Products come and go through the ages, but one that has been around for many centuries is that of perfume and oils, which are used by women and men alike. The word perfume when broken down into the two words (per and fume) means “ though smoke.” The first perfumes, really weren’t perfumes, as we know them today, but were more like incenses. Special types of woods and resins were burned together to make a perfumed smell to permeate the air around them.
While many cultures and tribes of people through early civilization were unknowingly creating this crude form of perfume, it really wasn’t until Egyptian times that perfume really became popular. Egyptians had a lot of god’s back then that they worshipped. Always wanting to please those gods, they believed that the pleasant smells that arose from the burning of the wood and resins would rise up to those god’s abodes and the people would be smiled upon.
Egyptian people, especially those of means, were a cleanly race. They even built special pools and would bath several times a day. Somewhere along the way, somebody decided that maybe if they smelled as good as the fumes from the fires they built for the gods, that maybe they would be even more pleasing before their gods.
To accomplish this, the Egyptian’s would gather the wood and resins, soak them over long periods of time in bottles along with olive oil, and then proceed to cover their bodies with the fragrant oil. This fragrant oil, was the basis of the start of the perfume industry.
Over time, other culture’s started working and developing perfumes. No longer was just woods and resins used to make the perfumes. Fresh herbs were crushed and added to the mix. As societies advanced, new procedures to extract the scents were developed. Two of the methods are maceration and distillation. Maceration is the process that makes the scented oil bases from which you can make your scented soaps and perfumed oils for making perfumes. Distillation is a method that can also be used to make essential oils, but is more for making such perfume types like Rose water and Lavender water.
The most prized and expensive essential oil that was first developed and still used today for your fine and expensive perfumes is derived from the rose named Rosa centifolia. If you plan on making the pure form of this essential oil, you will need to have enough plants to produce about 300,000 rose petals all blooming at the same time. All those rose petals will yield you about 2 pounds of essential rose oil which sells for around $300.00 USD an ounce.
It is from that first Rose essential oil that some of the most famous named perfumes still around today were developed. It is also from the methods named above and the fragrances of those expensive perfumes that the less expensive generic named perfumes were created.
Now you may not have the ability to grow and maintain the hundreds of Rosa centifolia’s needed to create pure essential rose oil, Otto of Rose, but if you have a garden filled with fragrant flowers, a bit of time and patience, you can create your special blends of perfumes, oils, and waters.
There are a few things you want to remember before you go out there and clip all your flowers off first.
1. Collect your flowers first thing in the morning while temperatures are cool and make sure the leaves are dry on the tops and bottoms. Any wet dew left on leaves will separate from the oil you will be using and ruin your batch.
2. Try to collect blooms that are just opening or in the bud stage. These flowers will contain more fragrance than ones that are already opened.
3. Make sure you have your supplies needed all ready before you start collecting your flowers. Once cut, your flowers will start losing their fragrance. The sooner you’re able to get them into solutions, the better.
4. Not all flowers that have fragrance smell good. Make sure you sniff several flowers to make sure the scent is pleasing first. Also, there are some flowers that may seem to smell good, but are attractive to only flies. If you see flies hovering around a plant I suggest you pass it up.
5. Look for flowers that are not only pleasing to your nose, but that will enhance your body’s natural chemistry. Take a few leaves and petals, crush and roll them up between your fingers, and rub on the inside of your wrist. Wait a few minutes and see if the scent still smells good to you. If so, then clip your flowers.
6. When clipping your flowers, try and hold by the stems. You don’t want to damage or crush your blooms before you get them back inside. Don't worry if you have bits of stems and greenery attatched with your petals, use them too, they contain frangrances too.
7. Remember, if your flowers or herbs have a scent, they can be used, but before covering your body with perfumed oil or water, always test for allergic reaction on a small place on your body first.
Here are a few simple recipes for making perfumes. Once you get proficient at the process, then you might consider investing a distillation set-up. These methods work well with either fresh flowers or herb leaves. If using herb leaves, plan on using about 2-3 times as many petals as you would for flowers.
Fragrant waters can be dabbed on the body, especially the forehead and neck and wrists to refresh the body. They can be applied like a body splash.
