Category Archives: Tincture and Enfleurage

Perfumer’s Nose: The Lovely Frangipani


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.

golden frangipani 750 px

My yellow one.

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Sacred and Profane: Tincturing Raw Materials

IMG_2274 frankincense teaars very small

Frankincense Tears Copyright Elise Pearlstine

Contradictions make the world most interesting and perfume is no exception. The glory of jasmine is a combination of ethereal floral with the funk of indol. Salted caramel, masculine and feminine, chocolate and nuts, satin and lace, roses and musk.Need I say more?

In searching for the perfect ingredient for a new perfume and exploring musky ingredients I had the opportunity to tincture two wonderful natural ingredients, frankincense and hyraceum. Both occur in natural form as a solid that may be extracted.  Frankincense—a sacred resin—it is usually distilled. Hyraceum—the solidified urine and droppings of small herbivorous mammals—is generally tinctured.

The Sacred:

Frankincense grows in inhospitable and rocky areas surrounding the Arabian Sea. Resin from the frankincense tree was historically reserved for divine worship and considered sacred to the gods. It is the product of wounded trees, cut with axes and collected in tears the drip from the cuts. There are various grades of frankincense including Hougary frankincense which is lovely and lemony, rich and resinous. Good frankincense always has a citrus note and may also be floral and lightly balsamic. Light green frankincense has a very typical frankincense note with floral tones and frereana has pronounced lemon and floral aspects but also with a bit of a plastic note. I love them all and review these in an earlier blog at

More recently I have obtained some Hougary Super White frankincense from Mermade Magickal Arts and absolutely loved it for its sweet and watery frankincense aroma with a bit of piney resin. At the same time I was working on a seaweed/seaside note for a perfume and could see how that watery note of these frankincense tears would enhance the perfume, much more so than any frankincense in my collection. So, artisan perfumer that I am, I decided to tincture the frankincense and see if I could keep this lovely watery note along with the sweet resiny fragrance.

The Profane:

Hyraceum from the rock hyrax (Provacia capensis) or dassie is a cruelty-free musk note. The animals live in rocky outcrops in Africa near the trees and bushes they browse on. They are territorial and diurnal and look like small woodchucks. A patch of long hair on their back surrounds a bare patch contains a gland that secretes pheromones that may be used to mark their territory and help young hyraxes to recognize their mothers.


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Enfleurage: Lessons from Frangipani to Peony

frangipani in a basket

Frangipani Blossoms for Enfleurage Copyright Elise Pearlstine

The art of enfleurage is made possible by the breath of flowers:  blooms of jasmine, tuberose, frangipani and others continue to manufacture and emit perfume even after picking.  It is an ancient art practiced by the Egyptians (and probably many others) but perfected in Grasse, France in the 18th century.

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Alcohol, Oil and Spices – Tinctures and More

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to update this blog with some of my latest trials in capturing scent.  But first, I have some news. This will be the last Bellyflowers blog.  We are changing our name back to our original name, Tambela, as in Tambela Natural Perfumes.  We do this for a number of reasons and they all feel right.  The new blog is right on our Tambela site and will continue in much the same format and subject matter as before.  In conjunction with our name change we have been working hard on new packaging, labels, and everything that a name change entails.  Details to come!
Meanwhile, partly for pure experimentation and partly to explore new media, I have been working on infusing spices in oil, primarily almond oil.  I use the term ‘infusion’ for my oil experiments although it can be used for any process that ‘infuses’ aromatic substances into a liquid.  The word ‘tinctures’ is my term for alcohol-based scent extraction.  Tincture is more consistently used to refer to an alcohol solution.
My spice adventure started with a lovely little Indian restaurant in Vancouver called Vij’s where I sniffed and bought Vij’s Chai spice.  It is a wonderful blend of green cardamom and fennel and just perfect for a warm, green topnote in a perfume.  Then I picked up some juniper berries at the local market later last summer along with some organic cacao.  My last experiment was with basmati rice which has been mentioned by a couple of other natural perfumers.  These are the alcohol tinctures I have been working with and I am loving the results.

The need for a nice coffee, vanilla, cardamom, and coconut scent in sweet almond oil drove the next batch of experiments.  The results for this one are a bit mixed but definitely promising.  I had not experimented with fixed oils before and really enjoyed the softness of the extracted scents and with the vanilla and coffee especially found it a nice combination. The cardamom and coconut were disappointing, both true to the original scent but very light and not at all persistent.  Here are my results.
Alcohol experiments first:
Vij’s Chai – wonderful, gorgeous, lasts at least 15 minutes and has a lovely progression from sharply green fennel to a really great combination of the cardamom and fennel.  Very reminiscent of most Indian restaurants I have been to and creating a surprisingly workable and unusual topnote for a new perfume.
Juniper berries – also very nice.  This tincture was initially more full and rich than juniper essential oil and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The resinous and sharp aspect of the berries developed as it sat on my scent strip and was very nice.  Again, a good top note.
Cacao – this was in the form of organic bits that I ground just a little in my mortar and pestle.  This tincture is not the rich, almost thick scent of cocoa/cacao absolute but a light, sweet, almost fruity chocolate.  It is disappointingly light in fragrance and doesn’t last long.  Probably worth some further experimentation!
Basmati rice – the full blown scent of basmati rice right out of the bottle.  Soft, rich, grainy and warm, I really like it.  It will take some experimentation to figure out the best use but was definitely worth the try!
Next, the oil infusions:
Coffee – ground up in sweet almond oil gives the rich true aroma of fresh ground coffee and makes a nice blender for coffee essential oils (basically cold-pressed coffee beans) that can be a bit sharp and harsh.  It’s nice and light and wouldn’t take over a blend.
Vanilla – I like to buy ground vanilla online for my tinctures and thought I’d try it in sweet almond oil.  Like the coffee it provided a true vanilla scent that I quite like.
Cardamom – I tried this first for some soap I was making to try and keep the cost down.  I’m not sure it was any less expensive and produced a very light but true cardamom fragrance.
Coconut (toasted) – so hard to get naturally and still not completely satisfactory.  This was very light but had a nice toasty aroma to it.  Also not sure where to go with this one.
Bonus extractions:
I went back to two floral enfleurages I had made at my mom’s house last spring.  The lily of the valley alcohol wash of the enfleurage continues to astound me.  It is only about 10 mls but it is absolutely beautiful and strong and very true to the scent of the flower.  I am really hoping there are some flowers still blooming when I go to visit at the end of May.  As for the peony enfleurage I have had mixed luck.  My first attempt provided a really nice light true peony scent.  The next summer my assistants were not as vigilant in changing out the flowers while they were still fresh and there was a bit of a funky note in this batch.  The third summer (I seem to visit my mom in June when the peonies are in bloom!) yielded about a cup of enfleurage in two Tupperware containers.  I tucked one in the back of my refrigerator and added alcohol to the other in a mason jar.  Then promptly forgot about them.  The jar with alcohol and fat ended up with nearly all the alcohol, and the scent, absorbed back into the fat.  I got a tiny bit of mildly scented alcohol when I filtered it.  Then I pulled the second container out of the fridge and was completely surprised to get a beautiful true peony scent from the fat nearly a year later.  So it is now in a jar with alcohol and I will stir and shake for a few days, a week at the most, and then filter.
What are your happy surprises and disappointments?  Let us know what works for you and what does not work.