Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Neroli Tree Mystery

A photo of the Neroli blossom Citrus aurantium var. Bouquet de Fleurs
I posted this on several Yahoo groups today and I'm hoping to suss out the mystery of the proper name for the neroli tree:

For years, I've questioned why C. aurantium var. amara was named as the source of neroli in all the aromatherapy (AT) books. I studied at a Citrus Research Center at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) and two of my professors there were among the authors of the industry Bibles, The Citrus Industry Vols. 1-4. I was taught that C. aurantium var. Bouquet de Fleurs was the source of neroli. We had a beautiful stand of the small, rounded trees growing on campus. Early one Sunday morning, my husband and I went down the row, bucket in hand, vodka in bucket, harvesting as many flowers as possible. The tincture was heavenly!

For years, however, in my dyslexic way, I reversed the name. I called it Fleurs des Bouquet, and I couldn't find any reference to it. I've since lost my Citrus Industry books on moves, and didn't bother to call back to the University of CA, Riverside to check. I figured maybe the variety I remembered came down with a disease, and the amara replaced it in the industry. After all, one book after another, one supplier after another named the  amara as the neroli source.

I had a meeting today with a student and colleague who is moving forward with a grant to look into developing distillation projects here in Florida, and hopefully, Haiti. Neroli came up.  I spoke of my confusion with the AT books and suppliers.

When I went online to google FdB, all I came up with was a post by myself on a perfumery blog in 2005. I figured something was wrong if not one other hit came up with that name. I googled citrus aurantium varieties bouquet neroli and the skies parted and the sun came out.

One source after another names Bouquet de Fleurs as the source of neroli.
I've been wondering what's up all these years. I'm not saying that amara isn't one name for it, but why does everyone cite it as the only source? BdF was #1 according to the old professors, and they were German and quite sure of themselves ;-) I'm German, too, but quite unsure of myself where all this is concerned, lol.

Here's some pages, and of course, you may find some other info independently.

The first site cites my alma mater, UCR

On the Bouquetier spp.

This site mentions production in Haiti and I believe it says BdF and amara may be synonyms (they call the cultivars Bouquetier):

Ah, from UCR!

It's just the beauty and memory of those trees at Riverside that had me cling on to the hope that I could unearth something about their name. Can anybody help? Bouquet de Fleurs (even reversed as I had it) is such a romantic name, and is it possible it's the true, historic name?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lemongrass, Ylang ylang and verdant dreams for Haiti

Lemongrass plantation - Malaysia

I've always been a dreamer and an optimist. Time to move forward with the project I touched upon in my last blog.

Backstory: I dropped the ball in September of 2008 when I was scheduling a lunch with someone from the biggest vetiver distillation company in Haiti. That week, and the week following, huge storms swept Haiti, causing horrific flooding and loss of life. I figured to just back off as she took care of business, and I just felt superfluous to the problems they/she were facing, and lost contact with her.

As I wrote recently, I'm going to direct efforts into reforestation efforts in Haiti, as soon as I can connect with a local agency. They're impossible to contact this week, but I'll keep at it. I'm also going to recontact my distillation connection for several reasons.

I feel terrible I just gave up when faced with the situation in 2008. I guess I suffer from PTSD from all the hurricanes we get here in Florida, and I just needed some distance from the horrors of similar destruction. Human weakness, I suppose.

This week a student called me to follow up on some talks we had earlier this year - she's received a grant to look into establishing distillation of fragrant plants here in Florida. She wants to pick my brain about some agricultural directions and details and scenarios, and we're both in agreement that the effort can be expanded to Haiti in the second phase.

Lemongrass and ylang ylang are the first plants on our agenda. We'll be researching all of the agronomic and market aspects of this effort, and we know we'll have a lot of hurdles to jump over with the logistics. I'll also involve Natural Perfumers Guild members in the effort at a later date.

I researched a bit about the vetiver distillation plant in Haiti: the owner has about 25,000 families that are part of his work team. They harvest the vetiver and bring it to his plant. I can only imagine what shape his plant is in right now, and the immediate physical and economic fate of those tens of thousands of familis. He expressed grave concerns back in 2000 about the lack of infrastructure - horrid dirt roads for transport - and sporadic, rationed electricity that shut down the plant frequently.

In 2004 he asked, as part of group of businesspeople, for the US to intervene with military help because of the growing violence in the area.