Bring about a pint of distilled water, do not use tap water or regular bottled drinking water, to boil. Remove from heat. Add your flower buds, petals or herb leaves. Takes about a 1cup to 1 and a half-cup of flowers per batch. Gently press flowers down with back of spoon just enough to wet them all. Cover pot and let sit until cool. Takes about 45 minutes to an hour to cool down. Pour mixture over cheesecloth, coffee filters or small holed strainer to remove flower petals. Pour into containers and seal.
As this recipe is very basic and simple it will not last for more than 4-5 days, so keep containers not being used in the refrigerator or freezer. With this being a fast and easy recipe you can make fresh batches every week.
Fragrant Essential Oils
Making essential oils is easy, just a bit time consuming. You want to make sure that you are going to have enough flowers blooming over a three to four day period. While you can mix different flowers and herbs over the course of days, I recommend sticking with one type flower at a time and blend your essential oils later. That way you don’t go through the whole procedure only to discover that your combination doesn’t smell as good as you thought it would.
Step 1. Gather about 1cup of flower buds and petals. If using herbs you want about 2cups of leaves and stems. Place your herbs or flowers in a small baggy and using a kitchen mallet or a hammer, gently bruise your petals. Don't smash them to pieces. You just want to bruise them enough to start to release the fragrant oil in the petals.
Step 2. Heat to just warm, about ½ cup of oil. The best oils, to use are coconut, almond, palm oil or pure olive oil. I do not recommend using the plain generic types vegetable oil. It won’t hold the scent as long and can go rancid. It is best to heat the oil in either a double boiler or another container inside a pan of water.
Step 3. Remove your petals or herb from the baggy and place in a jar that can be sealed. It is best to try and use a mason jar or some other jar that the lid can be closed on, but has a wide enough mouth to allow you the ability work easily with. Slowly pour the heated oil over the petals. You want to add just enough oil to cover the flowers or herbs. If you don’t have enough oil, just add a few more drops, enough to cover them. Using the back of a spoon gently press the flowers in to the oil to make sure they are all covered with the oil. Cover the mixture to seal it. Let it sit for 24 hours. If you have a counter where a bit of sunlight comes in to warm the jar, great, if not it not necessary. Just don’t place your jar where the oil will get too hot.
Step 4. After the mixture sits, you want to take it and strain oil off the flowers. You can use cheesecloth, which is the best, but coffee filters work in a pinch too. When you have strained off as much oil off as you can get, use a tool to finish pressing the flowers through the filter. You want to try and get all the oil you can from off those petals and leaves. Throw away the petals and save the oil. You now have your first essence of oil base.
Step 5. Gather another cup of fresh flowers or herbs. Repeat Step 1.
Step 6. Take your new essence of oil base that you created, and repeat steps 2 through 5 until you have repeated the process over the course of at least four days. If you have enough flowers to do a fifth day and even sixth day, I would. Remember that the oil that you use and heat on day 2 and subsequent days, will always be the essence of oil base you have strained and created first. Only thing new you are going to be doing everyday is adding fresh flowers.
When you get to the end of your 4th or 5th day, you will be left with a small amount of very fragrant essence of oil. You want to store this oil in dark bottles or if you don’t have dark bottles, store in a dark place, like a cupboard, to help with preservation. Always make sure you label your bottles.
If you grow an array of different fragrant flowers in your garden, you can create many different scented essences of oils. Once you have your oils, then the fun begins of creating your very own special scent.
You can take an eyedropper and mix different amounts of the oils together until you get a scent pleasing to you. One thing to note is that when you are mixing different oils together, place a label on the outside of the bottle and keep track of the number and name of each oil you mix together. There is nothing more frustrating than finally getting the perfect scent you like and then discovering when making another batch that you have forgotten the exact number of drops you used in the blend.
One you can the technique down pat, I would just like to mention that if you have been using edible flowers and herbs, you can also use these homemade essence oils for making scented soaps, and flavored butters and adding them to favorite food recipes. Before using these oils in the above mentioned way, always check and make sure your flowers and herbs are safe for human consumption and use in moderation.
Besides making scented oils for your own personal use, you can also give your essence oils as gifts or turn into a small-based business selling them. Besides enjoying the blooms in your garden, don't let them go to waste, put them to work for you.
Special thanks to Myra for contributing the photographs.