Grunge and Elegance: Jasmine and New Orleans


800px-Chinesischer_Maler_des_12._Jahrhunderts_(I)_001It’s not just temperatures that change with the seasons. Everything changes with the seasons—people’s attitudes, their moods, clothing fads and shoe selections, plants, and along with plants the natural smells that saturate the atmosphere.

The first time I went to New Orleans it was on a friend’s Groupon whim. Hotel prices were especially low. Little did we know, it was the off-season in the Big Easy. It was August, and it was hot. You couldn’t last a full second outside without becoming sticky and drenched in sweat.

The intensity of the summer season might have added to the intensity of my first impressions. It was like everything was turned to eleven—the temperature, the sun’s rays, the spices in the foods, the noises in the streets, the smells of the hot sidewalks and hot trash and spilt liquor. I loved it.

That time around, my friends and I took the predictable, full-on tourist route. We stayed in the French Quarter, paid pocket change to ride the street car around and look at the big, expensive houses in the Garden District, then rode it north on Canal so we could visit a towering cemetery where it was so hot the above-ground tombs seemed to be melting like huge sticks of butter. In the French Quarter, we took shelter in the fleeting moments of relief when wed walk by shops luring people in off the streets by blasting their air conditioning through propped-open doors. We took ghost tours at night, where we were shuttled around the Vieux Carré beside the masses of hustling cockroaches and other curious visitors, taken by haunted houses that Nicolas Cage once owned, take past churches and shadows and vampire bars. We listened to jazz on Bourbon, we listened to jazz on Frenchman, and we drank two-for-one hurricanes and danced until 4 a.m. We sweated through every bit of it.

Since that first visit, I return to New Orleans whenever I get the chance, growing more acquainted with the city each visit. A few years later, I was back for my third or fourth visit, this time in early April. I was there to see a concert, get a tattoo, and hang around. By now I felt more at ease in the city, felt more like I knew it well enough I didn’t have to go 100% the entire time. I just strolled around, sat around to read and write, and ate plenty of good meals. One morning I was walking through Marigny to get breakfast when I got a whiff of a bush with tiny white flowers in bloom. I didn’t know that it was jasmine then, but I did know that it smelled vaguely familiar, and as lovely as I could imagine. I took a picture of the little white flowers on my phone to research later and continued on my way to my breakfast burrito.

By the time I was flying to New Orleans this past late April, I knew all about jasmine. But I wasn’t expecting to have it greet me so soon—like, the very moment I stepped out of the airport’s automatic sliding doors. I couldn’t see it anywhere, but I knew it was there somewhere because its smell was undeniably in the air.

My friends and I were staying in the Bywater neighborhood, which is a laid-back area with a few cozy bars, a country club with a swimming pool and weekend Drag Brunches, art galleries, and lots and lots of jasmine bushes. I smelled jasmine almost everywhere I went, along with an array of other flowers in their prime bloom. We spent no more than 20 minutes on Bourbon Street, and hardly any time in the French Quarter, where I would surely have found my sweaty, dirty, spicy smells that reminds me of my first trip to New Orleans. I love that smell, too—it’s lively and challenging. But this trip was about sipping gin and tonics on the front porch of our AirBnB, and the jasmine provided a better suited backdrop for that.

With so many rich smells of all kinds filling its air, it’s not the least bit surprising to find several old perfume shops in the city as well as a number of independent, up-and-coming perfume companies. Smell is something that you just can’t ignore in New Orleans, whether you’re enjoying it or not. That particular polarity between the sweet floral notes of spring in the Bywater and the grungy, funky scents that come with late nights out dancing, drinking, and eating yummy street food is akin to the polarity found in jasmine itself.

Jasmine is one of the most cherished absolutes in the perfume industry. The flower is too dainty to go through regular distillation, so the scent was traditionally extracted through enfleurage. Now the industry uses solvent extraction. Even a thousand pounds of jasmine flowers is not quite enough to create one pound of jasmine absolute, hence its high cost. But jasmine is worth the pretty penny, both for its strong staying power, and its complex scent.

No synthetic can really and truly replicate the scent of jasmine. The reason for this is its complex structure, which includes indole and skatole. These are two aromatic organic compounds that jasmine has in common with human feces. In the small doses dealt by mother nature, these add deep, sweet notes to a scent. But too much? You can guess how that might affect a perfume. Thus synthetic jasmine is often a little off, because the balance is just too ineffable to recreate.

