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Crocus & Berry: Autumn Hike to Mt Meron

Mt. Meron
On a beautiful Saturday morning, Miss Tea and I set on a little hiking adventure up Mt Merton. It's became one of our most favourite parks, providing not only a great relaxing hike up a beautiful mountain, but also many beautiful lookouts, and year-around greenery that provides shade and the temperatures in this mountain (over 1000m elevation) are always cooler. But the best part is, there are almost always rare wildflowers to find there, different ones in each season. This time I was after the big yellow Sternbergia, or how we call it in Hebrew "Egg-Yolk Flower," a crocus-like flower that is only growing in very specific habitats in Israel, and is one of the protected species that attracts pilgrimage of Flower Viewers. That's the Israeli equivalent of the Japanese Hanami, except there are many seasons like this spread all over the country: crocus, iris, forest peonies, and more.
Red Hawthorne Berries
We started the trail with a bouffet of red hawthorne berries - kind powdery-textured and not as fragrant as the yellow ones, but certainly more photogenic.

Red Hawthorne Berries

Root Staircase
We walked up the picturesque trail among oaks and arbutus trees, some of them twisted to form living sculptures:

Arbuts & Oak Living Scultures
And the arbutus trees bearing the ripest, tastiest, jammy berries imaginable. They are very tannin when unripe; but if you are patient to wait for them o be really soft to the touch (they will feel like a gooey pouch of slightly leathery skin), you're in for a treat. Their inside is almost jelly-like, orange coloured, and I suspect contain a ton of both A and C vitamins. I wish I picked more to make a jam from. But they were so good we ate them as they are.

Arbutus Berries
Cercis silliquastrum is more noticeable in the spring, where its beautiful pink blossoms dot the green mountain with their delicate decoration. Now they provides a touch of citrine and lime fall colours to the mediterranean forest there.

Cercis silliquastrum: Fall Colours in Mt Meron
I was really hoping to find those yellow flowers everywhere, but we had no such luck. Instead, many early autumn crocuses, which were there for almost a couple of months now, so lost their novelty by now but looked special with the changing atmosphere and more greens and berries on the ground.

Fall Colours on Mt Meron
And then came the shocking surprise: a real, living, wild saffron crocus!
I only spotted two or three of them, but the holy triad and aroma of their stamens was unmistakable.

Saffron Crocus & Oak Leaves

In the end, I found only a single Sternbergia off the beaten track, because once we got to the peak of the mountain we were both too tired to walk an extra hour in the trail to where other hikers told us there would be a big colony of them. But I was content with this one, and decided that in a week or two I will go straight to the peak trail (an easy, circular trail that circumvents the peak and is rather flat in comparison to what we walked that day; and only takes an hour).

Sternbergia ("Egg Yolk Flower")
So we climbed back, picked a bunch of yellow hawthorne berries (they taste like very fragrant and juicy "Golden Delicious" apples, but more tart and delicious!). And of course, like all of our hikes, we ended up with an outdoors tea party, at the foothill of Mt Meron.

Tea Party on the foothill of Mt Meron
There are two more perfume related plants in this photo below. Can you identify or guess what they are? Leave a comment and enter to win a sampler trio of my Autumn crocus inspired and saffron-infused perfumes, Song of SongsRazala and Tamya.

Saffron, Rockrose & Moss



My Little Herb Garden

Treasures from the mountain

The last two weeks I've delved right into exploring the medicinal wild plants that grow around here. For a short time I had a herbalist to show and share with me some of this wealth of plant wisdom. Now that this guide is gone, I'm lead only by the pleasantly infectious inspiration. There is an overwhelming abundance that is going to provide me with a lifetime of learning. I've been hiking in the surrounding areas and conservatively collecting branches for slips and re-planting in my little herbal garden. This of course will is part of the Perfumer's Botanical Garden I'm establishing around the studio.

I'm showing you the early beginning, although they look quite unimpressive on camera. In person they have the charm of new beginnings as well as virgin strip of land and stony terrain and distant view of the Mediterranean; I am also delighted by the gentle healing energy that emanates from the plants for those who connect to these types of being. And for those who find it more difficult to connect to plants that way - the scents that each provide speak for themselves. Even a little stroke on each plant will give off the scent and you can mix and match to create your own "finger perfume".

Morning in the medicinal herb garden

From the wild, I've adopted some amazing plants - both old and new to me, that grow on the mountain behind my house. So all in all, my botanical collection is rapidly growing - even beyond the original wishlist I've created. And I'm rather happy with it.

