DIY | Enfleurage
Make Your Own Perfume
NOTE from Celine: I am very excited to share this post with you created by guest author Hollie Pocsai. The last few weeks I have been enchanted by the smell of lilacs, I'm lucky enough to have five or six bushes right next to my home. Hollie has literally bottled the scent with this wonderful DIY - you will love it! Thank you Hollie!
A spring ritual that my family had when I was growing up was to collect wild lilacs as soon as they began to bloom each year. They were (and still are) my mother's favourite flower, and I have memories of parking our car along the side of the road, where a wall of purple and white buds stretched upwards into the sky. My mother would bring her garden shears and cut down bunches, returning to the car with armfuls to fill our home, and to give away to her friends. There was nothing she loved more than being surrounded by their sweet fragrance.
Because I am my mother's daughter, I have inherited the same love of these beautiful spring flowers. Not only for their symbolism - harbingers of spring and symbolic of early love - but for their beauty and especially for their intoxicating scent. This year, as a bunch that a friend cut for me sat in my dining room, I wondered why I had not come across more commercial perfumes or oils which captured their fragrance, and looked into if it were possible to extract their scent myself. I discovered that it could be done at home using the oldest form of scent preservation called enfleurage. Enfleurage is typically used with delicate flowers, such as lilacs, whose scent cannot be preserved very well by other methods such as distillation or tincturing. I did a little research and was ready to try it myself.
I enjoy making things by hand and from scratch, and I often tend to go the purist route in any project I take on. The first step to enfleurage is to acquire some lard, which will eventually take on the scent of the flowers after being saturated by them. You could easily buy this from the supermarket, but because I was able to also do this step from scratch, I went to my butcher and asked him to save me some suet - raw beef fat - which I rendered myself into solid tallow.
I had my butcher put the suet through his meat grinder, so that it would be in tiny pieces, making it easier to heat and melt. I placed it in a pot over low heat, and it immediately began to melt into a clear oily liquid. Once it had all melted down, I removed any impurities first with a slotted spoon, then put it all through a fine strainer, and then poured it twice through cheesecloth. It is important that your fat is as pure and scent-free as possible. I then poured it into a glass casserole dish and allowed it to harden overnight. Before it was completely solid, I scored the surface in a diamond pattern, which is beneficial in allowing the fragrance to absorb throughout the fat.
The next step was to collect the lilacs. Because of all my visions of lilac filled landscapes as a child, I imagined this step would take half an hour at most. The proper way to collect the blooms is to do it early in the morning, just as the dew has dried, as this is when lilacs are their most fragrant. I woke up early with my husband and we drove to all the spots that I remembered as a child, only to find new housing and commercial development taking over the land, and not a single wild lilac to be found. I had read that I needed to put at least two inches of blooms on top of the solid fat, which is not a small amount when we're talking about such tiny flowers. It was important to me not to harvest the entire amount I needed from a single bush, in order to cause very minimal strain to nature.
After close to four hours of searching, I finally came across an area with enough wild lilacs that I could take a few from many different bushes without it being too intrusive. In the end, I had collected about 7 different varieties of the flower, all with subtle differences in colour, shape, and scent. I had almost given up on the entire project, but now I'll know where to return each spring.
When I got home, I placed wax paper down on my kitchen table and got to work removing the blooms from the stems, and placing them on the wax paper. I was careful to make sure that there was no greenery - leaves, stamen, stems - with my blooms, as they can cause rot and fungal diseases and spoil your scent. I also discarded any dried or wilted flowers. This step was easy, took no time at all, and provided beautiful visuals.
Once all the blooms had been separated, I then evenly placed them on top of the fat until there was about two inches of them in height. I took another glass casserole dish that fit uniformly into my first one and pressed it on top of the flowers and the fat. While pressing down, I sealed both dishes together with electrical tape, making sure that I left no gaps for the scent to escape. I left this in a cool, dark area for 48 hours. After 48 hours I removed the old blooms, collected more lilacs and repeated this part of the process again. If this weren't a project that I undertook on a whim, I would have repeated this step another 2-3 times, but I started late in the season and the lilacs were already on their way out. The more times that you refresh the blooms the stronger the scent will be.
When I unsealed the two glass containers after another 48 hours, I removed all the spent blooms and started chopping up the fragrant fat. Using a bamboo skewer, I pushed the fat into bottles with wire-and-ball stoppers, about halfway up each vessel. I poured 70% rubbing alcohol in the bottles all the way to the brim. I quickly sealed them, and wrapped electrical tape around the top for added measure. I then placed them in my cool basement, away from light. They will sit there for 3 months as the alcohol takes on the fragrance of the fat. When they are ready to be opened, I will then strain out the fat and add a fixative, such as cedarwood oil, to stabilize and keep the scent from evaporating. At that point, I can re-bottle it for personal use. Waiting without opening the bottles for a preview whiff will be the hardest part.
Enfleurage is not a quick process, but it's also not difficult. I always find the most intimidating part of taking on DIY projects is actually getting up the nerve to start, and this one was no different. You can use this method with many different flowers, and I am looking forward to further experimentation, as well as seeing how my first batch turns out! I love the idea of being able to smell fresh lilacs that I cut myself year round.
Note: Be sure to check back to see how Hollie's enfleurage experiment turns out!