Sunday, November 27, 2011

Natural Perfumers Guild project - The 13th Sign - An Astrological Mystery Revealed

Flora, our Guild muse, is surrounded by stars as she holds the fragrance that represents the 13th astrological sign, Ophiucus.  Flora last held the modernistic scents of the 21st Century perfumes of the Guild's Brave New Scents Project, and now finds herself sent back to prehistoric, primordial times.  Flora is cool, she is unflappable to the Mystery of Musk, the Outlaw Perfumers didn't faze her, and we love that she moves through time and scent with us.

It was into the stars, and the night sky, when the constellations are visible that we ventured, and here is my take on the inspiration of Ophiucus.

13th Sign Project – Ophiucus – Natural Perfumers Guild Nov. 28, 2011

White Smoke – The First Perfume of Anya’s Garden’s Prima Aroma Line

When Michelyn Camen, the Editor-in-Chief of the Ca Fleure Bon blog approached the Natural Perfumers Guild with the idea of blogging about the almost-forgotten 13th astrological sign, Ophiuchus, (Pronounced as OFF-ee-YOO-kuss) I immediately saw the artistic and historic potential.

Research about the origins of the 13th sign took me down many, many paths. Imhotep, Aesclapeus, lost astrology references, the Caduceus of doctors, several paths of mythology and prehistoric references – and I was quickly overwhelmed. Speaking with the other perfumers taking part in the project, I was amazed at how diverse their interpretations on the topic were, and I realized that being overwhelmed by the different paths was hindering my progress, so I meditated.

The first meditation made me smile: using the parable of the group of blind men who were led into a room and told to touch the elephant, which they had never seen, of course, and describe what it looked like. Since each touched a different part of the elephant, each had a very different description from the other. Trunk, foot, tusk, hide? With this project, each perfumer touched a different part of the 13th sign’s mythology or history, and each came away with a story of their own on how it “looked”.

One theme I kept coming back to in my meditation was actually sparked by what I was using to help me meditate: frankincense. I stashed several pounds of Hojari from Oman four or five years ago, and I bring it out for special meditations, and I have tinctured some for use in perfumes.

Some of my Hojari frankincense collection. Click on the photo to enlarge it and see the beauty of these 'tears'.
All of the historic references I was meditating on to get a vision of the 13th Sign project led me back to healing. Led me back to not just one person, even though the Snake Wrestler found in so many forms in the 13th sign was one person, but the archetype healer, the ancestors who first discovered that scent could heal and exalt the human.

It has been millenniums since the beginning of our natural perfume art “per-fumen”, through the smoke, the act of either placing aromatic resins on the fire to release their scent into the air, or distilling them in an alembic, and now I am bringing my Prima Aroma back to that beginning.

The resins that oozed from the trunks of African and Middle Eastern trees are the first essences to be processed “per-fumen” – labdanum, frankincense, opoponax, omumbiri, myrrh and benzoin. My meditations led to me them, and so I worked with them to make a 100% liquid resin perfume. It can heal the heart and soul with

its deep, rich scent, and it can be layered under or over other perfumes because it is surprisingly neutral. Due to the resins, White Smoke may be slightly sticky for the first 10 seconds or so after application. After that, it dries completely, forming a “lacquer” for the skin.

I’m finally debuting my Prima Aroma line with this perfume that I have dubbed White Smoke.

Prima Aroma was announced about two years ago, and it will be my healing perfume line, all based on historic figures in herbalism, aromatherapy and perfumery.  Overwhelmed with other projects, and not having quite a clear focus, I put off Prima Aroma, and even took down the webpage announcing it. Well, Prima Aroma is now launched with the deep, soft resins of our first healers made liquid, through the smoke.

White Smoke will retail for $70 for one ounce. You may place your order now, and it will ship Dec. 15th.

Cafleurebon is hosting a giveaway of White Smoke and the other perfumes in the 13th Sign project.

If you leave a comment here, on my blog, about the 13th sign, or leave a comment about what Prima Aroma means to you, I will also be giving away a 30ml bottle of White Smoke!  Please leave a comment before midnight Nov. 29th - up to the beginning of Nov. 30th.  I will randomly select a winner.  Good luck and I'd love some ideas of what "Historical Fragrances for a Modern World" mean to you.

