Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Study in Cedar

Study in Cedar

A study in cedars reveals the many nuances and variations on a beloved woody theme. While all of them have cedrol as a main constituent*, they smell quite different from one another. First of all, there is a pattern here: true cedars (Cedrus) smell significantly different from the so-called cedars (Thuja, Juniperus, etc.). Let's begin with those:

Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica) is a large fragrant tree that grows on the Atlas mountains and looks exactly like Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). Atlas cedar has been in use for thousands of years, both as a medicine, cosmetics, incense and perfume. In Egypt it was used to embalm the dead. It is considered one of the earliest incense materials.
The oil is a semi-viscous, clear-yellow liquid with a fine, warm, polished-wood scent. There is a sweetness to it, almost like honey - but also a certain cool element as well, or just an overall feeling of smoothness of a cold pebble. Then there is also a certain animals aspect, not as urine-associated as in sandalwood, but pretty close. It's a very light, subtle base note with mild fixative qualities. It functions in perfume similarly to frankincense - a base note that is very light and non overpowering. It's easy for it to get lost in a composition, so either use large amounts or use only with other lighter notes (such as light florals), and if you're using heavier notes, make sure they are delicately proportioned.

Principal constituents of Atlas Cedar oil (according to Julia Lawless' Encyclopedia of Essential Oils):
Atlantone, cedrol, caryophyllene, cadinene and others.

Himalayan Cedar (Cedrus deodara) are descendents of the Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani). I can't identify any differences between Himalayan and Atlas cedar. Maybe, but just maybe, it is a tiny bit lighter and cooler.
Cedar of Lebanon

True cedarwood is a very versatile note and blends well with most notes. Try it with other woody notes to create a woody base not for a composition (i.e.: other types of cedar, sandalwood, agarwood, vetiver, muhuhu, West Indian Sandalwood, etc.). It is wonderful with citrus oils (lime in particular), spice oils (cardamom, coriander, ginger) and floral notes (jasemine, rose, tuberose).

In aromatherapy, both true cedarwood oils are the safest to use. They are valued for grounding and entering; Antiseptic; For treatment of oily hair and skin as well as acne, to treat insect bites. True cedarwood oil is astringent, expectorant, and helps to relieve stress. It is best avoided during pregnancy.

Recipe: Aphrodisiac Atlas Mountains Massage Oil
30ml Almond oil (2 Tbs.)
10 drops Atlas Cedarwood
10 drops Sandalwood oil
2 drops Ylang Ylang oil
2 drop Cardamom oil

Virginia cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) is really the oil from the heartwood of a North American juniper tree. It's not a very tall tree and is slow to grow. There are two subtypes with slightly different habitat, that vary in their size cones, shape of leaves and bark colour: Juniperus virginana var. virginiana, AKA Eastern Redcedar, has larger cones and a red-brown bark. It grows in the eastern parts of North America - west from southern Ontario and South Dakota, all the way down to the northern parts of Florida and the post-oak savannah of Texas. The other type, Juniperus virginiana var. silicicola AKA Southern Redcedar or Sand Juniper, which has smaller cones and orange-brown bark. It grows along the Atlantic gulf coast from North Carolina to Florida and Texas. 
The oil from the heartwood of Virginia cedarwood can be either distilled once, producing a dark amber/brown oil, or rectified to produce an almost transparent white oil. Either way, it has the beloved and familiar scent of pencil shavings, woodworking workshops, old furnitures, museums, cedar chest or bentwood box and hamster cages, with a smoky topnote that develops into an almost creamy, precious wood note (not that far removed from sandalwood, even if it is overall much drier and not as creamy) before it evaporates completely. It is a rather fleeting top note, lasting only a day or two on a scent strip. You'll need another long lasting woody note like sandalwood, vetiver or patchouli to fix it and give it a more lasting power.

Principal constituents of Atlas Cedar oil (according to Julia Lawless' Encyclopedia of Essential Oils): 
Cedrene (up to 80%), cordial (3-14%), cedrenol, and others. 

