Friday, July 3, 2015

Orange Flower Water

Orange Flower Water in a vintage bottle.
Orange Flower comes from the blossoms of the bitter orange tree, Citrus sinensis.  The bitter orange plant actually gives us four fragrant oils.  The steam distillation of the blossoms is the coveted neroli.  When an absolute is made of the same flowers it is referred to as orange blossom absolute.  The pressed rinds delivers bitter orange essential oil and the unripe green fruit, stems and twigs give us petitgrain oil.

Bitter orange is a peculiar kind of citrus.  It is fresh yet dry and elegant with a lasting sweet undertone.  It's blossoms have a light, dry nature. They produce one of my absolute favorite scents in all of creation, the coveted orange blossom.  I should really live near orange groves.

Orange flower water is the water left over after the blossoms have been distilled to make essential oil. The blossoms are put into a vessel and steam is forced through it. The steam collects in another vessel with the essential oil floating on top. The oil is syphoned off, the water remaining is the hydrosol.

The scent is sublime.  It is floral, fruity with a hint of green, refreshing and very complex. When inhaled orange blossom is antidepressant and a mild sedative, so useful at night to ease insomnia.  It has a joyous, uplifting quality. It stops caffeine jitters and is a great choice for fretful babies. It is known for its supportive qualities during the detoxification process or when quitting an addictive habit.

Neroli is a wonderful treatment for delicate, sensitive and oily skin (due to its astringency).  Use it as a toner and in face masks with clay and honey.  It can also be used as a perfume!

Both rosewater and orange flower water have been used in cooking and baking for centuries.  Indian and Middle Eastern desserts are often delicately flavored with them.  It is what's used to flavor madeleines and prompted Marcel Proust to remember the past.  It's also often used to flavor marshmallows.  Add it to champagne as an aphrodisiac, or if you're not inclined to drink alcohol add it to plain seltzer. One tablespoon in a liter of seltzer would befit a toast at any occasion.  It's one of my favorite summer refreshers.

I've bottled some up in vintage bottles I found on the beach, all one of a kind. You can see them, and other hydrosols, in my Etsy store.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Tools of the Trade: Ground Glass Stoppered Bottles


I truly adore ground glass stoppered bottles.  The good ones have a tight secure fit and don't let air escape.  I collect antique ones for their visual beauty but actually use them quite a bit.  Stronger scented potions tend to ruin good phenolic caps forcing me to toss them into the rubbish (where they end up in landfill).  Here are some gorgeous examples.












Sunday, June 7, 2015

Spice Markets


Spice market in Istanbul
My recent Spice Route Perfume Workshop had me knee deep in spices - and research.  Studying the spice route is really studying the history of civilization. Collecting and selling spices is a global trade and tradition.

I'm lucky enough to live in New York City where ethnic diversity is the norm.  I can wander city streets and travel through various ethnic neighborhoods, each with their own cuisine and spice markets. Chinatown has it's herbal pharmacies and food markets but just up the street is Little Italy. Beyond that is one of the city's Indian neighborhoods with fragrant spices spilling out.  My favorite were the Greek markets on 9th Avenue in the 90's with containers of spices piled high into cone shapes. Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is teeming with Middle Eastern markets with their potent spices.


There are spice markets all over the world, 
each with rich and colorful histories.

Parisian Spice Market
Bzurya Market
Market in Aix-en-Provence
Herb and spice market in Guangzhou

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Resins and Balsams



My recent class on the Spice Route has me surrounded by various resins and balsams.  They're a principal ingredient in Oriental perfumes and have been used as a fixative since the dawn of the spice route.  I've looked up the definitions of both, as well as gum and oleoresin, and they all appear to be the same.  

According to Elena Vosnaki :
"The distinction between resin and balsam is one of form, on a fundamental level: Simply put and generalizing, resinous materials come in the form of solidified, gum-like "tears" seeping from the elixir vitae circulating into the bark of big trees, such as the Boswellia Carteri (which produces frankincense). Balsams on the other hand are tricky materials, not necessarily tree secretions, often coming as they do from flower pods or bushy twigs (such as vanilla orchids or the Mediterranean rockrose). But there are exceptions to every rule: Opopanax, though resinous smelling itself, actually comes from a herb, opopanax chironium.
So the real focus when referencing balsamic and resinous terminology is how the materials actually smell and how they're different or common in scent, rather than what their origin is.  Therefore, for ease, resinous & balsamic materials are classified into 3 distinct olfactory profiles according to their aromatic properties first and foremost." 
Styrax from the Liquidambar orientalis tree,
smells a little like cinnamon and glue.

