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


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!

Cambienne: An Ever Changing River of Perfume.

cambienne2018The French word for change is Cambienne.

“Cambienne” is also the name that Fabienne gave to a series of perfumes that began in 2007. Each year’s Cambienne began in the first quarter of that year. It is made only once. After so much of that first Cambienne is sold, the remaining is used as the base for the next Cambienne, and so on throughout the year. Each new blend builds upon the past, growing ever more complex throughout the year. A truly inspired idea.

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus held that all things constantly change and that change is the essence of the universe. In his most famous dictum, “No man ever steps in the same river twice”, Heraclitus points out that the river is in constant change as the water flows from one moment to the next or from one place to another.

Two weeks ago, I consulted an old book of early Greek philosophy. I turned to the chapter on Heraclitus. After a few pages, I came upon a line that took me by surprise: “…even the posset separates if it is not stirred!” We believe it is time to stir things up a bit.

We will be starting a new Cambienne for 2018, beginning with the first Cambienne recipe that Fabienne created and released on March 1, 2007. Given Heraclitus’ consideration of the posset in terms universal, Possets’ first Cambienne of 2018 will be named “The Same River Once”. It will be released on March 1, 2018, exactly 11 years after Fabienne’s first Cambienne release.

After that, at some point, when the muse reveals herself, a new Cambienne will flow forth.

by Tom

Go US!

Well...I have always known that University of Cincinnati College of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning (DAAP, my alma mater) was a great place but it’s nice to be recognized by an independent entity as a great city for commercial and industrial design. That really makes me proud of Cincinnati and all the hard work we put into what we do.

I have been to some of the shows at DAAP at the end of the school year and just looking at what they produce for their design classes is really exciting. It’s what they do when they hit the street and start working in earnest that pays off.

So, go us. I couldn’t be gladder!

This blog is brought to you by Possets Perfume which is featuring The Sicilian Summer 2014 Collection now. The Sicilian Summer Collection is loaded with glorious fragrances perfect for the heat and redolent with the rich beauty of the Mediterranean.


Making Scents Of Sicily-Part 2

Well...Today we are going to explore more typical scents which inspired the Sicilian Collection at Possets Perfume.

Coffee-Everyone loves the particular smell of fresh ground coffee and Sicily is awash in espresso machinery of all types. From the classic upended tank with an eagle on top to the modern computery looking ones, Sicilians adore everything about the process and the product. You can smell coffee everywhere in the mornings and afternoons in the streets of any Sicilian city. Coffee has found its way into perfume as well, and one of our most popular fragrances was a coffee based creation. The Sicilian Collection is no different yet I have used a light and subtle hand with coffee in a summer series, and you won’t smell it up front but it does insinuate.

Black Pepper-Nothing quite matches the pop and woody zizzle of black pepper. I put it in Sicily and it ads such a mad-good edge. Black pepper is found in a number of famous fragrances throughout the years and is considered a classic ingredient.

Pink Pepper-One of the most memorable meals I had in Sicily had the surprising feature of Pink Peppercorns in a sauce covering pappardelle noodles. A bit more aromatic in a plant way than black pepper, the pink variety must be treated delicately so as not to overpower a fragrance. It should be an enhancement to the background, not a foreground “announcer”.

Hay-The smell of drying hay or dry grasses in the hills is truly marvelous on Sicily. The weather turns hot and dry right after the verdant spring and that is when that wonderful smell of dried grass starts to haunt you. Again, this is a surprisingly strong element and best in the summer as an ornament rather than the star player.

Basil-The quintessential herb and hallmark of southern Italian cooking, basil is prized for its licorice-like scent and ability to conjure hot summer days. Basil is featured in the 100% Natural blend Triskelion to great effect.

Jasmine-May and June are the best times for that sweetest of flowers, Mediterranean jasmine. Everywhere the mad vine displays its small white flowers and creamy fragrance. Very different from the “stinky” varieties, this jasmine is so beautiful it can break your heart. I grow it at home. Since jasmine is so very Sicilian, I put it in my perfume called Mafia to great effect.

Fig-This has been a dark, syrupy summer favorite for many years. A natural partner for the heavier elements like patchouli, musk, and nag champa; fig can range from a molasses-like variety to a very green and light scent. Prestidigitazione and Scylla have fig in them and are luscious.

Cucumber-On a hot dry island, cucumber is bound to be a favorite treat, and the scent of it instantly signals coolness and wet. Arabic influence in cuisine can be seen in the liberal use of spices, a bit of hot pepper, and cucumber. The scent mingles deliciously with a great many elements and I have not used it as a central part of my Sicilian Collection but as a very effective piece of scenery.

