Wow, it’s been since last January when I last hopped onto my bloody soap box and preached about correct word usage and definitions in the perfume industry. Thus, before another year arrives without me raging against the dying light, let’s get on with it!
A few months ago a friend sent me a link to a blog post that referred to an iconic herbalist having challenges with essential oils. I won’t mention the name since its not important. After some exploration I learned that some herbalists believe that we don’t need essential oils. From what I was able to discern, this particular point of view argues that since a large quantity of plant material is needed to obtain an essential oil, the end product is very concentrated and thus both wasteful and potentially dangerous.
Different perspectives is a good thing and important, after all, there is no “one size fits all” and variety is what makes life interesting. There are many facets to a diamond, the more facets the more light is reflected.
In fact, after doing my own distillations I can resonate a bit with the “idea” that perhaps the plant material might be better utilized in its whole form and that the amount of water needed might be wasteful. This is particularly poignant here in Southern California where we have a sever drought. However, it really depends on what the plant material is, who is distilling and why, what the end result will be for the item, etc. I personally adore the hydrosols that have been obtained from the plant material from my garden, the farmers market and my other nearby growers. The benefits of the hydrosols have been marvelous and the aromatic waters contain chemicals that are not accessible in the raw plant material, as a tincture, infusion of an essentials oil. Each form will have a different imprint, a specific frequency based on the extraction, and each medium has a different use. For example, I might eat fresh spearmint leaves, use then in a tea, combine them with limes for a refreshing lime-aide on a hot day, or perhaps through them into a soup with fresh english peas. In fact, I have done all of those things in the last thirty days. However, that does not detract from the value of spritzing my face with the hydrosol while typing this blog post, using the essential oil on my temples or inhaling the aromatic molecules from my palms to provide a bit of clarity and energize my thinking or adding a tiny bit of the essential oil into an aromatherapy blend or perfume.
Just like we have many types of aromatics in the palette of perfume, we also have many types of extractions and ways to use them. Throughout history the “Still Room”, the distillery room, was a big part of daily life containing herbs from the nearby garden.
“Still Rooms were places where freshly collected plants and flowers were utilised in many ways, and these traditions continued well into the Edwardian period. Herbs could be hung upside down in bunches and dried for household and kitchen use, or pounded to a paste and in their simplest form added to lotions and grease or fats to provide ointments, medicines and poultices, or added to water and allowed to quietly “distill” for bottling as herb-rich medicinal waters. These were strained off into bottles and stoppered with a cork or the fore-runner of today’s “clingfilm” – pig or sheep bladders, stretched tightly to produce an air-tight seal.
Honey-rich syrups were made by infusing herbs previously bruised in a mortar and pestle or by making a strong decoction – both methods requiring heating to reduce the liquid, then strained through muslin and honey added to sweeten. Colds and sore throats were often relieved by a rose-hip and lemon balm decoction with honey added to soothe and heal. In a static display it is difficult to show the process without a fire and bubbling potions reducing away, but we have an old copper full of herbs waiting to be infused with a ladle nearby for bottling – and a couple of completed bottles ready for use.”1
According to one herbalist, the case against essential oils is that they are too concentrated and thus cause hormone disruption. This is followed by a reference to lavender oil causing young boys grow breasts. Oh my, really? Please follow this link to a post here at the journal from 2008 where I share insights into this very topic.
Ultimately we each will have to find our own truth, independent from what anyone says, that is the main tenet to the Art of Botanical Perfume course.
1 From the The Rye Castle Museum blog post The StillRoom in the Tower