You sure do smell like flowers!
Floral scents are one of the cornerstones of fragrance, from the classic rose to more exotic orchids and irises, flowers provide a broad spectrum of scents that can be light and refreshing all the way to dark, musky and exotic. (Or downright horrible in the case of the Corpse Flower!) From the earliest chapters of history, humans have sought to capture these fleeting scents to use as perfumes and incense. Over time, the methods of harvesting the essence of flower petals has gone from incredibly simple to rather complex. Still, the process of capturing floral essence doesn't mean that you have to have your own dedicated chemistry lab – there are methods that you can use in your own kitchen!
At the apex of high-tech fragrance extraction are methods such as the “Scent Trek” process used by companies such as Givaudan to gather and analyze the fragrance compounds of rare and valuable flowers. This method is most notable for the fact that it does not require the actual flower itself to be harvested!
Using this method, the living flower is covered by a glass dome and the surrounding air is captured and tested using gas chromatography. This is a process wherein the compounds that are released into the air are analyzed to determine their constituent components and create a “profile” of the compounds that combine to create the unique scent of that bloom. After the testing and analyzing, fragrance manufacturers then use the results as a guide to creating a synthetic version of the flower's unique bouquet.
This is a great method for creating blends from the rarest and most delicate flowers and also gives the ability to create as much of the fragrance compound as is desired. The drawback, of course, being that most of us don't have the resources to run our own chemistry labs!
A bit less technologically demanding, but still effective for drawing out the secrets of blooms in quantity is the distillation method.
Distillation is a method that could technically be done at home, if one has access to a bit of basic lab equipment. By passing steam from boiling water through the flower petals or other botanical matter, the volatile scent components in the raw material are dissolved and absorbed into the steam itself. This steam is then allowed to cool and condense in a separate container. The oils and other scent compounds that have been dissolved into the steam then separate and can be skimmed off the top of the resulting condensate. The remaining water (depending on the material used) is then sometimes sold as “hydrosol” and retains some of the fragrance of the original material. Rose water and Orange Blossom water are common examples of this type of product. Steam distillation is the most commonly used method for extracting scent from fresh plant material such as flower petals.
Still want to create your own extraction without burning the house down or reliving bad memories of High School chemistry? Then you need to try basic oil extraction! This is the simplest and oldest method of extracting floral compounds and can be done easily at home.
For this method, you will simply need a container, a carrier oil (we recommend fractionated/liquid coconut oil), a sieve and most importantly, fresh flower petals. It's recommended that flowers be harvested early in the morning as that is the point of the day that they are most fragrant.
Once you have harvested your flowers, place them in a sealed bag and tap them lightly with a mallet to bruise them and encourage the release of scent compounds. Once they are prepared, add the petals to your container and cover them with the oil. Allow the petals to steep in the oil for 24 hours, then strain the oil through your sieve and discard the used petals. Repeat this process for approximately 3 days or until your perfume oil has reached the desired strength. Then just store the oil in a cool, dark place and use for potpourri, in a diffuser or as your very own perfume oil!