Blog Links:

Cafleurebon's team stepped waaayy back in time to bring this project to the present.
Adam Gottschalk
Elise Pearlstine
JoAnne Bassett
Christie Meshell (link to website)
Note: this blog post is dated Nov. 27th, and Adam, Elise and JoAnne will have their links up tomorrow, and I will update this at that time.  Christie does not have a blog.

Ask the Perfumer - Sunday, November 27, 2011 - until 10 PM EST

Looks so sweet, yes?  Smells like s**t at night. Jasminum auriculatum.  Harvest during the day for tincture or enfleurage.  Obviously!
I have lots to do in the garden today.  I'm repainting the ironwork post by the front door.  Since the jasmine auriculatum was dug up and planted by the back fence, I'm readying the post for a jasmine grandiflorum plant. The auric was a little too fecal smelling at night! Not a nice greeting for visitors, LOL.  Plus, the more delicate foliage of the grandi will lighten up the spot.  That post is the one I'm posing by  in the photo, and I'll take a new one next spring when the pruned grandi has a chance to grow up. Oh, and I'll also be transplanting lots of veggies into the garden out back.  Collards, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuces, parsley, thyme, mint, zinnias, etc.,etc.  We're having beautiful weather, so it will be enjoyable.

The j. auric foliage was just starting to fill in here.  It became a thick mass of dark leaves.  It smells beautiful during the day, but very funky at night.  Banished to the back fence now.
Enough about gardening.  Do you have any perfumery questions today?  I'll be here until 10 PM EST.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I'm a Hopeless Perfume Romantic - The Cup Half Full Type

The first Acacia farnesiana - Cassie - flower to bloom in Anya's Garden.
I got the first acacia flower today on my young tree.  Acacia farnesiana is the source of beautiful cassie absolute, and I'm already planning a harvest that will yield me a usable raw material for my perfumery - hence the hopeless romantic/cup half full type.  I have to be to see all that in this one tiny flower.  Cassie absolute is a prized perfume ingredient, and it can be fractionally distilled to yield alpha ionone, a natural isolate that smells like violet flowers. It is supposed to bloom winter through spring, so this is the start of my first cassie enfleurage.  I'm preparing a little enfleurage container for the flower, and I'll add the others as they bloom.  I'll have to use leather gloves to harvest them, as the tree is very thorny.  Oh, and I'm going to trim the tree down into a big bush, probably 7' x 7', much like my ylang ylang.  This is necessary to harvest the flowers easily.

The scent from this one tiny flower is very strong.  The scent is actually more like it's cousin mimosa (A. decurrens), but the two absolutes smell different.  If you've ever had to work with mimosa absolute, you know how hard that can become.  Cassie absolute is always fluid and easy to work with. I'm planning the Spring cassie absolute already!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Warning: Natural Perfume Isolates - what is natural and what is not?

(ETA:  Since this was published a few hours ago, a great discussion has started on the two private Yahoo groups maintained for Natural Perfumers Guild members.)

This message was sent to the members of the Natural Perfumers Guild via our private discussion group, and I am posting it here for others to read:

I *know* I opened up a can of worms when I blogged that I was going to teach a course in natural isolates.  I'm the first USA-based natural perfumer to use them, and I thought I could share what I knew with everyone.  Some of you may remember back to April 2010, when I announced that I, along with some colleagues, would be teaching a natural isolates course as part of my Anya's Garden Natural Perfumery Institute. 
Someone I don't know started teaching a course shortly after that, and many perfumers struck out on their own with the excitement of incorporating these "new" elements into their perfumes. I had already used two truly natural isolates in two of my perfumes, but was hesitant about the ones that were being offered as natural by suppliers and other teachers. Guild Manager Elise Pearlstine, PhD, and I decided to write a book instead of teaching the course because so much disturbing information was coming our way as we researched the subject. We conferred with Douglas and Larry, and Murray and Andrew and Bruce.  Why?

We had to spend all this time researching and bouncing findings off of professionals because we became aware of a lot of isolates being sold as "natural" that were not.  Ever wonder why I didn't start selling them?  I knew that the suppliers didn't understand what a natural perfumer would demand as a product, and they were offering non-natural isolates.

Using them in our natural perfumes disqualifies the perfume as being a truly natural perfume.   Let me explain.

