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Monday, June 27, 2011

Brown Sugar Grapefruit Lemon DIY scrub - Natural Perfumery in Everyday Life

Got dry skin?  Me, too.  Here is my favorite recipe for an at home scrub.  Sugar is less abrasive than salt, and brown sugar even more so.  This combination reminds me of the grapefruit halves my mother would sprinkle with brown sugar, then put under the broiler to caramelize.  (Way to get your kids their full serving of Vitamin C, mom!).  I use jojoba oil, but you can use whatever oil you prefer.  Almond oil works great, so does olive oil (just not garlic infused, please).

Brown sugar isn't just for baking.
Mix two parts brown sugar with one part oil.  Add five drops grapefruit essential oil and five drops lemon oil per one cup of scrub.  Take a face towel or your hands and scrub away!

P.S. Grapefruit juice rubbed on the skin is said to be helpful for lightening dark spots.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Scents, the Sights of Maui - Natural Perfumery in Every Day Life

View of the Sunset from LaHaina, Maui

View of the ocean from our hotel 
Maui.  The place where I will live someday.  Me and my nose.  Smelling all the yummy Maui air, the salty ocean breezes, wild plumeria blossoms, pikake stars, papaya, sweet gold pineapple, hawaiian roast pig barbecueing somewhere.   This is one place on earth you can make full use of your five senses, actually: see a beautiful ever changing sunset, take a dive into warm clear azure waters, taste the Hawaiian cuisine, from a rainbow of flavors of shaved ice with lihing mui powder, to fresh fish caught in Hawaiian waters like Ono and Mahi Mahi.  Hear the call of exotic birds, the roar of the waves.
A rare blue lotus opens in the sunlight.

Blue lotus closes up shop as the sun dims.
 My favorite are the red plumerias (didn't get a good picture this time around).
Small bushes of plumeria blossoms.

Ppl ask wouldn't I get bored living here?  I would not.  I am a city girl, it is true.  But I could watch the ocean forever.  Whenever I close my eyes to meditate, it is the ocean that I see.  Perhaps in a prior life I was a dolphin.

Back to flowers.  And Paradise (Maui).  For me, the smell of plumeria blossoms puts me in mind of Maui in a nanosecond.  Unfortunately, most plumeria oil is synthetic fragrance oil.  The real deal is hard to get and very expensive.  My dad has a very productive plumeria tree in his backyard from which he will get me a cutting.  Then while I'm scrimping and saving to move to the islands, I can at least have the scent of plumeria in my own backyard to inspire me onwards.
Kids walking to the beach.
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on real plumeria essential oil, you might find it needs little tweaking to become a memorable, sophisticated perfume.  In other words, it's so strong and sweet and airy to stand by itself.  I would add bright citrus notes - yuzu comes to mind, to perk up the floral sweetness, grounded by something unobstrusive like amarys sandalwood, cedarwood, vanilla, or myrrh.
Ava ate bubble gum and cotton candy shaved ice (eww) while I  had lychee, coconut and guava with li hing mui powder, which to her, is eww.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cinnamon: Tinctures and Oatcakes. Natural DIY perfume good enough to eat.

Cinnamon sticks in tincture (L); filtered tincture (R).
I’ve been in the mood for oatcakes recently, after reading an engrossing adventure story about Anglo Saxons.  They feasted on old world dishes like flummery (pudding), roasted sheep head, and oatcakes drenched in honey.  While I'll pass on the sheep head, I found a Scottish recipe for oatcakes that seemed remarkably simple and easy, using only five ingredients (flour, oats, butter or shortening, baking powder and salt).  Of course, back in the day, things weren’t so quick when you had to do everything by hand (grind the oats, knead the fat in).  Note, there’s no sugar in this recipe, as they are meant to be drizzled with honey, or eaten as a savory side dish.

I decided to added cinnamon and raisins to my second batch.  Cinnamon, in addition to adding a delicate spiciness, is a proven anti-inflammatory and helps to regulate blood sugar, as well as discourage yeast infections.

As I waited for my oatcakes to finish baking, the buttery cinnamony smell filling my kitchen, I realized cinnamon would be a great spice to tincture.  I pulled out my glass jam bottles and filled them a quarter way with broken cinnamon sticks and pre-ground cinnamon, which was what I had on hand. I think the ideal cinnamon would be fresh ground using a spice grinder, but I hadn’t replaced my broken one yet.  Last, I poured in organic alcohol, then sealed tightly.

After a week of shaking my cinnamon tincture, I strained it through a coffee filter.  The color was a deep red amber, the smell was all cinnamon.  Aromatherapists use cinnamon to address sexual disorders.  I can see this tincture blending well with many of the oils used to address sacral chakra imbalances, such as ylang ylang, jasmine, patchouli and myrrh.

