Many flower fragrances are used in perfumery. The soil, climate and variety of each flower influence its scent enormously. In fact, the raw materials used to make perfume are found all over. Fields of flowers and aromatic plants are found in the Mediterranean. Sandalwood and vetivert come from India. Madagascar produces the delicate ylang-ylang flower. Oakmoss from Yugoslavia and roses from Bulgaria also contribute to the array of materials used in the manufacture of fragrance.
The essential oil in plants, which give them their particular aromas, are found in flowers, leaves, fruit, bark, roots, gums and resins, and seeds all over the world. The costliest and finest of perfume oils, called the “absolute,” are obtained from certain flowers. The natural oils of the rose, jasmine, and orange flower are the most important. It is also important to note that every superior grade perfume contains a certain percentage of one or more of these flower oils, which impart to the fragrance a smoothness that is unobtainable with any other ingredient.
One of the most valuable elements of a fine perfume is provided by the rose, known as the “queen of flowers”. Rose perfumes were very popular with the Romans and the Greeks. Roses are gathered at night since they are at their most fragrant before sunrise. The two main species of roses used in perfume are the Rosa centifolia, found in the South of France, and the rosa damascena (Damask Rose) located primarily in Arab countries. The damask rose is most widely grown for perfumery. Roses are found in 75% of all perfumes.
Jasmine, another “absolute,” or pure essence, gives a perfume a well-rounded, finished quality. Jasmine flowers are harvested when their scent is at its peak just before dawn. The flowers must be processed immediately before their freshness fades. The jasmine must also be placed in special baskets to prevent the flowers from bruising, and unbalancing the flower’s natural bouquet. Eight thousand jasmine flowers yield 1/25 oz of absolute. Jasmine and synthetic versions of jasmine are used in 83% of all women’s perfumes.
Violets have been used in perfumes throughout the ages. They used violet in both perfumes and medicines. It has been used for cures from headaches to cures for cancer. There are two varieties of violets most commonly used in perfumes, the Victoria Violet and the Parma Violet. Violets only produce a scant amount of essential oils, and are rarely used today. A synthetic replacement for violet is most commonly used, along with other essential oils resembling the violet.
The orange flower is the traditional flower of brides all over the world. The bitter orange is one of the most versatile trees producing the essential oils for this scent. Its blossoms provide orange flower absolute. Orange flower oil or “neroli” was named after the Italian Princess of Neroli. She began the fashion of using the oil for scented gloves. The absolute is somewhat scarce, but Neroli oil is plentiful and widely used, especially in finer citrus colognes. Oil of “petit grain” is obtained by distillation from the leaves and twigs. Orange flowers are grown in the south of France, Spain, Italy and North Africa.
Orange oil is obtained from the peel of the fruit of the orange tree. Most orange oil comes from Italy, Spain and the United States. It is used in citrus-type colognes and other fragrances. One of the most important citrus oils for toilet water and colognes is lemon oil. When hand-pressed, the oil has a fresh fruit note. Most lemon oil comes from Italy and the United States. Bergamot oil is pressed from the fruit of the bergamot tree, grown in Calabria, Southern Italy. This oil is used in colognes with a citrus note, in chypre, and in other types of fragrances.
Ylang-ylang is widely used for fine fragrance. This flower is found throughout South-East Asia. The ylang-ylang is not picked until the buds have been open for two to three weeks. After they have been gathered, they must be processed quickly. This oil is commonly used, but synthetic versions, and cananga oil is often substituted in less expensive perfumes.
Bark and roots are also of great value to the perfumer. The oil of the cinnamon tree has a sweet, spicy note. Vetiver, a grass whose essential oil comes from the root of the plant, is a good fixative used in a large number of fragrances. It is found in Asia, the West Indies, and in Central and South America. Costus oil, an excellent fixative grown in the Himalayan Highlands, can be overpowering even in small concentrations.
Resins are the gummy substances that come from the barks of trees. Lichen, usually found around oak trees, exudes a resinous substance called oakmoss. Its aroma is unique, giving an earthy note to perfume essential to chypre fragrances and their derivatives. It is found in Yugoslavia, Italy, and the Central European countries. Frankincense is a well-known resin. It is still used in religious rituals, as a medicine, and as a purifying perfume.
Sandalwood has long been considered a sacred perfume, wed in the religious rites of ancient India and by Chinese Buddhists. Having an easily recognizable scent and valued as a fixative, the oil finds wide application in perfumery. Cedarwood oil gives a woody undertone, and is also valued as a fixative. It comes from cedar trees that grow in Morocco, Lebanon and East Africa. Moroccan oil is said to be the best.