Make Your Own Herbal Perfume
For centuries it has been an art and a science to make body scents that are used as perfumes. In very ancient times people would strew flowers and scented herbs on the floors to reduce smells. They would also place them in a tub and fill it with hot water and use the herb and flower oils to scent their bodies in the absence of soaps. Of course, over time, this lead to the creation of soaps made originally, as well, with flowers and herbs. As civilization became more and more integrated and therefor sensitive to other bodies, people would rub their skin with herbs and flowers to mask their own body odors. Before sanitation and public use of showers, this was a must! And it eventually lead to the process of making herbs and flowers into perfumes.
I am going to post recipes for homemade herbal perfumes in the future. For now, I would like to talk a little about the various type of processes that can be used. Some are cheaper and easier than others. None is better than the other, it is really what you master that makes the difference. Some prefer the use of a lot of equipment and taking many steps while others want to do the grunt work and oversee every detail. Here, for more detail, I will go into the history of herbal perfume making so that you can see how the various methods evolved and what those methods are.
The History of Perfume The very first perfume was Attar of Roses, an oil extracted from fresh Rose Petals. It is the oldest and most famous of perfumes even today. One legend of discovery tells of a Persian Princess and her Bridegroom rowing on a lake covered with Rose Petals that had been tossed at their wedding. The hot sun was shining and the Princess was dabbling her fingers in the water. She found that her hands became covered in a yellowish, richly scented oil of Rose.
The first distillation of perfumes from alcohol occurred in the 14th century. Two of these perfumes are still famous today. Queen of Hungary Water was said to have been invented by a hermit who then gave it as a gift to the Queen of Hungry, Isabella, to preserve her beauty. (He had also developed the oil as a curative for paralyzed limbs). Isabella used the oil with such success that it is said that she was proposed to by the King of Poland at the ripe old age of 72. The original recipe was based on oil of Rosemary with Mint, Rose, Orange Flower and Lemon Peel, all distilled in grape spirits.
Soon afterwords, the Nuns in a French Carmalite Abbey made what was called Carmalite Water from Lemon Balm, Angelica, Lemon Peel, Coriander and other spices distilled in Orange Flower water and alcohol. Eau De Cologne is perhaps the most famous of all herbal waters. It was invented in the 18th century and made of Bergamot oil, Neroli oil and oil of Rosemary also distilled in grape spirits.
In ancient Egypt they were preoccupied with scents and bad odors. Their civilization began to demand “gentility”. Ladies washed in scented waters and men rubbed down with richly scented herbal oils. Indian women often rubbed oil into their hair and then tied it with fresh flowers, allowing the scent of the flowers to infuse the oil and leave their hair scented long after the flowers died. It was an Arabian doctor who first discovered the art of distilling the essential or volatile oils from the flowers and herbs. By the early 16th century, most families with large houses had a room with a still and a portion of the family herb garden preserved for scented herbs and oils that were routinely distilled for scents.
As the demand rose and modern civilization created elite classes of performers and entertainers, the demand for large volumes of cosmetics led to a large demand for quality scents. Huge distillation houses rose up and that was the dawning of the Perfume industry and it’s ongoing competition to invent the next big thing.
The Evolution of Various Methods
Now that we have a firm handle on the history of the evolution of Perfume, then we can have a closer look at the various methods of making our own. First of all, there is the most popular method, the distillation of herbs and flowers into perfumes. Distillation is still the most common and most pervasive method of making perfumes and colognes. It is the method most often used to extract the natural oils from flowers and herbs. It is the method used by large perfume houses for the mass production of their various offerings. However, it limits the kinds of flowers and herbs that can be used because the fierce heat involved destroys delicate plant materials. This is why the bases of most perfumes are limited to only a few flowers and herbs such as Roses, Lavender and Orange Flowers which are tougher plants. Such tougher items as bark, leaves, roots and seeds are also used in the distilled product.
The basic equipment needed for distillation includes, of course, a still or retort in which the liquid and materials are heated. A condenser is also used to cool and condense the resulting vapors and, finally, a receiver is used to collect the oils. The simplest type of distillation is boiling the plants or flowers in the water in the still until the steam is passed into the condenser. There the steam evaporates and leaves the oils for collection. Oils will always separate from water so this leaves you with a very strong, aromatic and pure product.
A more complicated but quicker method of distilling is to lay the plant material on an open tray and steam is forced through it with pressure. This forces the oils into the condenser much quicker. But the equipment you need to apply pressure can get complicated.
