The Study of Natural Essences-Exploring the World of Natural Aromatics

The in-depth study of individual natural essences(essential oils, absolutes, co2 extracts, attars, etc) is an enchanting and enriching experience. Those who engage in it with enthusiasm, patience and devotion will find the inner sense of wonder  awakening in their heart and mind as they progress in their research. The careful study of the multifaceted fragrant personalities of essences derived from resins, flowers, woods, spices etc does require a good deal of discipline because one needs to enter a world that primarily relies on non-visible and non-verbal impressions. It compels one  to participate in an the experience of creating an inner landscape with its own language, colors, textures, climates etc arising from ones exploration of the unique and delightful aromas emanating from the essences one is focusing their attention on.

The value of developing a one-on-one relationship with each essence forms a critical part of the aspiring perfumers training. As one becomes comfortable with the breadth and depth of each oils aromatic personality, they, in due course of time begin to sense how different essence might combine with each other. But the first stage of perfume creation is to gain knowledge of the numerous qualities of fragrance, intensity, longevity, radiance etc associated with each oil. In the swift moving pace of our times one has to make a conscious effort to slow down and pay attention to the changes that take place during the life span of the oils one is establishing a friendship with. In the world of natural essences it is all to common to sniff an oil for a few seconds and make a judgement to its qualities based on this brief encounter. But in truth, each oil is an aromatic universe in itself and it only yields its secrets to those who enter into its sphere with sympathy and appreciation. Some oils may have an aromatic life which is relatively brief(thirty minutes to an hour) such as many citrus and conifer oils, whereas other many have an life span that extends over days and even weeks as exemplified by vetiver, myrrh, patchouli and other base oils.

So now the question arises as to how to enter this world in a way that will allow one to gain the aromatic knowledge one seeks. The guideline presented here are practical simple ones that, I think, anyone can follow. They are meant to provide provide a solid basis for more advanced perfume work at a later date when one will, most likely, need to the one on one guidance of a practicing perfumer.

One will, first of all require a few basic pieces of equipment to commence their explorations.
1. Glass Bottles
There are numerous sources for quality glass bottles. Speciality Bottles is one excellent source
My recommendation is to procure:
10-1 ounce amber bottles with glass droppers
The bottles with the glass droppers will allow a person to transfer oils to other bottles once they enter into the realm of blending essences with each other.
If one prefers they could also use use a European Dropper Bottle with orifice reducer. The 30 ml size would be equivalent to a 1 ounce bottle.

2. Perfumers/Fragrance Testing Strips

3. Perfumers Alcohol or Carrier Oil(Jojoba or Fractionated Coconut Oil
190 proof to 200 proof ethanol/perfumers alcohol or a scentless or almost scentless stable carrier oils are essential oils for Olfactory Evaluation of natural essences.
It is important to dilute the pure essence before evaluation as these are highly concentrated liquids
and the nose can not easily tease out its nuances. Dilution decompresses the oil and puts it into a form where one can discern its intricate nature.
Ethanol has the advantage of being very light and volatile so the aromatic molecules contained in the essence are not muted as is sometimes the case when the essence is blended with an oil base but some folks do not like to use alcohol so a carrier oil like Jojoba or Fractionated Coconut Oil will definitely work.
One problem with ethanol is that it is difficult to procure an undenatured product. It often requires a special license. But a good 200 proof denatured alcohol is available from Save On Scents which should work find
Organic alcohol is available:
Fractionated Coconut Oil and Jojoba are available from many places.
I suggest getting 32 ounces of one or the other.

4. A notebook should be kept to keep notes of ones impressions of each oil as they study it.
The computer can also be effectively used for the same purpose but it might be wise to have a written record as well in the event one's computer crashes.

