Finding Scent, Light, and Well-Being at the Krohn Conservatory

This past Thursday I made my way to the Krohn Conservatory for the second time in three days. It was 3:23 p.m. when I arrived, and the late afternoon lighting gave the greenhouse a significantly different feel than that of my 1:30 p.m. visit two days prior. It’s one of many subtleties that make this Cincinnati greenOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhouse ever-changing and worth regular visits.

I decided to invest in a membership to the Krohn, since I’ve found it’s such a true haven during the winter. It’s not just the cold of winter that gets to me. It’s the sterility of the environment, the fact that there are no lush, natural smells like in other seasons. Winter perhaps has its own smells, or the implication of smells if nothing else. The sharpness of ice, or the rich smell of wet, dead leaves when that ice melts.

There’s also the silence—winter is often so quiet. But this element, and the others I mentioned, are all resolved in the Krohn Conservatory just by its nature. The greenhouse, which was built in 1933, is open year-around and houses over 3,500 species of plants from all over the world. Since two of its main rooms are the Palm House and the Tropical House, the temperatures are always warm inside, the soil and air are moist, and the atmosphere is filled with a scent that I feel is best described as “green.” A 20-foot waterfall in the Palm House creates a constant, ambient rush of sound.

Krohn Conservatory is one of many prized gems in Cincinnati, the home of Possets Perfume. It started as a much smaller greenhouse in 1894, then called the Eden Park Greenhouse. To get to the Krohn Conservatory, one has to drive up a winding hill through Eden Park, past some remarkable views of the Ohio River, classic to Cincinnati style. When you approach the glass Art Deco building that is the Krohn, you immediately lay eyes on big, flat, green leaves that are pushing themselves against the windows, trying to get closer to the sun.

When you walk in, the overwhelming but welcome smell of earth greets you at the door. It smells warm and alive and had me eager to get a closer smell of the components that make up this powerful scent. But as I walked the path around both the Palm House and the Tropical House, close sniffs and examination of most of these plants revealed nothing to me. Of course, I am only an amateur seeking to learn. Perhaps a more trained nose could find the subtleties that blend to make the natural, earthy perfume that fills the air. As for me, I hardly found any distinguishable scents, save for a few light and sweet blossoms of hibiscus or powderpuff.

I stuck my nose here and there. Despite my cluelessness, I was still determined to experience the Krohn Conservatory with all of the senses. I leaned into a corner of the soil where retired pink powderpuff blossoms have fallen next to begonias that creep around ferns. The soil smelled like wet earth, reminded me of playing outside after a rainstorm. I wondered how the scent would translate as a perfume on the body before wandering into the next room where citrus trees and bright hyacinths filled the air with vivid smells—smells that I could pick out.

I expect that as the seasons change and the cycles move forward, the smells inside of the Krohn will evolve and change, like the lighting does over just a period of hours. I’m looking forward to revisiting regularly with my (very affordable) annual membership. It’s a glorious little haven in the winter, and while I spend my down time reading there I will also be keeping an open eye and nose for the changes that occur to the thousands of plants within.

 

Katrina Eresman

A Rose for St. Fabian’s Day

What does holiness smell like? If you turn to Catholic tradition for your answer, you’ll find that it smells floral. At least, that’s one of the biggest notes often used to describe the odor of sanctity, an alleged smell given off by the body of a Saint who has recently passed. The flowery smell drifts up from the body in one final indication that this person was in close connection with the divine during their life.

Lots of people translate the “odor of sanctity” in this way—as the literal scent that emanates from a saintly corpse. Others take the phrase to be more abstract. In such an interpretation, the odor of sanctity refers to the holy aura of a Saint, their pure state of being and their freedom from mortal sin at death. To die in such conditions is to die in the odor of sanctity.

When the odor of sanctity is described as an actual smell, it’s usually said to contain hints of flowers like roses and lilies, or spices like myrrh and cinnamon. The best of these notes are combined in the Possets blend St. Fabian Perfume Oil, which Fabienne created to honor her patron saint.

She first released this perfume in 2008, and described its origins in a blog post on St. Fabian’s Day in 2011. Here she gives a brief history of St. Fabian himself, and what made him a remarkable holy figure. The legend says that St. Fabian was elected as Pope when a dove landed on his head. The arrival of the bird was interpreted as a sign from the Holy Ghost that Fabian, once a humble farmer, was meant to be the next Pope. You’ll find that the St. Fabian Perfume Oil features a dove on its label as a reference to this piece of the story.

