Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Big A'boom!


The still blew her top.

Hit the ceiling, splattered oozy resin all over the cabinets, drizzled down the side of the fridge, slobbered on the floor.

An hour later and I'm still finding sand-like grains of stinky frank in the weirdest places -- inside the bowl of the Kitchenaid, but not on the outside; a big round splotch in the middle of the kitchen window and nowhere else on the glass. It was as if little cannon balls of frankincense went flying from the still.

So, I did what every determined mad alchemist would do -- I started a new batch.

Luban Dakar

The first distillation yielded about 1ml of oil -- lovely, still-scented, high balsamic, piercing, lemony. The second distillation included the hydrosol from the first distillation and the oil that remained free-floating throughout, along with another half-dozen handfuls of raw frankincense gum. The gum used is a relatively inexpensive boswellia carterii from Egypt. The third distillation, the one cooking now, includes another handful of gum, plus a few tablespoons of the tincture made in 2006 from a batch of Somalian boswellia carterii gum, and fresh water. The hydrosol is unbelievable.

This project has not gone on without a hitch -- there was one moment when the still popped its seal and gooey beige frankincense slush oozed from the breach and covered the side of the still. After a quick wipe down, and a reapplication of "sealant" (rye flour/water), she was back in business. Ah, but the scent of that escaped melted gum . . . heavenly.

The combination of wet, hot copper and frankincense created an intoxicating scent in the air -- animalic and balsamic, wild.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


The experimentation bug has bitten and I am infected. There is a stew of frankincense gum distilling as I write this; after that, lemon leaves. Maybe olive leaves as well. I may not be around for a while, but do visit for future distillation updates.


Saturday, January 10, 2009


This is a continuation of an earlier post here on the adulteration of attars ~ here are a few links which discuss the problem of adulteration of absolutes and other natural botanical perfumery materials.

Absolute Trygve ~ "Kannauj at Last"

Tony Burfield

Aromatherapy Science ~ highlights of jasmine adulteration

Thursday, January 08, 2009


One of my goals this year is to get rid of stuff. All kinds of stuff. My dedication to this goal manifested itself in a little thing called insomnia -- I jumped out of bed at 3am intent on the cull, and began piling up things I hadn't used in years. Some will be freecycled, some given away to people I know, others will be tossed in the garbage. For example, what use do I have for a Mason jar full of 3-year-old mint flavored chocolate chips? Or a huge unloved collection of copper jelly and cake molds that have been hanging on my kitchen walls since 1999? There is a closet in the hallway that I literally have not opened in over a year. What's in there? Who knows? Nothing that I need, obviously.

What's this got to do with perfume? Everything. Culling the crap makes room in my head for formulating. I desperately want to distill this year -- anything and everything. For that, I need space. Space to put my arms out and touch . . . nothing.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


I've been feeling extraordinarily introspective lately. It happens to me every year when the nights are longer and colder. I've also been using more aromatics. I've been switching back and forth between Littleflowers' Orange Blossom Decollette balm, and her gorgeous Blue Fir balm for after bath; blending Serj and Oshiba on my wrists, and smearing L's Cocoa Basil solid parfum on the backs of my hands.

More distressing news about aromatics ~ Tony Burfield recently updated his essential oil adulteration article ~ it's a pdf file. Worth the read, but nothing new new. It's just hard to see it in print -- again. I had been thinking for a long time now about traditional attars. Attars are typically co-distillations of sandalwood with other aromatics, and it's always kind of bothered me that with the rarity of real Indian sandalwood oil, and specifically the rarity of Mysore, attars seem to be pouring out of India unhindered by the crisis.

NNAPA is back in session today from winter break; most of the students have their eval kits at the ready and are waiting to begin the long process of studying their 90+ aromatics. So, I guess I'd better go.

Friday, January 02, 2009

New Diffusions

I've been diffusing frankincense, with a handful of other aromatics, since around the first of November. I don't have a diffuser, per se, so I've been using a 1/2 quart steel pot with dents from last year's New Year revelry as my stand-in diffuser, simmering on the stove at all waking hours. I haven't changed the water since that first day in November when I dumped in a tablespoonful of frankincense absolute, a drizzle of frankincense carterii tincture and a big dollop of Mz. Bella's "Victorian Rose" potpourri powder. I've just been adding water when it burns off, and more aromatics when the scent fades, so the sludge in the pot was getting scary. Orange peels were going into the pot, as were drops of rose absolute, myrrh, chamomile, antique resinified Mysore sandalwood, vintage styrax resin, lemon wedges -- but mostly frankincense (thank you, Trygve).

I've been living in utter chaos since the beginning of fall. Do you know how physically stifling chaos is to creativity? Stifling and, sometimes, inspiring. I am bursting with ideas, not the least of which is formulating a languid frankincense fragrance -- in oil, or a solid. Something more substantial than alcohol-based; tangibility is important to the manifestation of this fragrance.

Someone asked me just the other day why I seemed more creative when I had my storefront, Delicia. I answered that it was because the creativity was expected -- I had customers coming in daily wanting to know "what's new?", so I felt compelled to make new items all the time. Since closing the store and staying home to create, I've been less prolific -- no pressure. Plus I felt I needed to devote more time to study the craft. Reading and research took the place of the doing. I'm going to be doing more in this new year. And not reading so much online dreck. Nothing shocks me more in this business than the absolutely unnecessary and cruelly narcissistic flaming, lies and hatefulness being vomited onto the blogosphere by grown up people who should know better, regardless of who they are writing about.

Yesterday I cleaned the diffuser pot as best I could -- the frankincense tincture is so resinous it sticks to anything it touches like super glue -- and refilled it with purified water, then added another tablespoonful of frankincense absolute, a drizzle of frankincense tincture and the peels from the orange I had for breakfast. New year, new pot, though I don't think I'll wait until next year to clean the pot again. New moons will work.

Read this excellent article about frankincense by Tony Burfield at Aroma Connection.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A New Year

Another year has passed, and not without leaving its scars.

For the new year I resolve to give more. To teach more, write more, smile more, listen more and love more.

I resolve to blend, experiment and distill; to hear when my heart speaks and ignore oppressive web noise. I also resolve to experience more natural botanical perfumes from the myriad natural botanical perfumers who've come out recently. And some that have been around a while.

The Year Past~

My favorite blogs of this past year include Absolute Trygve, Kitchen Sink Collective, and Tauer Perfumes. Least favorite -- well, it doesn't matter.

Favorite challenge from this past year has to be the eau de cologne formulating round. Quite the educational experience.

Favorite synth perfume for the year was Tea for Two from L'Artisan.

Favorite natural botanical perfume was Cocoa Basil, a solid from Littleflowers.

Favorite vintage perfume was Bal a Versailles, circa 1962.

Favorite gift of the year was a boxed tea cup set.

Favorite buy of the year was a half dozen gorgeous Djinn appropriate Brosse bottles, closely followed by a couple of bottles of vintage resins.

Favorite event was the perfume class I taught at Intermountain Nursery.

Favorite trip was to LA where I met Andy Tauer and Roxana Villa of Roxana Illuminated Perfume, and sitting at the end of the Santa Monica pier watching the sun go down over the ocean, with thoughts and ideas and hopefulness zinging around in my head.

Favorite personal growth experience was the accomplishment of the NNAPA online course, and all those crazy little evaluation kits.

Favorite people of the year are those of you who read this blog with open hearts and open eyes.


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