For those who’d rather eat their cinnamon than tincture it, here is the Scottish Oat Cake recipe (I added the cinnamon and raisins, for a total of 7 ingredients):

Preheat oven to 375.
Pulse in food processor:
1 c. flour
1 c. oats
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 stick butter (1/2 c), cubed, or shortening

Slowly add cold water, 1 T at a time until dough comes together.  It usually takes me 1-2 T max.  

Mix in by hand ½ c. raisins, or just add to food processor at the end to mix in and pulse in.  Do not overprocess dough or you will have tough dough.  Less is more.

Pat dough into a flat round shape about 8 inches in diameter, cut into 8 wedges and bake for about 15 minutes.  Let cool, then drizzle with honey.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Honeysuckle, Chrysanthemum, Green Tea and Cardamon Tinctures for Natural Perfumes

It's amazing what you can find at the Asian grocery store.  On my last trip, I found a slew of dried things to tincture.  When I got home, I filled empty jam jars with dried honeysuckle, white chrysanthemum, green tea, and my favorite, cardamon (ground to a powder).  Then I filled each jar to the top with organic ethanol. 

My sisters and I used to pull off pinkish feathery honeysuckle blossoms off the bush and sip at the  ends for the sweet nectar.   Dried honeysuckle is missing the sugary sweetness of the fresh flowers.  The dried blossoms are used in tea for cooling the body of too much yang heat.  The aroma is haylike, grassy.  

Tinctured honeysuckle buds.
Chinese people use the flowers of chrysantheum to treat a variety of health conditions, including blood pressure, heart problems, headaches, colds, and dizziness.  It’s high in beta carotene and vitamin B.  Whenever my kids have nose bleeds, my mother in law brews them a cup of chrysanthemum tea to cool the body of excess heat.  The taste and smell are lightly floral, and remind me of chamomile and calendula.

Green tea and cardamon are more well recognized aromatics.  Green tea's antioxidant properties are legendary; I drink a cup every day.  The tea has a fresh, grassy, and bitter scent.  Cardamon is used to flavor food and is a popular ingredient for chai tea.  It’s hard to describe the scent/taste of cardamon, but it’s a cross between nutmeg, mace, oranges, cinnamon, and pepper.
Honeysuckle tincture takes on an emerald green hue.

I let the honeysuckle and chrysanthemum tinctures sit for four days.  Their respective plant material is somewhat delicate and tend to disintegrate if left too long.  The honeysuckle developed a beautiful green tint while the chrysanthemum had a golden hue.  I could recharge the tinctures with new plant material, but I’m happy with their faint odors.  

White chrysanthemum buds after tincturing and straining through a filter leave a golden hued liquid.
I could see these two blending well with florals, serving to dry out sweeter aromas or mellowing more pungent aromatics like kewda.  

White chrysanthemum buds are used in tea.

Bottled tinctures!

Monday, May 2, 2011

DIY Meyer Lemon Tincture for Natural Perfume - and Lemon Bars Recipe

Shaved lemons, microplaner, and grated peel
My Meyer lemon tree is bursting with fruit.  Meyer lemon trees give you a big bang for your buck.  Mine reaches three feet, max.  I just pulled fourteen lemons off it.    They’re thought to be a cross between a lemon and an orange or mandarin.  Compared to true lemons, Meyer lemons are juicier and sweeter with a peel that is thinner and less pithy.   The peel smells just like the juice tastes – tangy, less sour than true lemon with a roundness like bergamot. 

The fastest way to dry the peel is to use a microplaner.   Simply grate off the skin, being careful not to go too deeply into the bitter pith.  Some sites recommend using your oven or microwave to dry, but I think this destroys some of the essential oils in the peel.  Plus, with the warmer weather we’ve been having, it’s simple just to leave the peel on the counter to dry.  It took a full day for mine to air dry.

You can use the resulting dried peel for cooking, and of course, perfume!  I added the dried peel of fourteen lemons into about 8 oz. of 200 proof organic ethanol.  I’m going to leave it in a cool dark place to tincture, taking out to shake every day. 

Meyer Lemon Bars
Now my only problem is what to do with the bald lemons.  I made lemon bars with two of them.  The others will just have to wait until I get feeling back into my wrist (did I mention there were 14 lemons?).  

Meyer Lemon Bars Recipe


  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Meyer lemons, juiced, (about 1/3 cup)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a medium bowl, blend together softened butter, 2 cups flour and 1/2 cup sugar. Press into the bottom of an ungreased 9x13 inch pan.
  3. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, or until firm and golden. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/4 cup flour. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice. Pour over the baked crust.
  4. Bake for an additional 20 minutes in the preheated oven. The bars will firm up as they cool.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On the Road to Natural Perfumery

How it began.