Texas cedarwood (Juniperus mexicana) is intense, smoky, dry-woody, warm and smooth. Reminiscent of an old cedar wood chest and campfires. The non-rectified Texas Cedarwood essential oil is dark amber, and contains solid crystals that can be filtered out. My guess is, that if they were to actually be left in the oil, it will be a longer lasting product. It lasts longer than the Virginia cedar wood, but is still a fleeting top note.

Principal constituents of Atlas Cedar oil (according to Julia Lawless' Encyclopedia of Essential Oils): 
Cedrene, cedrol (in higher percentage than the Virginian cedarwood oil), thujopsene, sabinene and more. 

400 Years Old?

Redcedar (Thuja plicata) AKA Western Redcedar, has the most potent smell of all cedars: Smoky, medicinal-herbacouse, and almost repulsive, actually, as an essential oil. I've already talked much about how it was the pillar upon which the entire Coast Salish culture was dependent upon for their survival. And even though very few live by those traditions now - it is still a symbol of the West Coast, and smells like so many mundane and nostalgic things here: Playgrounds are padded with it, as are horses arenas - and to me the latter is a strong, positive scent memory of the redcedar mingled with the musky smell of horses (and their manner). Redcedar is what most fences, roofs and outer parts of woodens houses are made of as well. So wherever there's fresh wood here, it's usually redcedar. And that includes a bundle of chopped wood for the fireplace or when you go out camping. A new (and fond) scent memory for me is the smoky bonfires on Chesterman Beach, that the surfers burn to warm their bones after a chilly afternoon of wave-chasing. Imagine that mingled with a pungent low-tide aroma of barnacles, rotting seaweed and mussels, and you may not even need to travel there at all (though I highly recommend that you do!). Of all the cedars, this is the most intense and tenacious - I'd consider it a heart note. As a raw material it is still new to me, so I'll have to find out more about its fixative qualities etc. I am certain a light hand is recommended with this oil. That was the only way I made it work so far - used lightly, and in conjunction with other very strong notes. 

Hiba (Thujopsis dolabrata), is a Japanese cedar, AKA Hiba Arborvitae or False Arborvitae. It has the characteristic smoky sawdust opening, which is reminiscent of most so-called cedars (Redcedar, Virginia and Texas cedarwoods). It has a distinctive cool, camphoreous character as well. Smellyblog reader Cathryn Walter has informed me that it is used as an antibacterial and anti-fungal oil in aromatherapy, and she swears by it for chasing away colds. Drug-resistant bacteria may not withstand hiba, and it is also used to repeal insects and for treating skin conditions (I imagine similar to the other cedarwood-type oils: against dundruff.

Caution: All cedarwood oils, true or otherwise, are best avoided during pregnancy, due to their abortificant actions (can cause a miscarriage).  

* Cedrol can be found in many oils that have a hint of a woody elements - such as cypress, hinoki, juniper, cascarilla bark, calamus, and even in some herbs and spices such as angelica, ginger, basil, sage and wormwood.

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Welcoming Autumn


Happy Autumnal Equinox!
Today is the official "back to school" day here with the commencement of Fougère course.
I will probably not be posting much this week. But stay tuned for more posts as soon as this course is over, and enjoy all the lavender and cedar posts from the last few weeks.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

EauMG Reviews Zangvil

Some of you might feel it more than others - but autumn is just around the corner! Victoria Jent claims Zangvil is the perfect scent for this time of year, and I won't argue with her "eaupinion"! 

"Zangvil is a gourmand. In fact, it’s so gourmand that there’s is a matching tea from the brand. However, I think of it as the sort of gourmand that even a gourmand hater would like. The fresh citrus, ginger and florals balance the sweetness. It really is perfect for this time of year. It’s like “layering”. It can transition to warmer days to those cooler nights that need a sweater."