If you choose to use distillation to create perfumes, I suggest you first master the simpler methods of extraction and experiment with various combinations until you find scents worth the trouble. It would be highly recommended that you graduate to distillation if you eventually choose to make large amounts of perfume. You can purchase a still already put together from various supply houses but they are very expensive. You can put one together yourself if you choose to by purchasing a plan and buying or making each of the parts you will need. But, first, practice with the techniques on the following 2 pages first and then decide if you wish to go on.
The second most popular method of making homemade perfumes is a bit less intense and can be done by anybody with a minimum of equipment. It is referred to as extracting perfume. The essential oils used in perfume making are soluble in alcohol and other solvents, such as petroleum ether, and these solvents are used in a method called extraction. Extraction separates the essential oils from herbs and flowers. The plant material is laid out on a screen or other porous surface and petroleum ether is allowed to run from a source, such as a tank, and run through the plant material. The oils should wash out into a collection device and then carried into a vacuum still. There, the solvent is distilled and returned to the original tank. Left in the retort is a solid substance, which is actually a mixture of essential oils and plant waxes. This solid substance is shook up with alcohol and there it dissolves. This dissolved oil is then distilled until nothing but a pure “floral absolute” remains.
This is an excellent method of scent extraction and the product is very fine. However, it also requires a still or similar apparatus and is somewhat complex. The beauty of this method over strict distillation is that you can use a finer and more delicate flower or herb in the first stage of extraction. It does produce an excellent product that can make an excellent perfume.
The following two methods of scent collection are simpler and less complex. They require less equipment but perhaps a lot more time. They are the least expensive methods you can employ. However, the product is never as fine and can be somewhat variable in quality. Sometimes the oils are excellent, other times they are weak or vapid. You have to be very careful about the types of materials you use and they should be the finest, freshest, most aromatic herbs and flowers you can find. Poor material will give a poor product.
If you choose to use extraction or distillation and you do go to the trouble of acquiring the equipment, then you should consider adding a herb and flower garden just for purpose of growing quality materials. It will save you money over a florist or nursery and give you the chance to grow specialty plants and flowers that are hard to find in the general market. You may also find a secondary market in the growing of specialty herbs and flowers that are in high demand but very difficult to find.
After extracting or distilling a fine product, you should bottle the oil in a vial or jar and screw on a tight lid. They should be kept away from light and heat or they will ferment more and the scent will alter. A cool, dark, safe place is perfect such as the back of a cupboard away from the stove or refrigerator.
And then the least popular methods are also the easiest and cheapest but the product is much cruder, not so refined. These are the methods of enfleurage and maceration. The method of enfleurage requires no heat. It is perfect for very delicate flowers such as Violets, Lilly of the Valley or Lilacs. Essential oils are absorbed by other fats and oils and this is the method employed. Lay out a thick layer of fresh blossoms or herbs on a shallow tray that has been greased with lard. Every few days, the spent flowers and herbs are removed and replaced with fresh. A large amount of flower and herb material is needed for this process but it does not have to be as high quality as previously required. After 4 weeks of turning over spent flowers on the oiled tray, you should have a layer of fat that is impregnated with floral or herbal oils. This fat is commonly described as a “pomade”.
The oil is then extracted from the lard with pure alcohol. Although you can substitute Vodka or Brandy for the pure alcohol, the product will not be as nice. It may even be a bit lumpy or cloudy. The scent can be somewhat unpredictable. Therefor this method requires a lot of plant material for experimentation and this should be taken into consideration when starting out. If the end product is not satisfactory, you will have to begin again. It is highly recommended in this process that you go to every length to obtain pure alcohol. After you extract the oil from the lard with alcohol, you can bottle up the oil for future use.
Sometimes cloths are used instead of a tray. Simply wrap the herbs and flowers in a greasy cloth and leave them there. Change them out as they are spent. The oil is squeezed from the cloths and separated with alcohol. The resulting alcohol scent is then bottled and used as perfume.
Maceration is a similar but quicker method that can be used with hardy flowers. Delicate flowers will not survive this process. Batches of fresh flowers or herbs are left to soak in warm fat (sunny windowsill or warm oven) until the fat is strongly scented. Change out the flowers for fresh as each batch gets wilted. Once the oil is strongly scented, you wash out the oils with alcohol. The pure scented alcohol is then bottled and used as perfume.
Although the art of making perfume is very complex and expensive to pursue, it is possible to make perfumes at home without a still and although the essential oils and spirits are expensive initially, the end result will be cheaper and often more subtle and original than store bought perfumes. Try making the recipes that follow and see how you like the results. From there, you can decide how far you want to go.
Now that we have covered the history of perfume making, how and why it evolved and methods of making perfume, then we are able to move forward with the practice and experimentation process. Check out my future posts for recipes for making Perfumes in each and every one of the methods I’ve described.
LEARN TO MAKE YOUR OWN HERBAL PERFUMES..
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