The Osmothèque: The Biggest Collection of Scents Old and New

“Do you ever wish you could take a scent and bottle it up so you could remember it always?” asked the romantic while she sat on the edge of the spring grass and dipped her toes into the soft water. Perfumers are responsible for bottling scents, of course, and some of them are taking the steps to make these scents last forever.

In 1990, senior perfumers Jean Kerléo, Jean-Claude Ellena, Guy Robert, and collaborated to open a space which would preserve as many perfumes as possible. The space was called the Osmothèque, a title that combines the Greek words for odor (osmo) and storage (theke). Just as a bibliothèque archives books and the written word, the osmothèque was created to archive odors.

The osmothèque first opened in April, just as the very fleeting scents of spring flowers must have been at their peak. But while those natural floral notes were fading, the team at the osmothèque—largely comprised of perfumers who volunteer their time and are dubbed the “osmocurators”—was hard at work to begin collecting and archiving perfumes. The initial focus was on any perfume no longer available on the market, but the osmocurators also work to bring in formulas for all perfumes that are currently for sale.

It’s the collection of scents that are off the market—around 400 perfumes as of spring 2015—that makes the Osmothèque particularly magical for many. Many scents are discontinued or changed over the years, often to replace ingredients that are no longer allowed. For instance, the original Chanel No. 5 contained citral, which was discovered as a skin irritant and banned as an ingredient. You can still buy Chanel No. 5 but it’s not the same as the original, and a person seeking the memories associated with that particular scent will be disappointed with a modern day bottle.

A trip to Versailles, however, can provide just the original scent one might be looking for. As their website states, the Osmothèque does not interpret scents, it archives them. The osmocurators work to remake old perfumes exactly as they were originally. When the trio of French Perfumers began the Osmothèque, they were creating something that would turn into a huge collaboration. The archive only succeeds with help from perfume houses, perfume collectors, perfume making companies, and individuals. These people entrust their formulas to the Osmothèque which protects them and uses them to recreate long lost scents.

Once scents are recreated, the osmocurators tuck them away safely in the “cellar,” a space designed specifically to house and protect the perfumes. The cellar is kept at 12º C (around 54º F) and is free of daylight, plus the perfumes themselves are protected further with inert gas.

The Osmothèque regularly opens its doors to any curious nose, be it students, professionals, or the general public. In addition to maintaining the world’s largest perfume archive, it hosts conferences, perfume discovery sessions, and even children’s workshops. It’s just an hour or so from Paris by train or car, and by all accounts it is worth the visit.

Katrina Eresman

How to Make Your Scent Last Longer

It’s always disappointing when your favorite scent seems to evaporate from your skin before you can even arrive at your destination. While staying power sometimes depends on the perfume itself, you might be able to increase longevity by learning a little more about the things that affect the potency of perfume.

Storage

Perfume is extremely sensitive to its environment. That’s why a professional perfume archive like the Osmothèque is so particular about its storage space (12º C and no sunlight). Anyone can get more potency and more longevity out of their scents by following similar guidelines. The biggest keys are to keep your perfume out of sunlight, heat, and humidity. That means no displaying your bottles in the bathroom and no leaving your go-to scent in the car for convenience.

Application

As long as you’re not rubbing your wrists together after you apply, the wrists are a great place to put your perfume for long-lasting scent. These and other pulse points, like behind knees, elbows, and ears are good spots for application. You want to pick areas that will not be covered by clothing, and areas that are naturally warmer, as this will help them emit the scent. My favorite quirky place to apply scent is at the outside top of my armpit. However, do not put perfume directly on the armpit, since the ingredients could potentially irritate that sensitive skin.

Moisture

Dry skin doesn’t do so well at maintaining scent. That being said, you can often get a lot more mileage from a perfume if you first apply an unscented lotion to the skin. You can also take advantage of the moisture left over after a shower by applying your perfume immediately after bathing.

