making perfumes with cistus absolute


My musings on making perfumes with cistus absolute are many today as I am slowly getting clear on the various products obtainable from the Cistus ladaniferus bush (like Labdanum absolute), but that’s fodder for a future post (yep, it’s on the list). From now on I’m going to provide a direct link to the page of the supplier.

Common name: Cistus

Genus name: Cistus ladaniferus

Supplier: Hermitage

Note: Base

Family: Amber

Diffusion: 5+

Dilution: 10%

Blends well with: essential ingredient to amber bases and Orientals.  Use with citrus, cinnamon, pine, fir, florals, vanilla, oakmoss absolute, clary sage, black spruce, fir, juniper berry, myrrh, lavender, lavandin, bergamot, cypress, vetiver, sandalwood, frankincense, chamomile, benzoin siam, boronia, cassie, cypress.

Chemical components:  the most volatile fraction is made up of terpenes, alcohols, and of ketones (among those a-pinene, borneol, ledol, ledene etc. Diterpenes include Labdene-7,8-op-15, labdanolic acid, etc. Acids including benzoic, cinnamic (cis and trans), as well as fatty acids.

The chemical composition of labdanum contains around 250 compounds, 75 of which had been identified, including 25 phenols, 9 lactones and 8 acids. Weyerstahl et al. (1998) attempted to assign labdanum’s odour characteristics to some of the constituents. Dihydroambrinol contributes a powerful woody-amber, with an ambrinol-like nuance, while a-ambrinol is strong, amber and woody, having an exceptionally strong odour of damp earth with a crude civet sub note, which on high dilution gives a warm animal amber scent. Drimenone is described as powerful tobacco and amber, and various other components give soft, warm, woody amber notes, sometimes with animalic or resinous variations.  Weyerstahl et al. (1998) also reported the isolation of another key tone — 6,6,10-trimethyldecal-2-one — which they describe as ‘strong woody — dominant tonality — with a distinct note of damp earth, cellar, geosmin’ (Fragrance and Wellbeing by Jennifer Peace Rhind)

Interesting bits: The cistus absolute is obtained after the cistus concrete, itself the result of a hexane extraction of the young branches, is washed with ethanol. This unique plant with amber accents expresses its olfactory character in different ways, depending on the process: cistus essential oil, cistus Tradition quality essential oil, labdanum absolute, labdanum resinoid, and even labdasur…Products bearing the name “Cistus” come from the direct processing of the shrub’s young leafy twigs by distillation or solvent extraction. They include cistus essential oil, Tradition quality cistus essential oil,cistus concrete, and cistus absolute. (Albert Vieille)

Their nose:  Ambery, vanillic woody, terpenic, leather with spicy tobacco notes.  Warm, woody, spicy herbal, sweet ripe fruit and chamomile-like with a notable resinous, animalic and “cold smoke effect”.

The smell of Cistus is a fruity version of Labdanum, beautiful, green, fresh and mystic. (

Distinct labdanum note, warm, balsamic, woody, spicy with herbaceous nuances. (Ventos)

It has a complex odour, usually described as rich, sweet, slightly herbaceous-balsamic (Lawless 1994); or powerful, sweet, and recalling ambergris (jouhar 1991); or as having a sweet, rich, balsamic amber character with warm, dry, woody back notes (Lawless 1994). Williams (1996) wrote that cistus oil has powerful, warm, agra-like top notes, and the body is rich, warm, agra and balsamic, with a  dry, balsamic dryout. (Fragrance and Wellbeing by Jennifer Peace Rhind)

My nose: the top of cistus absolute opens up with animalic, yet vanilla qualities at the same time! Warm with a hint of fruit, it fans out softly, lovely and bewitching. 15min and it’s soft, a bit vanilla-y, hint of cognac, oakwood barrels, warm and animalic, earthy, mesmerising. 30min later and now the vanilla note has taken centre stage, animalic next, I can also smell commonalities with Ambergris, and the most fantastic thing, my mind out of nowhere conjured up the smell of Black Spruce! Cistus is like a throb, a persistent, deep, pulse of the earth, to me it’s profound. 45min and the main impressions are earthy, settling down to a creamy, woody blanket, it seems to have retreated quite a bit…probably just resting. 1hr and Dalma called so I nothing to add. 2hrs later and there is a green quality, earthy, animalic, brown, a bit lack-lustre now, dry, with a hint of woodiness. After 3hrs cistus absolute is warm, and the vanilla is back, sweet, it seems to be moving into a much darker layer of itself, more open now, like an exploration. The 7hr drydown is warm, vanilla, and yes, still very much alive. This layer is much more earthbound, more well-defined than previous layers. 12hrs on and there is now a mere hint, the faintest of sorts, of a lemon quality, more like Elemi than actual lemon, very natural, not at all bland in the drydown, just more quiet, more thoughtful. 24hrs later and yes, there is still a hint of that lemon/Elemi quality, now everything is much lighter but this layer is still alive on the scent strip, without a doubt.

