adventures in tincturing: basmati rice and mate tea

Toasted Basmati rice tincture and Maté tea tincture
Toasted Basmati rice tincture and Maté tea tincture

On the 13th I finished tincturing basamati rice and Maté tea.  I had seen quite a few times on some perfumery sites that fellow perfumers had tried the basmati rice tincture for it’s properties as a fixative.  I can’t say I’m crazy about the smell of basmati rice but I wanted to give it a try see.  At the same time I got curious about some Mate tea I had in my cupboard and with absolutely zero expectations I decided, ah, what the hell, and in it went.

7 days later here’s the impression I get on the smelling strip:

Basmati rice tincture – soft, lightly coconuty, it does take me into gourmand territory I feel, which I’m not crazy about.  I also get a slight impression of the toasted effect here but not enough to make me want to use it in a composition.  This one has got to convince me in the dry down or it’s a definite “Nein!”.  I’ll evaluate it later in the day for a more well rounded opinion.

Mate tea tincture – the colour is a wonderful soft, green, almost mossy in quality.  The smell is definitely of tea! It reminds me of the smell of the tea leaves that remain in my cup after a few hours of sitting there, giving me a sense of comfort and anticipation because I love making and drinking tea.  Tea brings me solace, directs and grounds me. This tincture is light and so green, Spring-time, fragile green.  Think early fern fronds of Spring.  I can definitely feel this in a cologne composition so it’s a keeper!

This week I’m helping out family so I’ll be back on Friday with more scentual musings.  Have wonderful Tuesday!

cough syrup/liqueur experiment

some experiments are fool proof!
some experiments are fool proof!

This started off as a liqueur.  This is what we got.  A cough syrup. Not that I mind, I’ve always been a believer in taking care of my own health and in natural preventative solutions.

During our vacation we met a couple that gave us a taste of their home-made liqueur and I fell in love with the aroma and the taste.  It was made of Mugo Pine or Pinus Mugo (latin) and we are surrounded by it here in the Alps.  So we collected some, covered it with sugar and set it out on our windowsill for the sunshine to melt it all.  We did everything right other than taking into account that this should be done during the summer’s hottest days not the end of summer early fall.  Duh!  Of course it hardened like concrete and we couldn’t do a thing with it for months.  Then we got the brilliant idea to add some ethyl alcohol (grain) to it and later some hot water and voilà!  Mugo Pine cough syrup!

Both old stories collected from the area as well as a trip on the internet confirmed for me that Mugo Pine syrup is indeed good for upper respiratory tract infections, whooping cough, chronic bronchitis, mucus, and asthma. Taken externally it’s good for rheumatism and muscular stiffness.  Not bad for an experiment that went all pear shaped.

Don’t ask me for the exact measurements of the ingredients we just totally went by intuition.  The smell is wonderful and we sat there last night sucking the sugar and alcohol off the pine cones we extracted until we were woosy.  We slept well though! The cones won’t be thrown out but used for firewood.  Most everything gets recycled in this house.  We’ll eventually filter and bottle the concoction.

Oh, and just because we’ve called it a cough syrup hasn’t stopped LV from using it as a liqueur!

Scentually yours,


adventures in tincturing – lapsang souchong tea

Talk about smoky!

If you want a smoky note that’s not as overpowering as the Choyas or as intense as Tobacco absolute, then you’ve got to tincture some Lapsang Souchong tea.

lapsang_souchong_tinctureAll I can say is WOW!  I was not expecting to get this kind of tenacity from tea leaves.  It seems to just hold on to the paper and not let go, but in a softer way than the others.

All three add something dark and mysterious in their own way.  Tobacco is dark in a sweet, vanilla, honey sort of way with that unique pipe tobacco aspect.  Choya Nakh is closer to birch tar rectified, more leathery in quality, very earthy and serious. And Lapsang Souchong tea tincture is smoky but also reminiscent of incense burning in a Roman Catholic church, adding a somber note; also recalls what your clothes smell like after being in a room full of smoke.

I sourced this particular brand from Tee Gschwendner in Germany.  Their Lapsang is organic and packs a punch unlike a couple others I tried that are really blasé almost as if they’re afraid to make it too smoky for fear of offending tea drinkers.  Then I say, don’t make it!  The wonderful thing about Lapsang Souchong, both as a tea (and I’m a serious tea drinker) and a tincture for perfumes is the definite smoky odour, so bring it on.