Frequency

The frequency of wear doesn’t truly affect how long a perfume lasts. However, it does have an effect on how much the wearer notices or enjoys it. If you love a scent, you might be inclined to wear it every day. But the better way to get the most personal mileage out of your favorite smells is to build a library of a few (or a lot) of perfumes that you enjoy, preferably with different styles. You might come to see perfumes like articles of clothing, and pick them depending on the mood or event. Sometimes it’s good to skip a scent all together, and instead spend the day enjoying your natural odor as well as the odors I experience wherever I go. When you come back to on of your favorites, it will have more potency to you throughout its wear.

Ingredients

All-natural is almost always an appealing descriptor, but when it comes to perfume longevity it might not be the best option. Essential oils often evaporate more quickly than man-made ingredients. For the best longevity, opt for scents that blend synthetics with essential oils and absolutes.

Structure

Perfumes are designed to evolve in a symphony of notes in a particular order. Top notes disappear the quickest, followed by middle and base notes. Since base notes last the longest, and have the heaviest molecules, perfumes that highlight notes like musk will be stronger longer. Lots of Possets perfumes highlight strong base notes. If you’re looking for earthy staying power, start with these recommendations from our post on Musk.

Katrina Eresman

French Fashion, Dangerous Scents, and Female Perfumers

Taurus season is here, and so is the birthday of Robert Piguet. The Swiss-born fashion designer had a handsome look about him, a charming smile with perfect white teeth, dark eyes, and a nose full of character. He looks like the romantic interest in an Ernest Hemingway novel. Maybe it’s his carefully groomed thin mustache, which suggests his impeccable style.

These days Piguet is known much more for his perfume line than for his fashion house, which ran from 1933 to 1951. He had his share of edgy designs, and purportedly once had is runway models wear masks and carry knives. Perhaps these designs reflected the sense of healthy rebellion it took for Piguet to say no to the family banking career and yes to a life of art.

Even though Piguet’s name isn’t part of the world of fashion any longer, he still left a significant mark. He was the one who trained Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy. These two have gone on to create some of the world’s most renown fashion houses, so in that way Piguet left his mark on the fashion world.

But enough about the men. Let’s talk about the women.

In the 1940s, Piguet decided it was time to try his hand at perfume. Wisely he sought out the help of perfumer Germaine Cellier. Cellier was a driven young woman who earned a chemistry degree in Paris and had been landing jobs at French companies like Colgate-Palmolive where she worked as a functional perfumer. Functional perfumes are those that we encounter every day in hand soaps, detergents, and the like. When Cellier met Piguet, she had an opportunity to shine beyond the subtleties of everyday scent.

And shine she did, creating Piguet’s first perfume Bandit in 1942 to be debuted in 1944, and later creating the famous scent Fraças. Bandit is said to be a sort of dangerous scent. It’s a leather chypre that takes something a little feminine and wraps it in a bad-ass attitude. You can read a pretty compelling review of it here. Cellier was praised for being a little unconventional and daring in her creations, and the edgy scent of Bandit was no exception.

Cellier proved her diversity as a perfumer when she created the more famous Fraças. This scent is like the light to Bandit’s darkness. It’s floral and delicate, and includes the best spring scents like Indian tuberose absolute, orange blossom, and iris root butter. Cellier designed scents for other perfume houses as well, and when she wasn’t busy working she was rubbing elbows with some of France’s most interesting characters, like Jean Cocteau.

It’s a pleasure to think about some of the best artists of every art hanging out on the banks of the Seine, and to fantasize about how the filmmakers inspired the perfumers, and how the perfumers inspired the writers, and how the writers inspired the painters. It’s all intertwined, and Piguet is a fine example of how perfume and fashion in particular seem to go hand in hand. But that is a story for another day.

 

by Katrina Eresman

Bon Anniversaire, Jean-Claude Ellena

One famous nose celebrates his birthday on April 7. Jean-Claude Ellena, who fantasizes about capturing the smell of the wind, was practically born a perfumer. His father was a perfumer, and as a child he would spend time picking jasmine with his grandmother to sell to other scent-makers. Growing up, he worked at an Antoine Chiris factory making essential oils before starting as the first student at a new perfumery school, Givaudan, in 1968.