12/24 comparison: the 12hr scent strip is more pungent, bracing, it’s form is more clearly defined and it’s distinctly drier, too. The 24hr scent strip side by side only provides a hint, leaves a trail of that pungency, it suggests dryness rather than exhibits it. The impression is that this layer has been stripped in the sun, but has left a trail of warmth behind, like breadcrumbs so you don’t ever get lost or forget.

Have a wonderful week-end!



building a powder accord



You get the idea. The whole exercise is to allow you to narrow things down to the best one.  But what does best mean?!  The one that’s the most harmonious, the most deftly juxtaposed, the one I like the most? What?!

There is definitely fear around creating your first perfumes. I think it’s all about a fear of wasting precious materials, or maybe it has to do with undue attachment to our creations, maybe a fear of failing.  Or worse still – a combination of all three! Oh, the initial agony!

Right. So perhaps I should fill you in a bit.  The exercise for class was to create a base accord around the Nature ID ingredient Ionone Blend which on its own smells soft, of talc and of Irises. I thought I wasn’t inspired because the powder family really doesn’t attract me much but I was in for a surprise because when I actually sat down to formulate I was awash with ideas.

First I had to choose two ingredients — but which two?! The initial choices are crucial because, like quantum physics, each choice made eliminates a host of other suitable marriage prospects, effectively narrowing your focus. Add them to the Ionone Blend, wait a day for it to mature, evaluate and add anywhere from another two to howmanyever you wanted. This choice was a bit easier as I became more serious about the direction and therefore the choices.  Add these then wait a day and evaluate.

I like all of them but test #2.  With test #1 I pushed my limits with the florals and it dries down to a beautiful, round curve. Test #3 and #4 are the ones that dry down the best.  But my final choice is #3: crisp, clean and clear this formula is more refreshing, more apt for a cologne. It comes and goes this one, like hide and seek. 3 hours later it is a very light floral that’s barely there, just below the surface, you think there’s nothing going on and you want to set it aside, dismiss it, but just before you do it reveals another side of itself.  Yes, it’s definitely floral but the Labdanum and Cedarwood lend the whole accord depth and character.

The formula is really simple:  Ionone Blend (1 drop), Rose Absolute (6 drops), Cedarwood (4 drops), Labdanum (3 drops), Vanilla Absolute (2 drops) and Ylang Ylang (5 drops).

Answer to my own question from earlier. My fear lies in letting them go.  My goal moving forward then is to learn to be more detached about my creations, which I’m sure will give them greater freedom of expression and wings to fly.

Happy Thursday!

note evaluations: the wood family

the handle of our front door made of a piece of lavender root.
the handle of our front door made of a piece of lavender root

Next to the resins this has got to be my favourite perfume family.  These are the notes that ground, guide and instruct me, not just in my daily life but also on the importance of constructing a perfume upon a solid base – firm and lasting. This in essence is what I extract from this family.

Some favourites that I have in my collection that are part of this group but are not part of the evaluation are: Davana, Oakwood CO2, Birch Tar rectified, Rosewood and Himalayan Cedarwood.

Myrrh: this opened with a freshness that was surprising, strangely I couldn’t smell it out of the left nostril.  Faintly woody, dry and brittle, reminiscent of paint somehow.  It was light, citrusy even and vaguely camphoraceous.  The dry down 6 hours later presented a warm, woody, bark, cinnamonish, drier than before but still present, almost seemed imbedded into the paper.  Volatility: mid-low.

