Perfumer’s Nose: Oud, The Nuances

Deep Earth Scent Vision

The second time around I switch the order of the oud samples. For my first sniffing trial, I randomly lined up my little sample vials which were all diluted to 10%. The dilute samples on the scent strips yield the nuances in different ways as the fragrance dries out. A few things happen as I go through the samples, mainly I confirmed that evaluating oud is a learned skill and that I could probably go through these few samples many more times and get something different each time. But I also found that some aspects come through whether it is the first sample of the day or the last sample.

I like to think I have a well-trained nose but I have known all along that the determined character of agarwood essential oils would put my nose to the test. Which happened. What also happened was that I walked around with the smell of oud in my nose – kind of a nice effect that fragranced the world around me. But it also limited any other evaluations I could conduct for at least a day.

It won’t be surprising that the more subtle aspects of fruit and fine wood are lost as your nose becomes a bit overloaded with oud. I did pretty well the first time through, picking up nuances of woody notes, spice, water, and even honey in all samples even though some of the stronger and more animalic samples came up early in the evaluation. For the second evaluation, I used my notes from the previous one to put the samples in order from lightest fragrance to strongest. By doing this I was able to find the more subtle nuances: hints of cedar, definite floral aspects in more of the samples, and green notes appeared as well. But the best find in my second time through was a wonderful deep fruity and wine-like note in two of the samples that I missed the first time around. In one it was intertwined with spicy berries and the other it appeared as a sort of wine-y wood. Honeyed tones also shone through a bit more. I seemed to detect smoke less often and used watery and mossy descriptors less often as well.

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Perfumer’s Nose: Oud, The Beginning

AquilariaAstragalusRoyle US Public DomainSo many names – agarwood, oud, oudh, aloeswood, kyara, jinkoh, gaharu, eaglewood, kynam, sinking wood.

So many nuances—incense, wood, smoke, barnyard, balsam, sandalwood, ambergris, animalic, civet, fruity, fresh, minty, herbaceous, vetiver, spicy, peppery, galbanum, honey, castoreum.

Nuanced? Actually, yes, there are quite a few nuanced oud essential oils out there. There are also some with their fair share of stank. To be fair, when I walk out of my studio leaving the many scent strips on my workbench, it is the skank I smell when I come back in. But up close and with my eyes closed there are nuances, themes, accents, touches, and even choruses. But more about that later.

Perhaps I should define the stank part of agarwood; it’s a tough one but here is my take on it. The stronger ones seem to have a strong woody smell with tones of something like armpit or perhaps civet, if civet were a plant. But it’s a really nice armpit, one that maybe not long ago was daubed with honey or some sort of exotic spicy wood essence. You want to smell it again and maybe add a bit of rich fruit or a touch of smoke.

But don’t forget, there are some oud oils with no stank, beautiful worn alone on the skin, and endlessly interesting.

First the tree—there are a number of Aquilaria species comprising agarwood. In its natural state it has a relatively pale heartwood with little or no fragrance. It’s not the wood but the resin, produced as a result of wounding or infection by a fungus, that is aromatic. Age and level of injury act together to produce a highly resinated wood that is aromatic and darkly patterned. The pattern or dark striations on the light wood evoke the pattern of eagle feathers, thus the scientific name Aquilaria meaning eagle. Infection occurs naturally in a portion of the living trees, about 7%. From looking at the tree, it is difficult to determine whether it has produced a resin; cutting into the tree (or cutting it down completely) is often the only way to determine the level of aromatic resin. Over-exploitation has led to a drastic decline in this wood growing naturally in its native habitat throughout Asia with the result that many countries are exploring, with some success, the production of agarwood through cultivation.

Oud or agarwood oil is the product of steam distillation of resinous wood. So many things are involved in the fragrance of the agarwood—infection, wounding, terroir, age of the tree, and even species. In addition, once the wood is harvested it may be treated in a variety of ways before and during distillation. The wood is generally soaked for various lengths of time, water used for soaking may be local water or purified, distillation units may be traditional iron or modern glass, and the length of distillation can extend to days.

world soulThe story of oud is ancient and complex, the ways we use it seem to be the same. In pure form it serves excellently as a personal fragrance, as an incense it has an ancient history continuing to modern times, and more recently it has served as a unique note in perfumes.

Do you have a definition for skank? Do you use or collect agarwood/oud? How do you use it?

