Seven Fragrant White Flowers for Shavuot

Shavuot is beginning this evening, and to celebrate, I've put together a bouquet of 7 white flowers that are currently in bloom. Wearing white is a Shavuot tradition, and so is wearing wreaths of flowers on the head. When I was a little girl, this was the time of the year when fragrant roses will be in full bloom, and the children lucky enough to grow them in their garden will have a flower or two of deep, wine-coloured burgundy rose in their baskets of first fruit - alongside apricots and green almonds. I am grown up enough now to own up to it and say I was deeply jealous of their baskets, and couldn't keep my nose away from it. This collection of seven flowers will not include white rose (or jasmine, for that matter) because I would like to make room for less known white flowers and hope that you find this post inspiring and alluring.

1. White Peony:

I find the white variety to be more well-rounded. White peonies smell a little more heady  than the pink and a tad jasmine-y but still also peppery and fresh. There is a strong resemblance to lily of the valley, and also there's a hint of hyacinth's heady floral and sharp green-onion-y notes. The flowers fills the room with their beautiful scent for a full week after being brought home from the florist. The pink ones are a bit of a hit-and-miss. Some smell rosy and with a hint of spicy carnation note; others are more green and dewy; and some smell funky, like rotten vegetables...

There is no shortage of peony-themed fragrances, but non has captured my nose as of yet. If you have any recommendations, I'll be happy to try them!

2. Choisya "Aztec Pearl" (aka Mexican Mock Orange)

Smells more like heliotropin than orange blossom to me, but is related to the same family (Rutaceae). The flowers have a powdery-sweet aroma with hints of methyl anthranilate. Very soft and alluring. I only know of one fragrance that is centred around it - Choisya candle by Dyptique.

3. Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia): 

The black locust tree is native to the Southeastern United States, but have found its way to many a gardens across the world, where it has become naturalized (and in some cases invasive) in temperate North America, Europe, South Africa, Asia. The origin of the name: Because of their similar fruit shape, Jesuit missionaries confused it with the carob tree Carob Tree (Ceratonia siliqua). 

The flowers have a havenly sweet-pea aroma mingled with the scent of intensified orange blossom. The methyl anthranilate aspect really coming through like a candy from the gods in this tree flower from Fabaceae family. The flowers are edible, having a sweet and aromatic flavour, but the fruit is not (though some say the seeds are edible too). Try using the flowers in a sugar syrup for desserts, or crystallize them in a similar way that rose and violet petals are treated. The entire flower clustered are dipped in batter and deepfried into fritters

I'm currently experimenting with some black locust syrup and tinctures recipes, and will report to you once they've rendered successful (which they are bound to be! The syrup is already tasting amazing halfway through the maceration process).

4. White Carnation (Dianthus): 

Dianthus seems to be the flower of the season, popping up in many gardens in the West End this year more than I've ever seen it before. I finally planted my own two Dianthus "Coconut Surprise" plants in my balcony's forelorn planter. They will only go till the end of fall, and I plan to thoroughly enjoy them!

I've gone into much detail about the scent of carnation. The white variety is what's mostly used for carnation absolute production for perfumery. The flowers have a beautiful, sweet-warm and soft-powdery scent and I can't help myself but get on my knees to smell everyone I meet on my walks in the neighbourhood.

Favourite carnation perfumes: InCarnation, Bellodgia, 

5. Philadelphium:

To my nose, Philadelphium smells like fedjoia - fruity, exotic, edible and unusual.
Is is also known as Mock Orange, but is a different plant than Choisya, and smells completely different. 

6. White Magnolia (Magnolia × wieseneri):

This particular magnolia has a magical scent. According to Wikipedia: 
"Its most notable feature is the remarkable fragrance of the ivory-coloured flowers, which has been likened to pineapples and seen adjectives such as "ethereal", "spicy" and "aromatic" used". It significantly changes its scent throughout the day, smelling like a dewy jasmine-tea in the evening, and developing a more fruity-aldehydic and lactonic character during the day, reminiscent of peach (aldehyde C-14) and a fatty, oily-skin-like scent (aldehyde C-13) during the day and once the flower is "overripe".

Favourite magnolia perfumes: New Orleans, Opium Fleur de Shanghai

7. White Lilac:

White lilac has more indole than the purple or pink ones, giving them a more perfumey character. Additionally, lilacs have the scent of powder, hints of green fig and cucumber, and in many cases also a rather dominant styrene presence.

Favourite lilac perfumes: Ineke's After My Own Heart and Olivia Giacobetti's En Passant (for Frederic Malle Editions de Parfum). 

If you want to celebrate Shavuot with the traditional desserts, here are my recipes for the perfect blintzes and best ever cheesecake!

Divine Flowers

Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) is native to the Mediterranean region and in the wild, a delicate annual with flesh-coloured little flowers that bloom in late summer with only five petals of pinked edges. Curiously, the wild flowers have very little scent if at all. Carnations are one of those rare cases when breeding did not only make the flowers more showy, but also more fragrant! Dianthus flowers possess a distinctive spicy scent of cloves and underlining powdery vanillic sweetness. 