5. Of equal importance to all of the above is finding a place where one can do their evaluations in a peaceful, quiet and clean atmosphere. If one can manage to spend 15-30 minutes each day or at least several times a week in their studies it would excellent. Concentration is best achieved before any of the activities of the day have commenced. Once one enters the regular affairs of ones activities,
a whole series of impressions and experiences enters the mind which often breaks the natural  equilibrium and concentration one has when fresh and so one has to work harder to focus on ones creative work. Along with finding a good time to do ones aromatic investigations it is also helpful if one is in a happy, enthusiastic and receptive mood. All these things together provide an atmosphere where creative visions develops and information received at that time is more easily retained.

6. Once one has assembled these tools for their work-it is time to delve into the magical and mysterious world of natural aromatics. Here one may be confronted with a great dilemma in the sense that, in the times we live, so many wonderful essential oils, absolutes, co2 extracts are available. Yet choose one must and the best way to start is with essences one naturally feels an affinity for. I suggest starting with 10natural botanical essences that one feels attracted towards and fit in with a monthly budget set aside for their procurement. If one were to purchase10-1/4 ounce bottles from a company they enjoy working with
and upon receiving them-were to pour each into the 10-1 ounce bottles awaiting their arrival, then they would have a fine selection of materials to study in a 25% essence to 75% ethanol or carrier oil dilution. I suggest this particular balance as it represents a perfume strength dilution. One can easily increase the dilutions later on to reflect a particular use. Following is a simple chart based on traditional dilutions for fragrant products-
  • Parfum or extrait, in English known as perfume extract, pure perfume, or simply perfume: 15–40% (IFRA: typical ~20%) aromatic compounds
  • Esprit de Parfum (ESdP): 15–30% aromatic compounds, a seldom used strength concentration in between EdP and perfume
  • Eau de Parfum (EdP), Parfum de Toilette (PdT): 10–20% (typical ~15%) aromatic compounds, sometimes listed as "eau de perfume" or "mill├ęsime"; Parfum de Toilette is a less common term, most popular in the 1980s, that is generally analogous to Eau de Parfum
  • Eau de Toilette (EdT): 5–15% (typical ~10%) aromatic compounds
  • Eau de Cologne (EdC), often simply called cologne: 3–8% (typical ~5%) aromatic compounds; see below for more information on the confusing nature of the term "cologne"
  • In addition to these widely seen concentrations, companies have marketed a variety of perfumed products under the name of "splashes," "mists," "veils" and other imprecise terms. Generally these products contain 3% or less aromatic compounds.

7. Another point which one needs to bear in mind is that even in creating the dilution of one specific oil in an ethanol or a carrier oil-it still takes 3-6 months for that blend to mature. One can, and indeed should commence their investigations right away, but if as one develops their powers of olfactory observation,
they will notice subtle changes occurring in the blend as it matures over the weeks and months to come.
A one ounce bottle will contain from 400-600 drops of oil depending on the size of the orifice of the dropper and the viscosity of the oil so one is going to have plenty of material to work with both for regular study as well as for observing the changes that will take place as the blend matures. 

8. At this point I would recommend reading Steffen Arctanders comments on Odor Description. It is a very elegant description of how a perfumery student goes about their work of developing a vocabulary for their experience of the essences being studying while also evolving their aesthetic sense.
Equipped with a Perfume Smelling Strip and the oil to be explored one is ready to enter into a realm of endless enchantment.

Another helping factor would be to take a look at a possible  aromatic diary which I put together many years ago. One may find some useful ideas there for keeping their own unique records of their experiences.

9. Lastly-The entire experience of diving deep into the realm of experiencing the many dimensions of individual essences and gaining a rich and varied appreciation and respect of that world is something that unites one with people, plants and places that transcends time and space. Aside from the simple and direct study of each essential oil, absolute etc, one can greatly increase their sensitivity to this connection by studying the history of the individual plants,; the lore and legends associated with them; the places where they have grown; how they have been used in incense, cosmetics, perfumes, etc; the chemistry of the oils; their place in prose and poetry etc. Each and every aspect of the subject is worth investigation and as this knowledge is incorporated into ones understanding, it will assist in gaining a more intimate knowledge of the qualities of each oil.
In the months to come I will be posting individual study guides for different essences that may help in that direction.