Remember that corny line from the Irish Spring commercials, spoken by a buxom Irish lass taking a whiff of a bar of deodorant soap? A few decades back when the ad first aired, bath soap with a masculine scent was a new idea. Given how strong a man’s, er, natural scent can be, one wonders why the concept hasn’t caught on. Shouldn’t there be manly-man bath salts, candles, air fresheners and potpourris...ones that women like, too?
Of course you enjoy him smelling great, but many men also enjoy scents and fragrances—when they have some non-girly options. My boyfriend, for example, wouldn’t have to choose between a closet that smells like eau de sweat sock or one that reeks of lily of the valley, and he might not avoid scented baths in fear of smelling like his grandmother's rose water for the rest of the day.
Last Christmas, I saw new possibilities for guy-friendly herbal scents. My sister-in-law and self-described “soap bum,” Jenny Hall, was generously dispensing her handmade soaps. In the mix was one she called, “Smelly Man Suds,” a lye soap with patchouli and lavender essential oils. It had a heady, but decidedly masculine, scent. “If you pick carefully, you can make all kinds of fragrances guys would like with essential oils,” she told me. “And of course you can use the same oils for lots of stuff, way beyond soaps.”
That’s when we decided to collaborate on some scented gift ideas for men. I picked Jenny’s brain for her favorite manly essential oil combinations and added a couple of homegrown herb ideas. We did some research and found some studies that say vanilla and cinnamon scents make men feel more passionate. Another said that lavender and pumpkin pie make an even more potent combination, so we added pie spices such as clove to our arsenal. Most important, Jenny has tested these scents on regular guys—drummers, doctors, a gardener or two. Even when they didn’t create an instant Don Juan, these aromas did get some appreciative sniffs—and some regular use in the sweaty, mildewy male domains in both our households.
Sandalwood essential oil with its warm, buttery, wood fragrance made the top of the ingredient list. “It’s from India,” Jenny says, “and it’s incredible on man, woman or child. It’s just on the edge of being obnoxious, but it rounds out many other scents and gives them staying power.” Sandalwood chips waft the same great smells and give potpourri a woodsy appearance, too. Other masculine-smelling oils include rosewood and cedar. “Cedar chips don’t hold their scent for long, but they’re a great ‘carrier’ for essential oils in potpourri.”
Clary sage essential oil is another of Jenny’s musts for men. Clear to pale yellow, it has a sweet, nutty fragrance that goes great with the deep lemon fragrance of bergamot. Bergamot has the added advantage of aging better than actual lemon or lime oils, which can start smelling institutional. But be careful using it in bath salts or anything else that will come in contact with your skin, cautions Jenny, who’s also a registered nurse. “It can be a potent sensitizer to sun exposure.”
If you already grow bergamot for birds and butterflies, consider decapitating a few blossoms and screen-drying them to include in guy-friendly potpourri. Like the cedar chips, they won’t hold their own scent for very long, but they look cool, add color and carry essential oil well. If you like, you can even use bergamot’s own essential oil to scent its dried heads or leaves.
Patchouli has the unusual quality of improving with age, so it’s used to prolong the life of other scents, and of any concoction it’s part of. “It combines beautifully with lavender essential oil,” says Jenny.
Styrax, also known as storax, is a natural balsam formed in the sapwood and bark tissues of the liquid amber tree, native to Asia Minor. An excellent fixative, it carries cinnamon notes. Its vanilla/butterscotch quality enriches blends while retaining its own unique aroma.
Patchouli (Pogostemon patchouli, Zone 10) is native to tropical Asia but can be grown in North America in terra cotta pots sunk into the ground in summer and over-wintered as houseplants. It grows to 30 inches with fragrant leaves that produce the same aroma you remember from incense. The scent increases with sunlight and the plants like light sun to part shade and consistently moist soil. Harvest and dry leaves every few months—the plant should bloom with purple-tinged white flowers in mid to late fall. Propagate by root ball divisions and softwood cuttings or allow seed heads to dry on plants and then remove and collect the seeds
Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum, Zones 4 to 10) is a shade lover, spreads on little roots and self sows, grows to 6-10 inches and does well under shrubbery and trees. A woodland plant, it benefits from leaf mold or peat moss incorporated into the soil. It also does well as a house plant, particularly in a terrarium. The delicate aroma is strongest in the spring, when it blooms, but the coumarin/vanilla scent is only released when it’s dry. Air-dry leaves on screens in a dark location and strip leaves from the stems before storing.
+ The Soapmaker's Companion by Susan Cavitch. Basic soap-making instruction and specialty techniques like marbling, layering, and making transparent and liquid soaps.
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