An absolute is produced (in limited quantities only) mostly in Egypt, Southern France, Holland, Kenya and Italy. The yield is very low*, however, and synthetic carnation compounds are much more widely used. Carnation absolute is an interesting raw material, even if not as pretty as the fresh flowers - it has a very rich, warm, complex, dense character that only opens up once it's been diluted to 5% or even less. The good news about that is that a little goes a long way! 

Carnation absolute is waxy-looking and viscous in texture, with an orange-brown-olive colour. The scent is rich, warm, sweet-herbaceous, hay-like, honeyed and spicy with the characteristic clove-like notes of eugenol, though not as pronounced as you'd expect. According to Bo Jensen: "1980s more than hundred components were identified in Egyptian carnation absolute. A smaller number of compounds predominate: eugenol, phenethyl alcohol, linalool, benzyl benzoate, (Z)-3-hexenyl benzoate, benzyl salicylate, and esters of higher aliphatic acids (...). The biological purity of these chemicals, and their surrounding by a multitude of trace components, are responsible for the softness of the scent of carnations". Additional modern molecules have been developed to mimic carnations at a lower cost, such as: "benzyl isoeugenol, or 2-methoxy-1-(phenylmethoxy)-4-(1-propenyl)benzene, a solid with a balsamic note and a powdery carnation-like sweetness, and Methyl Diantilis ® (Givaudan), or 2-ethoxy-4-(methoxymethyl)phenol, which has a sweet-smoky odor with powdery aspects reminiscent of carnation".

The origin of its various names can be explained as follows: Dianthus was coined by the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, and originates in the Greek word Dios (divine) and Anthus (flower); Pinks refers to the shape of the flower's petals; Carnation might allude to coronation, or "corone" (flower garlands), or the Latin word for flesh, "Caro" or "Carnis" or perhaps incarnation; Cloves, contrary to common-sense, does not refer to its scent, rich in eugenol and thus reminiscent of the clove spice (Syzygium aromaticum) - but rather comes from the French word "clou" ("clout" aka nail in English) and alludes to its appearance, which resembles a nail - and just to happen to be true for the spice as well. 

There is no shortage of mystical and cultural meanings and symbolism associated with carnations - anywhere from romance, motherly love and even socialism. Christian legend tells us that pink carnations sprang from earth as Virgin Mary shed tears once observing her son's suffering while bearing the cross. Therefore, pink carnations are strongly associated with a mother's love - and the meaning has evolved over the years to also mark a mother's passing with a white carnation and celebrate her life with red or pink ones on Mother's Day. 

"In Portugal, bright red carnations represent the 1974 coup d'etat started by the military to end the fascist regime ongoing since 1926." Soldiers that participated in this movement stuck carnations in their rifles as a sign of non-violence. And on May Day (Labour Day), it was worn by many in workers' demonstrations. In contrast to that, carnations also have been popular among the French dandies, who worn a single flower as boutonnières.

Pperfumes with pronounced carnation notes: from classically constructed soliflores such as Bellodgia (Caron) and Sweet William (Ineke's Floral Curiosities line), and my own InCarnation which is a carnation soliflore; to haunting, complex florals such as l'Heure Bleue (Guerlain), l'Air du Temps (Nina Ricci) and Oeillet (Scent Systems) and Chypres such as En Avion (Caron) and Crêpe de Chine (F. Millot) and countless spicy orientals, including Tabu (Dana), Youth Dew (Estee Lauder), Opium (YSL), Asja (Fendi), Aqaba (Miriam Mirani), Égoïste (Chanel), Tabac Blond and Poivre (both by Caron).

* According to Stephen Arctander, between 0.2-0.3% concrete in relation to the weight of the flowers themselves; and this is further extracted into an absolute which is between 10-25% of the concrete. Annual production of carnation absolute was estimated to be between 20-30kg in the 1960's (which is when his book "Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin" was published). 

Sweet William

Ineke's Floral Curiosities anthology of soliflores for Anthropoligie continues, and the newest flower in this poetic garden is Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus).

I had the pleasure to smell & wear Sweet William over dinner & Kir with Ineke and her husband Bill - and immediately fell for this delicate, spicy, warm yet fresh composition.

Sweet William opens with fresh balsamic peppery notes that reminded me of another favourite - Si Lolita. It is, however, more dusky and violetty than the latter. Carnation accord being the centre of attention, with complementary strokes of ionones, redolent of candied violets and accompanied by velvety cedar (a wink to Evening Edged in Gold, which also had a rich cedar, fruit and spice accord), which give it a purplish hue and a slightly serious, almost regal personality.

The base notes are those of rich woodsy patchouli and powdery musk, which dries down to a clean, dry patchouli and white musk notes. It is not in the least overpowering, but has an incredible staying power and stays on even after a swim and a shower, with slightly berry like musky notes.

Ineke's soliflore treatment is modern, abstract and rather than just dissecting and replicating Sweet William, she's created a stylized impression of this carnation's particularly sweet-spicy-velvety personality (other carnations have a slightly rosy-green aspect that you won't find in here), and create a memorable scent from an otherwise low-key, modest flower.

The notes, according to Ineke's press release, are peach, cloves, cinnamon, cedarwood, sandalwood, patchouli and bourbon vanilla.

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