From my slip foraging, I managed to keep alive a couple of types of germanders - Cretan germander (Teucrium creticum), which looks a lot like rosemary but smells completely different - more like olive leaf, actually, and likewise has an intensely bitter taste; and cat-thyme germander (Teucrium capitatum), which has a sweet, almost resinous fragrant silvery foliage. The latter is highly medicinal and rivals only the local wild sage (Salvia fruticosa), more of the Savory of Crete (Satureja thymbra) and a similar plant, with an almost identical flavour and fragrance that has flowers with a structure similar to Lavandula dentata, which is called Spiked Savoury (Thymbra spicata). It would be difficult to find information online in English on many of these plants because they are unique to Israel.  I've also adopted some cistus plants, although they are not the Cistus ladaniferus I am seeking but two other local species that are not as resinous, yet somewhat fragrant depending on the season. And I am crossing my fingers that two seedlings of bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) that my herbalist guide carefully uprooted from the wadi (dry creek) floor, will also survive and make it to the miniature forest I want to create behind the perfume studio. And most immortally - I am hoping that the two little twigs of Israeli Thyme (Coridothymus capitatus) that we found on the rocky North beach will grow up some roots and flourish. They are quite rare site here inland, and in fact a protected species. They have a striking look when they get mature and an intense yet slightly floral aroma that I love. It truly deserves a post of its own, with photos and all. Along with Origanum syriacum (also grown in my garden), the other varieties of thyme and savoury I mentioned before, some sumac and sesame seeds it forms the spice mixture called "Za'atar" that some of you may be familiar with from Lebanese grocery stores and Middle Eastern restaurants.

Thymbra spicata צתרנית משובלת

Naturally growing wild in my garden is also white horehound (Marrubium vulgare), a highly medicinal plant that grows in astounding abundance, several mastic bushes and probably more plants that I did not know were medicinal but will find out later. There are also still two plants that I found on the mountain to make slips that I haven't identified yet, so the search is not over. Lastly, I scattered seeds of blood helicrysum, a local wild plant (Helichrysum sanguinum) which I also hope will come out next winter. By that time I hope I will forget about it altogether so it will just be a pleasant surprise...

Dam HaMakabim (Helicrysum sanguinum) coming into seed

Lastly, to be fair and square, I promised to tell you which plants I put in from the nursery (the ones my brother brought me), so that you know if you guessed it right. They were several types of lavender (mountain Savory of Crete (Satureja thymbra), several types of lavender (Lavandula pinnate, L. dentate, L. angustifolia) and - to my utmost excitement - immortelle (Helicrysum italicum), often called "curry plant".

Morning in the medicinal herb garden

Also you should know, that among those who participated in this context, we got two worthy winners who will receive a sample kit of all my herbaceous fragrances,  are Ruby Clover and Melissa Menard. The kit includes ArbitRary for the basil, Ayalitta for the sage, Immortelle l'Amour for the immortelle of course, l'Herbe Rouge for the lemongrass, hay and lavender and Lovender - which is quite obvious. I've also included a sniff-peak of Inbar, my new, wild-oregano infused amber concoction which is not even for sale quite yet :-)

Putting together the kits made me also realize how little attention I've been giving the herbaceous notes.



Herbaceous Contest

Ready for Planting

This is my dear brother's contribution to my botanical garden. Can you guess which perfume and medicinal herbs are just about to be planted?
Hint: I am very excited about them!
Post your guess here and enter to win a sampler kit of perfumes I made that contain herbs I have planted so far in my garden!

Those who answered most correctly will be entered into the draw, and the winners will be announced on Monday.

Arbor Vitae: Trees of Life + Contest

Cathedral Grove

The first days of school are saturated with mundane yet memorable scent of lumbar by-products, namely pencil shavings and sharp new textbooks bound with resinous glue. Cedar's significance goes far beyond paper and pencil shavings. While visiting the Carving on the Edge festival in Tofino - the so-called cedar (Thuja plicata - which is really a kind of a cypress, not from the Cedrus species that you'll find around the mountains of the Mediterranean and the Himalaya) that grows here in such abundance holds special significance to the First Nations of the West Coast. So much so, that some called themselves "Redcedar People".

Cedar Woman

Redcedars are ginormous (65-70m high and a diameter of 3-4m are not uncommon), and live a long, rich life of hundreds and even a thousand years! They tower over the rest of the forest, and provide a home for insects, birds, squirrels and other creatures. In the lush rainforest, you'll observe other foliage gracing their branches like hanging gardens. And when a strong wind finally tips them over, they become a nursing log for new life forms and eventually - other gigantic redcedars. 

Red Cedar, 400yrs old

The tree itself in Coast Salish language was called "Tree of Life". It wasn't until visiting Tofino this past week that I really understood why - after all, it bears no fruit or edible parts (this must be my Mediterranean brain at work). For one thing, the tree plays a huge role in the ecosystem: it strives off the nitrogen-rich fish diet from the salmon that jumps upstream, and also dyes them red with its tannins, and also has the ability to filter out toxins. 

From a utilitarian human perspective, it is particularly valuable because of its soft heartwood, which makes it easy to carve. Additionally, it has a high content of essential oils that not only make it smell amazing, but also act as preservatives and insect repellent, making the wood last for hundred years if not more! Their durability and rot-resistance are why redcedar is the wood of choice for outer constructions such as homes, roofs, shingles, etc. 

