Unusually Clever People

Distilling your garden in a bottle


All it takes is neutral 190 proof alcohol or Everclear,
fiberglass netting, a jar, and flower petals. I am intrigued by a recent New York Times piece on people who make
their own perfume from their gardens.

Gardenia, lily, and wisteria are some of the flower scents I
love but have never been able to find in a commercial perfume, though many
claim to have captured them. Lucky Scent—which distributes a wide array of the
rarer perfumes—will send you samples for a few dollars, but they’ve all been
disappointing in terms of being true to the flower. Some flowers—roses, violets, carnation—seem easier to distill,
and good citrus is very common. Others, like lavender, are all over the
place—some can be very medicinal and way too strong.

The Times story tells about a few home perfumers who blend
scents from such plants as laurel, yarrow, rosemary, plum and peach peel,
passion flower, plumeria, and jasmine. 
The tinctures are totally natural and aren’t anywhere as strong as commercial
scents.  The women in the story
seem to be making their own perfume for reasons that have nothing to do with
commerce or even wanting to smell nice—it’s more about strengthening their
connection with their gardens and the earth.  

Fascinating—and worth a try. 

Posted by on June 13, 2010 at 5:46 am, in the category Unusually Clever People.
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5 responses to “Distilling your garden in a bottle”

  1. truly fascinating.. feel very inspired to try – thanks for bringing this article to my attention.

  2. sara says:

    Tincturing is an economical way to gain access to aromatic materials that one cannot normally find, or that are too pricey to source. You can do this with just about anything that grows in the garden, although I’d draw the line at solanums (there was a trend in perfumery towards tomato leaf-type scents awhile back) because of alkoloids, tropanes and so forth.

    The only potential issue is that alcohol is not a universal solvent for aromatic compounds. Water also acts as a solvent, so it pays to work with alcohols of various %, because there can be a real aromatic difference between rose petals tinctured in everclear (which in CA is standardized somewhere around 154 proof), and the same tinctured in 190 proof, or even anhydrous of 200 proof. As the alcohol goes up, more fatty substances and waxes come through, which themselves can be aromatic.

    (I guess you can tell I’m a natural perfumer, too… Blew my cover!)

  3. I’m glad you highlighted this article. I think we’ll be seeing thousands of people try their own hand at bottling their flower fragrances this year 🙂

  4. Peg says:

    I make perfumes with essential oils; I tried making my own rosewater once and it was a disaster!

  5. Marie Tulin says:

    My mother (and many others’ I bet) wore Jungle Gardenia. Having smelled real gardenias in adulthood, that perfume came very close to the real thing.

    But memories about fragrance and our mothers (separately or together)are not necessarily accurate, are they? Still, say “gardenia” or smell “gardenia” I see my mother dressed to nines getting ready to go out on a Saturday evening with my father.