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Daphne Perfume Newsletter

This month we are going to diverge a bit into a new area of perfume exploration with the specific focus on a particular flower--that of Daphne odora. As fate would have it I spent my career as a professional horticulturist which included starting a fresh and dried cut flower farm with my mom in the Sierra Nevada mountains, working on a farm in India from 1971-1976, establishing a food producing and ornamental landscape for Village Homes in Davis, California and serving for 10 years as a lead gardener and assistant garden superintendent on the Filoli Estate south of San Francisco.Those who are interested in gardening may enjoy looking at the Village Homes and Filoli websites.


Even now Suzanne and I enjoy having a large ornamental and herb garden around our house in Port Angeles that is populated with conifers, heaths, heathers, peonies, many varities of thyme, maple trees etc.

This intense involvement with flowers, shrubs, vines, trees, herbs, etc brought me in contact with many old fashioned flowers which possess wonderful odors and last year I decided to try my hand at recreating these aromas using natural absolutes, essential oils, attars, co2 extracts etc. The idea behind these perfume creations was not to perfectly duplicate the fragrance of each flower but rather to capture the spirit of the flower in the settings in which I experienced them. Daphne, White Magnolia, Sweet Pea, Freesia, Lilac and several others are ones that I have created recipes for along with small batches of the perfumes themselves and I will be sharing this information over the next year. Those who order during the month of that particular published recipe will receive a nice free sample of that perfume in a solid perfume form.

My first experience with the celestial scent of daphne flowers came while working on the Filoli Estate. I was in charge of the area around the mansion and on the north border of the house was a border containing a large number of daphne shrubs. One cool morning in early March, I was planning out my days schedule and as I moved towards the north side of the house a wonderful lilting, sweet divine odor engulfed me. As I had never smelled daphne flowers before I did not know where this scent came from but its pure, sweet, innocent nature captivated my attention and after a short search I found its source. There was in the midst of its elegant, sweet, jasmine-neroli floral bouquet a light, fresh ethereal citrus note intermingled with a delightful vanilla accord. The memory of that experience remains etched in my mind and from that time onward I cherished the experience of inhaling this precious essence in the early spring. Today we have several species of daphne in our garden which provide a fine spring aromatic elixir.

Daphne Perfume Recipe

1.5 ounces Lemon Essence eo
.5 ounces Petitgrain Sur Fleur eo
1.5 Champa White Leaf eo
.25 Champa White Flower Co2 select
.25 Lemon verbena eo
.25 Ylang Extra eo
.25 Ylang Abs
.25 Neroli eo
.75 Sandalwood New Caledonia eo
.25 Vanilla Abs
.5 Balsam Peru eo


Daphne in Literature

"How spendid the crocuses are this spring, he said first; "and that daphne too, in full bloom so early. Do you know the scent of the daphne; the most rich, glorius, overpowering scent in the world, to which that of the magnolia seems like a grocer's spice? How do the storms and frosts of a bitter northern winter develop such a pure sweet scent?"

from Silcote of Silcotes
By Henry Kingsley

It ws not the time of the flowers, but the sweetness hidden in the heart of winter ventured to disclose itself in the sheltered haven. The crumbling wall was starred with yellow jasmine, there were snowdrops in the grass borders and the air was fragrant with the scent of violets and daphne.

from Her Majesty's Rebels
By Sidney Royse Lysaght

The rooks were cawing on the windy heights,
And over rounded hills the strong keen lights
Were driving tide-like shadows into space;
And, in the sheltered walk you loed to pace,
The caged wind that sometimes came and went
Had stirred the heart-shaped violet leaves, and bent
The daphne boughs, and filled the air with scent.

from Suffolk Tales & Other Stories
By Eveline Camilla Gurdon

Who cannot recall many a happy hour spent in rambling from cluster to cluster on the side of some great Alp?-the scent of the herbage or of sweeter daphne perfuming the invigoraton air, the melody of the cattle-bells borne up from some far-off paster, white the great blue vault of heaven above seems reflected in the gentian clusters at his feet. The love of flowers seems natural to almost every human being, however forlorn his life may have been, however far it may have missed its appointed mark.

from The Story of the Hills
By Henry Neville Hutchinson

...At that hour she pulled up her blind, and looked out upon a singularly clear and peaceful night. A horned moon silvered the placid water, and the thick-set lights on the other side burned like yellow stars. She raised her window gently, and sniffed the dewy odours of daphne bushes and violet beds, and the sweeter pefume of brine and seaweed. Their invitation was irresistible, and she stepped forth. Though winter yet lingered, the refreshing Daphne blossomsair was mild-or so it seemed to here in her fevered state; and out of doors she could realize the extent of her new freedom better than in the shut-up house.

from Fidelis
By Ada Cambridge

The fairest and most fragrant
Of the many sweets we found
Was a little bush of Daphne flower
Upon a mossy mound,
And so thick were the blossoms set and so divine the scent,
That we were well content.

Hungry for Spring I bent my head,
The perfume fanned my face,
And all my soul was dancing
In that lovely little place,
Dancing with a measured step from wrecked and shattered towns
Away ... upon the Downs.

from A Treasury of War Poetry
Edited, with Introduction and Notes, by George Herbert Clarke

But, like I said, it’s not the flower. No, it’s the smell. Daphne smells like the most delicate perfume, like a princess, like ambrosia. It smells like you want ice wine to taste. It wafts across a whole room and catches you off guard and catches your breath with its sweet light spell. It’s the most amazing floral scent.
I waxed rhapsodic (no, I really did; I was almost in fits) about the glorious scent of the plant and so Mama cut me a posy of them, most with the blossoms barely open, and they have been blooming all week on my coffee table. Every day when I come home I take a deep breath of the scent and it makes me feel like spring really is just around the corner.

from Fonticulus Blog

According to the Bencao Gangmu, the famous phamcopoeia written by Li Shizhen, Daphne odora was first brough into cultivation during the Song from Lu Shan in Jiangxi. There is a legend which tells of a monk who fell asleep below a cliff on Lu Shan and dreamt of an intense fragrance. On awakening he searched about and found the plant which he named Shuixian(Sleeping Scent). The name was later changed to another of similiar pronunciation meanking Lucky Scent.

from The garden plants of China
By Peter Valder