Ellena went on to create dozens of famous and memorable scents, focusing on the softness, subtlety, and earnestness of perfume rather than any aggressive, up-front notes or the manipulative advertising that often comes with scents. In interviews, Ellena encourages wearers to select scents through communing with them, trying them, testing them for a visceral, emotional reaction, rather than selecting scents based on advertising, styling, or associations.

In 2000, Ellena co-founded The Different Company, a luxury perfume house where his daughter Céline took over in 2005, when Ellena became Hermès’s exclusive in-house perfumer.

I first got to know the character of Jean-Claude Ellena a little when I listened to “The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York” on audio book. The non-fiction piece is written by the New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr, who gives an insider look on the entire creative process for two new perfumes. One of the scents is getting developed for Hermès by Ellena, who ends up traveling all the way to the Nile for inspiration.

Frankly, when it comes to the raw entertainment factor, I’d rather listen to the Harry Potter series on audiobook (the Stephen Fry version gets my vote). It’s not the most enthralling narration. Still, “The Perfect Scent” sheds light on the many steps, thought, and iterations that go into creating a new scent, and even though the narrator didn’t evoke thrill and excitement, you can still get a feel for both the entrancing journey of development as well as the tedious steps involved in the process.

All that is to say, “The Perfect Scent” is a good book to look at if you’re interested in learning some about how the perfume industry works, and specifically about how Ellena got things done. You can also get an insider look at his process from Ellena’s own books “Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent” and “The Diary of a Nose: A Year in the Life of a Parfumeur.” (Both are on the reading list for me.)

Ellena retired in 2016, but he still manages to have an influence on the world of perfume. He has been known to teach perfumer workshops (though you’d better have a few French lessons first if you ever plan to attend one). Ellena was also one of the founders of the Osmothèque, the world’s largest scent library. If you count his efforts to archive thousands of perfumes, you could say Ellena is responsible for even more scents than those he designed himself.

Alors, here’s to Jean-Claude Ellena, all he has contributed, created, written, and taught. He’s a great resource for amateur and experienced perfumers and curious onlookers. And, he has something in common with our main nose, Tom, besides their love of composing perfumes—you’ll be hard-pressed to see either of them in anything but a white button-down shirt.

By Katrina Eresman

Vanilla: Not So Vanilla

When I think of vanilla, I can’t help but picture three subjects: 1) A big tube of lotion from a certain big box store that specializes in body care products. 2) A generic candle called “Vanilla Sugar” but with an ambiguous scent more like store-bought icing that could very well be the subject of multiple re-gifts. 3) Some expensive brown liquid in a tiny bottle I like to splurge on for my culinary indulgences, i.e. pudding, oatmeal cookies, and other every-day necessities.

Vanilla is right up there with cinnamon and pumpkin pie as a scent that pretty much every industry dealing in smells has turned into a product, most of which don’t really resemble vanilla at all. Since you can find car air fresheners called “Vanilla Snow” or laundry detergent labeled “Clean Vanilla” (I’m making all of these up, by the way), a person in search of a sophisticated perfume might not be so inclined to trust something with a similar name.

Sadly, the reputation of vanilla has been affected by the seemingly endless interpretations of its essence. Vanilla is to scent as terms like “macchiato” or even “cappuccino” are to the coffee industry—that is, they’ve been used in too many ways so that it’s hard to keep straight what people mean when they say, for example, “vanilla cappuccino.” On top of that, the term “vanilla” has been used since the 1970s initially to refer to ordinary (perceived negatively as boring) sexual preferences, and eventually to refer to boring everything.

This idea that vanilla is basic is sort of correct—it’s correct in that vanilla is a base for many concoctions, both culinary and olfactory. Vanilla, like any base note in perfume, is as important as the bass line of your favorite rock tune. It’s probably not what holds your attention most of the time, but it has to be there for the thing to work. If you took vanilla out of this world, you would surely notice, which goes to show that vanilla is not so basic and forgettable after all.

