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.

image credit:

tools of the trade

Before we dive into the single notes that make up our perfumes everything should be at the more or less the same strength because some notes have molecules that are too big for the olfactory sense to perceive.  Not only this but having each ingredient at the same dilution puts them all on the same level for mixing so one doesn’t over-power another and everything’s at the same viscosity for easy pouring.

One of the guys that does a great job at explain perfume basics in general is Chris Bartlett of Pell Wall Perfumes.  For extra reading check out his tips on diluting and of course check out Basenotes DIY Perfume forum for loads of info.

Below the pics you’ll find step by step directions.  Here’s what you’ll need:

Digital scale accurate to 0.01gr – get into the habit of measuring with a scale right away and not relying on drops (other than when testing) or measuring by volume because every essential oil has a different mass, one drop of ylang ylang will not weigh the same as a drop of mastic oil for example.

Squeeze bottle for easy dispensing of the alcohol so you don’t end up over pouring

Plastic pipettes for disposability. I ordered a box of 500/1ml droppers but also keep some 3ml droppers on hand too

Smelling strips

Wooden, disposable spatula for getting stubborn absolutes that come in a paste out of the bottle like Oakmoss or Beeswax absolute

Glass stirring rod

Glass beaker to hold the spatulas, pipettes, smelling strips and glass rods for easy access

30ml or 50ml and 100ml brown glass bottles to hold the dilutions, I like the 100ml for synthetics and the 50ml for the essential oils. I got aluminium caps and not dropper caps because over time the alcohol fumes will erode the rubber

Digital labeller for naming the bottles

Adhesive labels I use to write a quick olfactive description of the note and whether it’s a Top, Middle or Base not

96% proof ethyl alcohol which should not be denatured meaning it has been rendered undrinkable by adding additives

Fuller’s Earth clay for filtering those concretes or absolutes that leave sediments. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica says the following about Fuller’s Earth: “any fine-grained, naturally occurring earthy substance that has a substantial ability to adsorb impurities or colouring bodies from fats, grease, or oils. Its name originated with the textile industry, in which textile workers (or fullers) cleaned raw wool by kneading it in a mixture of water and fine earth that adsorbed oil, dirt, and other contaminants from the fibres.” I learned about creating a crystal clear dilution from a video by the late perfumer Alec Lawless of Essentially Me who explains filtering and fining very well in this YouTube video – time well spent.

Glass beakers of various sizes for pre-mixing before putting into your bottles so you can see if they may need filtering

And…since this post has turned out to be longer than expected I’ll do an example of a dilution tomorrow.

Have a fabulous day!                                                                                                – M



what’s it all about anyway?


By no stretch of the imagination am I a master perfumer so please forgive any implied expertise in this blog, I’m just learning.  That being said, I do have a clear intention for this blog – not unusual as I’m generally someone who likes to have a clear idea of where I’m going (and then Life happens, a voice whispers.  I know, I know!) So, here it is:

I intend to go on a journey from zero experience to developing a line of niche perfumes that people are drawn to in an personal way, that they want to wear as close to themselves as their own skin, perfumes that people feel passionate about, that they feel is a part of what defines who they are.  Journeys like this will inevitably include long stays in marketing land, necessary detours into regulation guideline territory with the eventual reformulating of formulas pit stop, as well as setting up shop online and everything in between…I’m thinking first an Etsy shop, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Typically the art of making perfume has been a very solitary one and quite shrouded in mystery, unless you follow a path of formal education quite early on, but how many of us really know what we want to do when we grow up, by say the age of 18?!  Over the last year while allowing this dream to take root I trolled some useful sites like the Basenotes DIY forum, many perfume blogs like Andy Tauer’s blog, Fragrantica, Perfume Shrine and a couple Yahoo! Groups, and, while practical, they provide informal training in bits and pieces, leaving many questions unanswered like holes in the formation process and for me as a beginner I find this quite frustrating.  Questions like: so, now that I’ve gone from testing formulations at 10% dilutions how do I take that and make a full fledged marketable perfume, one that adheres to IFRA guidelines?  Or, how do I colour my perfumes to convey softness or brightness etc.? Or, where do I get nice looking bottles without minimum orders of 1,000?  What about crimping vs. screw tops? Is it worth it to invest in a course or go it alone like the founders of Kerosene or Heeley and if so, is an online course better than one conducted in person, and just what are the current choices out there?  Just to name a few.

Last year I was inches away from taking the GIP 2 week summer school in Grasse, France seeing as we’re quite close but I came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t prepared enough to begin at that level, I needed to get my feet wet a bit more on my own before investing 1,990 euro. So, I’ll enroll next year and, dialling it down to the basics, decided to start with a home study course on the Chemical Components of Essential Oils. The benefit of being self taught is that you can choose your approach and being that I am drawn to composing perfume formulae base on researching the chemical components of single notes and finding commonalities and then marrying them, this course seemed a natural starting point.

If you plan on following along, here’s what the next two years could look like:

1st 6 months

  • Building your perfumer’s organ.  At the moment my collection looks something like this: 69 synthetics, 49 naturals, and since I’m always tincturing something, 18 tinctures. I’ve got a list that I’m always adding to of the next raw materials that I want to get when the money is available.
  • Single note explorations. This is basic training to develop the nose. We’ll be taking 3 different raw materials and sniffing them through their stages of evaporation at various intervals: 20 minutes x 3, then at 2 hours, 4 hours and 1 day
  • Language of perfumery. Of course at the same time we’ll be developing our perfumery vocabulary in order to express the feelings or images these notes evoke in us.
  • Making 10% dilutions
  • Tincturing
  • And of course I’ll share my thoughts of the chemical components of essential oils course with you

2nd 6 months

  • Building on the basics. Looking at the basic groups like Floral, Oriental, Woody, Fresh and building simple formulae of these groups.
  • Continuing our single note exploration
  • Blind note testing
  • Simple 2-3 note accords
  • taking our chemical components research further and putting it in context
  • research our 10 favourite notes and find out everything we can about them: soil, weather, the people where they grow, history of the land, any and everything
  • if all goes well, it will be time to sign up for the GIP summer school course

3rd 6 months

  • learn about IFRA regulations
  • I’ll be looking into EU funding options or funding options in general
  • getting the name registered
  • looking into suppliers
  • taking the GIP course

4th 6 months

  • building more complex accords
  • playing/working with more notes and accords in a systematic way to build full scale scents
  • making a full fledged formula in various strengths
  • business plan

There you have it!  These are my intentions for the next 2 years.  I avoided the word “plan” because I didn’t want God to laugh!