I could take it easy, and just work with Elise here on the Florida aspect, but those who know me know I'm not the type to take it easy. Elise is a very grounded person who is not shy about quietly gong about the business of setting things right.  We'll make a good team on this, me the silent partner - except for my blogging here - as the project is hers and I'm just advising from the sidelines.

But, it does make me feel good insofar as that his week was fruitless for me in my attempts to contact the Green Leaves folks, but Elise and I are sitting down on Tuesday and setting up a game plan.

In my dreams, thousands or tens of thousands of individuals all over the world are doing such brainstorming now, for all sorts of different projects to help the people of Haiti.

And that businessman I mentioned earlier? He was a pioneer in bringing essential oil production to Rwanda years ago, assisting in the establishment of patchouli plantations and distillation units, bring jobs and money to the people of that war-ravaged land.
What goes around, comes around.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Natural Perfumer Looks at How to Heal the Earth

 After the Haiti Quake:

Heal the Earth, Heal the People

photo source: http://linknzona.blogspot.com/2008/12/environmental-quality-and-natural.html

The Natural Perfumer is Not an artist 100% of the time, 
they're a caring person 100% of the time:

For me, our art is linked with our responsibility to the environment and other people.
The image above shows the stark reality of the deforestation of Haiti in contrast to its contiguous neighbor, the Dominican Republic, to the right (east). The first thing that came to my mind when the horrific quake hit was that the people of the cities of Haiti can't flee the city for refuge in the countryside, because their countryside is bare, eroded earth. When it rains, and it will soon, those hills turn into mudslicks, and mudslides follow. Haiti has been plagued by mudslides for decades due to the systematic deforestation of the countryside. Thousands of years of topsoil, created slowly by the breakdown of the underlying rock has been washed away because of the poverty of the people - they had to use the trees to survive, so they were cut down.

People so poor can't be concerned about leaving the forest canopy intact: they need charcoal now, for dinner tonight. So the machetes chop down the trees, saplings actually, since there are few large trees left there, and they set them on fire and create charcoal to be transported into the cities for food and heating homes.

Something as simple as an international effort to give solar stoves to the people, in that land of sunshine, could help immediately.

Long term? I'm taken back to my education in botany and agriculture, and my first reason for studying landscape management so many years ago in California: I wanted to learn how to prevent land erosion gullies that I saw everywhere in Northern California. Improper landscaping practices, including tree felling, caused the erosion problems there, also.

In undergraduate and graduate school, I researched the history of plains, valleys and waterways and the concomitant human settlement patterns and documented how those waterways and landforms, if improperly managed, resulted in the civilization declining, and sometimes going extinct. I presented a paper at the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture on my findings, but with no funding, my research dwindled into nothing. Simultaneously, I was authoring a Primer and Annotated Bibliography on Alternative Futures Planning for Water Resources for the U.S.G.S. The dangers of not have alternative plans in place when and if a disruption of watersheds occurred were laid out. What does this prove? 

Well-meaning people, like myself have tackled these problems for decades. Many have led successful projects that have halted deforestation, protected watersheds, brought civilizations back from the brink of destruction - but the successes are few. 

So, for many years, I got more involved in design of luxury gardens, and the passion of my passions, natural perfumery. I didn't make the choice to not be involved in environmental efforts, my life just gently led me down another path.

Perfumery, in particular natural perfumery, is a luxury. We NPers import rare and costly aromatics from all over the world, they're delivered to us by FedEx, no muss, no fuss. We're proud to say we strive to source only organic, sustainable, wild-crafted yada yada. The finest vetiver comes from Haiti, we all know that. Recently, frangipani absolute from Haiti has appeared on the market. Luxury aromatics from the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Will those industries survive the next five years?

Many of the tropical, Third World countries we source our aromatics from also suffer from deforestation, if not for the same reason as Haiti. In Madagascar, many thousands of acres are as bare and vulnerable as Haiti. No vegetation, no birds or other animals, and no man can live there.

photo used with permission of Rhett Butler of Wild Madagascar.org

Most natural perfumers know the intimate link between the earth, the people, and the fragrant bounty we use to adorn our bodies, uplift our souls, and in many cases, heal us.

We need to heal the land and people of Haiti. By that I don't just mean rebuild the cities and tend to those injured in the earthquake. They're facing months, if not years or generations of homelessness and possible hopelessness. The Haitians have an indomitable spirit, and now it will be tested to the maximum.

Where to start? With a seed, a rooted cutting, a plant growing in a pot. So simple.

A simple solution that needs to "take root" in Haiti.

