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aromatherapy 101

Fragrance Classifications

The fragrance categories which appear here have been selected because of their popularity. These categories are easily recognized by most people, and they are valuable to the perfumer. It is easy to classify and group materials according to their similarities. Comparing and contrasting materials in each category can also be done easily.

Classification by similarities and differences can be a helpful learning experience and can also focus your "mental" sense of smell. Once you have become familiar with the materials, it will not be difficult for you to remember them. Sense of smell is related to memory. Even after a long period of time, tests have shown an 80% retention in scent identification.

You can simplify your early attempts at potpourri blending if you create a fragrance that represents the overall scent of one of the following categories first, then experiment with the variations. Ohter pages provide representative formulas for each of these categories, along with variations, are presented.


Materials in this category have familiar fragrances: lemon, orange, grapefruit, and tangerine. Bits of peels can be used, or for a more concentrated effect, use the essential oils.

By using citrus-scented herbs, such as lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon thyme, lemongrass, and orange mint, bulk can be added to a citrus potpourri. Citronella oil is extracted from a grass and has a pungent, aromatic citrus fragrance. You may know it as a mosquito repellent, or perhaps you have used it in candles as an outdoor insect repellent.

Bergamot oil has a peppery note of its own, but is best known for the distinctive, sharp, dry, and refreshing odor that is the trademark of citrus fragrances. It is used to scent and flavor Earl Grey tea.

Citrus materials have a cooling effect and are more volatile than any other natural aromatic. Because they evaporate faster, they make very effective "top notes" in potpourri blends. Citrus notes blend well with florals, herbals, mints, spices, and fruit blends.

The popular flower fragrances belong in this category. Jasmine, rose, and orange blossoms are the three queens of perfumery, since they retain their scents when dried. They can also be used for color and texture.

Many flowers lose their perfume after they are dried. Some will even develop unpleasant odors. For this reason, carnation, gardenia, lilac, violet, lotus, magnolia, hyacinth, lily of the valley, mignonette, and ylang-ylang should be used in oil form. Real flower oils are extracted by enfleurage, a process of extracting perfumes by exposing absorbents to the exhalations of flowers. These oils can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars per ounce. There are also high-quality and reasonably-priced synthetics available. Floral notes blend well with every other category. Let your taste in fragrance be the judge of how you will use them.

Certain dried flowers have little fragrance, but can add a marvelous visual impact to your creations with their wonderful colors and textures, Yarrow has big, creamy white panicle; feverfew -- another white flower -- is shaped like a button. Globe amaranth, with its stiff straw-like texture and round shape, is red-violet. These flowers look very much like the common red clover which adorn roadside and field each summer. Calcatrippae flowers are tiny and resemble dried violets. You can get malva flowers in either a deep bluish-purple or black. They have a crepe-paper texture much like the dark, reddish-purple poppies. Hibiscus, which has a crisp texture, is a reddish-black flower. Kesu flowers are bright yellow-orange and look like dried daisies. Clover blossoms, which are white or red, really look more cream or violet-brown. For a delicate celadon green, use hop flowers which are attractively shaped. Spina cristi is a subtle apricot color and also has an appealing shape. Even though all of these blossoms have some fragrance, they are not strong enough to alter a blend or change its nature when used as an accent.

The sweet scents of ripe fruit -- including strawberry, apricot, apple, banana, coconut, pineapple -- are now available in synthetic oils.

Fruit fragrances, when used in small quantities, make effective top notes and are a pleasing addition to almost any blend. Try them with florals, woods, spices, and mints.

The leaves of fruiting plants, such as blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry provide bulk and are also compatible with the fragrance in potpourris of this kind. A delicate fragrance, as well as color and texture, can be added by using rosehips, sumac berries, juniper berries, hawthorne, and elder berries. These materials also give a fruity look to your potpourri.

Hays and Grasses
The scents from hays and grasses are light, dry, delicate, faint, fragile, and slightly sweet. Many dried herbs will have a grassy scent. Their fragrance is neutral and can be used in large quantities to create subtle effects and to add bulk. Sweet woodruff is the best material in this category. Deer's tongue leaves also have a sweet scent, almost like vanilla. Materials which will add a pleasant, light note to floral, herbal, and fruity mixtures are violet leaves, linden leaves and flowers, and uva ursi leaves.

These materials are pungent, sharp and aromatic. They add a slightly bitter effect to a potpourri blend. Lavender is a popular standard in potpourris and sachets, because it adds fragrance, color, and texture. Sage, bay, and rosemary add beautiful texture and fragrance to herbal blends. Patchouli, having a unique earthy scent, has been a favorite in perfumery. Thyme, basil, rue, tansy, southernwood, and wormwood give distinctive fragrances to mixtures.

Herbs can be used dried or as oils. They blend well with florals, fruits, and resins. Many unusual herbs, such as tarragon and parsley seed oils, also have a place in perfumery.

Mints, evergreens, and camphors have distinctive, cool, breezy and refreshing odors. Even though they are valuable in making perfumes, they must be used with discretion; otherwise they will overpower weaker odors. Try wintergreen for its sweetness. Experiment with the special softness of pennyroyal and the touch-of-hay scent of catnip. Eucalyptus has a scent almost like camphor. Peppermint and spearmint are other popular menthol materials. There are so many varieties of mint even botanists are often confused!

Dried mint materials are good for bulk and subtle effects. For more intensity, oils should be used. Menthol blends should be tried with citrus, spices, and florals.

Evergreen oils are available in pine, Siberian fir, thuja cedar leaf, and spruce scents. They can give any blend an exhilarating outdoor touch. Mix these oils with spices to create a special Christmas potpourri.

Resins, Mosses and Roots
This category may be one you are not familiar with. Take the time to get to know these dry, low, sweet materials. They are also fixatives and are an invaluable aid to the perfumer.

Orris root smells faintly of violets, and oak moss is very sweet. For other scents in this category, try angelica, calamus, frankincense, myrrh, and vetiver. Resins, mosses, and roots blend well with all other materials and do a wonderful job of setting off the other materials.

The materials in this category are well-known for their use in perfume and, of course, in cooking. The singular sweet, rich, deep, and warm odors of spices add a special touch. Their interesting and varied shapes are equally helpful to the potpourri artisan. The more unusual cardamom, star anise, and tonka are all worth a try. Allspice, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, mace, and coriander are great in blends with citrus. If you want an unusual sweet and bitter scent, try oil of bitter almond. If sweetness is what you want, use anise. Spices can also be used in oil form.

Spices blend exceptionally well with woods, resin and root fragrances.

Woods and Barks
Trees are not only beautiful, many of them are also fragrant. Sandalwood is wonderful, and cedarwood has a well-known fragrant odor. Woods and barks can either be used in chips or as oils. They blend nicely with florals, animal scents, and resins.

These categories -- plus a little imagination -- will help develop your own blends. Loosely speaking, children tend to favor the fruits and spices categories. Men often choose the resin-mossroots and the woods-barks categories. Women tend to prefer florals, grasses and citrus. Of course, the categories can overlap; each individual is unique, and personal preferences really are not restricted to particular categories.

Use your blends to create an environment: violets blooming at the edge of the woods, snow gently sifting over dried leaves, an early morning walk in a flower garden, the sweet smell of Grandma's kitchen at Christmas. Your potpourri can be a ticket to another time, a sweet reminder of another place, or a bright inspiration to energy and creativity.


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