Perfumes that put vanilla solo front and center? Maybe not for everyone. Personally, while I do adore the scent of a freshly opened vanilla bean, I don’t tend to lean towards gourmand fragrances. (I have too much of a sweet tooth—it just makes me want a treat.) For those that do, a perfume that highlights vanilla as its main feature is probably irresistible, as may be any perfume that uses it as part of its structure—and there are a lot of those. Just as vanilla is used in SO MANY food recipes to boost flavors and subtly speak its own richness throughout a dish, so is vanilla a powerful addition to many, many blends. You’ll find it all over the Possets catalog, most notably in their “Silver” series.

by Katrina Eresman

 

Back to the Roots, Part 1 Galangal Root

This year Possets will be releasing fragrance blends which feature the ingredient(s) highlighted in blogposts like this one on galangal. Those blends can be found here.

Back to the Roots Pt. 1: Galangal

Awhile ago I wrote a about an essential oil that comes from an organic matter that is not a plant. This week I’ve decided to literally get back to the root of plant-based oils. This post marks the first in a series of spotlights on essential oils that are extracted from the roots of plants.

Act 1—galangal.

I have a friend who is getting her masters in art. Sometimes she likes to describe pieces by saying that they “look good/don’t look good to most people’s eyeballs,” implying that the subjectivity of perception interferes with the ability to actually determine anything as good, bad, or something in between. Discussing anything involving a person’s individual perception is like that, including perfumes and their ingredients. Citruses are generally citrusy, woods are generally woodsy, but beyond those obvious descriptors it’s so up to the individual to connect the scent with their own library of memories and associations, to find in it something meaningful and tangible to them.

For instance, when I smell galangal root, for some odd reason it reminds me of the scent of my grandpa, which I always noted when I would hug him. He was big and burly and chewed gum whenever he wasn’t eating. He’d buy packs of Extra gum by the box from Bigg’s, sometimes in Bubblemint but usually in Peppermint. He kept the packs of gum in his breast pocket, where he also kept the two one-dollar bills he was planning to give me and my brother at our departure. The minty smell was mixed with some ambiguous scent I can only picture as strong-old-man smell, probably a mixture of male-marketed bath products and the stubborn scent of old cigar smoke.

I have seen some people describe galangal root as being candy like and extra sweet, so I suppose it makes sense, then, that it reminds me essentially of a gum brand. It’s a spicy sort of sweet, so maybe the spicy notes are what correlate with the “masculine” part of my nostalgic scent.

Galangal root is in the same family as ginger and cardamon, known as Zingiberaceae, and it blends well with these oils and other deep, spicy scents like cinnamon. Like its sibling plants, galangal root is often used in cooking, particularly in Asia cuisines like Thai and Indonesian. It’s great in curries and spicy soups, and, like ginger, is good for digestion—just one of its many health benefits touted by some herbalists.

If you’re planning to cook with galangal, you’ll find that it looks almost identical to ginger root, but with a slightly paler skin. Maybe you’ll grab one instead of the other by mistake. The good news is that they usually work well as stand-ins for one another—though they’re certainly not identical in taste. Galangal is rather citrusy in comparison to ginger, the latter of which has more heat and pungency to its spice.

Fortunately there’s no real chance of mixing up galangal and ginger when you’re using their essential oils in neatly labeled bottles. As with ginger, galangal root is uplifting and pairs well with other bright scents too, like grapefruit. It’s an affordable essential oil that does well on its own whether on the skin or in a diffuser, but also blends nicely into many different perfume oils. I recommend trying it from all angles—in the kitchen, as a solo oil, or in a blend. Grab some galangal root from the store or order a little galangal essential oil and see where it takes you. Keep it around for a side-by-side comparison with the next root of this blog series. Possets has created two blends featuring Galangal Root. Kha Perfume Oil and Khulanjan Perfume Oil feature galangal root essential oil and can be found here: Kha and Khulanjan. Enjoy!

by Katrina Eresman

A Smokey New Year

A new year calls to mind new goals, new traditions, fresh starts. Maybe you’ve given your 2019 resolutions a new-age twist and have made it your goal to clean out bad energies, to meditate more, or to set intentions. Or maybe you just want you home to smell better. Any goal akin to these could inspire you to learn about the aromatic plants praised for their ability to do things like cleanse and ground. Many of these are burned as loose incense atop a hot coal or bound together to be burnt freely.

