Last time I gave you a taste of some of the Medieval perfuming ingredients. Here are more:

  • Mint-A lovely fresh topnote from an easy to grow plant. Though it is a very interesting type it does not linger.
  • Calamus-a form of iris known as “Sweet Flag” calamus has an earthy or stone-like part to its fragrance which makes it a refreshing base note.
  • Civet-secretions from the tail gland of an animal I think resembles a raccoon. It smells terrible BUT has the property of lasting a long time and fixing other fragrances. If you use just a little, there is a lovely floral smell to it. Also from the secretions of the musk deer.
  • Cypress-the distillation of the evergreen tree. It is sharp and quite herb-like.
  • Labdanum-a thick and sticky liquid which must be heated to work with. It is from the rock rose plant and has a musty old fashioned smell on its own.
  • Benzoin-a somewhat vanilla-like resin. Rather subdued in its scent, but stays nicely close to the skin.
  • Jasmine-there are many different types of jasmine and the power of its fragrance owes a great deal to the chemical components of each species. There are stinky jasmines like the “January Jasmine”, rather moth ball smelling jasmines like “Maid of Orleans”, and the divine scented jasmines like the “Confederate Jasmine”
  • Chamomile-a fabric and vanilla scented flower which was used for making tea and for aromatheraputic purposes.
  • Oakmoss-a parasitical lichen. It is a light blue-green feathery looking ball and has to be dried to bring out the intense fragrance. A main component of Chypre and a lot of very strong perfumes.
  • And herbs like thyme, rosemary, and tarragon. These were mostly used for top notes and were not considered “high perfume”.

One of the main problems that the Medievals had was how to “fix” a perfume so that it didn’t vanish on the skin or clothes after it dried. Some of the above ingredients were very good for being the bass notes, but you had to exercise caution about that because if you used too much of that it would overpower the blend and you would not be able to smell anything else in it. Civet, labdanum, benzoin, cognac, chamomile and oakmoss were all used to the end of being fixatives. Patchouli is a modern natural perfumer’s fixative, too but back in the Middle Ages, it was wildly expensive owing to its having to come from the far east.

Thank you for reading my thoughts on Medieval perfumery. We are enjoying a Medieval Yule on Possets Perfume right now. Come and join us in our celebration with such perfumes as: Bar Sinister, Courtly Love and The Black Prince.

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