Fabienne dedicates most of her post to a more complete story of what made St. Fabian a leader worth honoring. For instance, during his time as Pope, he was able to retrieve the bones of two late saintly figures who had died in exile so that they could receive proper burials in Rome. When St. Fabian passed, if the lore of the odor of sanctity is true, he surely must have been surrounded by a cloud of rosy, resinous scent.

In keeping with Fabienne’s tradition, Possets will only sell the St. Fabian Perfume Oil blend on St. Fabian’s Day, January 20th, from 12:00 midnight to 11:59 p.m. here. Its main note is a fresh rose accord that immediately transports you to a lovely spring garden. A touch of amber and incense finishes this simple, feminine, beautiful perfume.

If you’re living in a place with a cold winter (like the presently snow-covered Cincinnati) this rosy perfume might be a great tool for wishing away the winter blues. And even if you’re not, the scent of holiness as interpreted by Fabienne is still a beautiful Possets oil to add to your collection. I’m addicted to its light, natural beauty, and would have to feel in awe of anyone who smelled this way during their transition into the afterlife.

Katrina Eresman

The Sexy But Obsolete Method of Enfleurage

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Tom Robbins’ novel “Jitterbug Perfume” spends part of its narrative following a perfumer named Madame Lily Devalier. She and her assistant V’lu are in New Orleans attempting to craft their comeback perfume as part of a plot that follows a handful competing perfumers (and a couple of immortals, too). They’re looking to create the perfect ingredients, so when Madame Devalier finally gets her hands on some of the finest jasmine flowers this side? of the Mississippi, she knows that she has to be careful. Jasmine flowers are ever so dainty and fragile, and unlike a rose, you can’t get its scent from steam distillation. No, flowers like jasmine and orange blossoms require a special treatment. And when this dawns on Madame Devalier, she exclaims, “So you know how we are going to handle it? Papa’s fat!”

Hmm? you may say. Fat in perfume?

Yes, what this boisterous, sneaky, competitive perfume genius is talking about is enfleurage, a process of extracting essences that’s over a century old. Enfleurage uses animal fats to draw the scent out from the more delicate flowers. These scents are soluble in the fats, so that when the flowers are soaked in lard or tallow long enough, the fat will become saturated with their essence. From there, the scented fat—aka enfleurage pomade—takes a bath in ethyl alcohol, which causes the fragrant molecules to leave the fat in favor of the alcohol.

For centuries enfleurage remained a choice way to get some of the finest essential oils from plants. The process is long and tedious, and for that reason is no longer commercially viable. Since its development, perfumers have found more efficient ways of extracting the scents from flowers that aren’t distillation friendly.

Like many things that are forced to prioritize functionality and practicality, the newer methods sacrifices the romantic, sensual, and beautiful qualities of enfleurage. The process of enfleurage would last for multiple days, the fats taking their time to patiently, gently call forth every molecule of scent from the blossoms. Flowers or petals would be placed by hand between two glass plates, both covered in a layer of fat. A wooden frame was used to press and hold the two plates together with the plants and fat in between. It took anywhere from one to three days for the fats to draw every fragrant molecule out of the plants, at which time the old flowers were replaced with a fresh batch. Another day or two would pass, and they would be replaced again until the enfleurage pomade had become satisfyingly scented.

As was true with perfumers in the non-fiction world, Madame Devalier was well-aware of the effectiveness of this old, traditional method that her father and the perfumers before them would use. It would take hours, but when you’re dedicated to the product, who cares? The long process of enfleurage is as lush and rich as a powerful floral scent itself.

If you’re a curious and driven DIY kind of person, take note that enfleurage is a relatively accessible project. It just takes time, patience, and plenty of flowers. But with spring a ways off on the horizon, you might be able to find generous resources—like violets—that could serve as a perfect ingredient for experimentation. There are a number of instructional tools online, like this one from “The Aromatherapy Book” by Jeanne Rose, which has you using carrier oils rather than fats. If you decided to embrace some form of enfleurage with some of the flowers from your garden or elsewhere, be sure to let us know how it goes!