Violet-The beautiful purple flower is usually associated with Parma but grows in the shady bowers of Sicily as well. A favorite among the aristocrats in the classic The Leopard, violet has enjoyed a renaissance in the 21st century among perfumers and their fans. I use it as a tribute to the glorious Angelica of that novel, and her perfume Bouquet a la Marechale.

This blog is brought to you by Possets Perfume which is featuring The Sicilian Summer 2014 Collection now. The Sicilian Summer Collection is loaded with glorious fragrances perfect for the heat and redolent with the rich beauty of the Mediterranean.


Making Scents Of Sicily-Part 1

Well...At Possets we were determined to make a perfume collection based on the glorious island of Sicily. That is a pretty big ambition. Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean and has so much to choose from. I decided to go with the lush notes I remembered there.

Oranges and Lemons-The citrus fruit of Sicily is justifiably famous. It is truly the most fragrant and suave of all the citrus I have encountered. I was lucky enough to get there at the end of the blood orange season, too! Blood oranges look just like regular small oranges until you cut them open, the interior is burgundy red and the taste is unequaled anywhere. Once I ordered orange juice and got a glass of what looked like tomato juice. Then I tasted it and realized I was one of the luckiest of breakfasters! Fortunes have been made and lost on citrus. The Arabs conquered Sicily and brought the orange groves and lemon blossoms which gave the island its most famous crop, and the poll position as citrus grower for the entire of Europe. The orange and lemon essential oils used in the Sicilian Collection at Possets are either of Italian origin or pure blood orange. They are lovely top notes, and with a bit of magic can be made to stick around and mellow into the rest of a perfume.

Bergamot-A sort of big thick skinned citrus fruit, you are more familiar with it as the defining scent in Earl Grey tea. A middle note of great character, I always think of it as the soul of sophistication.

Myrtle-All around ancient ruins you can smell myrtle pouring out its essence to the sun. I could not find much of it about, and I have always thought that it was a very strong and volatile aromatic, but without the hostility of turpentine. A small amount has the power to transform a mundane perfume into a head turning scent of a strong and very sexy perfume. It was one of the herbs associated with Venus.

Rosemary and Sage-Two exceptionally Italian herbs which can make up a whole entrancing new character when lightly added to dishes or perfume. Again these herbs grow wild around the undisturbed spots and are part of the memories you will take away with you. They found their way into quite a few of my blends this time and handily conveyed the idea of Sicily. Clary Sage was also part of this herby mix and added a warmth and snugness which you can’t quite get with the oils of the other two.

This blog is brought to you by Possets Perfume which is featuring The Sicilian Summer 2014 Collection now. The Sicilian Summer Collection is loaded with glorious fragrances perfect for the heat and redolent with the rich beauty of the Mediterranean.


Spring Evidence

What a welcome clump of crocus! 12 more days of winter!

True Bathos-The Denouement Part 6

The next day dawned. The light broke in the East and my world was cradled in a mauve glow. I got my coffee and worked a bit on the computer. At 8 the phone rang, it was Tim Aufdemkamp. Tim has this ability to sound like he is unearthly calm about everything and this was no exception.

“I had a talk with Gus at Bidets4U and put Dan on the line, too. I think that we have it all figured out. If you like, I can have Dan out to you in half an hour and we can install the bidet and faucet for you today,” said Tim in a lilting way.

“Great!” I said through the suspicion that something awful would happen just as it had before, would the universe right itself? I was hearing strains of Tristram and Isolde. “I need to buy a new faucet though, Dan said that the one we got wasn’t very good. But have Dan come over and I will be sure to have the faucet for him by the time he finishes the bidet.”

I tell my husband who looks delighted and puzzled. He will be sure to let Dan in when he comes but I have to hurry back. I hare off in my car toward Van Schmeers’ Plumbing Showroom. I feel like an ICBM missile. I have a mission. I will accomplish it through the akk-akk guns of salesmanship, and return mission accomplished.

I enter Van Schmeer’s. “May I help yoooo? Oh, you were here yesterday,” states the lady behind the desk. She tells me that Anne is free and can help me.

Anne is even more nervous today than she was yesterday. But…she stops squirming and chewing when she sees me walk in. I look totally insane. I am. I don’t care.

“Hi, I want a chrome bathroom faucet on an 8″ center with some kind of white porcelain trim. I need to have it in stock because I have to take it home now. Do you have anything like that?” I am kind of gulping my words.

