Lisa Cronin, one of our Pollinators, has been explaining the method of enfleurage to visitors to Eden. This simple process captures the fragrance of a flower.
The tradition of creating perfume dates back thousands of years, and typically uses distillation to extract scents from flowers. The process of enfleurage (meaning ‘to saturate flowers’) was invented in the early 19th century in the area of Grasse in the south of France, and uses vegetable fat to absorb the smell of the most delicate flowers.
Lisa says: ‘Originally the process was used to extract the scent from the delicate flower of jasmine, which would take around 65 changes of flowers every 24 hours: hence the often high expense of a quality jasmine-scented oil.’
Today for this demonstration, Lisa uses the wonderfully scented Burmese honeysuckle, grown in the Mediterranean Biome at the Eden Project:
Step 1. Construct an enfleurage chassis – this construction consists of two wooden frames both filled with glass that fit tight together. (Glass or china both work as plastic absorbs smells too much) Lisa tells us how you can create a chassis easily at home, ‘ by using a china bowl and plate as a lid’. In 19th-century France, silicone would not have been available, but to keep the chassis fairly airtight it is a good idea to use it!
Step 2. Find a good-quality vegetable fat and spread a layer over one pane of glass to about half a centimetre thick.
Step 3. Take the scented flower you have chosen to use (in this case Burmese honeysuckle is used but pretty much any honeysuckle would have a similar effect) and lay the flowers over the layer of fat. Be careful not to press the flower into the fat as the best scent comes from the lighter fragrance found in the air. With the Burmese honeysuckle used in this example the darker, more intense coloured flowers have the stronger smell.
Step 4. Lay the other part of the enfleurage chassis over the one containing the flowers and seal tight. Leave for about two days out of the sun at room temperature.
Step 5. After two days open the chassis and remove the flowers and repeat the process with freshly picked flowers. To get a good, strong-scented layer of fat, the process of renewing the flowers has to be done around four times.
Step 6. The fat should now have absorbed a good strong scent of the honeysuckle and can now be used to create a perfume. Now remove the flowers and scrape the fat into a bowl.
Step 7. In order to make a liquid form of the scent, ie a perfume, the fat needs to be mixed with alcohol. Ideally the stronger the alcohol the better, but vodka will work as it is without a scent of its own. Mix the fat with the vodka (or alcohol) to create a pomade with a smooth syrup-like texture.
Step 8. In order to remove the fat from the alcohol, it can be put into a container and frozen until the fat stays hard and the alcohol remains in liquid formation. The liquid removed can be bottled and used as perfume.
Tip: Alternatively you can create a solid perfume by simply removing the fat once it has been through the enfleurage process and sealed in a container to maintain the floral smell.
Skincare products in the Eden Shop
The new handmade skincare products in our online shop are made in Cornwall. Created using some of the most popular plants and flowers grown at Eden this organic range includes:
Blog by Rebecca Mitchell
Photos by Rosie Symonds