I don’t always have a project for the summer but this year I decided to take a couple of Natural Perfume courses.

I have years of blending experience as an aromatherapist, but it is interesting to see how some of the concepts around blending are different when you look at it from a perfumery point of view.  When I blend from a therapeutic point of view I look at the oils and their chemistry; and when I blend from a psychological, emotional and spiritual point of view I look at the essential oils, their notes and their intensities. Ayala Sender, a Natural Perfumer, who taught an Introduction to Natural Perfumery for Practicing Aromatherapists workshop  for the BCAPA back in April 2009 suggests that the differences between Perfumery and Aromatherapy are:

Purpose: Natural perfumes are created first and foremost for the enjoyment of the scent, while aromatherapy blends are created primarily for their therapeutic purposes.
Complexity: Natural perfumes are often composed of 6 – 20 or even more different aromatic essences, while aromatherapy synergies usually combine 2 – 5 different essential oils.
Structure & Composition: Perfumes are structured and composed to create a scent that is more than the sum of its parts, while aromatherapy synergies are created to be therapeutically more than the sum of its parts.
Materials: Natural Perfumers have a much wider selection of aromatics that they use for perfumes than aromatherapists generally used on a therapeutic basis.  Natural Perfumers use – essential oils, absolutes, concretes, CO2 extractions, crude resins, tinctures etc, while aromatherapists most use essential oils and hydrosols.  Some absolutes might also be used.  Natural Perfumers mostly use alcohol as their base, while aromatherapist mostly use oil and water bases.
Olfactory Evolution: Natural perfumes are composed to have an olfactory evolution from top notes through to heart notes to base notes and dry down, while aromatherapy synergies are prepared for healing and therapeutic benefits, regardless of longevity.

This week I was introduced to a new-to-me absolute Labdanum.

As I say in my article on Cistus, in the Article Archives,the shrub  Cistus ladaniferus, also known as Labdanum, Rock Rose, Sun Rose and Rose of Sharon, is a member of the Cistaceae family and native to the mountainous coastal regions of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Interestingly, the plant secretes a gum in the summer to protect itself against the intense heat. Labdanum gum has been harvested for 3,000 years and used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, catarrh and menstruation difficulties. A popular use of labdanum was in the making of ancient perfumes. It is said to resemble ambegris in fragrance and was sometimes used as a substitute for it. Apparently Ancient Greek shepherds collected ‘labdanum gum’ by combing the fleece of their sheep and goat herds. While grazing these animals would rub up against the Cistus shrubs and the natural sticky resin would get stuck to their coats.

Broadly speaking, cistus products are obtained from the leaves and stalks of Cistus spp, and labdanum products are prepared from the oleoresin gum obtained by boiling the plant material in water. An essential oil is obtained by steam distillation of the gum or directly from the leaves and twigs. An absolute is obtained by solvent extraction from the gum.

As I am already pretty familiar with the essential oil Cistus I was very interested in learning more about the absolute, Labdanum.

Mandy Aftel’s Natural Perfume Workbook suggests that Labdanum has a pronounced sweet, herbaceous, balsamic odor, with a rich amber undertone found in few other essences and that it is comforting and centering.  In order to get another viewpoint I checked Tony Burfield’s book, Natural Aromatic Materials – Odours and Origins describes Labdanum absolute as having a powerful sweet ambery/balsamic odour.  With the dry-out being sweet, warm, leathery, resinous, ambered and slightly caramelic.

Smelling the absolute on the perfume strip and then re-smelling at intervals as the aroma moved from top, to heart, to base notes and then dry-out, I could sort of relate to these descriptions. I followed the recipe and the steps exactly as outlined.  Adding drop by drop of the different essential oils and absolutes into jojoba, in exactly the same order and number of drops as instructed.  I made notes of how the perfume changed when different things were added and when I was finished my final description of the perfume was that it was a citrusy-floral with a touch of spice.  I finished off by adding the blend to the beeswax and making a solid perfume.

That might have been the end of the exercise but it is definitely not the end of the evolution of the aroma.  Over the last couple of days it has changed again.  I now no longer smell any of the citrusy-floral notes, instead it seems to be more balsamic and ‘funky’.  I am very interested to see what it will smell like in a week or two from now.  I believe perfumes can continue to evolve over quite long periods of time so for now the jury is out as to whether or not I like the blend!

You might also enjoy the post I have on Creating a Blend with Essential Oils.

I now offer an Introduction to Natural Perfumery Workshop.