Visit EauMG to read the full story.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Must Read: 500 Greatest Modern Perfumes

Basenotes is turning 15 this September! 
To celebrate, they're revealing, hour-by-hour, the "500 Greatest Modern Perfumes" that were launched from 2000 till now. This makes for a fascinating read that reveals what the choices of members of this wonderful global community of fragrance lovers (which I've been part of since 2003), which originally began mostly as a grooming and fragrance forum (AKA discussion board) for men. Yip, those were the days before blogs and vlogs, YouTube and Netflix ;-) 

The list's order is not exactly important. Rather, look at it as a compilation of what members had in their fragrance collections (AKA wardrobes), wish lists, which ones were viewed and reviewed the most, and which ones received the best star ranking. For each fragrance selected, there's also a review by one of the members. So it makes for a very fun read! 
You'll find all kinds of fragrances here, from drugstore gems and celebrity frags to posh designers releases, niche and hard to find European fragrances and of course - the creations of artisans like me who make everything by hand, bottle by bottle. So far I've seen 4 of my perfumes there: Palas Atena, Fête d'Hiver, Indigo and Kinmokusei, plus one that I've reviewed (Poivre Samarcande). You can also join the discussion on guessing what would be revealed next, on this thread

It's like a snapshot of what Basenoters have been wearing and loving for the past 15 years. The entire list will be fully rolled out on September 25th. 

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Arbor Vitae: Trees of Life + Contest

Cathedral Grove

The first days of school are saturated with mundane yet memorable scent of lumbar by-products, namely pencil shavings and sharp new textbooks bound with resinous glue. Cedar's significance goes far beyond paper and pencil shavings. While visiting the Carving on the Edge festival in Tofino - the so-called cedar (Thuja plicata - which is really a kind of a cypress, not from the Cedrus species that you'll find around the mountains of the Mediterranean and the Himalaya) that grows here in such abundance holds special significance to the First Nations of the West Coast. So much so, that some called themselves "Redcedar People".

Cedar Woman

Redcedars are ginormous (65-70m high and a diameter of 3-4m are not uncommon), and live a long, rich life of hundreds and even a thousand years! They tower over the rest of the forest, and provide a home for insects, birds, squirrels and other creatures. In the lush rainforest, you'll observe other foliage gracing their branches like hanging gardens. And when a strong wind finally tips them over, they become a nursing log for new life forms and eventually - other gigantic redcedars. 

Red Cedar, 400yrs old

The tree itself in Coast Salish language was called "Tree of Life". It wasn't until visiting Tofino this past week that I really understood why - after all, it bears no fruit or edible parts (this must be my Mediterranean brain at work). For one thing, the tree plays a huge role in the ecosystem: it strives off the nitrogen-rich fish diet from the salmon that jumps upstream, and also dyes them red with its tannins, and also has the ability to filter out toxins. 

From a utilitarian human perspective, it is particularly valuable because of its soft heartwood, which makes it easy to carve. Additionally, it has a high content of essential oils that not only make it smell amazing, but also act as preservatives and insect repellent, making the wood last for hundred years if not more! Their durability and rot-resistance are why redcedar is the wood of choice for outer constructions such as homes, roofs, shingles, etc. 

Old Rededar

First Nations built and crafted almost anything imaginable from this phenomenal tree, taking full advantage of its lightweight and durable qualities: they would weave water-proof hats and clothing from strips of the bark, as well as ropes and baskets from the younger branches; and long houses and homes from planks that they've harvested from the living trees; and entire old-growth trees (either wind-stricken or actively felled in a special ceremony) were used for totem poles or to build dug-out canoes - including ones large enough to hunt whales. And of course - smaller artifacts such as masks, bentwood boxes, and other tools. Last but not least: the wood would keep you warm in the stormy and damp Pacific Northwest weather (although logs of cedar are notorious for sending out sparks - so watch your fire closely); and the leaves are bundled with sage to make incense wands that are burnt to clear off negativity from the space before the start of a ritual. 

Cedars of Lebanon

In perfumery, we use all kinds of cedar - true and false. The Cedar of Lebanon (which King Solomon used to build the first temple in Jerusalem) are too sparse to use in perfumery, but are impressive, beautifully shaped trees that grace Mount Meron where they grow wild, and some other hills of Northern Israel, where they've been planted near Saafed. 

Cedars & Fog

Cedars from the Atlas mountains in Morocco and the Himalayas smell very similar - with a warm, honeyed and slightly animals aroma. The remind me of polished-wood because they're so smooth and precious smelling. The most famous perfume you can smell Atlas cedar wood is Feminite du Bois by Shiseido (now available directly from the fragrance's creative director leading niche brand, Serge Lutens). Among my creations, it is particularly noticeable in Epice Sauvage and Tamya.

