When walking round the garden it’s not just the bright colours of the various flowers and trees, but also the beautiful aromas that accompany them that truly capture my attention.
Although there is a great amount of beautiful scents provided by nature, as a human race we have learnt to combine these various ingredients to create more alluring fragrances which we now know as perfumes.
The first people to make perfumes were the ancient Egyptians who believed that perfume should travel with the spirit on the journey to the heavens.
These were then further cultivated by the Romans, the Persians and the Arabs.
In 2005 an archaeologist team in Cyprus discovered a perfume factory that was 4,000 m2 and dated back to the Bronze Age, this suggested perfume was produced on a large scale and in demand.
Islamic cultures contributed significantly to the modification of western perfumes. They introduced the extraction of fragrances through stem distillation. Also as traders, Islamic cultures had access to new plants and spices, many of which they managed to cultivate and grow outside of their native climates. Citrus and Jasmine, which originally came from south east Asia, were popular, and continue to be used today.
It is believed the Greeks were the first to produce a liquid perfume although they would have consisted of heavy oils and fragrant powders. Until the discovery of extracting oils from flowers by an Arabian chemist, perfumes were usually made by crushing herbs and oils. He did experiment with roses and actually created ‘rose water’. This perfume had a very light and delicate smell so was immediately favourable.
In the 14th century the Hungarians were the first to introduce modern perfumery in Europe.
It then flourished in renaissance Italy. By the 1600s it had made its way to France by the way of Queen Catherine de’ Medici’s personal perfumer, Rene le Florentin. They were so precious to the Queen that Rene’s laboratory was connected with her apartments by a secret passageway so that no formulas could be stolen en route.
Today’s perfume still uses a wide range of the plant life you may see around the garden, for instance, pine needles and a number of herbs like mint, thyme and sage.
Exotic plants are important too, such as jasmine, ylang ylang (Cananga odorata). This provides floral /oriental smell, and is actually found in the popular channel no5. Vanilla (vanilla planifolia) is also a major source of odour for perfumes.
So next time you’re applying a little splash of perfume to smell nice or to maybe help you attract that special somebody, please take a moment to appreciate the history of what goes into that little bottle.