When I first spoke with several natural perfumers about isolates in 2006 or so, I used the example of ylang ylang as a true natural isolate that they were familiar with, and probably used.   The grades extra, complete, 1, 2 and 3 were made via fractional distillation (FD).  Fractional distillation is merely a conscious and deliberate way of stopping the distillation at specific points to obtain a specific odor profile that is desirable.  Sometimes absolutes, concretes and CO2s (less likely) are fractionally distilled.  Cassie flower absolute, for instance, can yield the violet-flower scent alpha ionone isolated molecule if the experienced distiller sniffs and pays attention to the right pressure and heat and time in the process and starts and stops the extraction of the alpha ionone molecule at the right time.  That same, natural process is used for many natural aromatics, and those will be the ones that are eventually approved by the Guild. Our Standards Committee will be working on this subject.

What is not a natural isolate, even if it comes from a natural plant or fruit of a plant?  Maybe when it comes from a microbe, and/or when it has to undergo numerous laboratory processes when it is tortuously put through a series of chemical procedures to produce the isolate.  Find phenyl ethyl alcohol at a good price?  Probably made from microorganisms via the biosynthesis process involving fermentation.  True PEA would cost a fortune, since it is needed to be added back to rose otto.  I have some of the biosynthesized PEA, and it smells nice, but it's not made via a simple extraction process like FD, it starts as microbes, for goodness sake.  Most of the fake natural isolates sold by suppliers will be identified as "physical process", "chemical process", or biosynthesis, as previously mentioned. 

From one catalog:
PHENYLETHYL ALCOHOL EX ROSE OIL - natural (my comment)

You have to educate yourself at this point in time.  Elise and I are struggling to carve time out of our busy schedules to write the book. Look at Payan Bertran's website: they carry many natural isolates or "process e", which is not an isolate, but something undesirable has been removed. (Note: I  have no financial or other interest in Payan Bertran).  Rectification is also a process that removes, say, eugenol from rose to make the rose more marketable and pleasing.  Process E and rectification, fractional distillation and molecular distillation are the only natural processes.  Many other suppliers have natural isolates, but often the sales people are confused when we ask our questions - don't forget we're a tiny subset of the perfume business, and we have our own, stricter rules.  If we were natural fiber weavers, nobody would question when we want true linen, not linen mixed with polyester, or linen produced from microbes, not the flax plant. The suppliers don't know this, and confuse the two when offering isolates. 

I am very concerned that some of the perfumers or associates in the Guild may have been innocently led to use the un-natural isolates.  I cannot vet them for you, as it would be looked upon very harshly by those selling them.  You have to do your own homework and ask a lot of questions.  I cannot answer individual questions because that would, as you can imagine, take every minute of the day.  I urge you to do your own research so that you can make sure we're using only natural isolates in our perfumes.

Ask the Perfumer - Sunday, November 20, 2011 - until 10 PM EST

 Ask the Perfumer is open for questions.  To give you some inspiration, here are some photos from this morning:

Another wet day in Miami - I thought we had started our dry season, but I'm not complaining.  Every dry that flows into our aquifier and replenishes our supply is welcome.  I wasn't ambitious enough to walk out in the front garden yet, since I still need some more coffee and a change of shoes, but I wanted to share the fragrant vision that lies outside my front door.
At the end of my driveway is a HUGE jasmine azoricum vine in full flower that covers a hibiscus bush underneath!  It must measure 10' high by 15' wide, and you can see it's full of flowers.  The candlestick like branches in the foreground are my deciduous frangipani tree.  The little bush between them is Tahitian gardenia..
A nice fragrant quintet of plants.

The tiny, tiny yellow aglaia flowers are filling the front garden with their beautiful scent.  I'll be harvesting today!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ask the Perfumer - Sunday, November 13, 2011 - until 10 PM EST

Brian, a member of the 2,200 member Natural Perfumery group on Yahoo, is helping organize our monthly meetings in Miami.  If you're reading this, and are in the South Florida area, please leave a message on with your email and phone number to be on our list.

When we have these meetups, you'll be able to ask me any perfumery questions, and I'll be bringing fragrant plants (or just the flowers) from my garden, rare essences and perhaps a book or to to look over.