Next time I will talk about my search for all the above words and nuances in my samples of agarwood. Many thanks to JK DeLapp of Rising Phoenix Perfume and Katlyn Breene of Mermade Arts for beautiful products, lovely artwork, and free samples.

Read more about oud in my article for CaFleureBon here: http://www.cafleurebon.com/cafleurebon-oud-in-perfumery-wood-of-the-gods-12-oud-agarwood-aloeswood-oudh-perfumes-draw/

The image of agarwood is from WikiMedia and is US Public Domain, Deep Earth Vision is courtesy of Katlyn Breene.

Perfumer’s Nose: The Lovely Frangipani

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Frangipani Plumeria alba Copyright Elise Pearlstine

The absolute of frangipani comes in a jar; the true fragrance from my side yard in the early morning and early evening. Also known as plumeria, it is an amazing tree with a luscious tropical fragrance that is strongly floral and just slightly fruity. It has just the slightest hint of the decadence that characterizes some tropical flowers. The one above is my favorite and was grown from seed pods scavenged at a local nursery. Another planting yielded a more familiar yellow and white variety that also smells lovely with a slightly stronger hint of peach. The branches seem to be quite fragile and I will sometimes find them broken off and growing leaves as they lay on the ground beneath the tree. Since this is Florida, such things happen.

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My yellow one.

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The Cannonball Tree Couroupita guianensis

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Cannonball Tree Flower Copyright Elise Pearlstine

This is a story of color, fragrance, pollen, structure, and bees. As usual, the first time I saw one I followed my nose to this amazing tree with spikes of brightly colored flowers. The tree at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is my favorite, it is 100 years old and looks to be dressed in flowers from the stalks that cascade down the trunk. I have seen younger trees where the blossoming stalks project right out of the trunk. A member of the Brazil nut family, it is native to the rainforests of South America.

With pink petals, pink and yellow stamens, and a diffusive fragrance, the tree attracts a variety of bees to the blossoms where they are given a meal of pollen in exchange for cross-pollinating the flowers. Flowers that are cross-pollinated yield more fruit that those that are bagged to keep the pollen within a single flower, if they set fruit at all. The flowers do not produce nectar but do produce fragrant droplets that volatilize on the surface of the flower.

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Cannonball Tree Flowers Copyright Elise Pearlstine

The hood of the flower is an extension of the pollen ring (where the fertile stamens are found) that extends outwards and curves around. This forms a chamber where pollinators enter to feed on the sterile pollen and at the same time pick up the fertile pollen on their fuzzy bodies. After watching honeybees working the flowers for a while, it became clear that larger bees such as bumblebees would probably be a better fit and more efficient at depositing pollen, which is what my research found.

Another wonderful story of pollinators and flowers!

Perfumer’s Nose: The Other Lavenders

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Lavender Flowers Copyright Elise Pearlstine

There are lavenders that are wild, lavenders that are hybrids, and lavenders that are not distilled but extracted via solvent. I’ll go through this varied group today. The same descriptors I used in my last blog apply: floral, herbaceous, sharp, woody, balsamic, coumarinic, refreshing, and clean notes.

For my last blog (Part 2), I evaluated 12 varieties of Lavandula angustifolia here (http://tambela.com/blog/perfumers-nose-lavender-a-purple-haze/), and Part 1 was an introduction to lavender here (http://tambela.com/blog/perfumers-nose-lavender-love/).

Today I sniff other lavender types and species:

Lavandula angustifolia Wild—is sharp, woody, and slightly rooty. The floral lavender is apparent underneath the woody notes and the dryout is mild and fresh. It definitely has a wild aspect to it but is not harsh. Continue reading

Perfumer’s Nose: Lavender: A Purple Haze

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Lavender Copyright Elise Pearlstine

True or English lavender belongs to the species Lavandula angustifolia (previously/also known as L. officinalis). Lavandula comes from the Latin word ‘lavare’ meaning ‘to wash’ and angustifolia refers to the narrow leaf. Officinalis is often used as the species name for medicinal plants. As a valuable horticultural and economic plant, this species of lavender has been the subject of selection and breeding to produce a variety of sizes, colors, and fragrance profiles. It is easy to grow if you are in the right zone, hardy and drought-tolerant, beautiful, and everyone loves a fragrant plant. Some examples of the variety of characteristics to be found:

  • Size—dwarf or compact varieties in particular
  • Hardiness—cold, soil, drought
  • Leaf color—variegated or silver
  • Flower color—shades of purple, pink, white, and even yellow or red
  • Growth habits—fast or slow
  • Fragrance—everything from sweet and floral to medicinal and camphoraceous