Cistus Labdanum: oh, my God, I’m in love! Resinous, penetrating, sharing aspects in common with citrus for me, woody. Light, warm, reassuring yet sharp (that’s gotta be the camphene I’m detecting).  There is a dark side to this, it’s moving and has the ability to stir the soul, touches the belly, ancient and balsamic.  Drying down reveals tendrils of smoke wafting into the air that are still distinctly resinous, ritualistic, conjuring impressions of an orthodox church, comforting in its permanence, captivating, earth-bound, recalling sounds of Gregorian chants; medieval.  Volatility: still very impressive, so low-mid volatility.

Patchouli: how do I love thee, let me count the ways! Patch equals inner peace for me. Dark and woody, mysterious and creamy in quality. It expresses the woman I aspire to be at my core. Ritualistic, lush, narcotic, dense and bold. Reverent, true to itself, mature, like an anchor, raw power, untamed and unorthodox.  After 6 hours it is still vibrant, but in a much more contemplative way, still creamy, devout and evocative.  In a word: sultry.  Volatility: very low-mid volatility.

Vetiver: reminds me of citrus, dry and woody. I can pick up an animalic note, fecal even, but so soft.  Grassy, cabin in the woods, damp, wet sensation, a feeling of deepness, character, dense, expansive wilderness.  I get the ghost of an impression of Iris root, with a sense that these two could blend very well together.  This note is very persistent, whenever I leave and re-enter the studio I can smell it above all the others I’m currently evaluating!  In the dry down it is still very powerful. Grassy, beige quality, like a blanket. Now it is very warm. Volatility: very low volatility.

Oakmoss: opens clean, fresh, soggy and wet, earthy.  Out of the right nostril I can barely detect it only an impression of “clean”.  Wet woods, green forest sparkling after a warm rainfall, a bit sweet, somewhat dark and leathery.  After 6 hours it has faded to a sweet, balsamic quality, thicker than in the beginning.  Something I hadn’t noticed when I first evaluated this months ago is a faint smoky quality in the dry down, almost of tobacco.  Perhaps it is this sample that has that facet.  Volatility: low to mid volatility.

Cedarwood: awakens with a resinous appearance, soft, clear, clean, crisp with a touch of sweetness, balsamic. I get an impression of the outdoors in the middle of winter, snow, exciting, white! Shortly after I am struck by a sense of majesty, immenseness, a bit sticky, sharing common elements with Birch Tar rectified, leather! Could be a good marriage. Volatility: after 6 hours this dries down to a zingy bite, a touch citrusy, sweet, almost balsamic, similar to Davana, sort of spicy! Low to mid volatility.

Sandalwood: brighter than Cedarwood, woody, I can barely smell it out of my left nostril and it’s almost invisible through my right.  With both I get soft, dry, a bit sweet, exotic, graceful and delicate, creamy, impressions of the Middle East. Hushed. This note lurks in the shadows!  What other mysteries is it leading me to? In the dry down it reminds me of an Indian store I used to work in as a teen. I get wooden jewellery boxes, filled with treasures.  The gem of this note seems to be coming out now after 6 hours with a distinctly round, soft character.  Sandalwood is unapologetic in its nature.  In one word I would describe this note as: Ageless.  Volatility: very low to mid volatility.

Next up is the Powder family and a class experiment. Finally some mad scientist stuff!


Myrrh: 48 hours later still soft, I have to get up close but it’s more intimate now.

Labdanum: 48 hours later it’s very present, less incensey, now just a very lived in feeling, smokey leathery.

Patchouli: 48 hours in and it’s more leafy, comes and goes, softer, more powdery, less noticeable somehow.

Vetiver: 24 hours after and to me this is sort of soapy, still dry and very much out there!  Clear and decisive but tamer though.

Oakmoss: 24 hours later and I still get tendrils of tobacco, plumes of leather, less of an impression but the impression it does leave is darker if that makes any sense.

Cedarwood: 24 hours into the dry down and if this were a colour it would be yellow/green now with a light citrus edge, hints of similarities with African Bluegrass, and still quite perceptible.

Sandalwood: 24 hours on and this note is much more powdery, softer, talcum soft, reminds me of a talc I used to have as a pre-teen with a puffer. It also brings to mind  embers in a hearth early the next morning.


Photo credits: whenever not mentioned the images are taken by me. Door handle image credit goes to our friend: Luca De Nale.