Thursday, June 27, 2013

Heavenly Linden

The linden trees are blooming in Brooklyn once again.  I wait for this time every year, the two weeks when the June air, just before the collasal summer heat, is heavenly sweet with linden.  The genus, Tilia, also called lime tree in Britian, is a deciduous tree with heart shaped leaves, native to Europe and North America.  The flowers are perfect, in other words bisexual, carrying both male and female parts and are pollinated by insects.  The trees can live for centuries and there is one in Gloucestershire that is deemed to be 2000 years old.

The ambrosial aroma of these tiny flowers draws millions of bees and creates linden honey, a pale colored honey despite it's strong aroma and taste.  The aroma is described as woody, pharmacy and fresh, also described as mint, balsamic, menthol and camphor.  Therapeutically the honey is used primarily for treating colds and fever and is said to strengthen the heart.  It is reputed to be one of the best tasting and most valuable honeys in the world.

Medicinally the flowers have been used by herbalists to cure insomnia and nervous anxiety.  A tissane is also good for colds, fevers and nervous headaches.  It is said to be one of the best herbs for hypertension, second only to hawthorne.

I took a walk up my block one morning and harvested about a pound of linden blossoms.  In the cool shade of the tree I had only to reach up and gently pull the copious blossoms into my muslin bag.  They're drying in baskets laid with parchment all over the kitchen.  I'm also tincturing some as I did last summer using successive batches of flowers macerated in the same alcohol.  I'm planning to use it as a perfume base.  It's a difficult aroma to capture and the absolutes I've sampled are lovely but don't come close to capturing it's elusive sweetness.  Even the co2's I've come across, although close, don't really possess it's charms.  It's on it's third round of flowers now and has turned a beautiful pale yellow/green.  The aroma is sweet and has taken on some of the notes in the flowers.  It doesn't have much tenacity and it's very faint but if the right notes are built around it and don't dominate it I think it will give some lovely top notes to a summery fragrance.  (More on tincturing later.)

In Proust's Swann's Way the narrator dips a petite madeleine into a cup of Tilia blossom tea. The aroma and taste of cake and tea triggers his first conscious involuntary memory.  Indeed, the gentle fragrance in the afternoon air triggers memories of June in the late 80's when I first moved to my neighborhood, Park Slope, and had to know where that iniminable fragrance was coming from.

"When from the distant past nothing remains, after the beings have died, after the things are destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, yet more vital, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of everything else; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the immense architecture of memory.

"Yet again I had recalled the taste of a bit of madeleine dunked in a linden-flower tea which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long await the discovery of why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old gray house on the street where her room was found, arose like a theatrical tableau…"

Marcel Proust, Du côté de chez Swann (1913) in: À la recherche du temps perdu vol. 1, p. 47 (Pléiade ed. 1954)(S.H. transl.)

Friday, June 14, 2013


I've fallen in love with a fragrance family, the fougere.  French for fern, fougere is a fantasy concept meant to capture the scent of the natural habitat of ferns - the forest floor.  The principal notes in a fougere are oakmoss, tonka bean and lavender.

The first fougere was Fougere Royale by Houbigant, created in 1882, and spurred a whole new perfume category.  While it's probable that these fragrant chords were popular before the release of Fougere Royale, the fragrance captured a moment in time and has forever become linked with it's origination.  Houbigant was the first house to develop a scent chemical meant to replicate the scent of fresh mown hay, otherwise known as coumarin.  Coumarin is present in tonka beans, hay, sweet clover, sweet woodruff, sweetgrass, flouve and deertounge and in lesser degrees lavender, cassia, cherries, strawberries and apricots.  It is an overall pleasant odor reminiscent of sweet grass with vanilla overtones.

Jicky by Guerlain was created soon after in 1889 and it has notes of lavender, rosemary, bergamot,  opoponax, precious woods, vanilla, and tonka bean.

Fougere captured the imagination of perfumers who used tonka, oakmoss and lavender as a base to create new versions of the concept.  Often the base is supplemented by patchouli, vetiver, sandalwood and myrrh.  Often there is a rosy heart supported by geranium and clary sage, jasmine and orange blossom with top notes of lavender, rosewood, citrus, rosemary and bergamot.  There are sub-categories of floral, fresh, oriental, amber, leather and precious wood fougeres.

I'm hosting a fougere workshop in my home atelier on Saturday, July 27th.  We'll be sampling Fougere Royale, Jicky and a careful selection of fragrances by some of the botanical perfume world's best perfumers including Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Charna Ethier, Ayala Moriel and others.  Each participant will get to create two perfumes using an assortment of oils I've collected just for the occasion.  Tonka bean, sweet clover and hay absolute will be on hand along with several lavender absolutes and essential oils.  This will be an opportunity to experiment with a few rare and precious oils like orris, ambrette, choya nak, ho wood, buddahwood and wild sweet orange.

Fougere Workshop
Saturday, July 27th
1:30 to 4:30
$130 includes all materials
Park Slope, Brooklyn
Call (718)788-6480 or send an email to for more information or to register.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

It's a Good Thing: A Little Mention in Martha Stewart Weddings

This put a smile on my face!  A few months ago I got an email from someone at MS Weddings asking me for information about fragrance parties for brides.  They were writing a feature about alternatives to traditional bachelorette parties and wanted to include ideas for classes.  It's really a great idea.  I'd much prefer making jewelry, cheese, perfume or pretty much just about anything than drink too much and watch some smarmy guy undress!

To learn more or book a party click here.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Midnight Garden

My newest perfume, Midnight Garden, is the joint creation of the lovely women of The Robert Allen Group and myself.  The Group has designed a new line of fabrics inspired by hanging orchids, twisting vines and hidden temples.  What they described to me was a rainforest, with orchids hanging in the trees, thick with fragrance in the night air.  Wild sweet orange, petitgrain and coriander CO2 greet the nose, sitting on top of a jasmine, neroli and honey heart.  At the bottom of this sultry midnight perfume is the vanilla orchid with peru balsam and oakmoss to finish.

Midnight Garden