Tag Archives: natural perfumery

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: Flower of Flowers, the Beautiful Ylang Ylang

ylang ylang IMG_1484

With six fragrant petals that transition from greenish-yellow to deep yellow with bright pink centers when mature, the ylang ylang tree is highly fragrant in a purely tropical way. The tree is generally kept pruned to 10 ft for flower harvest but a mature, fully grown tree has long drooping branches that create a muted green chamber underneath. A warm, humid summer day releases a fragrance that is softly floral, uplifting, and yet slightly creamy. It’s pretty much heaven to be able to stand under one and just breathe.

ylang ylang treeYlang ylang is one of the flowers that can be distilled, often in lower capacity stills with a small charge to avoid damaging flowers.  Distillation may last up to 24 hours and results in different fractions: extra, ylang ylang I, ylang ylang II, ylang ylang III, or a full distillation results in ylang ylang complete. To produce the different fractions the distillation is stopped at various stages depending on specific gravity indicative of each fraction. Rather than conducting a full distillation, sometimes the complete is produced by combining the less popular first and second fractions. You will want to use a trusted vendor and check if your complete is associated with the letters VOP which stands for ‘very old process’ and indicates a single long distillation. The extra is the very first product that comes over in the distillation. There is also a ylang ylang absolute produced by solvent extraction.

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Perfumer’s Nose: Into the Woods With Oakmoss

Evernia_prunastri1 Tomas Cekanavicius

Oakmoss, photo by Tomas Cekanavicius from Wikimedia Commons

Indispensable to chypre and fougère perfumes, oakmoss is combined with citrus (bergamot), floral (jasmine or rose), woody (patchouli), oakmoss, and amber note with or without musk in the basic chypre formulation. In fougère perfumes oakmoss can deepen and accent the green, ferny, woodsy impression.

Due to its potential to act as a sensitizer, oakmoss is regulated in many countries leading to reformulation of some classic perfumes with synthetic versions of this important perfumery material. Or some are using oakmoss but with the atranol components removed. Whether or not we agree, those of us who work with the pure absolute know to be cautious in keeping it off our skin.

As with most ingredients that can be used as base notes, oakmoss should be deep and long-lasting, complex, and intriguing. Why? Because these are the notes that remain on our skin and have us sniffing again and again, using this impression to determine whether to spray a particular perfume again or put it on the shelf. This is also a particular strength of natural aromatics—they add longevity, yes, but more important they add interest and, in the end, tell the story of the perfume.

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Perfumer’s Nose: The Complexity of Cardamom

heart-166918_640This warm and spicy fragrance reminds me of home, of holidays, but also of cold and dark winters. When I was a child we lived in Sweden for a year. I was six and so I actually don’t remember much about it but we brought home warm woolen clothing, beautiful crystal, and some favorite foods. Around the holidays, my mom would break out the cardamom (a favorite spice of Scandinavians) and spend the day making rich and fragrant almond pastries in which cardamom was a key ingredient. This personal association along with a complex and intriguing aroma makes cardamom one of my favorite spices and a favorite aromatic. It was much later that I made the connection of cardamom with the savory and enjoyed it in a variety of Middle Eastern dishes. To me it is still a sweet fragrance, enriching vanilla and amber and adding intrigue to florals.

As usual, I turn to Arctander who tells us that cardamom oil is one of the oldest essential oils known with a mention in the reports of Valerius Cordus from 1540. In the report the oil is described and the process of distillation of cardamom is outlined. Arctander also reminds us that the best cardamom for distillation is the green variety. If you read my post at CaFleureBon, I go into much more detail about the spice and various types.

Elettaria_cardamomum_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-057As a ginger, cardamom might be expected to have a bite. Rather than the roots, however, the seeds of the cardamom plant are used. They should be fresh, just as when cooking, and the pale husk removed just before use. I have to admit to keeping some of the powdered around to add to my mango lassi or sprinkle on this and that. But for peak effect, the seeds should be ground fresh and used immediately. This is another spice with intriguing yet fleeting topnotes that add interest to a blend.

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Perfumer’s Nose: Sweet Anise



Anise Pimpinella anisum

Anisic is one of those primary scent descriptors that embodies a number of fragrant ingredients. Primarily and purely in the two spices of that name, anise and star anise, but there are some herbal sources of this sweet and unique fragrance. Basil, tarragon, and fennel are anisic herbs that add a hint of green to the sweetness.

licorice and anise 700 pxMany people describe anise as smelling like licorice which is somewhat circular as anise is one of the primary flavorings used in black licorice. True licorice comes from the roots of a legume and comes in the form of a very black and sticky extract that is primarily water-soluble. The fragrance is very light and the taste is very sweet.

Anise and star anise are two very different plants, anise is an annual plant with feathery leaves that produces a small fragrant seed. Star anise comes from a small evergreen tree native to Asia. Most of us are familiar with the pretty star-shaped fruits. Tarragon is an herb in the daisy family and the leaves are the fragrant part of the plant. Fennel is also an herb in the carrot and celery family.

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