Chinese Herbs and Amber

Chinese Herbs, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Well well, I will spare you the details on why I ended up at my TCM clinic again today (nothing major, but necessary enough to submit my entire body to 12 needles for an hour without movement...while meditating about the strange connectedness of the body. It's not so philosophical - the moment you move as much as a millimeter of the right wrist, for instance, you feel an unbearable pinch in the left leg...).

Anyway, while anticipating the spontaneous visit, I was reminiscing fondly over the scent of angelica that permeates the TCM's office upon entry. Bitter, pungent yet somehow comforting.

I delightfully worn a perfume that I made inspired pretty much by my original painful odyssey at the TCM back in 2009. It's fascinating how good things come out of really terrible, painful (and even tragic) events in our life. I was able to sweeten my medicine, so to speak, not with honey but with amber. And those good things usually have more depth, mystery, intrigue and realness to them. Probably because they stemmed from more than just a pretty idea or a fantasy. They were earned with blood, sweat and tears...

I'm typing this while still gagging on the potion you see in the photo (even though with the honey it's not nearly as bad as I had to take it - straight - back in 2009). But in my memory is still ingrained the odyssey and how it really saved my back (and my life) at the time.

So, you probably want to hear no more about these herbs, and are slightly curious about the perfume I'm wearing today... It's not really a perfume, yet. It's an amber accord, which I created very much as a result of my exposure to these crazily effective, angelica-and-dust tasting bitter herbs. It has the smokiness of don quai (Angelica chinensis - aka Chinese angelica), with a bit of celery-like tones of lovage. Both very dark. And it's sweetly comforting like any amber should be - honeyed, soothing, soft and warming.

I love wearing it on its own. But I've also treated it as an amber base in other perfumes I'm working on. And like so many of my perfumes, it takes years to really refine an idea or develop it. Not to mention that one could and should only release so many perfumes in one year... So it will take time before anyone will be allowed to smell it (unless you come visit me in the studio in person, that is!). I love working on projects like that at their own pace, and with their process unique to them. Unrushed, authentic, yet with some kind of perspective (being reviewed and reworked years after the moment of inspiration is sometimes an advantage!). It's just how it should be.

Gaucho's Journey - Part 6: Evolución

evolución, originally uploaded by faw.

Further refinement was evidently needed, even though I really liked the way the bergamot was working out in this composition. Thinking about it, there was no other time I enjoyed bergamot that much in a composition, nor did it remind me so clearly of Earl Gray tea before in a scent. Must be the yerbamate base, even though it is not quite a tea leaf.

Concluding that the henna, although interesting and peculiar, does not quite do justice to the other elements and promotes murky qualities, I set for a new mod, now eliminating the henna (or helycrisum for that matter) and arrived at a place that felt, all of a sudden, like a new starting point. I was as they say it – back to square one. I was also a lot clearer on what I wanted to achieve and was very weary of wasting more material… Everything from now on was added scientifically, keeping very careful log of each addition, and making sure I also keep the “pure” original “blank slate” version on hand at all times. It was my new blueprint.

I have to admit, the next few batches, from batch no.6 and on to no. 10 are so similar, that I won’t bore you with the details too much. Suffice to say that each one evolved slowly from the previous one, and to make it simple I’ll just draw a basic set of notes and show you how it grew into what is going to be the perfume of tomorrow (literally, as Gaucho will be launched tomorrow!).

At this point, I have created, in fact, two blueprints – one with and one without angelica.
Mod. 6 had the following notes:
Base: mate, hay, Africa stone tincture, liatrix tincture, angelica absolute
Heart notes: guiacwood, honey, broom, lavender Seville
Top notes: Bergamot, French Neroli

Mod. 7 is the same, less the angelica and plus a new element: a relatively high dosage of galbanum of a very sparkling, green and fresh quality, as well as the sweetly herbaceous rosemary absolute
Base: mate, hay, Africa stone tincture, liatrix tincture, angelica absolute
Heart notes: guiacwood, honey, broom, lavender Seville, rosemary absolute
Top notes: Bergamot, French Neroli, Galbanum

From there we move on to Mod. 8, which is identical to mod. 6 only with the addition of galbanum.

While mod. 9 introduced the idea of a floral note – the quirky jasmine auriculatum absolute - it was still very much lacking the depth and finesse I was searching for. Jasmine auriculatum is a grassy-green jasmine (which also happens to be the only jasmine I dislike when smelled straight up…); Mod. 9 still maintained the presence of rosemary, but with no angelica in sight.

At this point I felt I was walking on a very tight rope above a busy street… Every little thing could distract me from my task: to focus and achieve that exact green perfection I have been so challenged by for so long. I felt that I was almost there, but not quite there yet. Something was missing – something to add true character, to push it forward even just a little more and at the sime time round it off and make it come together for real. My only rival here was myself, with my whimsical impulses to skip to the end...

Dark Angel

hvönn og sólarlag, originally uploaded by saraella.

Angelica root absolute, on the other hand, is a completely different story. The specimen I will be talking about was not only grown in a different soil, it is also a different species: Angelica sinensis. It was grown in China, where Angelica has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal properties and is almost as important as ginseng. The Chinese doctors use as many as 10 different kinds of angelica, mostly to treat women’s fertility issues but also to strengthen the spirit (Julia Lawless, Encyclopedia of Essential Oils).

