Centuries ago all perfumes were made from natural elements such as plants; however today most commercial perfumes are made from synthetic ingredients. Since I began working with essential oils in aromatherapy I have found that I have become more and more allergic to synthetic perfumes and fragrances, perhaps my body’s way of rejecting anything that isn’t natural based! Making your own natural perfumes at home is relatively easy and there are a couple of ways to do it.
Perfumes in History
All perfumes were sourced from plants before the creation of synthetic fragrances. Even before people discovered how to distill plants to create aromatic fragrances, ancient people made simple perfumes through infusion (discussed below). Ancient aromatic fragrances usually had a double purpose; not only were they created for their pleasant aromas, but many perfumes could also be used for medicinal purposes due to the therapeutic properties possessed by a lot of plants. Archaeological excavations of the ancient city of Pompeii in Italy unearthed perfume-making equipment that had been preserved under volcanic ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, an eruption which devastated the area. In addition, ancient murals and wall paintings depicted the art of perfume making (source: Perfumes, Ungents and Hairstyles in Pompeii, Carlo Giordano, Angelandrea Casale). Of course, perfume making goes back even further than than the rule of the Roman Empire; ancient Egyptians were credited with creating a perfume by the name of Kyphi, a perfume which had medicinal benefits too (source: Aromatherapy Workbook, Shirley Price).
Perfume aromas are classified into three main groups; these are top, middle and base notes. Top note aromas evaporate the quickest as they contain the lightest chemical molecules. Base note aromas maintain their fragrance the longest because they contain the heaviest chemical molecules. Middle note aromas are between top notes and base notes. This area of perfumery requires further study to fully appreciate the complexity of the art of perfumery making but an example of each type of perfume note is as follows:
- top notes – orange, lemon, lime, peppermint, tea tree, clary sage
- middle notes – lavender, rosemary, geranium, melissa
- base notes – rose, frankincense, jasmine, patchouli.
(source: The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, Valerie Ann Worwood)
Infused Perfumes from Plant Material
One of the simplest ways to create a home made perfume is to infuse, or macerate, a plant. You can pick any fragrant flower or plant from your garden, such as rose, lily, lilac or honeysuckle, and pack the plant material into a glass jar or container. Fill the container about ¾ full and add an organic oil such as almond or sunflower oil. Cover the container with a lid and leave in the sun (a sunny window ledge is ideal). After about a week, you can separate the plant material from the oil with a sieve or, if appropriate add more plant material and leave for another week or two. Depending on the type of plant that you choose, the end result might not only be aromatic but medicinal too!
Making Perfumes With an Alcohol Base
You can also create your own aromatic perfume by using essential oils, alcohol and water. Bear in mind that if you are simply making a perfume for personal use, you can use regular alcohol such as vodka; however, if you are making perfumes for any form of re-sale, you need to meet the licensing requirements for perfumery making according to your country’s regulations or use a pre-approved alcohol that meets licensing requirements. Making perfumes with an alcohol base is simple; simply add your essential oils to a ¾ alcohol and ¼ water base (depending on preference) and allow the mixture to stand for several days/weeks, again depending on preference. This method allows for a great degree of creativity; you can choose from a vast range of essential oils and mix top, middle and base notes as appropriate. Experimentation is the key to producing a perfume that you are happy with! If you use pure essential oils, you will be making a perfume that has medicinal benefits too, depending on the essential oils that you choose.
Benefits of Natural Perfumes
You do need to have a basic understanding of the plants/essential oils that you choose to make your perfume (in order to avoid any adverse reactions) but in general home made perfumes are more beneficial than store bought perfumes. They contain natural ingredients that have many therapeutic benefits – and it is fun to create your own too!
- Perfumes, Ungents and Hairstyles in Pompeii, Carlo Giordano, Angelandrea Casale
- Aromatherapy Workbook, Shirley Price
- The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, Valerie Ann Worwood
- The Aromatherapy Garden, Julia Lawless
- Author’s own experience