Real jasmine absolute shoves all of that amazing, rich smell into a little vessel. It will do the experience some justice if you can’t make it to New Orleans next April. I’ll sniff it like I sniff neroli oil when I miss driving through the _____ region of California in March. Ah, to be a young and free traveler and lover of scent. It’s an element that’s added a new depth to my journeys, and new, stronger ways of evoking memory on demand.

by Katrina Eresman

Training the Nose with Herbs and Spices

spice_turkey_black_pepper_cumin_cinnamon_sweeteners_sunday-879157.jpg!dThe sense of smell provides an amazing way to take in an environment. It helps to set the scene, it creates memories, and it even provides a sense of identity through scents that we wear on our bodies. Aromatherapy can help heal, and being able to smell things like gas or rotting food can help protect us. All of that being said, it pays to be in tune with your own sense of smell, whether for the sake noticing more scents around you, for increasing your ability to taste, or for developing your perfumer’s nose.

One great tool for fine-tuning your sense of smell is probably sitting right under your nose, metaphorically speaking, for now. Literally speaking, it’s probably in the kitchen, and more specifically in your spice cabinet. This shelf is filled with flavors both for the mouth and nose to enjoy, an affordable and readily available organ of olfactory experiences. Just as a perfumer inhales the oils from their organ before adding one to a concoction, so does the chef inhale the scents of their spices to get a feel for what will enhance their recipe.

In fact, many of these same plants, herbs, and spices are regularly used in perfumes at Possets and elsewhere. Take, for instance, black pepper. It adds a little kick to a dish, and does the same for a perfume recipe. A perfumer’s organ might also contain scents like turmeric, ginger, oregano, cinnamon, vanilla, cumin, rosemary, or coriander. All of these scents can be appreciated equally for their contribution to lovely perfumes as well as for their role in delicious meals.

Now that you’re standing in front of this lively library of scents, it’s time to start sniffing. Start with something really familiar to you. That might be oregano, vanilla, or black pepper (but keep your distance so as not to sneeze!). Take a sniff and enjoy the familiar smell. Then, take a second deep inhalation and do your best to notice the smell as if you’d never smelled it before. Try to pick out some adjectives that describe what your nose is experiencing. Is it earthy? Sweet? Citrusy? Warm? Write down a few descriptors so that you can return to your notes later upon a second and third sniff.

If you’re ready for more, a trip to a local market can lead you to a wider range of fresh herbs. Herbs are an excellent tool for training the nose, particularly when starting out, because they’ll cost you much less than essential oils but can still give you a wide range of smells to experience and study. It’s also fun to look up recipes that use these herbs, and compare the way the herbs taste with how they smell.

If you want to follow a three-level practice for developing your nose, you can take a look at this one from Here the author shares some advice from her professional training on how to gradually teach your nose to pick up more scents, starting with casual daily sniffing and ending with intentional morning meditations on scents.

The more often you return to your cabinet or pantry to smell herbs, spices, teas, and oils, the more notes your nose will learn to pickup. Once you’re in the habit of smelling, you might find that you’re sniffing everything around you anywhere you go, changing and even enhancing the way you take in experiences.

by Katrina Eresman

The Scent of Rebellion, Part 2

musk-1In my last post, I gave some background on one of the perfumer’s classic tools: musk. This base note can add a mysterious depth and a strong staying power to a scent. But because this is a scent that’s strictly synthetic these days (actual musk comes from the musk gland of the endangered musk deer) the subject of musk can be a little confusing. Plenty of fragrance manufacturers are making numerous variations on musk these days, so that it’s hard to even know what “musk” really is any more.

Since honest-to-god musk comes from a gland used for secretions meant to attract mates, it’s easy to imagine what that strong, animalic scent might smell like. Perhaps the closest thing we have in the Possets atelier is our bottle of Beaver castoreum(which is not used in any of our blends. It is used for reference). This ingredient comes from the beaver castor sacs, which are located on both male and female beavers at the base of the tail near the anus. The castor sacs let off a secretion—castoreum—that is used to mark a territory. Personally, I don’t find the smell to be unbearable, necessarily—just intense. It’s reminiscent of a petting zoo which, after a little adjusting, can sort of be pleasant on its own.

When it comes to musks, the Possets atelier houses a well-rounded collection. Here’s a little on some of the synthetic musks in our library and a few Possets-specific recommendations to go with them.