My study of perfume began over a decade ago when I journeyed to Australia and discovered essential oils.  Before then, I thought all perfume gave me a headache.  I disliked the cloying cloud that hung over people who wore perfume.   I shied away from department store spritzer people, and held my breath in elevators.  I later learned that most of the perfume in the U.S. is synthetic.  Lab created imitations smell totally different than the real thing (i.e., essential oils) and can give you major headaches and allergies. 

Wise Woman Jurlique EO Blend
In Australia, essential oils were very popular.  I remember going into a store called Jurlique and being fascinated by all the different essential oils, things like Cedarwood, and Calendula, each scent with its own personality.   Jurlique was as common as Bath and Bodyworks here in the U.S.   (Incidentally, a Jurlique opened here at our local mall but closed after only a few years.  Does this make you wonder if Australians are more progressive?  Or do Americans just love their prestige brands too much?)

The first bottle of essential oil I ever bought was called Wise Woman by Jurlique and had lavender, rosewood, patchouli, rose, and basil.  When that ran out, while I would have loved to return to the great Outback for a refill, it was cheaper to purchase the essential oils and blend my own Wise Woman.  As my collection grew, so did my curiosity on how I might blend them into natural perfumes.

Here are my favorite aromatics to work with.  Not only do they smell good, they sugar what's gone sour:
yuzu, clary sage, jasmine sambac, fir absolute, frankincense, lime

The EO’s I find most challenging:
basil, blue lotus, rosewood (if an EO had a face, rosewood would be that long skirt wearing woman with a squint and an arm full of chains), geranium (I like it most days but I swear it can turn on you), cedarwood (reminds me of cherry cough syrup), Indian frankincense (smells very sharp), and oakmoss, which smells and looks like the bottom sticky residue of the Chinese medicine herb pot.  

The magic happens when you get one of the challenging EO's to play well with others.  

To browse our selection of natural perfumes, please visit Mermaid Lane Perfumes

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Smells Like Easter!

You can identify the holiday by the smells.  Today I smell marshmallows, sugar, bubbles, grass, wet dirt, vinegar, chocolate, jellybeans, and since I happen to be baking banana bread, bananas.  It's Easter!  
Sugared chickadees from Paris

Realist Mermaid's panoramic Easter eggs
Our personalized eggs

Panoramic easter eggs are a tradition in our family.   The ones I had as a kid looked better than they tasted.  I had one as a child that lasted at least ten years and had tiny bite marks where I tried to nibble it through the years.   The eggs haven't changed but now you can get ones made with organic sugar and vegetable based food dyes, so at least your nibbles can be somewhat more healthful.  The ones I chose this year were made by the amazing baker and candymaker, Realist Mermaid.  Her creations are organic, unprocessed and thoroughly unique.  I can personally attest to the deliciousness of her chocolate covered marshmallows.  

A girlfriend just brought back some of these adorable sugared chicks from Paris.  Yes, I ate one of them as well.  These are what Peeps aspire to be.  The other goodies are a chocolate bar dusted with lavender buds and fleur de sel.  At least if I can't go to Paris, at least I can have friends who there, no?  
Much love, fun, and spiritual reflection on your Easter weekend!  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why Don't Natural Perfumes Last Longer? Three words: phthalates, parabens, petrols.

The number one complaint I get about natural perfumes is: why don’t they last longer?  Natural perfumes, made with non-synthetic actual plant essences, do not contain phthalates, parabens, or petroleum.   Phthalates are plasticizers used to soften vinyl plastic.  They are added to synthetic fragrance to help extend the scent.  Besides being hard to pronounce, phthalates are also suspected carcinogens and hormone disrupters.  A recent study linked them to early onset of menses in young girls.  The amount of phthalates we are exposed to on a daily basis is staggering; from soft vinyl toys, food packaging, industrial lubricants, flooring, carpeting, and every product that contains fragrance like dishwasher detergent and shampoo.

Then we have the parabens, a class of chemicals used as preservatives.  Parabens are also suspected endocrine disruptors.  Synthetic perfumes require a preservative to prevent rancidity.  Natural perfumes do not require preservatives, as most plant essences actually improve with age. 

In addition to the phthalates, 95% of chemicals used in fragrances are synthetic derivatives of petroleum, including toxins known to cause cancer, birth defects, and central nervous system disorders and allergies.  The perfume industry is self-regulating, meaning perfume manufacturers are not required to provide formulations or safety information to the FDA. 

A tiny snapshot of our natural perfume "lab". 
With so much icky stuff in synthetic perfumes, a better question to ask is why one would continue to use them on one's skin?   Natural perfumes don't last as long as synthetics precisely because they don't have these chemicals.  Plus, with natural perfumes, you get to smell the real thing, not some synthetic imitation.  Bbefore the advent of synthetics, natural perfumes were the norm.  It’s nice to get back to our roots – and leaves and flowers, if you will – even if that means a less persistent aroma.  

