Perfume Oil Profiles
Clove: Worth its weight in gold?
Spices were big business four hundred years ago. At one point in the 17th century, there was scant difference between the price of gold and the price of cloves. By turns the Venetians, Portuguese and Dutch travelled to the Spice Islands where they made their fortunes trading in clove, nutmeg and other spices. The Dutch even destroyed cultivation of cloves on all but two islands in order to restrict supply and push up prices.
The hot, fruity, sweet-spicy scent of clove evokes its tropical origins. Indigenous to Indonesia, much clove oil now comes from Sri Lanka. The name comes from the Latin 'clavus', meaning 'nail', referring to the shape of the flower buds that are steam distilled to produce the aromatic oil.
Cloves were used in Roman, Greek and Chinese civilisations for their medicinal properties, particularly for digestive and respiratory ailments. Clove oil has antibacterial, antiviral, and antiseptic properties and has long been used as a dental analgesic. In the Middle Ages, pomanders – oranges studded with clove buds – were used to scent the air and ward off contagious diseases.
Warm, sensual and uplifting, in perfumery clove is often combined with nutmeg, cinnamon and star anise as a base for spicy-oriental fragrances.
In use for over 5,000 years, frankincense has been prized by cultures around the world for its therapeutic and spiritual properties. In several societies, it was dedicated to a solar deity, including the Babylonian sun god Bael, Egyptian Ra, and Greek Apollo. Also known as Olibanum ('Oil of Lebanon'), its name means 'true', 'free' or 'abundant' incense.
It is hard to believe that such a precious aromatic is derived from a gnarled desert tree native to north Africa. Frankincense oil is steam distilled from the fragrant resin produced the tree when its bark is damaged or cut. Defying these seemingly humble origins, Frankincense was a prized and costly commodity in the ancient world: a gift worthy of a king.
Frankincense has a clear, uplifting resinous-woody scent. It calms the emotions and deepens the breath, restoring peace and soothing anxiety. Of all aromatics, frankincense is most often associated with prayer and meditation - when burnt as incense it is believed the aromatic smoke carries prayers heavenwards - and features in the rituals of several world religions.
Geranium: Joyful balance
Delightful geranium is a classic middle note that bridges floral and herbal perfume accords. Steam distilled from the leaves of the pelargonium (a different species to household geranium), the oil is a subtle pale green in colour and has a fresh floral-herbacious scent with hints of lemon and rose.
Pelargoniums are native to southern Africa but the finest geranium oil, Bourbon geranium, comes exclusively from the island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. The island's climate and soil provide the ideal conditions for producing a strain of geranium with an exquisitely rich fragrance that is favoured by perfumers.
In aromatherapy, geranium is a useful skin care oil, especially for oily skins. The scent of geranium is known for its tonic and refreshing effect on the mind. Restoring balance, it is stimulating at times of fatigue yet helps you wind down, when you are over-alert. Geranium seems to banish negative thoughts, reconnecting us to love, joy and spontaneity.
Jasmine: Passionate intensity
Sexy, heady jasmine has ancient fame as an aphrodisiac. In Indian tradition, Kama, the god of love, fired arrows tipped with jasmine blossom to spark desire in the heart.
If rose is the 'queen of flowers' then jasmine is considered the 'king of aromatics'. Perhaps surprisingly, jasmine is a common ingredient in men's colognes and aftershaves as well as in many famous women's fragrances. For such a delicate flower, the perfume is strong, deep and exotic, a long-lasting base note.
The scent of jasmine intensifies after dark, and for this reason the blossoms are harvested at night when the fragrance is at its height. As with rose, a huge number of blossoms are needed to produce just a few precious drops of essential oil, making jasmine one of the most expensive perfume ingredients.
Emotionally warming, jasmine lifts depression, inspiring confidence, optimism and trust. Perhaps it is for this reason that in the Philippines, it is believed to bring good luck and spiritual blessings and in India, it is the flower of Lakshmi, the goddess of luck, happiness and fortune.
Step into a cool blue field of lavender, humming with bees, and all your cares slip away. Lavender calms the mind, balances the emotions and relaxes the body. Described as an aromatic 'rescue remedy,' lavender is renowned for its versatility. Its principle actions are to balance and cleanse. In fact its name derives from the Latin 'lavare', to wash, and the herb has been used for millennia in bathing, as a toilet water and a laundry perfume.
Rightly famous for the vast lavender fields that surround it, Grasse in Provence is the perfume capital of France. Closer to home, here at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains, Fragrances of Ireland cultivates and distils its own lavender for use in our fragrance and bath ranges.
Lavender is the perfect 'middle note', blending beautifully with other fragrance oils, whether woody, fruity, herbal or floral, acting as the 'bridge' or centre of a perfume. Yet lavender's clean, sweet floral-herbacious scent makes it a perfect stand-alone fragrance for soaps and toiletries, complete in itself.