In my mind balsams such as benzoin, peru balsam, tolu balsam and labdanum are sweeter and softer. They're gentler and enveloping and add a fixative quality to florals.  Resins like frankincense, myrrh, oppoponax and styrax are widely used in incense and have a more defined characteristic.  They're usually antiseptic so have a medicinal quality to them.

These materials are the basis for Oriental and Amber perfumes, some of the first perfumes, created since antiquity.  In ancient Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Mesopotamia and classical Rome resins and balsams were combined with sweet and pungent spices and exotic flowers to create perfume for the gods.

I'll be hosting and Oriental/Amber perfume workshop in July in my home studio.  Email me for more information or to register.
Amber resin

Friday, May 22, 2015

Topiary and Creating a Green Fragrance

Topiary.  What a crazy idea if you think about it.  I was never a fan but during the course of the last year I've realized that it goes way beyond elephants and giraffes on the front lawn.  It's the crazy geometric shapes that confound and delight me.  I just love that people go about trimming their shrubbery into these exotic shapes.  Such folly!

I thought it might be a good idea to create a green perfume as an ode to topiary.  After some research I've discovered that some of the shrubs used to fashion topiary are easily available in essential oils. Unfortunately boxwood is not available (but the most used plant).  However laurel, myrtle and thuja are easily obtained.

The fun part is always ordering new oils to work with.  I found an absolutely gorgeous white champa leaf with green as well as beautiful floral notes of champaca.  Alba michelia leaf is from the common magnolia, another lovely green/floral note. Rhododendron leaf was surprise, very fresh and somewhat citrusy. I found a myrtle and thyme, both high in linalool, an alcohol found in rosewood.   Erigeron, thuja, tarragon absolute, wormwood, violet leaf and vetiver are some other choices.

I've decided on genet, otherwise known as broom, for the heart - which goes brilliantly with rhododendron leaf.  I'm really just fleshing out the bones of the perfume but I'm off to a terrific start with agarwood and africa stone on the bottom and white champaca leaf and petitgrain sur fleurs on top.  As I work I keep trying to imagine walking through one of these topiary gardens in Europe, marveling at the intense green and the whacky, comical shapes.  I really must plan a topiary tour.





Monday, May 4, 2015

Gift Packaging and Sample Sets

People often ask me if I sell sample sets and I usually file the idea away as something I should really get around to and then I just get back to whatever I was doing and forget about it.  This past winter while hibernating I had a little bit of fun with creating gift packaging and sample sets.

I have boxes of three quarter ounce vials of some of the extracts I've been making such as the Tea Collection, the Citrus Collection and the Toasted Nut Collection.  They come tucked in a brown velvet pouch nestled in a matte gold gift box.  To finish it's tied with a slender velvet ribbon.  I think it'll make a nice gift for the foodies out there.

The same packaging works beautifully with my four latest perfumes - Midnight Garden, Sol de la Foret, Flora and Foret de la Mer. To make them a bit more special I've chosen a millinery flower for each perfume and tucked them in the box.

I've also made sets of samples of eight of my perfumes: Aloft, Tourmaline, Midnight Garden, Moonrise, Sol de la Foret, Flora, Foret de la Mer and Garden Walk.

Playing with silk, paper and velvet flowers, pretty boxes and ribbons reminded me so much of projects I would have worked on in my youth.  In fact I've been doing this kind of thing for as long as I can remember, so I'm pleased to be offering work that comes from my heart.  I have more ideas for packaged sets of perfumes so expect to see more. Thanks for looking!


Ready to gift in a matte gold box with a slender brown velvet ribbon.


Set of three citrus extracts from the stormy winter of 2015; Tangerine, Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange.
Foret de la Mer packaged with millinery golden champaca flowers.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Tools of the Trade, Part Two: the Graduated Beaker


Of all of my measuring tools I love my graduated beakers the most. Aesthetically it's the shape and look of them.  I have a hand blown and etched glass one similar to these as well as a few others I've collected along the way.  












































In actuality they're very useful and all come with a pouring spout (or beak) that makes life far simpler. After so many years of admiring the aesthetic it's truly gratifying for me that I actually have to use them for my business. I am, after all, an apothecary.



These are my own tools - graduated beakers and a brass mortar and pestle.

I've always thought laboratory glassware made fantastic barware.


In fact, here I am serving cocktails with one here.

I've been making floral arrangements in them since the 80's.