Gardening season is in full swing, and I will be bringing galangal roots to grow, some ylang ylang flowers to sniff, and more.  If you want South Florida gardening tips, I can offer those, too.

In the meantime, feel free to leave any question here on Ask the Perfumer Sunday.

Ylang Ylang flowers are different stages of maturation in Anya's Garden of Perfume, Miami
PS I forgot to post a notice about my Nov. 4th blog on my ylang ylang tree blooming.  I wish everyone could grow this tree!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Plum Granny Muskmelon - natural room fragrance

I read about this very fragrant apple-size muskmelon several years ago, and I finally got around to getting some seeds so I can grow it.  They're germinating in starter pots and I'll transplant them in a few weeks.  They'll need some support to grow up for optimum yield, so I'm clearing out some Delicious Monster vines by the fence. (more about them in a future post)

The flesh is insipid, so it's not an eating melon, but oh, the descriptions I've read about the rind!  Rich, diffusive melon sweet honey pretty.  That's enough for me!  Just two can fragrance a room for several days.  Victorian ladies, who called this Queen Anne pocket melon, would carry one in a pocket so fragrance the air around them.  I got my seeds from Southern Seed Exchange.

I, of course, intend to tincture the rinds and make a fragrant melon-scented extract. Do you grow any unusual fragrant plants?  I'd love to hear about them, so please leave a comment.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Ask the Perfumer - Sunday, November 6, 2011 - until 10 PM EST

I'll be in the garden today, planting more vegetables, herbs and flowers, but I'll check in periodically to answer your perfume questions.

Planted yesterday: Seeds:  red carrots, scallions, two types of zinnias, sweet peas, purple alyssum, Spanish pimento, Tigerella tomatoes, romaine lettuce, more I can't remember right now.  Lots!

Today my gardener will be bring by the very fragrant flowering plant yesterday, today and tomorrow, and the tropical lilac, with highly fragrant leaves that smell like tobacco and spice.

Friday, November 04, 2011

My Ylang Ylang Perfume Tree is Blooming

My first photo of my first ylang flower in the hot, bright Miami sun.

Ylang ylang trees can quickly and easily grow to 40' in Miami.  That is the major reason I put off growing one for so many years.   Then I read that in Madagascar, where the trees are grown for their fragrant flowers, which are a major economic resource for the perfume industry, are kept pruned to six to 10 feet so the flowers are easy to harvest.  So, about a year and a half ago I planted a tiny four foot tree and have had to prune it so it's now about 7' tall.

The young green blooms are cute!  However, their scent is very weak, so they can't be harvested yet.

Ylang ylang trees bloom in the Autumn, I read, but friends who have visited Fairchild gardens report they can bloom year round.  Friends who have them growing in their neighborhoods, not their own lots (since they're so big and can overwhelm a city lot) couldn't recall what time of year they bloomed.  I further researched and found that in Madagascar, which may be very similar to Miami's climate, they bloom from Nov. to March, their rainy season.  Perhaps if irrigated here during that time, since that is our dry season, they will continue to bloom.

Well, my tree started right on schedule, on October 18.  They're very green when they open, and over the next 20 or so days, they'll slowly turn yellow, and when the yellow flower shows a blush of red in the throat, they're fully mature.

I'm conflicted about tincturing or distilling them.  My distillation unit only holds two liters, and with the size of the flowers, and the desire to mainly capture the 'ylang extra' oil that comes over in the first hour and a half of distillation, the yield would be miniscule, since the essential oil yield is only 1 - 2 %, and the extra grade maybe one-fifth of that. However, that's not to say I wouldn't love and use the ylang hydrosol!

Ylang is an indispensable oil for fine perfumery.  This narcotic, tropical floral heart note blends well with other florals, and even in tiny amounts, can elevate the other florals.

Nov 3, 2011 - the ylang flowers lose their curliness and begin to droop as they mature.  I'm detecting a hint of red at the throat, and may harvest this in a day or two.
If you live in the tropics, I urge you to grow it.   The flowers have a delicate sweetness that is not present in even the best distillation, the extra grade, nor is it in ylang concrete or absolute, created with solvents.  My garden is perfume heaven right now, and if you can grow this, and keep it pruned to a reasonable size, you will have a perfume heaven in your garden, also.