Here’s what on my list to get from them in my next purchase:

  • China Oolong Kwai Flower
  • Caramel
  • China Pu-Erh Tuocha
  • Another bag of China Lapsang Souchong
  • Kenya GFOP Milima
  • Russian Samovan Tea

The great thing about tincturing teas is it’s so bloody affordable!

adventures in tincturing – tahitian vanilla cognac tincture

Decanting the Tahitian vanilla beans that had been maturing in Courvoisier XO cognac since August of last year was pure delight!  What you see here is the result of four months of some grade A vanilla beans drunk on some of the best damn cognac!  What better end?!

tahitian-vanilla-beansThis is only the first of two phases of a recipe I found on the Hermitage Oils UK site here. I sourced some amazing Tahitian vanilla beans from very far away and started the process in August.

On New Years day I took them out of the cognac and now I’m letting them dry.  The Givaudan site used to have an article that detailed (but they’ve taken that down apparently) their drying process as “…after sun drying the beans are slow-dried indoors for about 4-6 weeks on wooden drying racks in airy warehouses.”  Well, my wooden frühstück board and studio will have to suffice.  I’ll let it dry out for longer, probably eight weeks, seeing as how sun drying is six months off.  You should smell it in here!  The whole studio smells like vanilla, it’s glorious!

The tincture itself is magnificently soft, full of character and complexity due to the cognac of course.  From here the instructions after drying are, to chop up the beans and add alcohol with a bit of the cognac tincture.  I love it this way so much I’m reluctant to dilute the beans further but I will.  I have about 10 beans left and I’m definitely going to tincture them again in cognac.

The patience involved in building your own single notes is incredibly satisfying because you know you’re creating something unique, something that, even if replicated, will never be quite the same. It’s also grounding because you can’t rush a single step. It fills you up in a way that no instant purchase of any raw material can, no matter how extravagant, because you made it yourself and you know what went into making it. You earned the final result.  Now that’s gratifying.

Scentually yours,


adventures in tincturing – pine resin (unknown)

Thought I’d begin the new year with some tincture updates because I’ve had some of them sitting there for over six months and was getting really curious, while others it was time.  So I spent my first day of January decanting my tinctures! Let’s start with:

Unknown Resins: back in July LV and I went and gathered some resin pieces off of various pine trees in the mountains.  It was a beautiful, sunny summer day and as we meandered along the trail we’d collect these pieces and they stuck to our hands and our pockets until finally we found a large leaf to wrap them in.

It comes as no surprise, really, to find the final tincture super sticky!  This suits me fine as it means it will add greater sillage to the compositions.  What I’ll end up having to do though is dilute it further to reduce the sticky-factor.

The image on the left is of the first tincture back in November 2012 from a piece LV had knocking about the car for some time.  He used pieces of it like chewing gum but kindly gave up the luscious lump for my tincture experiment.  The image on the left is from the more recent collection in July.


1st tincture: this one is more pungent, you can perceive the wood, pine, it screams forest, but it’s soft, calming and relaxing. Definitely woody and comforting. It dries down into a beautiful warm, creaminess that seems to wrap you in pleasure.

2nd tincture: smells definitely sweeter, I can pick up more terpenes in this one, there’s a hint of an off-note in the beginning which eases off during the dry-down.  It’s not as graceful as the first one, it feels almost young and brash.  Maybe I needed to let the resin sit out in the open and age for while before tincturing it.

Something incredible happened to me this morning!  I was resting on the couch this morning while LV was having breakfast and started a fire.  It struck me that I could pick out the resin baking in the flames! Before I could only sense that I loved the smell of the smoke, but this time I was actually unconsciously picking out a single note, proof that I am indeed training my nose..have a wonderful day!


It’s here, it finally came! From all the way around the world in New Zealand to our little village in the Alps. Ah! It’s Christmas already!

4.4 generous grams arrived in the mail and once I tore the padded envelope open I could smell the odour rise to caress my nostrils.  Honestly, that’s what it felt like.

When I opened the package I stood there holding them reverently, in awe that what I had in my hand was more costly than gold; that in the world of perfumery this ingredient is sublime and has cult status.

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In the close up shot you can see they very much resemble pumice stones, very porous and flaky.

I ordered the white variety, apparently it’s superior, with a mellow and fine odour, extremely subtle and seductive, with a very light fragrance.  What I get is a very dry, slightly fecal, animalic smell but compelling, addictive almost as I found myself leaning in for a sniff every few minutes.  It also has a delicate sweetness about it, even sort of “moth-bally”. But even with all that it is never off putting, I never found myself recoiling in disgust.

Anyhow, after taking my photos, I wrapped the pieces in a large piece of wax paper, folded it many times and began bashing it with a meat tenderiser.  I then emptied it into a bottle via a funnel and then covered it with 1 Lr of grain alcohol, labeled it and voilà! My very first ambergris tincture! The tincture photo displays the heavier pieces that have fallen to the bottom the lighter ones are floating around the alcohol in suspension.  Eventually, after much waiting, anywhere between 12-48 months, I’ll filter and store it.

