The perfume of Aglaia odorata in the garden - more Independence Day for perfumers

I adore neroli, but the neroli that is what we call the essential oil distilled from the blossoms of Citrus aurantium does not compare to the scent of those blossoms in the garden. I first created a natural tincture/absolute of those blossoms about 30 years ago at the University of California, Riverside, armed only with a bucket of vodka. ;-) Into the vodka went the blossoms where they were left to tincture for a day, and then the vodka was recharged with more blossoms three or four times. The resulting extraction was true to the blossoms' scent, and cherished by me for several years as I used it to make perfumes.

Aglaia flower is often called Chinese lemon tree or Chinese perfume tree among other names. The scent of the blooms in the garden, again, like the neroli, is quite different from the concrete or absolute we perfumers purchase. While glorious, fruity, floral, with a touch of tea, the commercial extract is missing the beautiful soft, uplifting nuances of the flower. The flower amazes all who see it: tinier than a lentil, the little panicles of bright yellow round flowers radiate their perfume for about 20 feet.

The dainty, floral, sweet scent is so very tender and lovely, it haunted me that I could not put my finger on the exact scent it reminded me of until I sniffed a lemon the other day. I'll admit, I hadn't just taken a lemon in hand and held it to my nose and sniffed it for some time. That was it - the exact scent of the aglaia flower. Not the lemon rind oil we use in perfumery - that is the peel once it has been crushed. The unbroken lemon has a quality of roundness and soft sweetness that disappears once the rind is pierced (as I pierced it with my fingernail for a comparison right on the spot) and that mystery solved, I can only say how fortunate and grateful I am that I have a small aglaia.

The tree has been blooming almost continually since last fall, and I have a lovely stock of the tinctured extract. I just harvest the little yellow flowers and they're in alcohol in less than 10 minutes. The difference from the commercial concrete/absolute is much more than the difference between the neroli flower tincture and neroli essential oil, so I'm glad to have this homemade artisan product. Priceless!

A note about the sometimes repeated description that the commercial extract is made "from the comminuted (crushed) seeds." Aglaia doesn't set many seeds, according to many botany sources I've checked. And tell me - how in the heck could - or would anybody be able to peel that tiny flower to get at them - I can't find a closeup photo of the flower right now, but it's a tightly-enclosed tiny, tiny ball. I was generous when I described it as the size of a lentil earlier. They must just place the entire flower into the solvent, in my opinion, there's just no truth to the crushed-seed source. The manpower, and the destructive act of what? Dumping those tiny, pretty little flowers onto some kind of roller to smash them? What a waste of energy and what destruction of a lovely, delicate scent.

Then again - I may be wrong if it is not the bright yellow petals that have the scent, but instead, the tiny seeds inside. I cannot find reference to the source of the scent in the plant. I certainly have not crushed the flowers to obtain my beautiful tincture/absolute. I have cut open many of the tiny little flowers with my fingernail and not found a seed, but I don't have a microscope to really look closely. Unless I meet someone who has been there when the flowers are processed, I will have to question the crushed seed comment.

Back to just enjoying the scent and sight of the aglaia - I also am amused that the flowers look like little lemons - in fact their color could be deemed "lemon yellow." What a funny little joke by Mother Nature - and it took me absentmindedly sniffing an unpeeled lemon to get that joke!

Grow your own, you'll be a better perfumer for it.


  1. Oh this is by far my favorite floral fragrance out of all I have ever encountered. I have been a fan of this delicious ethereal scent for far longer than I care to admit. It is truly divine and I know not what I would do without my very own Aglaia odorata plant to scent my little world with its sweetness from time to time.


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