Old Rededar

First Nations built and crafted almost anything imaginable from this phenomenal tree, taking full advantage of its lightweight and durable qualities: they would weave water-proof hats and clothing from strips of the bark, as well as ropes and baskets from the younger branches; and long houses and homes from planks that they've harvested from the living trees; and entire old-growth trees (either wind-stricken or actively felled in a special ceremony) were used for totem poles or to build dug-out canoes - including ones large enough to hunt whales. And of course - smaller artifacts such as masks, bentwood boxes, and other tools. Last but not least: the wood would keep you warm in the stormy and damp Pacific Northwest weather (although logs of cedar are notorious for sending out sparks - so watch your fire closely); and the leaves are bundled with sage to make incense wands that are burnt to clear off negativity from the space before the start of a ritual. 

Cedars of Lebanon

In perfumery, we use all kinds of cedar - true and false. The Cedar of Lebanon (which King Solomon used to build the first temple in Jerusalem) are too sparse to use in perfumery, but are impressive, beautifully shaped trees that grace Mount Meron where they grow wild, and some other hills of Northern Israel, where they've been planted near Saafed. 

Cedars & Fog

Cedars from the Atlas mountains in Morocco and the Himalayas smell very similar - with a warm, honeyed and slightly animals aroma. The remind me of polished-wood because they're so smooth and precious smelling. The most famous perfume you can smell Atlas cedar wood is Feminite du Bois by Shiseido (now available directly from the fragrance's creative director leading niche brand, Serge Lutens). Among my creations, it is particularly noticeable in Epice Sauvage and Tamya.

Himalayan cedar, which is similar but a little more cool and clean-smelling is what you'll smell at the base of Indigo (which, incidentally, was listed among Basenotes' 500 Greatest Modern Perfumes). You an also experience it at the base of Jasmine Pho and Fetish (which also has another coniferous favourite: Fir absolute). 

Windswept

Japan has its own unique conifers, and its own version of cedar - called Hiba (AKA Japanese cedar, false arborvitae or Hiba arborvitae). Bon Zai perfume portrays a miniature forest of windswept cedar and pine, in the best Japanese tradition. Minimalist yet haunting, the familiar notes of Virginia cedarwood, juniper and Scotch pine are joined by more exotic Japanese oils of mandarin, oud and shiso leaf. In a new version I've been working on this afternoon, indigenous Japanese woods will enhance the authenticity of this fragrance - namely Hiba (Thuja dolabrata) and Hinoki, AKA Japanese cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa).

Eau de Cedre
The so-called Virginia and Texas Cedarwoods are really juniper trees (Juniperus virginiana, AKA Easter Redcedar). Their aroma is similar, but much milder than the Western redcedar. The Virginia kind has a particularly soft and rich, warm, smooth dry down that makes it second only to sandalwood. I've used it as a key note in Eau de Cedre, an eau-de-cologne type fragrance with a woody anchor and distinctive dry, spicy tones. But you'll find it in many others of my creations, such as Rainforest, in which the Virginia cedar is subtle, and makes a subtle backdrop for coniferous tree and dewy foliage - recreating the experience of a walk in the woods. Espionage, on the other hand, is cedarwood chests, cedar-flavoured cigarettes, but most of all: logs of campfire, out in the woods, or even better - on a stormy beach to warm you up after surfing the chilly Pacific. 

400 Years Old?

Essential oils from the Western redcedar have only joined the perfumer's palette some 3-4 years ago, and I've used it in Blackbeard Oil, and more recently - in a new perfume that captures the magical scent of the Pacific rainforest floor on a warm, sunny autumn day: a most peculiar scent that anyone who loves the forest and lives around here is fond of and most familiar with. It smells a bit like how you'd think Chypre should smell; but is also with resinous-sweet ambery undertone to it. I'm pleased to say that I've been able to capture it perfectly; but I do need your help naming it. Non of the names I've thought about seem right: it's not "Pacific Amber" and it's not "Emerald Amber". The name "Arbor Vitae" sounds too arcane and serious (and I'm worried no one would understand it at all). And then names of places where you can experience it - such as Stanley Park (where I first experienced it) or Gold Creek (which alludes to its warm, golden aroma) - just don't sound authentic enough. Neither truly brings across the wild nature of this fragrance, and its strong connection to core of Pacific Northwest natural life, where Hishuk Ish Tsawalk was the law of the land and . Besides - you can smell it on a sunny day almost anywhere where redcedar, Douglas fir and Western hemlock live, and that covers a rather vast chunk of land... So let there be a naming contest, and the winner who emails me (or leaves a comment on this post) with the best name suggestion by September 30th will receive a 15mL bottle of this yet-to-be-named forest elixir! 

Redcedar links for further reading:

Winner of January Giveaway

Thank you for everyone who contributed with insights and comments throughout the month of January!
The winner of the lucky draw is SmellyBlog reader Darcy Rouhani. She will receive a coffret of 5 vintage minis from the 80's, including Bal A Versailles, Animale, Sunwater, Hollywood, 360 Perry Ellis and 273 Fred Hayman.

Please continue leaving comments in February :-) I will announce the prize for this month shortly. 
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