White Musk

White musk is the clean linen of musks. It’s light, pure, and very easy on the nose. Its sweet note calls to mind old potpourri, combing the sort of dusty smell associated with the adjective “musky” with that of a sour white grape.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Pleiades

Green Musk

This musk is slightly sweet, but very green, as though the white musk spent a year living in the forest. It’s a leafy sort of scent, like what you might expect from smelling the dry ground in the woods. Imagine the smell of moss, earthy but fresh and spring-like.

Red Musk

Red musk isn’t trying to impress anyone. It’s not going to put on makeup or change its clothes for an evening out. It’s bold, confident, aged, and wise just as it is. Red musk is sharp yet ethereal. It’s the smell of an old man’s study, where cigars and incense have burned, and books have been opened and closed. It’s stale and pungent, like old wood.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Eve

Black Musk

This is a strong base that makes an intense statement when it stands alone. Black musk is heavy and sour, almost like food that’s gone slightly past its expiration date. This bold musk adds a distinguished base to its perfumes.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Black Tea

Vanilla Musk

This one is just what you would think—the sweet dust of white musk with a strong vanilla taffy overtone.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Dance With Me

Nubian Musk

Nubian musk is like vanilla musk with a little more mystique and edge. It’s a sexy, sweet, feminine musk scent that calls to mind a dusty street-side market with music and dancing, the beautiful celebration of life through dance and seduction.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: Sweet Arabia

Musk al Saher

This ingredient feels like a perfume on its own. For some reason it reminds me of a scent that would be worn by a school teacher, the sweet smell of a biology teacher’s perfume that contrasts with the smell of formaldehyde.

Musk Supreme

Take the one singular element that all of these musks have in common and this would be it. Musk supreme is a classic, middle-ground musk scent.

Possets Perfume Recommendation: She Walks in Beauty


The last scent on the list is, like the beaver castoreum, an ingredient that’s much closer in nature to true, animal-sourced musk. Civet is a secretion from the civet cat that, again, is used to mark territory. Believe me—you’ll be able to distinguish the civet’s territory from the beaver’s because these two animalic scents are very different. While castoreum is a round, sort of familiar smell, civet is sharp, aggressive, and altogether unpleasant to this author’s nose. Still, like magic, civet blends together with other ingredients to create some of the most spectacular perfumes.

Possets Perfume Recommendations: Over the Rhine, Eve, Howl

By Katrina Eresman

The Scent of Rebellion, Part 1

musk-1Musk is one old-school scent. Its history stretches back thousands of years, during which time it was used not only for its smell but also for medicinal purposes. The intense smell of musk might call to mind anything from a mother’s perfume cabinet to a walk in the woods. It’s difficult to assign any descriptive words to musk with certainty, since there are so many different kinds of musk to be smelled.

No matter the variant, there are a few characteristics that most musks seem to share: they’re earthy, intense, oddly sweet, raw and sexual. Musk has a strong staying power so it’s a perfect base note. If you’re feeling down-to-earth, sassy, elegant, old-fashioned, determined, androgynous, feminine, masculine, or anything in between, you might want a musky perfume to reflect your mood.

(Disclaimer: I know, I know. So far this article is not helping you choose your new favorite musk perfume. First we have to talk about musk’s history. Then in part two we’ll take a closer look to the variants of musk and some of Possets’ muskiest perfumes.)

Musk derives its name from the musk deer. You’ll find these slender yet sturdy, small-tusked mammals roaming the mountains of southern Asia in countries like China, Siberia, and Mongolia. Today their lives are much more peaceful than they may have been during the 19th century and before, when their musk glands were still being harvested for the pungent scent they carried.

The musky scent was obtained from the secretion in the animal’s musk gland. The musk gland forms on mature male musk deer, and is located in front of the penis. The gland resembles a scrotum and earned the deer—and this scent—its name, which ultimately comes from the Sanskrit word mushkas for testicle. In order to harvest the secretion, the musk deer would have to be caught and killed and the gland removed. Once removed, the secretion would be dried and turned into a tincture with alcohol.

When a musk deer is alive and well, it probably uses this scent to attract potential mates—which reflects one reason why we may choose it in our perfumes. In both cases, a little goes a long way. Musk that isn’t diluted is overwhelmingly powerful and perhaps even unpleasant.

Today the musk deer is endangered, and thankfully that old process of obtaining musk is illegal. Long before anyone was concerned with the well-being of the musk deer, there was still want for a synthetic version, simply because the process of obtaining natural musk was so difficult. Musk was, and still is, one of the most expensive animal products in the world.