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Perfumer’s Nose: Lavender Love

pretty lavender 750 pxThere are places in the world that you immediately recognize and that feel comfortable to you. The Provence area in the South of France is one of those for me. The climate is Mediterranean, which refers to the deep blue sea that is such a part of the coastline there, but also to specific climatic characteristics. A Mediterranean climate is hot and dry in the summer, often receiving little to no rain for 4-6 months during the warm season, with mild to cool winters that are wet. In addition to coastal areas of the Mediterranean Basin, other areas with a similar climate include much of California, southwestern Oregon, parts of West and South Australia, parts of South Africa, sections of central Asia, and central Chile.  These are generally coastal areas where the ocean is a moderating force in the winter. In these areas, mountains and highland areas provide for cooler temperatures during the summer but also in winter.

The characteristic shrubby vegetation may be familiar to anyone who has spent time in the Maquis of the Mediterranean region, the Fynbos in Africa, Chaparral of North America and the Kwongan of Australia. These ecosystems are shaped by fire and many of the plants are fire-loving and will re-grow readily after fires, outcompeting those not adapted to a fire regime. Their tough leaves are well adapted to retaining water during times of drought and they are often aromatic. The aromatic plants rosemary, thyme, and lavender are native to this area as are evergreens, olives, figs, citruses, bay laurel, sages and various grassland species.

Provence EVP_5566Does this explain why I love Provence? Perhaps a bit – the landscape is open and rugged, dramatic, often aromatic, and with a wonderful diversity of life. It just feels like home to me.

This is the home of lavender and, depending on what you read, there are between 30 and 40 species in the genus Lavandula that have originated in these areas. These also tend to be the areas where lavender is being grown commercially.

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Perfumer’s Nose: Variations on Orange

Orange with Mint Copyright Elise PearlstineWhen I teach about essential oils and talk about the citrus group, I mostly talk about their cheerful nature. Citrus essential oils, especially orange, will uplift you and make a great room spray or kitchen countertop cleaner. I remind students never to use citrus essential oils on their skin neat, or in any fashion, before exposure to the sun due to the potential for phototoxicity. I remind them that citrus essential oils are best used within six months to a year and should be refrigerated. And always date your oils when you receive them.

We then have a wonderful time blending orange, lemon, grapefruit, mandarin, and bergamot. Then we might add in a touch of lavender or some peppermint. Citruses are easy and forgiving and everyone goes home with a lovely blend for diffusing.

There’s something to be said for easy and there are times a nice orange essential oil does just what you want it to, whether it’s a bit of lift in a perfume topnote or just diffused into a room to cheer you up. And I love it in our orange spice soap too!

But, really, an orange is not an orange is not an orange. There are several types of orange, all with varying degrees of intensity, deepness, sweetness, and orange-ness. For this post I evaluate four types of your basic orange essential oils from the fruit Citrus sinensis.

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Perfumer’s Nose: Amber Perfume Accords

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-amber-succinite-rosin-close-up-image40660876It’s not the gem but it has a golden aura about it. It’s not the whale product, ambergris sometimes called ambre, but it can be sweet and earthy at the same time. What is it? Amber, when the term is used in perfumery, is an accord or blend that has the basic formula of benzoin, vanilla and labdanum. I found my first formula for an amber base in Mandy Aftel’s iconic book Essence and Alchemy. Her formula is about 4:1 benzoin to labdanum with just a hint of vanilla. She then uses her amber accord like another fragrant ingredient. Other ingredients that she mentions are styrax and civet.

Labdanum is a favorite base note of mine and I have found that just a tiny bit can do wonders to extend and sweeten the base accord in a perfume. I reach for the dark and rich absolute that is thick in the bottle as often as I reach for the ‘clear’ version which is a bit easier to work with but still thick. A note here: I love working with thick and gooey botanicals in their pure form. I don’t warm them to make them easier to pour but I use a variety of ‘tools’ to scrape and chop the absolutes. Basically getting my hands fragrantly dirty as I do this perfume work. This takes time but I love the connection with these amazing and deep botanical ingredients.

Benzoin, as I write about in my last post, is golden and sweet—a pure vanilla. Add anywhere from a touch to a smidge to a healthy dose of vanilla to get just the right amount of rich and deep. Or use a lighter vanilla CO2 for a more easy-going vanilla note.

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