“What is your style?”says Anne as she normally does. Then she looks at me and realizes she isn’t talking to someone who is going to go for Fun Gothic or High Flambeau taps. I told her what I want. She scurries to the showplace and shows me one and only one style but it matches what I am looking for. I try to show my husband on my phone using Facetime. Fail, that only works on Wi-Fi or something. I explain it to him, he says it’s great. I think he would have said that even if I had said,”I found some wooden taps trimmed in duct tape and oddly shaped Barbie heads.” OK-Fine.

I pay, I leave, I get home. Dan has miraculously finished installing the bidet and as I enter the upstairs bathroom, my husband and Dan are happily admiring Dan’s handiwork. I deliver the faucet and am much relieved. I dare not mention the contretemps of yesterday. Dan seems totally over it. Maybe the drubbing he got from Gus softened him up but I see before me a New Man: happy to plumb, wise and resourceful, ready at the know. It is a miracle.

So, the faucet was installed with no incident. Monies were paid and the Aufdemkamp truck chuffed off to its next assignment.

And so, I am enjoying the healthful and hygienic benefits of  bidet ownership and highly recommend them to all and sundry who read this. If Dr. Oz himself commends it, one must take notice. And I call to your attention to the fact that patient unremunerated toil will eventually yield the desired result and in some cases it is a lifelong desire, even if somewhat off the beaten path.

Fabienne Christenson is the President and Head Perfumer of Possets Perfume and likes to write a bit from time to time especially about strange or funny things that happen to her and the best ones are both strange and funny at the same time.

Seamus Heaney In Cincinnati

Tonight my husband and I are going to hear Seamus Heaney at the Weston courtesy of The Mercantile Library. I am looking forward to it a great deal as the following is one of my favorite poems. By the way, when we visited Gallarus Oratory we had to walk down paths lined with blooming fuchia and large, fat, shiny, furry bees were everywhere in a frenzy to drink the nectar. As we walked down the path, we would collide with mad bees which would bounce off our arms, chests, and faces and keep on flying to the next flower. I thought about that at the end of this poem:

In Gallarus Oratory
by Seamous Heaney

You can still feel the community pack
This place: it’s like going into a turfstack,
A core of old dark walled up with stone
A yard thick. When you’re in it alone,
You might have dropped, a reduced creature,
To the heart of the globe. No worshipper
Would leap up to his God off this floor.

Founded there like heroes in a barrow,
They sought themselves in the eye of their King
Under the black weight of their own breathing.
And how he smiled on them as out they came,
The sea a censer and the grass a flame.

Ambergris…Squid Beaks…and Moby Dick!

I say, that the motion of a Sperm Whale’s flukes above water dispenses a perfume, as when a musk-scented lady rustles her dress in a warm parlor.—Moby Dick, Chapter 92.

This story had me as soon as I turned on A boy found a huge lump of ambergris on the shore in England. It looks like a hunk of bread and is worth a fortune! Ambergris is a rare perfuming ingredient which smells like rubbing alcohol without the volatility. It is thought to be a waxy secretion from the bowels of the sperm whale which protect the walls of their intestines from the beaks and sharp parts of their main food and nemesis, the giant squid. Ambergris is known for a high keyed and long lasting musk-like character. You will probably never handle it in your lifetime but there are simulations which come very close to the real thing. Karanal is one of them but there are others, more natural choices being cypress oil used with patchouli in the proper proportions, and some use labdenum. I have used quite a few of these simulations in my work and they are exquisite. It is a clean but sensual smell, and if properly done (and this is difficult) the animalic side of it all is preserved and served up to your nose in the nicest possible way.

An entire book has been written on the subject, and I am going to get it, of course. Floating Gold is the title and I am sure that it mentions Herman Mellville’s observations on ambergris, too. If you are a fan of perfumery, don’t miss reading Moby Dick; it’s a masterpiece of story telling. Some of the best parts are found in Mellville’s recounting of what life was like on a whaling vessel.

Sometimes, when you are a perfumer, you take an element and you use it as a central theme for the rest of the blend. It is the star and the other parts are bit players who are there only to enhance the main character. I believe a good example of this is Joy by Jean Patou which dances around jasmine in the most sinuous way. I have showcased the spirit of ambergris most notably in my perfume, Fascinator. Everything which went into that blend was there to compliment the divine smell of ambergris and ambergris is so agreeable that it consorts with a great many other wonderful accords and essences to fabulous advantage.

I just do envy that little boy, though, and mostly because he got to actually smell real ambergris. What a treat!