Traditionally using a mix of beef fat and lard from pigs.
exhaled by the flowers without using any heat that would inevitably damage the most delicate odour compounds. The scented fat (the so-called ‘pommade’) is then washed in food-grade ethanol (96%), shaken daily for three weeks until the alcohol is saturated with its scent. Finally the alcohol-fat mixture is drained to remove the now scentless fat, whereas the alcohol gets repeatedly filtered leaving us with the so-called ‘extrait’ (extract) from enfleurage.”
In perfume processing factories in France in the 19th and 20th centuries, a mixture of beef fat and lard was used. A 50-80cm square glass plate in a wooden frame was smeared with the animal fat, and the flowers – minus their calices – were laid on top. Several of these frames were stacked on top of one another. You can see the process carried out in the 2006 film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer when lead character, Jean-baptiste Grenouille, goes to Grasse, the home of the perfuming craft, and learns the process of enfleurage.
After the requisite period of time, the flowers were removed and fresh flowers were laid. This process was repeated, up to 30 times, until the fat had absorbed the fragrance.
The enfleurage process is ideal for extracting the fragrance from jasmine and other flowers, like tuberose and lilacs, but it’s a long-winded process. The modern method extracts these scents with the use of solvents, like grain alcohol or hexane at a low temperature. The hexane is then removed or the alcohol allowed to evaporate and you’re left with the oil.
If this all sounds too lengthy or complicated for you, tinctures and infusions are a simpler means of extracting scents from botanicals. Herbalist Donna Lee of Cottage Hill Herbs in Upper Hutt runs a perfume workshop that utilises organicallygrown herbs.
“There are many, many herbs and spices that may be used to make perfumes: anise, cinnamon, vanilla, cardamon, balm of Gilead, fragrant pelargonium, lemon grass, lemon balm, mints, citrus, sweet woodruff, angelica, including flowers, leaves, fruit, root and seeds. They can all be tinctured into vodka or witch hazel or perfumer’s alcohol, and also made into hydrosols, infused oils or pressed into fats and extracted that way.”
You could also try your hand at extracting essential oils.
“The beautiful pure essential oil of melissa, for example, is more powerful than the fresh herb – a small bottle of essential oil requires around 70kg of leaf for extraction by steam.
It is powerful, but very gentle, having wonderful anti-inflammatory properties, plus its anti-viral wonders, so is useful in creams, ointments and lip balms, etc. The gentle hydrosol is also most beneficial for skincare.”
Perfumes can be made as solids, oils, creams, colognes and sprays, using various bases and whatever extract or extracts are applicable to the product.
“Essential oils, infused oils, tinctures and hydrosols can be added, for instance, to create a cream perfume with intensity of fragrance and can equal, in my opinion, an expensive store-bought perfume,” says Donna. “Fragrant oils (phthalate-free) may also be used in combinations with pure essential oils, as this is how perfumes are created.”
Vanessa, who also runs perfume workshops, mainly uses essential oils, resins and absolutes to scent her natural botanical perfumes, with the occasional unusual fragrance such as seaweed tincture and birch tar. But she also has a passion for developing a specifically New Zealand perfume culture. She’s one of four artists-in-residence at Studio One Toi Tu in Auckland, where she is pursuing her interest in New Zealand perfumery.
“Part of my project as an artist-inresidence this year is seeking out new perfume materials, both indigenous and introduced. I’m interested also in scented plants and flowers grown and processed here. Some people don’t realise that flowers reflect terroir. So, for example, lavender that’s grown here in New Zealand smells different to lavender that’s grown in France or in Spain or in England.”
If you’re looking to sniff out a commercial opportunity from botanicals grown on your block, why not look to natural New Zealand scents? Much
if you’re looking to sniff out a commercial opportunity on your block, a uniquely nz fragrance might be an option.
like Nz-grown sauvignon blanc wines have found favour on the international market, it’s possible the fragrance of a Nz-grown plant could do the same thing. Vanessa recommends asking professional perfumers what they might want, and getting insight from the cosmetic, toiletry and candle industries.
“Avail yourself of the wealth of knowledge in the community; there are some really helpful Facebook groups, and perfume forums, for example, with professional perfumers happy to help.” And take a course. “As with any art or science, it takes time and practice to gain skill. Attend a workshop or a class; you will learn a lot in a short space of time and it will give you confidence to start your own experiments.”