The Weekly Gardener 1



Scent Therapy


Nature reached its ugly late fall phase and I'm cooped up indoors with my tender perennials which decided to bloom just to show they care.

I hate November, the horrid thankless month that brings exhausting work in the garden with nothing to show for it. It feels like the trees never run out of leaves, no matter how many bags you haul away. Don't even get me started on the joys of raking in freezing rain.

Since there is nothing to see outside and it's getting cold and wet to boot, it felt like a great time to enjoy a decadent and self-indulgent activity, so I'm trying my hand at mixing perfume again, but this time with a purpose. If aromatherapy can improve both the physical and the emotional wellbeing, why not incorporate it into perfume making and reap the benefits?

Let's see, for the base notes, the faint scents that linger on the skin long after the strong perfume accents have faded: rosemary improves memory and focus, chamomile and lavender relieve stress, vetiver helps restore balance and makes you feel grounded, balsam fir comforts and soothes anxiety.

Now the floral scents, which are customarily used to create the middle notes. These scents carry the memory of the season they belong to and can transport you out of this godforsaken month and into a more appealing one, like June for rose essence, July for linden flowers and lilies, April for lilacs and lily of the valley, September for tuberoses, March for hyacinths, May for honeysuckle. Given their association with a specific time of year and according to the basics of perfume making, these fragrances should never be mixed, they are too strong in and of themselves and will fight each other in ways whose outcome is not altogether pleasant.

For the top notes, the first scent that reveals itself when the perfume is applied, all citrus scents improve the mood, peppermint energizes, and cinnamon and cloves relieve inflammation and keep colds at bay. Did I mention that cinnamon and cloves are also said to bring luck and abundance? Just a thought.


Sultry White Fragrance


You would think that the white fleshy flowers that have a heavy, almost overbearing fragrance would be the easiest to extract perfume from, but it is the very opposite: lilies, gardenias, lily of the valley, tuberoses, honeysuckle and jasmine are notoriously difficult to pin down scent wise, as their fragrances are almost universally altered by the extraction process. The old fashioned method of effleurage, which infuses deodorized animal fats with the scent of fresh picked flower petals, yields the best approximation of the actual fragrance. Any chemical processing that involves temperature and pressure changes or hydrocarbon extraction usually destroys the scent.

If the wonderful fragrance of lily of the valley, magnolia, gardenia or lily still lingering in the air brings a smile to your lips, keep in mind that they were most likely synthesized in a lab, the essential oils, if they happen to be true to fragrance, are very rare and prohibitively expensive.

This is why I do my best to enjoy the fragrance of these flowers while they are in season, outside, in the garden. Sometimes even cutting the blooms to bring them indoors will alter their scent.

If you really want to process your own fragrances, try steam distillation (a stove top espresso maker with the filter removed will work) to make hydrosols from roses, chamomile, lavender or lemon verbena, which are pretty cooperative, or make alcohol tinctures from cinnamon, peppercorns, sandalwood and cloves. Citrus and pine oils are usually cold pressed, if you have the equipment for that.

Dried rose petals will hold their fragrance for some time if kept in an airtight container, but their fragrance fades away quickly once they are exposed to air.