The magic of spring lies not only in the colorful, vibrant blooms but also in the sweet, intoxicating smell of these flowers. I wish I could capture a bottle full of that heady, floral smell to last me the whole year that would enable me to take a waft every now and then. The fragrance industry thrives on this very desire that makes people want to smell good and surround themselves with pleasant smells. Essential oils lie at the very heart of this industry.
Essential oils have been called so after a Latin word essentia, which means a liquid that can easily change into a gaseous essence. They are chiefly obtained from plants, although synthesis from petroleum and other sources is also common. Depending on the source, essential oils derived from plants are grouped as floral, herbal, leaf, spice, root, wood, citrus and gum and balsam oils.
Leese but their show, their substance still lives sweet.
The flower topping the list of floral oils is, of course, the rose. The two most widely used and recognized rose types in fragrance industry are the rose bulgare or damask (Rosa damascena) and rose de mai (Rosa centifolia). The damask rose has a deep and intense roseate note whereas rose de mai has a sweet floral smell that is somewhat lighter than damask. They belong to family-Rosaceae. Bulgaria and turkey are the two major damask rose oil producing regions. Rose de mai is produced largely in Morocco. Rose oil is extremely expensive since the plant requires careful cultivation and maintenance. On top of that, the yield in oil is very low; for every 4000 kilograms of flowers, only one kilogram of oil is obtained.
Second on the list is the jasmine with its white, teeny-tiny flowers that have a king-size fragrance. Both European jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum) and the Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac) are known for their incredibly powerful, sweet smell. Whereas the smell from grandiflora oil is described as softer, more feminine, that of the sambac is described as heavy, sweet and complex with the king size quality. They belong to the family Oleaceae. Grasse, known as "the perfume capital of the world", is a small town in France which, produces little but the finest French jasmine; Italy is also known for producing high quality absolute of jasmine. Egypt holds a prominent place in the production of jasmine oil and India and China are regarded as the rising rivals for the Egyptian jasmine oil industry. About 900 kilograms of flowers produce 450 grams of jasmine oil. But the oil is extremely potent and no great perfume is made sans jasmine.
Tuberose (Polianthus tuberosa), a plant that has nothing in common with rose is a native to Mexico where it is commonly known as "omixochitl" or the bone flower because of the bone-white blooms. In India the plant is known as "Rajnigandha" or "night-fragrance". The tuberose has a sweet and heavy, camphor-like smell. It belongs to the family Agavaceae. Both tuberose and jasmine are unique in their capability of producing fragrance even after being picked. About 1600 kilograms of blossoms produce 450 grams of absolute oil. Added to that is the difficulty in extraction, leading to exorbitant prices of up to $2000 per pound for the oil. The major producers for tuberose include Morocco, India, China, Hawaii, the Comores Islands and South Africa
Another favorite of the perfume industry is Ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata) which belongs to the family Annonacaea. Native to Indonesia and Philippines, this tropical plant is commercially cultivated off the coast of the Madagascar islands in two very small African countries, namely, the Reunion and the Comoro Islands, with the Comoro Island leading in world production of ylang-ylang essence. The flowers yield two grades of oils; the finer, sweet smelling floral oil that is called the ylang-ylang oil and cananga, which is slightly coarser. Ylang ylang trees can grow as much as eighty feet and cultivated trees produce about 20-100 kilograms of flowers each year. About 34 kilograms of flowers produce around 450 grams of oil.
Many other floral essential oils important to the fragrance industry are obtained from members of various families. The Amaryllidaceae includes jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla). Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) from family caryophyllaceae produces a heavy, sweet, honey like oil that resembles the smell of clove due to the common component, eugenol. Hyacinth oil has a floral and a green tone to it and is obtained from Hyacinthus orientalis, from the family Liliaceae. The common black currant (Ribes nigrum) flower bud extract known as cassis has a strong fruity fragrance and an intense flavor. Black currant is a member of family Grossulariaceae. Boronia oil (Boronia megastigma) has a fresh, rich smell with delightful violet notes from betaionone. It belongs to the family Rutaceae and is amongst one of the most expensive floral native to Australia. Champac (Michelia champaca) has a heavy, velvety yet powerful smell that blends well with rose, carnations and sandalwood. Belongs to family Magnoliaceae. And the list will not be complete without a mention of the classical Lavender. Earlier known as Lavendula officinalis, it is now called Lavendula angustifolia. Hybrid lavandin (L. hybrida) has been obtained by crosses between angustifolia and latifolia and lavandin oil is produced in much larger quantities than the true lavander oil. The lavender smell is fresh with floral-herbal tones and balsamic undertones. Lavender smell is a standard for masculine smells.
The sweet smelling flowers are delightfully, numerous with wonderful smells. Not all flowers are fragrant due to essential oils and therefore cannot be used in the fragrance industry. However, these flowers add immense value to a garden and make it enticing not only for the bees and the beetles but also for man, who joy and serenity in these wondrous smells!