Please Burn Respectfully

There are many traditions that involve scent and smoke released through the burning of dried plants. Most of these traditions are much older than any of us, and belong to cultures and peoples with whom most of us have no relations. With that in mind, we can acknowledge that in trying to copy these traditions or claim to know them intimately we are at risk of cultural appropriation.

But that is not to say that there’s anything disrespectful in connecting with scent personally in whatever way is meaningful for you. The key is to avoid any action that intends to take ownership over the traditions. Claiming knowledge or connection that you don’t actually have, even in something as casual as dropping a term like “smudging,” is what can be seen as disrespectful.

Burn your herbs in a way that makes the experience a tradition of your own. Find the scents, the oils, and the herbs that feel right for you. You could even make an entire ritual out of foraging for your own local cedar or sweet grass to dry and burn as an incense.

There are lots of plants that you can find at stores or in nature that will release lovely, natural smells when burnt. Here are some that have become popular ingredients in loose incense blends. Try these out as you seek to build your own scented ritual for the new year.

Lavender

Lavender is applauded for its ability to promote relaxation. If part of your goals for 2019 is to let go of stress, using a lavender essential oil or burning dried lavender buds on hot charcoal could be a valuable ritual.

Mugwort

Lots of sources have said that mugwort—a name used for several different plant species in the genus Artemisia—can cause vivid dreaming. You’ll find mugwort in many teas marketed as dream teas. Mugwort can be bought in dried bundles, as well, and burned just as you would with sage. Such an aromatic experience could make for a good evening routine, or would be fit for any use that resonates with the individual.

Palo Santo

This delightful wood comes from trees in the same family as the aromatic resins frankincense and myrrh. But palo santo has a sweeter smell to it, with nutty, almost tropical undertones. The heavy, sweet smoke—so long as you find it agreeable—creates a nice space for any purpose, whether you’re getting set to do yoga, write, read, or host a dinner party. You’ll find palo santo sticks in most places that sell incense, but if you want more you can grab some essential oil or look for a perfume that highlights this note.

Sweet Grass

When sweet grass is burning, it gives off a sweet, vanilla-like scent. This aromatic option is one that you might even be able to forage responsibly in your own neck of the woods, especially if you live in the northwest or northeast states, near the Rocky Mountains, or in southern Canada. You can buy braided sweet grass that’s intended to burn for its sweet scent, but you’ll also find use of the essential oil in mosquito repellents and in perfumes. Sweet grass contains a chemical compound called Coumarin, which is known as the scent of fresh-cut hay, and is used in all kinds of perfumes and scented products.

Burning aromatic plants is certainly not the simplest method of enjoying smells, nor is it at all mobile. But the intentions that have to go into safely burning the dried leaves of your favorite plant are what makes this process a nice supplement to a new routine.

 

Katrina Eresman

The Ghosts In You

ImageThis time of year you might be out performing seasonal Ouija rituals or carving pumpkins or putting together a clever costume. Whatever you’re doing… beware… you’re being followed by ghosts everywhere you go. They are within you. They are a part of you. They are—right behind you even as you read this!

Don’t expect to see a floating white sheet. These ghosts I’m referring to are your memories, some of them hauntingly unpleasant, some of them challengingly influential, some of them sweet and welcome. Want to get in touch with a memory? You can look at photos, read old letters or journals, or experience that ethereal one of the five senses we’re all here to applaud.

Everyone has experienced just how much scent can bring us back to a certain place or time. Smelling the right thing can be like conjuring a dream in the middle of the day. There’s no doubt that smell is a stronger trigger for emotional memories than vision or touch.