Now the perfume industry—Possets included—uses all synthetic musks. Even all-natural companies will include a disclosure to confess that their products must contain a synthetic musk ingredient for the well-being of the animals.

Synthetic musks have contributed plenty to the perfume world. They’re used in big, classic scents like Shalimar by Guerlain and plenty of smaller, boutique perfume lines. Musk serves very well as a strong, long-lasting base note, and the pungent addition of its scent tends to round out a perfumer’s composition nicely.

The production of synthetic musk has also lead to an expansion of the musk library. If you shop for raw ingredients for mixing perfume, or read the notes on already-made perfume products, you’ll find all sorts of different musks: dark musk, white musk, Nubian musk, Egyptian musk, Woody musk… the list goes on. On the one hand, the more musks available as ingredients, the more possible combinations. On the other hand, if ever there was a truly musk-scented synthetic musk, that scent is probably lost in the sea of musk variants. This leads to some confusion, too, when a scent is described as “musky” because it could mean a number of different things.

Humans have been using musk since at least 3500 B.C. It’s been used in rituals, as incense, as perfume, even as a breath-sweetening lozenge. The history of musk’s role in society and perfume is just as interesting as the tragic and peculiar source of its natural scent. (I, myself, would like to know more about who discovered musk way back in the day—and how. But so far it seems the discovery of the musk deer’s musk gland will remain a mystery.)

Musk was imported to different corners of the world from places like China and northern India. It was adored by Elizabethans, and was mentioned by poets and playwrights throughout the years.

In 1888 the first synthetic musk was developed. This was the early stage of synthetic scents, and the second half of the 1800s also brought a synthetic formulations for vanilla and violets.

In the 20th century, musk continued to be valued as a strong, long-lasting addition to many perfumes from the biggest perfume houses. It makes sense, then, that musk has an old-fashioned association for many people.

But about mid-way through the century, the intense, sexy scent of musk made a different type of association for itself. New, inexpensive scents came out using strong synthetic musk as their star note, and were marketed towards the younger generations emphasizing a sense of rebellion and sexual liberation. Musk became something akin to the scent of rebellion in the hippie generation, its sexual properties both intuitively in line with things like rock and roll, and also blatantly enforced as means for advertising.

For instance, Jovan Musk oil, which was created by an entrepreneur in Chicago in the early ’70s, was sold with a tagline that read, “It releases the animal instinct.” Like patchouli, musk was largely associated with hippies and head shops until the 1980s when musk began to find its way back into upscale perfume as well. It was as if either the hippies had grown up and needed a perfume reminiscent of their freer days, or as if the older generation wanted it to be their turn to go a little primal with their scents, but would only do so if they were sold from elegant cosmetic counters.

Either way, musk sales saw a major increase in the early 1980s. Since then, the scent has played a consistently relevant and intriguing role in some of the most desirable perfumes out there—including many by Possets.

by Katrina Eresman

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

Cheers to Tapputi

800px-Myths_and_legends_of_Babylonia_and_Assyria_(1916)_(14801964123)I have a lame excuse that tends to keep me from following through on ideas: someone has already done this thing, and surely much better than I.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people find themselves in the thralls of similar thought processes. Especially in today’s society, with social media providing potentially distorted and incomplete stories, it’s easier than ever the compare oneself to others and their accomplishments.

In the same vein, though, it’s easy to find inspiration and ideas by looking at people who have gone through the trial and error to develop a skill or accomplishment that you admire.

No one can really be the first at anything anyway—at least, not for certain. The best we can point to is the first record of something.

Like the first perfumer, for instance. Who could it have been?

The first record of a perfumer is one of a chemist named Tapputi who was mixing up scents around 1200 BC. This, anyway, is when a certain cuneiform tablet from Babylonian Mesopotamia was written, mentioning her role as a perfumer and overseer of the Royal Palace. The tablet describes Tapputi and an assistant as being perfumers who used methods like distillation to extract the essences of various materials.

Not only is Tapputi the first perfumer on record, but she is the first known chemist, too.

To those websites I found who referred to Tapputi as a “he”—I scoff at you and am saddened by your assumptions. There are entire books dedicated to shining light on non-male scientists who have had a huge influence on the field throughout history. Check out the aptly-named “Women of Science: Righting the Record,” a collection of essays written by female scientists about female scientists. Or look at “Women in Chemistry: Their Changing Roles from Alchemical Times to the Mid-Twentieth Century, ” by Marelene F. Rayner-Canham and Geoffrey W. Rayner-Canham. Both mention Tapputi as the first chemist and perfumer. Let us give credit where credit is due.

