Saturday, May 12, 2012

A curious Perfume

The recipe
7. A curious Perfume.
Boil, in two quarts of Rose-water, an ounce of Storax, and two ounces of Gum Benjamin; to which add, tied up in a piece of gauze or thin muslin, six Cloves bruised, half a drachm of Labdanum, as much Calamus Aromaticus, and a little Lemon-peel. Cover the vessel up close, and keep the ingredients boiling a great while: strain off the liquor without strong pressure, and
let it stand till it deposits the sediment, which keep for use in a box. (The Toilet of Flora, p 6.)

I love perfume so I guess you are not surprised if I tell you that I’m very interested in 18th century perfumes as well. They lean toward heavy and animalistic and I would love to smell one. True, there are scents out there that are made after 18th century recipes, but they tend to be mono-scents like Lavender water and functions like a modern Eau de Toilette, more for freshening up than long-lasting scents. And indeed, in the 18th century scented waters were made to wash up with or dissolve makeup with, than for perfume.

(Picture source:

Breaking down the recipe
Rose-water Scented water that can be used as perfume, but also in food. Safe.

Storax The resin from a tree often called Oriental or Turkish sweetgum. Used as incense and as a fixative in perfumes. Safe.

Gum Benjamin or more commonly, Benzoin resin. Despite the gum, which indicates that it is soluble in water, it isn’t. Used as incense and as a fixative in perfumes. Vanilla-like scent. Safe.

Cloves Ye ordinary household spice.

Labdanum Rockrose resin. Very common in perfumes. Despite its origin the smell is described as animalistic, resembling ambergris or musk.

Calamus Aromaticus Another name for the flower.Sweet flag. Used in perfumes and in herbal medicine. Considered safe, but may irritate skin.

Lemon-peel The grounded peel from lemons.

My thought
Most 18th century perfume recipes are very difficult to re-create. They usually requite ambergris, civet and musk, often in the same recipe. These ingredients are difficult or impossible to get if you want them ethically harvested and in that case the cost is, well, a lot. There are quite good synthetic substitutes, but the problem with these old recipes is that they give out the amount as the dry product, and what you buy is the fluid essence. So I will need to think long and hard on how to convert the recipes. This one, however, is perfectly doable. I even have all the incidents, apart from Storax and Labdanum, at home. Actually, I have Storax essence and I know where to get Labdanum essence too. But in that case I’m back to trying to convert dry to fluid again. I will have to look around to see if I can find the dry resins- I feel quite confident that I will.


  1. To me this sounds like an awesome perfume :)

  2. Lithia: I think so too. I wonder a little how well it keeps as there are no alcohol in it.

  3. Hello. I just discovered your blog and look forward to checking in as often as I can. I use to give lectures on 16th century still room processes....oh, so long ago. So, seeing your blog brings back memories and stimulated the interest in it again. My costuming focus is 18th century so I am so glad to have found you!

  4. Angela: Then I hope you will enjoy my experiments! I make 18thc entury costumes too. :)

  5. There's a website called Alchemy Works from which I bought some Faux Ambergris that comes in a hard paste, similar to the real thing. I have also heard that Labdanum is a good substitute for Ambergris in both smell and texture.

    1. Thank you! New website for me. :) I bought real ambregris tincture from The Perfumer's Apprentice, but of course that's a liquid. Smells lovely, though. :)

  6. Oh what an insight in to the Perfumer's recipe book! Thank you so much for your enlightening articles.The 18th century is one of my favourite periods for antiques and textiles.Please stop by my English antique shop if you can spare a moment.I have my antique shop on Ruby Lane. Many thanks, Trinity Antiques


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