Now I don’t have to buy from anyone else, I can use my own tincture and experiment to my heart’s content because a drop or two can be all you need.  I am however planning my next purchase: silver, grey and golden ambergris!

aventures in tincturing: rock lichen


On Sunday LV and I went for a walk with Charlie; I was on the lookout for some resin growing off of the trees in the forest we walked through but alas found none.  What I did find however was another gift: rock lichen!  How it grows clinging to the rocks fascinates me so I took just a couple pieces and began tincturing.


This beautiful creature is a happy dance between between a fungus and one or more alga and only certain types of fungus and algae interact in this way — it’s a classic example of nature’s symbiosis, living together.

In researching this impressive botanical I found out some stimulating things, mainly, since we’re talking perfumes, that it’s used as a fixative, to hold a perfume in place longer on the skin.  This comes as no surprise as some of nature’s mysteries are quite evident: lichen are called “extremophiles” because they thrive in polar and alpine regions where they are subjected to extreme dryness.

Lichen provide stability, hence their use as a stabiliser in perfume. In their natural environment they help reduce erosion and in the case of rock lichen, can even very slowly break down rocks. Some lichen even extract nitrogen from the air and make it available to plants, this process is called “nitrogen fixation”.  See why it’s not a mystery?

I have to admit that learning to prepare my own tinctures for use in perfumery has given me a whole new respect and consideration for nature.  I find myself approaching them with much more reverence and care; and although I didn’t do it with these couple pieces of lichen, from now on I will be asking permission from the botanical source before harvesting.


adventures in tincturing: jasmine & elderflower

Today I tinctured Jasmine flower. I have high hopes, it smells very promising already.

Yesterday Elderflower. LV went out and picked me about thirty flowers and I cut off the heads and steeped them in ethanol.  It really is humbling to have your hands covered in pollen, something so alive and pregnant with potential life. For the moment all I can say is, meh, not as impressive as the flower in its natural state. I’ve got some more that I will add to the alcohol when I strain off this one tomorrow. Below are my first efforts at fresh flower tincturing:

“The benefits to using tinctures as the alcohol base for botanical perfumes are numerous.  Notice I stated “as the alcohol base.” I recommend using tinctures as the perfumers alcohol for blending a perfume.  …. we are not creating a tincture to replace an essential oil or absolute (although one can tincture vanilla beans very successfully and use them as a replacement for vanilla absolute) we are more creating a subtle back note for the perfume by using the tinctured alcohol to blend.”  – Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume

This is a very interesting idea. Just a few months ago I started formulating for the first time and I’m using drops just in the test phase and haven’t yet made any full versions of my testers. So, this approach really interests me from a purely artisanal standpoint, the uniqueness of each one would be amazing!

As an aside: my package came and and with it the natural isolates and essential oils that I’ll need for the chemistry course, yeah!  I was at the door before the delivery guy could even ring the door bell and literally tore into the box when I got it into the studio. And the smell that met me when I opened the box was divine, heady and optimistic! I can’t wait to deepen my understanding of these wonderful gifts of the Earth.

Have a wonder-filled weekend!

adventures in tincturing – tonka bean


I love tincturing my own aromatics! There’s a special kind of delight that comes from taking something from its raw ingredient to something you can actually wear on your body that just sends me. Today I want to talk about my experience tincturing Dipteryx Odorata a.ka. Tonka Bean.

So, here’s how I did it and some thoughts and impressions during process:

Tonka beans: they are these little shrivelled up black beans and when I cut them up there was this glorious vanilla smell that rose up to tickle my nose.  I cut up about 50gr of beans with a knife, the beans I got from De Hekserij in Holland and then I added 200ml of 96% ethanol.  I used a mason jar and put it away in a cupboard and shook it every day – of course sniffing as I went.

I love that part; shaking and sniffing (…sniffing, sniffing, sniffing – headache!), everyday the smell is different! All of my tinctures I find to be so satisfying, I’m not even really sure why but they seem to leap forward and speak to me.

Decanting it I am totally struck by how much it has in common with Vanilla!  I haven’t gotten the essential oil yet so can’t compare but this smell is so soft. I value tinctures in my perfumes because sometimes I want a watered down effect of an essential oil, something just slightly different and tinctures give me this flexibility, this nuance.  And there’s a certain gratification in knowing I made it.

When I first started tincturing I was so anxious, what if I screwed up and had to throw everything away?! But what’s important to note is that tincturing is not an exact science, that’s what’s fun about it, just trust and follow your nose.

I have yet to use fresh ingredients. It was my intent this spring to use the fragrant petals of our rose bush but my mother-in-law, sweet woman, lay claim to it for her her soap making.  That’s okay, she needs to keep busy and I’ve got enough on my plate…next year.

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