In the latter publication, the two authors speculate that perfumery would have come naturally to women because so many of the materials and tools would have been tools also used with culinary endeavors in the kitchen. Cooking and baking in particular are definitely their own forms of chemistry. I remember fondly my first day of chemistry class in high school when my teacher brought in cookies made of three different recipes and had us compare their recipes with their tastes. You could have a similar type of fun with three different perfumes which, like cookies, each have their own specific recipes.

Was Tapputi a good cook? I don’t know. What did her perfumers smell like? I don’t know that either. What I do know is that Tapputi did the thing—and probably well, if people were making records of her work. Perhaps she had some unknown mentor that taught her about distillation and mixing essences. Or maybe she taught herself everything on her own. One thing is certain—she didn’t let any ideas about unoriginality stop her. She experimented, discovered, and produced perfumes that people could enjoy.

by Katrina Eresman

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


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!

Better Than Gold: What Makes Frankincense and Myrrh Worthy of Holy Gifting


Since I grew up going to a nondenominational church, Christmastime always had some religious undertones. There was never a Christmas season that lacked a reading about the birth of Christ. I’d heard it so many times that as a child I tended to zone out a little. But there was one mental image that always grabbed my attention—the gifts from the three wise men.

With most stories I cherished as a child, there are particular images still with me, ingrained into my mind. Some are from pictures in the books, and some are from my imagination. Since most Bibles aren’t picture books, I think I am responsible for the image of the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the three Magi brought to baby Jesus. Maybe it was just me equating these unfamiliar substances with the gold they accompanied, or maybe it was thanks to the theatrical reading of some Sunday school teacher out there somewhere. Somehow I obtained a mental picture of three fellows making a long journey on foot, pushing against harsh winds, their eyes squinting, and their arms cradling vessels filled with glittering, precious jewel-like substances that stood out like comets against the black, empty night.

Truthfully, my idea about these satchels was not so far off. Both frankincense and myrrh are resins that come from specific tree saps. The sap is collected and dried, and what’s left are little gem-like rocks, usually in shades of amber. When packaged with the gold, this Biblical gift set must have looked quite lovely.

As far as I can tell, there’s no direct answer as to why these were the three gifts specifically chosen for such a momentous occasion beyond that at the time, frankincense and myrrh would have been just as valuable, if not more so, than gold. Thus it may have just been a very sophisticated and generous gesture. Other people have speculated that the two resins were gifted for their health benefits. Because, like many natural essential oils, the oils extracted from these resins are said to do more than just give off pleasant scents.

Like what, you ask? Well frankincense—which has a sweet, almost floral smell—is known as an anti-inflammatory, and it’s also used in many beauty products for its benefits to the skin. Frankincense is known to decrease wrinkles and scars, and to get ride of dark circles under the eyes. (Of course, baby Jesus probably wasn’t too worried about wrinkles.)

The frankincense gifted by the Magi could have also been intended for ceremonial purposes. The resin has been used for thousands of years with meditation, in sanctuaries, and in religious ceremonies. It’s mentioned quite a few times in the Bible. In fact, there’s so much to be said about this resin and oil that there are entire books written about its history.

Contrary to frankincense, myrrh has a very earthy, heavy scent that might call to mind dirt or the bark of a tree. Its name means “bitter,” and while its pungent scent may be described as that, it’s still adored and used in all sorts of perfumes and incenses. It’s also used in its own share of skin care products. Myrrh has healing properties, too, as it can treat minor skin ailments and relieve pain from aching muscles.

Myrrh is particularly known for its role as an antiseptic in oral hygiene products. Add a couple of drops of pure, natural myrrh essential oil to your toothpaste before brushing next time for an additional oral hygiene boost. It has its own long history, playing big roles in Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic healing, religious ceremonies, and more. There’s just as much to be learned about myrrh as there is about frankincense, so if you’re curious and want to go deeper into its current and historic uses you should have no trouble finding resources.

Perhaps now you might have some better understanding of why these two humble resins earned a starring role in a seriously famous story. Of course you can find both frankincense and myrrh in many different Possets scents, including one of my favorite Yule Retour scents, Saturn. But I also recommend getting your hands on some essential oils—or even the natural resins—of both of these scents and exploring them in their purest state.

Whether you’ll be reading the story of the Three Wise Men or celebrating the end of December with some other tradition, I hope you all enjoy the rest of your Yule season.

by Katrina Eresman