Scientists have conducted numerous tests exploring how smell is related to memories and emotions. Our brains are engineered in a way that connects these things to scent more than other senses. We experience smell through the olfactory bulb which directly connects to areas in the brain that are linked to memory and emotion. Signals from sight, sound, and touch, on the other hand, do not pass through these areas. (You can read more on this study and others linking smell to memory here.)

There have been plenty of times I’ve been taken by surprise by memories—sometimes ambiguous, sometimes specific—that arise from a vaguely familiar smell. There’s an artificial berry scent in some chap-sticks out there that take me back to playing in the basement with my sister when I was five. I didn’t even realize that memory existed, couldn’t have described the basement, until I caught a whiff of that smell somewhere. There must be dozens of other ghosts of memories hiding in me, waiting to be remembered…

Maybe sometimes the memories are brought to us through smell by ghosts themselves. Or maybe what we smell is something left behind by those who are no longer with us, as a way for those who have passed to make themselves known again. After all, the dead must like their scents, too.

Paranormal themed websites across the internet share stories of scents with no apparent source. On website comments and forums you’ll find people sharing stories of floral scents at graves with no flowers to be found anywhere, stories of sulfur scented demons, stories of smelling a late relative’s cologne out of nowhere, and plenty of blog posts attempting to explain it. This article on strangerdimensions.com lists several specific cases in which people seemed to perceive the paranormal through smell. Could it be that the ghosts still wear their signature scents in the afterlife?

I think the link between scent and the abstract, ethereal realms is fascinating, so I would love to hear bout your smell-memory links, or any time you’ve sensed something paranormal through scent!

Until then—if you’re looking, I hope you find your ghost… before it finds you! 0_o

By Katrina Eresman

Oakmoss

I just moved into a new apartment that’s a short walk from what was once one of the biggest urban reforestation projects in the country. The 1,500 acres of nature are a fortunate coincident for someone like me, who thrives and heals and finds inspiration in the woods. In case of emergency, though, it’s good to have some items that can call to mind the sort of spiritual inhale that nature can provide. One such tool for me is a whiff of oakmoss absolute.

There are some essential oils and absolutes that really force themselves onto the sniffer’s nose as a 100%, no-doubt-about-it, straight-from-earth product. Oakmoss absolute is definitely one of them. It’s dark and syrupy, like something that would seep from the bark of a 200-year-old tree. The scent is a powerful base note—an essential part of the chypre branch of perfumes. Oakmoss smells just like the dirty, earnest woods, like tree bark or decomposing leaves and branches.

Oakmoss has been relevant in the perfume world for decades, serving as a key ingredient in scents like the original Chanel No. 5. The ingredient has undergone some restrictions over the years due to allergic reactions, calling for classic scents to be reformulated, but it still holds its prominent position in the world of smells. You’ll find it in perfumes like Miss Dior or in Lush bath bombs and, of course, in Possets perfumes.

And now I must direct your attention away from the tiny vial containing the thick, molasses-colored substance and bring you into the woods, where you will see oakmoss as it is before it’s turned into absolute using solvent extraction. Its minty-green color adorns many—you guessed it—oak trees all across the Northern Hemisphere (but it is found on other trees, too). It grows in shapes resembling deer antlers clustered together to make what looks like a little oakmoss bush.

You might not think that something so dainty and light would hold the depths of silvan scent that it does. But what is perhaps even more surprising is the fact that oakmoss isn’t even moss. It’s a lichen.

Now I know this blog is supposed to be about scent, but oakmoss is a staple part of so many perfumes that it deserves a little time in the spotlight being admired for what it is. And what it is is pretty strange and fascinating, if you ask me. Since this is not a science blog and I am no expert, I’ll keep the factual proclamations to a minimum. But to give you some idea of how cool lichens are, here’s an introduction in list-form:

