In antiquity, the Greeks and Egyptians burned plants and anointed holy statues with scented oils to honour their beauty and power. The use of the fragrant substances has been growing ever since, though the application has expanded and their formulas have developed into a more complex scent compound. With the invention of organic chemistry in the 19th century, synthetic fragrances have gradually replaced the natural plant-based raw materials, hence, problems have arisen with the toxicity, scarcity of raw materials, production constraints, cost and many more. Nevertheless, there are still many irreplaceable natural scents that artificial technology cannot replicate. Here are a few examples that we will be showcasing,
The fig tree was not discovered until the middle of the 20th century by restless perfumers in search of new material that gives a green, woody, milk, fruity aroma to the fig leaf. However, the fruit tree has one of the longest histories of any Mediterranean region, having been cultivated there since the 4th millennium BC. Fig fragrances are used with a volatile solvent extracted from fig leaf absolute is as a viscous liquid that has a tenacious, green aroma of coumarin, with a moist, woody base.
Hyacinth was cultivated widely in south-east France in the 1920s to produce an absolute with an intense, even aggressive, green and floral fragrance. The technique of enfleurage is the process where the plant is softened in a layer of fats that was initially used for this purpose but quickly give way to volatile solvent extraction, which was less labour intensive. In 1960, the cost sometimes exceed 12,000 dollars per kilo, and as a result, it was replaced with synthetic compounds. However, nature is never completely abandoned as it is important to have the natural hyacinth base note for the signature fragrance.
Henna is very well known to the consumer market, but only as a powder made from its leave which is used as a dye. In the olden days, the flowers of this thorny shrub were valued for their use in oils and ointments, such as the royal perfume of the Parthians and kyphi, a solid form of perfume that served as an offering in Egypt. It is described as white flower notes as having the power to revive any man who smells it, which only means that it is known for its potency. Henna perfume was highly prized, despite its low price in the Roman days. But, this signature fragrance is no longer commercialised and is only popularly known for its henna dye.
Nard also known as muskroot, is used in the ancient world for a variety of rituals and therapeutic purposes. In the first century AD, it is recorded a dozen varieties from different origins, Indian nards are the most sought after. It is mostly found in the prominent compositions of the Egyptian age where the royal perfume of the Parthians. Nards are endowed with strong religious symbolism, which is mentioned repeatedly in the biblical text. It was highly prized in the middle ages and the Renaissance perfumes, which contain this natural raw material. The aroma of essential oil products describes as green, spicy, woody, earthy and animal. Nowadays, it is very rarely used in Western perfumery, and only a few exclusive compositions are found.
Ancient civilisations are believed to be sacred with its powerful, sweet, woody, spicy, earthy and camphor aroma, which is known in every recipe for kyphi, also in the recipe for chrism, the anointing oil mentioned in The Book of Exodus, which is still used today during certain religious ceremonies. In today’s time, regulations ensure its use is very limited, as the International Fragrance Association (IFRA, the representative and self-regulating body of the worldwide fragrance industry) monitors the use of compounds within the essential oil name, as their final product end product must not exceed 0.01%.
These are a few natural fragrances that are well known throughout history and are rarely replaced by artificial inventions as they held on a significant history as well as uniqueness in the base notes.