"Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind."
~ Seals & Crofts
The French word Enfleurage translates as "in flowering", referring to a form of capturing scent (extraction) dating back to ancient Egypt, later re-introduced in the hillside town of Grasse, France.
I have created an entire lesson in the Art of Botanical Perfume devoted to this topic as it is one of my very favorite processes that I have been using for almost two decades now. The very laborious method of placing live botanicals on a layer of fat that has been coated onto glass is mastered by repetition and paying attention. Results achieved by one person will not always be the same for another, due to the "terrior" of where we and the plants reside.
Here is some of the terminology to keep in mind as we go through this process:
- Enfleurage: French word meaning "in flowering"
- Fat: The original fat was lard or tallow, these days coconut oil is most popular amongst those who prefer to avoid animal products and "other" fragrances in their final product.
- Chasis: Stackable wood frames with glass, used in France.
- Terrior: A French term referring to the environmental factors that influence the flavors and scent of a plant. The word is most often used in wine.
- Prima materia, our plant matter, the term comes out of Alchemy, referring to the first matter
- Charge: A term referencing each time you add more flowers, or plant matter to your base. With Enfleurage your base is a "fat", if we are making an infusion the base is an "oil", in the case of a tincture the base is a high proof alcohol.
- Pomade: the result of the enfleurage process, the scented fat.
- Extract/Extrait: The final result of the enfleurage product, also called an absolute.
To begin this long term processes, consider your "prima materia", the plant matter you are choosing to work with. If they are fresh flowers, make sure you have the ability to access enough flowers for a good length of time. Each flower is a bit different, a good rule of thumb is to repeat the charge at least eight times, the more the better.
In California when I had access to my ten potted jasmine plants I started the process in May which lasted until October. I was also creating tinctures and infusions at the same time since I had access to such a large quantity of flowers.
Besides our fragrant flowers, the tools and raw materials necessary for enfleurage are easy to obtain and most likely in your possession. I use shallow glass Pyrex pans.
Choosing your fat?
Animal fat was the original ideal medium for capturing odor. For those of us working in a holistic paradigm a non-animal fat is preferred but more of a challenge to find. Experimentation will lead you to the perfect fat that works best for you. Unscented coconut oil is the most popular fat currently used and I do highly recommend it, however, it can be a challenge in warmer climates.
In the nineties when I first started experimenting with enfleurage I used an organic, virgin coconut oil, which did not work in Southern California where temperatures in Spring and Summer can easily reach 90 to 100. Thus I switched to using a mixture of beeswax and jojoba oil. Here in Santa Fe however, the coconut oil works well.
Instructions for Simple Home Enfleurage
- Step 1: Coat your glass, a lasagna glass pyrex dish works well, with an unscented fat, ideally in a solid state.
- Step 2: Gather your flowers in the early morning after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day
- Step 3: Gently place the flowers on the fat.
- Step 4: Cover the dish with a clothe to preserve the aromatic molecules.
- Step 5: Set the dish in a cool locations, ideally in the dark.
- Step 6: Remove the spent flowers and begin again.
The replacing of flowers will vary and is a bit like cooking, pay attention to the scent and decided if it would be better to replace a few times a day, every morning or after two to three days.
It's really important to look for mold and at the first sign carefully remove it from your fact and pay close attention to re-occurring signs. If mold becomes a constant challenge then its possible your batch may be ruined and require you to begin once more. Avoid mold by avoiding water, water is your enemy in the enfleurage process.
- Step 7: When the flowering period has ended, check to see how fragrant the result is. If it is weak then consider saving it until next year or layering a different flower over the top.
By the end of the lilac enfleurage process I found the scent too weak and ended up using the fat bed for my 2019 gardenia enfleurage.
FILTRATION / EXTRACTION
- Step 8: Getting back the to process, once you are happy with the scent of your fat, whether it is from one flower or multiple, scrape the pomade into a glass jar, see photo above. This pomade can now be used as your final product, whether is is a solid perfume or a component to something else.
In a traditional enfleurage, the next step is to pour a high proof alcohol over your fat and store the jar in a cool, dark place, shaking every few days or so for a period of a year or more. Next step separate out the scented alcohol from the fat by filtration. This can be done with a traditional fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth, followed by a coffee filter.
- Step 9: Next, you have two options:
- If you have a small distillation apparatus, you can distill "off" the alcohol.
- If not the old school method is to pour the scented alcohol into a new jar, cover with a piece of cheesecloth and then slowly evaporate off the alcohol.
I've laid out a context for you to begin experimenting, the more you practive the more you will tune into the plant material and find your own way. Keep in mind there is no right or wrong, most important thing is the move forward, if you fail, learn and do it again.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, the old processes of perfume making, like enfleurage, are labor intensive and not for everyone. After working with this process for so many years I continue to be surprised and enchanted. The act of harnessing the ephemeral, what we can call the soul of a flower, into a solid form is truly magical!
"Ah, these jasmines, these white jasmines!..."
~ Rabindranath Tagore