few years later, the path to natural perfumery was beckoning. In the interim, I got degrees in Economic Botany and Landscape Architecture, wrote for Organic Gardening magazine, started community gardens, and was elected to a State of Florida office as District Manager of the USDA Soil and Water Conservation District in Collier County. All the time I was studying perfumery, herbalism, and aromatherapy. I connected the earth with healing and pleasure, and still do, every day. I am an Earth Child, for sure.
I love my perfume Pan because it’s an agrestic forest and field fragrance that reminds me of the park and my childhood. It’s also a very sexy musky scent, and when I created Pan I realized how musky the park was with wild animal pheromones. I was a lucky urban child because I was able to explore the feral natural world, and am lucky enough to still be doing that today, with my perfumery materials. To a natural perfumer, every day is Earth Day.
To celebrate Earth Day 2016 – a celebration that I never envisioned all those years ago, as a teenager lolling around on a warm sunny day on Belmont Plateau, I’m offering a 15ml spray bottle Eau de Parfum of Pan. Leave a message what Earth Day means to you, even if is a short note, just a phrase, a feeling, or something you learned about me from the post – and you will be in the random drawing to win Pan. Share on Social Media and you’ll be entered twice! Drawing is open until 11:59PM Saturday, April 23, 2016.
PS Enjoy Spring!
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.