Addicted to the sweet heady scent of lilacs on a spring breeze? Disappointed in synthetic recreations of the scent? Perhaps you have searched in vain for a 'lilac essential oil'?
That's because it doesn't exist! The blossoms are just too darn delicate for steam distillation, or even for a solvent to make an absolute.
One other problem for those wanting to capture the elusive lilac fragrance is that unlike some flowers, the actual petals of lilacs do not have any scent other than a 'planty' odor. When you think about lavender for example, you can crush any part of the plant and you get a beautiful lavender aroma. Not so for our friend the lilac! The scent is produced in the flower itself. This makes extraction extra tricky!
Enter the ancient French tenchnique of enfleurage.
Chronicled below are my experiments and adventures in this old fashioned art form. It does not require any speical equipment, so next spring when your lilacs are blooming, arm yourself with a few easily procured items to capture your own lilac perfume.
The first thing you will need is a steady supply of fresh lilac blooms. Imagine my delight when I found three huge lilacs on the property we recently moved to! My scissors were at the ready as soon as the first few blooms peeked open.
The basic idea behind enfleurage is this: fat absorbs odors. Ever left butter uncovered next to an onion in your fridge? Ewwww...
Well, the idea here is the same. The live lilac blooms are continually producing their signature scent, and layer of some sort of fat is waiting with open arms to receive as much of the perfume as it can.
Why not submurge the blossoms in a liquid oil? Well, think of it as if you were getting a photo of something vs. a video. Submurging the lilac shuts down the scent producing factory, so you may get a tiny snapshot of scent, but by keeping the blooms alive, you get continuously produced scent...make sense? We want the whole scent video here.
First thing to decide is what your fat of choice will be. Pick something solid at room temperature so that your blossoms don't get stuck! Mango butter is a great choice, but I found that a mixture of coconut oil and cocoa butter stayed nice and firm, and it also absorbed the scent even better! Use a refined cocoa butter here....unless you are going for a chocolate-lilac scent!
Here I've got my butter mixture melted together and poured out into a thin layer in a pyrex dish. It's all ready to start absorbing some lilac perfume!
Here are a few tips and tricks I learned along my enfleurage journey:
Make sure your blooms are totally dry before placing them on your fat layer. Water=mold. Mold is bad!
Thoroughly shake out your blossom clusters to dislodge any loose flowers, leaves, or little bugs. It's a pain to fish these out later!
Make sure the fat/butter blend you choose will stay solid at room temperature. It's annoying to find on a warm day that your blend has melted and your blooms are sitting in a pool of oil!
Loosly cover you enfleurage vessel. Again, moisture is the enemy here, and if you cover it tightly you will get condensation . Mold is bad! (See above)
Change out your blossoms daily. We want our fat to smell like lilacs, not rotting plant matter. Do this for as long as you can to maximize scent saturation. My three bushes conveniently staggered their blooming, and I was able to introduce fresh blossoms for 27 days!
The resulting lilac-saturated butter is called a 'pomade'. It smells heavenly!
What to do with your pomade? Make into a hand balm! Soak it in alcohol and blend the resulting fragrant liquid into a one of a kind perfume! Just open the jar and let the scent of spring wash over you in all its gloriousness!
Here are a few extremely limited edition items available containing my lilac pomades: