A walk in the woods can stimulate almost all the senses, but perhaps the wonderful scents created by nature are the most evocative. Have you ever thought of recreating some of those beautifully fresh fragrances at home? Just think what a great Christmas gift a bath oil or perfume made of natural ingredients could make.
We asked Wild Craft Distiller Judith Layhe-Cook of Shakespeare’s Sister’s Soaps what to look out for and how to start making some fragrances of your own.
Follow your nose…
In many forests, you may be able to find woody or green scents with dominant notes, including pine, juniper, spruce and fir. Think of the scent of walking in the woods after a rainfall – clean, sharp and sometimes with a hint of citrus. If you find a fir tree and carefully crush the needles, the scent is gorgeous and you are often left with a sticky resin, which is used in perfume making.
Pine oil is a real favourite as a bath oil, because of both its fresh, lively scent and its alleged anti-rheumatic properties. Add 5-8 drops into your warm bath, lie back and relax!
…and keep your eyes peeled
Cast your eyes around during spring or summer and you’ll see glorious honeysuckle, with its warming, sensuous honey notes, clambering up walls or trees. Look out, too, for white dog roses that have spicy-floral notes or maybe oakmoss – a greenish silver lichen that grows primarily on oak trees and, once dried, develops a scent reminiscent of the seashore, bark, foliage and wood.
You’ll often find mint by rivers or streams. Its scent is so well known and loved. Crush a leaf and the fresh menthol scent stays with you for ages.
Underfoot in the sun, you may be lucky to find some calming camomile with its sweet, fruity apple-like scent that releases as you walk over it, or wild thyme with its tiny, perky, purple flowers and clean, sharp, herbaceous scent. In the spring, the low-growing wild violets will perfume the air with a scent reminiscent of parma violet sweets – rich, sharp and floral.
A trio of traces
Perfumes usually have three distinct characteristics that combine to give each scent its unique aroma:
Top notes are usually perceived when the perfume is first applied and evaporate quickly. Common top notes are mint and lemon.
Middle notes appear after the top notes disappear and are sometimes called the ‘heart ‘of the perfume. Rosemary and lavender are popular middle notes.
Base notes are the longest lasting notes, bringing depth and solidity to a perfume. Sandalwood or cedar wood are common base notes.
A base to build on
Of course, not all the ingredients you’ll need to make your own perfume or cologne are readily available in the forest. For example, for alcohol-free scents, you’ll need to start with a ‘carrier’ or ‘base’ oil. Commercially available grapeseed, sunflower, jojoba or coconut oils are all options, and culinary rosewater is a good starting point for a perfume.
Have fun experimenting
Depending on your favourite types of smell, you’ll want to add in ingredients accordingly, but take care to test a small amount on your skin to ensure there are no adverse effects. Once you’ve decided on your base oil, there will inevitably be a little fun experimentation. Some of your favourite aromas may be found growing wild on a woodland walk, such as those from rosemary, violets, lavender or even wild rose. Other options, depending on the time of year, may include wild cherry or apple blossom. You may even use some lemon or orange zest from your fruit bowl!
Pick a small amount of each, and then grind them in a mortar and pestle before trying different combinations with your base oil. Remember, once you have found a combination you like, it may take anything from a few days to a few weeks to fully infuse.
An ancient craft
Judith is an aromatic distiller who makes floral waters, or ‘hydrosols’, using her copper alembic still in an ancient process called ‘steam distillation’.
“There is an easier way of making a scent,” she says. “Just collect pine needles, fir cones and bark in a glass jar, fill to the top with a light olive oil and leave on a sunny windowsill for three weeks. Shake it every day, then strain it into a clean jar and you’ll have a pine-scented oil. For a stronger aroma, redo the process until you’re happy with the scent.”
Each season has its scented heroes, so when you next take a walk, open your mind and nose to the scents of the forest and enjoy your newfound skill.
Alternatively, head over to Judith’s website at www.shakespearessisterssoap.com and have a ‘nose’ through her wares!