Botanical raw materials in natural perfumery attempt to get as close as possible to the smell of the donor plant. Concretes, absolutes and essential oils are the three most common forms in which these smells are captured.
Essential oils are usually produced either by steam distillation (many flower & plant oils, resin oils, some citrus oils) or cold pressing (many citrus oils).
Concretes are traditionally made when the heat from steam distillation would adversely affect the odour. The plant material is macerated in one of a number of volatile solvents, which causes the absolute and much of the wax (stearoptene) to dissolve. After filtration the solvent is removed by the application of gentle warmth. Having a very low boiling point it evaporates easily leaving behind the concrete, which is a mixture of absolute and wax.
Absolutes are the purest and most concentrated form of an essential oil. To turn a concrete into an absolute pure alcohol is used. As the absolute is completely soluble in alcohol and the wax only partially it is easy to separate the two. Both concretes and absolutes are closest to nature but can be very difficult to work with. As well as all-important molecules of aroma they can also contain very strong colours and can have very high wax contents.
The natural colours form part of the charm and beauty of natural fragrances but the waxes make them difficult to work with. Many absolutes at room temperature are solid making it impossible to use them or measure small quantities with precision. Benzoin resin in its natural state is like hard toffee and Orris Root concrete is solid like candle wax. In order to get round this we make them into mobile tinctures in alcohol, which can then be measured with ease down to one hundredth of one millilitre using a pipette. Our tinctures are 20% aromatic in alcohol, which is within the range of perfume strength traditionally known as “extrait”.
Crude benzoin or gum Benjamin as it was also known. This piece is solid like hard toffee. The oil is very thick and sticky so it needs a diluent to make it mobile
The majority of tinctures improve with age and some benefit from very long term aging. Our extraits are blended in certified organic grain alcohol, which has previously been aged. We age our alcohol to soften it enabling it to marry more effectively with the most delicate of floral fragrances. To encourage the softening process we add a blend of essential oils, which also act as fixatives and other botanical extracts to make it gentler on the skin. The alcohol is aged for at least six months before we use it make up extraits. The amount of alcohol we lay down is determined by our sales volume to ensure that we always have supplies. The aged alcohol, or Fragrance Base, is also available to buy from the Essentially Me website.
We blend our fragrances using the extraits and our botanical musk fixative, then dilute using fragrance base to the desired strength (Eau de Toilette or Eau de Parfum). We recommend the addition of spring water to finished fragrances but the amount will vary with the composition. Water softens the alcohol and helps enhance the scent content so it is an important part of a finished fragrance. Alcohol and water will mix perfectly without any milkiness but once oil is introduced milkiness will occur at certain concentrations. Remember that you can always add more water but you cannot take it out. As a rule of thumb it is safe to add 8% spring water to the final composition. If you want to add more than this, add it slowly in small increments. The tipping point is arrived at suddenly. Finally, we cold filter our perfumes to remove any residual waxes. The water is added before cold filtration as this results in less wastage due to absorption by the filter paper.