To browse our selection of natural perfumes, please visit Mermaid Lane Perfumes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Musings on Buying Essential Oils for Natural Perfumes

I’ve just finished a few custom blends and am ready to start replenishing my supplies.  I need to order more essences.  This can be a hit or miss process since the oils scents can change even among the same suppliers depending on the season, the weather, the alignment of the planets, the wiggle of the earthworms. . .  what I’m saying is shopping for essential oils is not an exact science. 

It pays to shop around.  Different suppliers can have vastly different prices for the same oils.   Reputation matters in this business, since adulteration of essential oils is a big problem, particularly when spectrometers aren’t exactly a household appliance (save for the one on your face).  My favorite suppliers are Mountain Rose Herbs (Eugene, Oregon) and Eden Botanicals (Hyampon, California).  Mountain Rose aims to keep prices reasonable and has a good selection of herbs, teas, and spices in addition to oils.  Eden Botanical’s website provides detailed descriptions of its oils and always includes samples in your order.

I’ve also bought from Essential Oil University  I am expecting a second order from them next week.  The wonderful natural perfumer Charna from Providence Perfume didn’t love the yuzu she ordered from Essential Oil University – but I found the sample I received to be quite zesty and alive.  Perhaps I was lucky to have received a fresher sample?  Citrus oils lose their quality more easily than others.  Or maybe EOU improved their quality after reading Charna's article?  We’ll see if I still like the yuzu when the full product comes next week.

One product that has been reliable is the frankincense (boswellia frereana) from Edens Garden (different than Eden Botanicals).  It's rich, woodsy aroma doesn't have the sharp edges other frankincenses can have and isn't medicinal smelling.  

If you are thinking of buying from Ebay, make sure you fully question the seller about their oils.  Sellers who purport to sell “essential oils” often sell “fragrance oils” side by side to their EO’s without making a clear distinction.  Let cost be your guide: if a deal’s too good to be true, it is.

Japanese honeysuckle makes a cooling tea, and hopefully a fragrant tincture.
Finally, don’t underestimate the benefits of tincturing your own plants.  Sure, it’s a long wait.  You have to shake the bottle regularly.   You have to find a good source of high proof alcohol, which can be expensive.  But it’s rewarding.  I was at my local Chinese grocery store yesterday and found all sorts of interesting things that screamed to be tinctured.  Dried honeysuckle.  Green jasmine tea.  Star anise.  Dried shiso leaves.  Not sure if they’ll all be successful but the experimentation is part of the fun.  

Yuzu is one of the more expensive citrus oils.
Maybe I can even tincture some yuzu.  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kewda Flower - (Pandanus Odoratissimus) in Natural Perfumes - Admire From a Distance

Certain things must be admired from a distance.  Tigers, for example.  Or that certain boy from high school whom looked beautiful across the room but upon closer inspection had the complexion of a Domino's, um, never mind.  Kewda blossom is this way.  

But before I explain, a bit of background: pandanus odoratissimus comes from India.  Everything about this tree says keep out, from its dense aerials roots to its long spiky leaves studded with needles that surrounded each of the white dagger-like flowers like barbed wire.  Human curiosity being what it is, someone had to go smell it (probably the patent holder for the Band-Aid) and the rest is history.

Pandanus odoratissimus, a thorny situation
The Indians use kewda in attars (often extracted into sandalwood oil) in scenting personal effects like clothing and soap.  Aruveydic physicians prescribe kewda as an antispasmodic and a stimulant, useful for treating conditions of the skin.  Several cultures in addition to Indians use the pandanus leaf to flavor food, particularly sweets.  I personally associate pandanus with sticky coconut rice I get at my favorite Thai dive.

My first order of kewda absolute arrived last week.  I couldn't wait to smell it.  And now I shall refer you back to my earlier point (certain things must be admired from a distance).  The scent, like a bathrobed housewife, creeps up, then smacks you on the back of your head with a slipper.  For me, the smell called to mind honey, red vine licorice, rotting bananas, rice, and the jungle.  I couldn't wait to experiment. 

The advice I'd been given when working with indolic kewda is to evaluate it in dilution, which I learned is code for "don't put your nose to close to it."  I figure that such a powerful fragrance requires taming with something herbal, green, and/or zesty.  I'm thinking coriander, sage, lime.  Maybe I'll see how it works in synergy with another floral like rose, or ylang ylang extra.  Sometimes stronger florals work better when they they share the stage with other florals.  I'm also curious to see how kewda will behave with lavender absolute, a green floral that adds a certain butteriness to perfume.  If that doesn't work out, I might try taking my kewda in another direction - gourmand - given its usage in the food industry.  Green tea.  Vanilla.  

Will report on results soon!

To browse our selection of natural perfumes, please visit: Mermaid Lane Perfumes