Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Extracting Lily of the Valley Perfume: ancient art in ephemeral times

 My whole life I've loved the smell of lily of the valley. We have a large colony growing around a boulder next to my parents' driveway, and with the exception of their late appearance this year, they always bloom for my mother's birthday. Every year we wait for the first lily of the valleys to bloom as a sign of summer's imminent arrival, and I always look forward to picking a bouquet for my mom the way she taught me, gently sliding the stem from between its two smooth leaves, and reveling in the intense, almost otherworldly aroma.

For the past two years I've been working on making a perfume from them, a task made more difficult than most of my fragrance creation because an essential oil of lily of the valley doesn't exist. They, like so many of the other intoxicating, ephemeral flowers I love (I'm looking at you, Lilac and Autumn Olive) create their scents continually while in bloom, as opposed the storing them in tiny droplets of essential oils within the petals or leaves. For this reason, steam distillation doesn't work, and even if it did, you'd only get a fraction of the scent that the plant is capable of creating. How then to extract that coveted smell?
In the pictures below I have three different experiments in process: 
maceration, alcohol extraction, and enfleurage, which we will discuss in brief during my upcoming Sensual Aromatherapy workshop this Saturday at NH Herbal Network's Herb and Garden Day, and in depth during the 2014 Winter Aromatherapy Apprenticeship (come to both; they'll be great fun!). 

Each method requires replacing the blooms with fresh blossoms every day for several weeks. Do I have the time? Not really, but you know what? I've got the passion. The season is brief. And right now, between the piles of lilacs and wisteria waiting to turn into syrup for tomorrow's Greenland farmers market, and the lemon balm hydrosol I just spent the evening extracting, my house smells like the epitome of early Summer. I'll make the time.

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