Lemon: Zesty vitality
The zesty, clean scent of lemon needs no introduction. In perfumery, lemon, like all citrus fruits, is a top note: its bright sparkling fragrance is the first you notice when you spray a perfume that contains it. Top notes make a big splash then fade as the heart of a fragrance is revealed. Many colognes – and lemon is a classic cologne ingredient – are so refreshing because of their high concentration of top notes.
When you slice or peel a lemon, you may notice drops of liquid appear on the outer skin. Those droplets are the essential oil, which gives the fruit its delicious, tangy aroma. For use in perfumery, this oil is mechanically pressed from the outer rind and it takes as many as 3,000 lemons to produce a kilo of essential oil.
Lemon is thought to stimulate the intellect and research shows the oil aids concentration. The bright aroma is refreshing, uplifting and cheering – the essence of health and vitality.
Muguet: Spring bells
With its fresh floral scent, muguet is a classic perfume ingredient. No surprise then to find Christian Dior's favourite flower at the heart of Fragrance of Ireland's best-selling cologne Inis. Perhaps for its seductive sound, perfumers favour the French name 'muguet' for lily of the valley, which also is known as May Bells, Lily Constancy and Ladder-to-Heaven.
It is astonishing that such tiny blooms produce such a powerful fragrance. The scent is elegant, yet heady and seductive, evoking the cool gracefulness of Audrey Hepburn.
In the language of flowers, lily of the valley means “renewed happiness”. The white bell-shaped flowers seem to herald the optimism of spring. In France, it is traditional to give loved ones bouquets of sweet-scented muguet on the first of May. As a symbol of purity and modesty, the flower has been used in bridal bouquets since the Middle Ages. Lily of the valley is thought to cheer the heart, strengthen the memory and lift the spirits: the perfect floral-green fragrance note.
Nutmeg: Intoxicating luxury
Nutmeg has a calming aroma, evocative of the peaceful, warm breezes of the spice-producing islands of South East Asia. Its sweet scent gives a fragrance warmth and an oriental edge. The oil, which is steam distilled from the seed of the tree, enriches our Inis cologne with a spicy depth.
Like many spices, nutmeg has long been considered an aphrodisiac and was a common ingredient in love potions. In the past, it was attributed with magical properties and nutmegs were carried as amulets or charms. In high concentration, nutmeg is known for its intoxicating properties. It was said that in the Banda Islands in the Indian Ocean (known historically by European traders as the Nutmeg Islands), birds of paradise would fall from the sky overcome by air heavy with the scent of nutmeg.
Prized for its culinary and medicinal uses, nutmeg is among the oldest cultivated plants. In Europe, from the Middle Ages to the 17th century, it was one of the most valuable imported commodities, and among traders, its high value provoked wars, intrigue and treachery. Nutmegs were symbols of wealth among the upper classes and carrying a nutmeg along with a tiny grater became the height of fashion. Perhaps nutmeg's use in perfumery still recalls the luxury, intrigue and passion long associated with this precious spice.
Rose: Queen of flowers
Traditionally the flower of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, the rose has been revered and celebrated in every culture, the subject of myth and legends the world over.
Essential oil of rose is among the most costly perfume ingredients. To produce just one drop of essential oil, it takes 30 blossoms – that's 60,000 roses to produce an ounce of oil. Rose may have been the first essential oil to be produced. Stories of its discovery vary but most trace back to Persia where the physician Avicenna is thought to have distilled the first rose oil by chance during alchemical experiments. Rose is still cultivated for perfumery in the Middle East as well as in India, North Africa and France, but the highest quality oil is the famous Bulgarian rose otto, extracted from the damask rose.
Rose – the heart and inspiration of our perfume Inis Arose - has a quintessentially feminine fragrance. For the Greek poet Sappho it was the 'queen of flowers.' In herbalism and aromatherapy, rose is used for women's physical and emotional healing. The uplifting scent restores harmony and joy, cheering jaded spirits. Rose has always been associated with beauty and it is an exceptional skin care oil, especially for dry, mature and sensitive skin.
Above all, rose is for the heart. Unashamedly romantic, its elegant, floral scent evokes love, tenderness and compassion.
Sandalwood: Fragrant heartwood
Among the oldest known perfume materials, sandalwood has been used for thousands of years throughout Asia for healing and spiritual purposes, as well as for building and furniture. Today, the oil is produced commercially in India, most famously in Mysore.
Sandalwood is a small evergreen parasitic tree. It must be over 30 years old before it is ready for the production of aromatic oil. Extracted from the heartwood of the tree, sandalwood oil unfolds its sweet, woody fragrance gradually, slowly revealing its heart.
Sandalwood calms the mind, soothes tension and steadies anxiety. It is credited with facilitating meditation, encouraging expression and stimulating creativity. In aromatherapy, the oil is used to ease sore throats and niggling coughs. A moisturising oil, sandalwood is widely used in skincare, especially for dry or aging skin.
As a base note, sandalwood is tenacious, its fragrance lingering long after the more volatile top and middle notes have disappeared. The oil is used extensively in soaps, cosmetics and perfumes, especially oriental, woody aftershaves and chypres.