I have deep roots in the Haitian community here in Miami, but I admit I have neglected those roots in recent years. I was the public relations person for the Haitian Roots and Culture Festival for many years, and I also assisted up and coming Haitian bands with publicity. Many of my neighbors are Haitian, and I shop in Haitian stores and live right next to Little Haiti. When I first moved in my house the fence was covered with a funky-smelling weed Momordica. I would see elderly Haitian ladies collecting the herb and that led me to find that it was used for a medicinal tea. So then I embarked on an ethnobotanical study of the use of local plants (many exotics transported in during the diaspora of Haitian and Caribbean peoples). It didn't work out, though, too many time constraints, I just had too many other businesses to tend to.

Now I regret not being more involved in organizations like Operation Green Leaves. I attended a few of their functions in the late 1990's, and contributed a bit of my expertise to their efforts, but really didn't get involved.

When hurricanes tore through Florida in the early and mid 2000's, I got involved with the Red Cross and local relief agencies. I renewed some of my old contact there this past week and worked for a few days helping coordinate collection and pick up efforts for supplies to be sent to Haiti. My fibromyalgia, however, made me quit that. Emotional and physical stress can trigger a "fibro flare", and between the demanding work of the relief effort and watching the misery of the people of Haiti on TV, and talking to my Haitian friends, I felt a flare coming on that could have sidelined me with pain and extreme exhaustion. I stopped just in time, but I realized at the same time I could not not be involved.

So I have decided to go back to the skills learned as a gardener and student, and work at helping the reforestation effort in Haiti. Can I dream that fragrant and/or edible plants and trees that I help establish in Haiti can be part of the solution? I hope so. I'm not a policy maker, but I'm good at raising money, coordinating efforts, and I sure know how to propagate plants, collect seed and teach agricultural methods. Here's a little look into my seed-testing work with Organic Gardening magazine. I wrote them in '94 or so and said "hey, why don't you have seed testers and writers from Zone 10"? :-) I have always been a bit pushy about "starting things" (natural-born activist) - and now I'm going to call the folks at Operation Green Leaves this week and offer my services to them.

I'm also going to call the daughter of the owner of one of the largest vetiver oil processing plants in Haiti and renew our acquaintance. Did you know that the vetiver plant is used worldwide to stabilize earth, to prevent erosion? A sustainable replanting scheme is probably already in place, and I'd like to learn about it. These are the same folks who helped bring patchouli plantings to Rwanda. (when I just revisited my blog I was shocked to see a man from Kenya had written me asking for help. I never saw that post! I'll write him now.)

So much to do, so little time. Please, everyone, get involved in any little way you can. The world is hurting, and people are needed to heal it.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Boronia boudoir

About 1.5grams of pricey, rare boronia absolute, just in from Tasmania, just spilled in my studio

I posted about my Patchouli panties in 2008. This undergarment scenting occurred by accident when I put a washcloth that I had mopped up a minor patchouli essential oil spill with into the laundry with my undergarments.

Due to a farktabulous spill I had about an hour ago when pouring the 2010 boronia absolute for the Natural Perfumers Guild buy, I'll now have a boronia boudoir. This was the biggest spill I've ever made, with one of the most expensive, rare aromatics in the world. We in the Guild are fortunate that the Tasmanian producer sells to us, as he had in 2009, since their supply is so low. They're just servicing their longterm corporate clients, but made an exception for the Guild, realizing that it is lovely to get some spread around amongst the artisan natural perfumers. About 25 Guild members are anxiously awaiting their boronia, and one is coming by this afternoon to pick hers up.

So there I was, red in the face and orange in the hand. I don't even think I was distracted, and the brown bottle wasn't too opaque as I poured from one to the other in an attempt to get a little of the "newly extracted note" to dissipate.

Thank god I practice what I preach, and teach all my students the importance of using a spill tray to catch klutzy splatters. There was a 'spill tray' underneath and it caught the ooze out of the overfilled bottle. All the labels: orange-brown. Ditto my hands. I did was any self-respecting scent addict would do - I rubbed the sides of the big bottles that were covered in the thick aromatic, into my hair. Then I wiped down the bottles with the paper towel you see on the tray. Then I pipetted up most of the spill, admired the abstract art of my clumsiness, took this photo, then wiped up the rest of the spill and laughed.

My lingerie drawer is going to smell so good! This stuff stains due to the high carotenoid content, so I'll put the towel in a little open box, and enjoy the scented beauty each time I open the drawer and put something on from there.