This particular angelica absolute is dark in colur and semi-viscous in texture. It has an incredibly musky and smoky fragrance and I can see it working beautifully in spicy and warm orientals and leathers. Another use for angelica is in chypre and fougere compositions, but I feel that the root oils might be more fitting for these uses. Strangely, it shares some similarities to immortelle – living on the borderline between herbaceous and bizarrely sweet.

I’ve used it recently in two of my mods for a perfume called Gaucho which I’ve been working on for the past 7 years. Although it seemed to have provided an interesting counter points to the other elements in that perfume (dry-green and coumarin-bittersweet) it did not provide a breakthrough. Plus I made the mistake of also using the angelica root oil with the celery dryout (which is definitely not what I was looking for!). The angelica absolute on its own might just be the answer for an animalic musky note sans the lactones sensitization issues that costus poses. It’s by no menas a substitute for costus, but it may provide the aspects of costus I am wishing for in this composition. After all, being named after a Gaucho just asks for some animalic elements!

So what's the next step? Perhaps pairing some angelica root absolute with my first mod for a champaca soliflore. Or as a base for a peppery-leathery composition. When the fear of a note is lifted many doors are opened…

Bright Angel

Angelica, originally uploaded by *Sakura*.

The species Angelica archangelica is originated in Europe and Siberia, where it is used for various medicinal and folkloric uses. Since antiquity, it was considered to strengthen the heart, stimulate circulation and the immune system and was used in centuries for treating various bronchial conditions such as colds and coughs as well as indigestion and promoting the appetite, relieves rheumatic inflammation and can be used as a urinary antiseptic (Julia Lawless, Encyclopedia of Essential Oils). Candies made of angelica stalks are also popular in France and Spain (in the US they may be found bearing the name “French Rhubarb”). If you are curious about how to make them, there are a few links to recipes below. I even found an illustrated recipe for Angelica Pie!

Candied Angelica Stems Recipe 1
Candied Angelica Stems Recipe 2
Candied Angelica Stems Recipe 3

One of the earliest Aqua Mirabillis recipes, called Carmelite Water (it was originally formulated by the nuns in the Carmelite abbey in France circa 1611). Recipes for Carmelite Water vary, but they all containt angelica and lemon balm leaves and lemon peel and orange flower water, and in addition to that various spices, usually coriander, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. It was taken internally as a liquor and also applied on the skin for its refreshing fragrance.

Angelica as I first knew it was peppery green and very intense. Somehwere between over eccentric parsley, horseradish and raw green pepper.This was a steam distillation from the roots, and was grown in France. I’ve used it three times only, which is as I said, very unusual for any note in my collection to be so rarely used.
1) In one of my earliest formulas for Sagittarius perfume (according to certain magical traditions, Angelica is considered a Jupiterian and fiery plant)
2) In an attempt to make a more “perfumey” Carmelite Water, using essential oils rather than tinture the above-mentioned herbs and spices
3) In one accord, in a brave moment where I wanted to just use Angelica and not be scared of it. I blended it with a few notes including cloves, oakmoss, patchouli, vetiver, champaca, rose and clary sage. It turned out smelling like fedjoia – that peculiar tropical fruit that resembles a green passion fruit from the outside and an under ripe guava from the inside. I was left amused and just left it at that.

Few years later, I received a sample of Angelica Root Oil from the same species, only grown in India and distilled from the roots. Needless to say, this is a completely different story: while still being very green, it has far less of the harshness and tenacity that the seed oil I mentioned earlier possesses. It is by no means a “soft” note. It is still sharp. But it’s definitely not the same angelica I met before. This Angelica archangelica root oil is musky, animalic, earthy. It even resembles costus root ever so slightly. I have a feeling that I won’t only be running out of the sample fast enough to justify ordering it any time soon. it has a very appealing, mysterious yet familiar almost paper-like quality that reminds me of a Chinese apothecary, in a good way; I may even use it in a perfume mod or two in the near future.

Angelica seed oil is also produced, but is much harder to come across. It is lighter, fresher and spicier, not as earthy and musky as the root oils are.

Absolute Angelica

Angelica Kult, originally uploaded by Jari Kaariainen.

As a preparation for the first class in the Botanical Alchemy (about the origins of aromatics), I have set to prepare some aqua mirabilis for demonstrating a liquor that can be worn as a perfume (or vice verse). The only recipe I found was for Carmelite Water. However, the recipes were vague (using measurements such as pinches or no measurements at all!), plus I had a shortage in lemon balm leaves. So I decided to modify the recipe to my liking (and limitations).

It went like this:

Carmelite Water
1 cup lemon blam (dried or fresh)
½ cup dried angelica root
zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp. coriander
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp nutmeg (ground)
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
750 ml vodka
500 ml orange flower water

- Crush the spices in mortar and pestle
- Add all the ingredients (except the orange flower water)to the vodka and let it mature for 2-3 weeks
- Filter through coffee filter or a fine cheescloth
- Add the orange flower water
- Let mature for another week
- Serve or wear!

Absolute Angelica, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

I will let you know later how it turned out after maturation and filtration.

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