  • Lichens are not plants. They miss our on this categorization because lichen don’t absorb water and nutrients through roots (though they do use photosynthesis). You’re probably aware that fungi aren’t plants, and they aren’t quite animals either. Lichen are like that, and not coincidentally, because…
  • Lichen are actually a unique composite organism created from combing separate organisms, one or more fungi, and/or a cyanobacteria, and/or an alga. The symbiotic relationship between these two organisms living together creates a lichen, which then has its own unique properties. Both fungi and algae have their own kingdom separate from plants and animals.
  • The surface on which a lichen grows is just a substrate—in other words, oak trees and other trees are not being harmed by the oakmoss that makes them its home.
  • Lichen is a tough little organism with a mind of its own. It can grow on just about any surface in just about any climate, from a gravestone in the desert to a rock in the arctic tundra. They’re actually known to grow inside the grains of solid rocks. There are over 20,000 species of lichen, and when a fungi, a cyanobacteria, and an alga can interact with another microorganism in their environment, there’s a possibility of a new and more complex lichen forming.

All this is to say that oakmoss is really something, isn’t it? As far as I know, it’s one of the few all natural absolutes that doesn’t come from a plant. Instead it takes a complex organism built from other non-plants to create the strongest, woodsiest smell. Next time you’re out for a walk in the woods, see if you can spot some lichen—maybe even some oakmoss—and give it a salute for its contribution to perfumes.

By Katrina Eresman

Two Possets fragrances which feature Oakmoss are Landscape in Suffolk and Heka. Both are beautiful and available in sample size!

Tut Tut, Smells Like Rain

HiilaweKauai is one of the wettest places on the planet, and you can smell it. The rain turns into towering waterfalls—which often tumble into paradisal swimming pools—before it seeps into the earth, releasing rich smells from the wet ground in the process. The wet conditions nurture the tropical plants which in turn add their scent to the mix. It’s a jungle of vegetation I’d never seen in my mid-west home—which, frankly I was glad to leave behind for two weeks. I was feeling overwhelmed by the heat and the concrete sprawl and the to-do lists in Cincinnati, so it was a perfect time to head far, far away.

I was up early one Saturday in June, and then four delayed flights, two layovers, and five bags of mini pretzels later I landed in Kauai with my partner and travel companion. The Lihue Airport is mostly open air, save for some of the gates which are enclosed and air conditioned. We landed at night and walked out into a warm baggage claim area which opened to the passenger pickup. With the dark night around us, my nose picked up the novelty of Hawaii’s oldest island before my eyes could take it in.

When I woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning (effortlessly, thanks to the six hour time difference), I looked out the window and saw the mountains and the mist and the dark green vegetation everywhere and started laughing. I could see that the land was as distinguished as the tropical scent that matched it. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Hikes through forests or just hikes down steep, jungly, beach-access trails brought me closer to the island’s smell. When I’m in nature I like to touch and sniff, so I took my time stroking leaves and smelling bark. At one point I picked up a seed or fruit (which I have yet to identify) and carried it around with me for a few hours, sniffing every now and then. It smelled sweet, green, and unripe.

Certain hikes afforded me the opportunity to successfully pick out specific plants that were particularly odorous. One day we drove from our home base at the north shore of the island all the way around to Waimea Canyon. We took several trails for a long hiking day filled with slippery steep climbs, at which time a tree’s sturdy roots were your best friend. The challenge was rewarding and so were the views— especially a close up view at the amazing Waipoo Falls. Somewhere in there I ended up quite a few paces behind the rest of the group when I stopped in a valley of bushes dotted with tiny pink, yellow, and orange flowers in order to scratch and sniff the leaves of these plants—wild sage. Definitely a key element of the spicy, sharp scent of the trail’s atmosphere.

We spent a few days on Maui, too, and took a two-mile hike to what I imagine exactly resembles the Garden of Eden. We came out of a serene bamboo forest into a valley that showcased another massive waterfall. I stood in awe and smelled the heavenly smells, one of which was surely drifting from the white flower just yonder by the edge of the path, just next to the couple taking selfies in front of the falls. It was a white ginger lily, sweet and peppery.

I expect that there’s much more to be discovered in the aromatic corners of Kauai. I suppose I’ll just have to return soon to do more research, this time maybe with a field guide to help me identify the things that really stick out to my eyes and nose. Until then, you might find me ordering some lantana camara and white ginger lily essential oils…

 

By Katrina Eresman