Fragrances Life

Capture plant essences from the garden for long-lasting enjoyment.


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Since ancient times, scented body products have been used to seduce, entice, influence and heal. The queen of Sheba reportedly used aromatics to seduce King Solomon. Cleopatra used scents to influence the Greeks and Romans. People of many different cultures wore plant essences in an effort to prevent illness and plague. Even Napoleon enjoyed herbal scents; he reportedly used up to 60 bottles of rosemary cologne a month!

For me, making herbal perfumes, powders and oils is a way of capturing a little bit of my garden to be enjoyed later. Fragrance is the very heart and soul of my patch of herbs, and wearing that fragrance is a way of keeping my garden close throughout the day.

Even if you don’t have a garden of your own, there are many ways to capture and wear herbal fragrances. Essential oils and a few ingredients found at the local supermarket can be combined to create delightful perfumes, powders and body sprays. You can use just one fragrance note at a time, such as lavender, rose or peppermint, or you can combine essential oils to create your personal signature fragrance.

The recipes here are very basic, but if you crave more information on perfumery, several books teach the fine art of blending natural perfumes. As you try the different recipes, remember that you always can experiment and substitute different oils to suit your taste. That’s part of the fun.

Making your own fragrant products gives you great freedom of choice. Using the principles of aromatherapy, you can decide how you want your fragrances to affect you and those around you. For example, you may want to wear lavender for its calming, refreshing effects, sweet orange because it is uplifting, or rosemary for mental stimulation. However, you must use pure essential oils (distilled using water and steam) or absolutes (essences extracted with the use of a solvent such as alcohol) to reap these benefits. Synthetic fragrance oils do not offer the same results.

Some pure essential oils can be very expensive or hard to find. Attar of roses and oil of neroli can cost about $200 per ounce. (You may choose to simply omit the neroli from the solid perfume recipe.) Other essences, such as vanilla, are hard to find in a pure absolute. From such natural products, however, come superior fragrance and less chance of an allergic reaction. Expensive essential oils often are available in very small quantities, such as 1/16 ounce or 1/2 gram. These tiny amounts are perfectly adequate, however, because you only need a few drops per recipe (see sources on Page 30).

Fragrant Blends

A standard perfume — the kind you’d purchase at your favorite department store — usually contains about 15 to 30 percent aromatic oils diluted with alcohol and dispersants. A perfume oil uses a carrier oil rather than alcohol. The carrier oil shows the evaporation process, and the resulting mixture holds its fragrance longer than an average perfume.

Jojoba oil is an excellent carrier oil because it is actually a liquid wax. It does not go rancid as quickly as other oils. Jojoba oil has little or no fragrance of its own and is readily absorbed into the skin. Sweet almond oil and apricot kernel oil are good choices for the same reasons, but they have a shelf life of only three to five months. If you use one of these two oils, make small batches that can be used within that time frame.


Makes about 1 teaspoon

18 drops grapefruit essential oil
12 drops lavender essential oil
4 drops vanilla absolute
60 drops jojoba or sweet almond oil

In a 1/8-ounce glass container, combine grapefruit and lavender essential oils and vanilla absolute. Shake well and let mixture sit for at least 1 week before adding jojoba or sweet almond oil. Dab the oil on your pulse points to release scent. Store in a glass container (plastic will absorb some of the fragrance).

Orange Delight variation: Use 8 drops sweet orange essential oil and 16 drops bergamot essential oil instead of the grapefruits, lavender and vanilla.


Makes about 11/2 ounces

Solid perfume is simple to make, travels well and has great staying power when worn. It looks similar to lip balm and can be stored in a metal lip balm canister, a recycled pillbox or a small jar. Just be sure not to accidentally use it on your lips.

15 drops lavender essential oil
8 drops oakmoss essential oil
5 drops neroli essential oil
4 drops rosemary essential oil
2 tablespoons jojoba or sweet almond oil
2 tablesp­oons grated beeswax or beeswax beads

In a small double boiler, heat all oils together until just warm. Stir well until completely blended. Stir in beeswax. Continue to stir until completely melted. Pour into small glass, metal or plastic containers. Let perfume cool completely. To use, rub finger over surface of perfume and then onto your pulse points or wherever you like to wear fragrance.

Lavender variation: Use 25 drops lavender essential oil instead of the others. The resulting perfume is very relaxing and especially soothing if you have a headache.


Makes 11/4 cups

Body powders are an inexpensive, yet luxurious way to wear a light fragrance. They are made up of just a few ingredients found in most grocery or health-food stores. A 50/50 ratio of rice flour to cornstarch produces a silky powder that does not cake up. The optional addition of arrowroot provides an extra softness to the mixture. Body powder can be stored in a shaker jar, canister or a small box with a powder puff.

This recipe calls for fresh leaves of rose-scented geranium (Pelargonium spp.). If you do not have any scented pelargonium leaves, you may substitute the fresh petals of two very fragrant roses. For a minty refreshing powder, try substituting leaves of a peppermint-scented pelargonium (such as P. tomentosum or ‘Peppermint Lace’) and peppermint essential oil for the rose scents. Mints are cooling to wear on hot summer days.

4 fresh rose-scented pelargonium leaves
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup arrowroot powder (optional)
15 drops rose geranium oil
1 shaker jar or powder puff container

Use a paper towel to pat pelargonium leaves completely dry. Tear leaves into 1-inch pieces. Combine all ingredients in a glass jar. Cover and shake well. Set aside for one week. Sift out the geranium leaves and spoon powder into a glass shaker jar or other container. Keep container closed between uses to preserve fragrance. Keep for up to 6 months.


Makes about 8 ounces

You can duplicate fancy herbal body sprays found in boutiques and bath shops at home for a fraction of the cost and make different scented spritzes to give away as gifts. Spritzes work well with single fragrances such as bergamot, lavender, peppermint, rose geranium or spearmint. Or you can combine two oils such as lavender and bergamot, or vanilla and rose. A peppermint spritz, kept in the refrigerator, cools and provides a refreshing lift to tired skin at the end of the workday.

1 cup distilled water
10 drops of your favorite essential oil

Pour ingredients into an 8-ounce glass or plastic spray bottle. Shake well; then spray on skin after a shower or any time you need to feel refreshed. Keeps for up to 6 months.


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Theresa Loe gardens and writes from her southern California home. She is author of The Herbal Home Companion (Kensington, 1996).