Natural Perfume Ingredients–Beyond Essential Oils
Natural perfumery recipes on the internet often focus on blending essential oils into alcohol or carrier oils. Many lovely fragrances can be made with essential oils, but there are other natural essences that can also be used. In this article, I’ll explore other common ingredients used by natural perfumers. For comparisons sake, let’s start with a definition of an essential oil.
Essential oil: An essential oil is a volatile, oil soluble extract of plant material. It can come from flowers, leaves, twigs, barks, grasses, etc. Essential oils are commonly extracted by steam distillation or expression.
Other Natural Essences:
Concrete: Some plants are too delicate to undergo the heat of steam distillation. One alternative is solvent extraction. In this process, a solvent (e.g. hexane) is circulated with plant material (e.g. rose petals). This dissolves the essential oil. The solvent is then removed leaving a substance called a concrete. A concrete is a combination of essential oils and some of the waxy compounds from the petals.
Absolute: An absolute is formed from the concrete by combining the latter with alcohol. This process separates out those waxy components. An absolute is considered more powerful than an essential oil with lasting fragrance and requiring only small amounts.
Pomade: The traditional way of obtaining an absolute is through enfleurage. In this method, flower petals are laid on sheets of fats. The petals are replaced until the fats are saturated with scent. This fat saturated with essential oils is called a pomade. Once it is mixed with alcohol to separate the fats from the essential oils, the resulting essential oil is also an absolute.
Attars: An attar is a traditional natural perfume. It is made by putting plant material and water in a container called a deg. The plant material is gently heated to remove the essential oils. The deg is connected to a separate copper receiving vessel via a bamboo pipe. The copper vessel sits in a cooling bath. The essential oil steam collects in the receiving vessel. When the apparatus is turned off for the night, the steam condenses into water and oil. The next day, the water is drained off and returned to the deg along with new plant material and the process starts again. An attar is traditionally made with sandalwood oil in the copper vessel. The plant being distilled’s oils mix with the sandalwood oil. When the sandalwood oil is saturated with the distilled oils, the process is complete. The resulting attar may be aged to develop its aromas.
Ruh: A ruh is made by the same process as an attar. The difference is there is no sandalwood oil in the receiving vessel. The ruh is just the oil produced by the plant material in the deg.
Otto: You may see some shops carrying Rose Otto. An otto is a steam distilled rose essential oil.
Isolate: An isolate is an aromatic compound that has been separated from an essential oil. Essential oils are made up of numerous compounds, and by isolating specific ones, the perfumer has a finer palette of material to work with in achieving nuances in their work.
Tincture: A tincture is often seen in herbalism, but it can be used in perfumery as well. A tincture is made by macerating a material (often a resin such as benzoin or myrrh) in alcohol to extract the aromatic compounds.
Resins: Resins are gummy substances that usually come from shrubs and trees. While they can be macerated in alcohol to make a tincture, they can also be infused into carrier oils and later strained out.
Hydrosols: Hydrosols are the waters left over after steam distillation. Hydrosols are usually distilled purposefully for the waters so they should not be considered the leftovers of essential oil extraction. They have a fragrance of their own as well as the water soluble compounds from the plants. Perfumes are usually made by combining fragrance into alcohol and water. Substituting the water with hydrosol can add another layer to your creations.
The options for creating natural perfume are numerous. Once you begin playing with all the different raw materials, it can become an addictive and expensive rabbit hole to fall into. The results, however, are gratifying when you create a scent that is all your own.
Aftel, Mandy. Fragrant: A Secret Life of Scent
Davis, Patricia. A-Z of Aromatherapy
White Lotus Aromatics Website and Blog