Himalayan cedar, which is similar but a little more cool and clean-smelling is what you'll smell at the base of Indigo (which, incidentally, was listed among Basenotes' 500 Greatest Modern Perfumes). You an also experience it at the base of Jasmine Pho and Fetish (which also has another coniferous favourite: Fir absolute). 


Japan has its own unique conifers, and its own version of cedar - called Hiba (AKA Japanese cedar, false arborvitae or Hiba arborvitae). Bon Zai perfume portrays a miniature forest of windswept cedar and pine, in the best Japanese tradition. Minimalist yet haunting, the familiar notes of Virginia cedarwood, juniper and Scotch pine are joined by more exotic Japanese oils of mandarin, oud and shiso leaf. In a new version I've been working on this afternoon, indigenous Japanese woods will enhance the authenticity of this fragrance - namely Hiba (Thuja dolabrata) and Hinoki, AKA Japanese cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa).

Eau de Cedre
The so-called Virginia and Texas Cedarwoods are really juniper trees (Juniperus virginiana, AKA Easter Redcedar). Their aroma is similar, but much milder than the Western redcedar. The Virginia kind has a particularly soft and rich, warm, smooth dry down that makes it second only to sandalwood. I've used it as a key note in Eau de Cedre, an eau-de-cologne type fragrance with a woody anchor and distinctive dry, spicy tones. But you'll find it in many others of my creations, such as Rainforest, in which the Virginia cedar is subtle, and makes a subtle backdrop for coniferous tree and dewy foliage - recreating the experience of a walk in the woods. Espionage, on the other hand, is cedarwood chests, cedar-flavoured cigarettes, but most of all: logs of campfire, out in the woods, or even better - on a stormy beach to warm you up after surfing the chilly Pacific. 

400 Years Old?

Essential oils from the Western redcedar have only joined the perfumer's palette some 3-4 years ago, and I've used it in Blackbeard Oil, and more recently - in a new perfume that captures the magical scent of the Pacific rainforest floor on a warm, sunny autumn day: a most peculiar scent that anyone who loves the forest and lives around here is fond of and most familiar with. It smells a bit like how you'd think Chypre should smell; but is also with resinous-sweet ambery undertone to it. I'm pleased to say that I've been able to capture it perfectly; but I do need your help naming it. Non of the names I've thought about seem right: it's not "Pacific Amber" and it's not "Emerald Amber". The name "Arbor Vitae" sounds too arcane and serious (and I'm worried no one would understand it at all). And then names of places where you can experience it - such as Stanley Park (where I first experienced it) or Gold Creek (which alludes to its warm, golden aroma) - just don't sound authentic enough. Neither truly brings across the wild nature of this fragrance, and its strong connection to core of Pacific Northwest natural life, where Hishuk Ish Tsawalk was the law of the land and . Besides - you can smell it on a sunny day almost anywhere where redcedar, Douglas fir and Western hemlock live, and that covers a rather vast chunk of land... So let there be a naming contest, and the winner who emails me (or leaves a comment on this post) with the best name suggestion by September 30th will receive a 15mL bottle of this yet-to-be-named forest elixir! 

Redcedar links for further reading:

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Lavender Summary


Wrapping up the lavender theme of this month... We've got aquantied with lavender's history chemical structure and how it translates into lavender's olfactory characteristics and therapeutic properties. We virtually visited a lavender farm where we learned how lavender is cultivated, harvested, extracted and distilled the many uses of lavender - culinary, medicinal, body care, skincare, in the home, and of course its uniquely versatile role in perfume composition.

To further explore the topic of lavender, read more posted that are tagged with "lavender".
In previous years, I've also discussed the Povencal Protest against the European legislations restricting lavender use. And in Lavender Season, you'll join me to the farmer's market where local lavender farmers sell their harvest every August.

I'v had my fare share of adventures composing with lavender - making an all-natural Fougère with it, blending it with jasmine, violet, liquorice, basil... And aside from old favourites (Jicky, Brin de Réglisse...) I haven't even gotten around yet to review any of my newly discovered favourite lavender perfumes. So perhaps some of this theme will spill over to September, until we get adjusted to the Canadian school year (which does not start till after Labour Day!).

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