Mediterranean Breeze Newsletter
When one endeavors to create a perfume one has a wealth of resources to draw upon. The path one will take to realize their aromatic vision can arise in response to a particular region of the world or even a specific place, where fragrant plants grow that capture its beauty. Ones own experiences in those places and/or literary references to those geographical locations can act as a stimulus to ones imagination.
Even though I have not had vast experience in the Mediterranean region of the world except for short visits to Italy and Spain, I have lived in climates that were similar and have had contact with many of the plants that grow there during my life in horticulture. In order to create this months perfume I turned to many travel books of an earlier time that described the unique plants that grow in France, Italy, Morocco, Greece etc. The "seed" inspiration for this perfume arose as I was reading through Ernest Guenther's, Essential Oils, Volume VI, which in turn inspired me to search out other authors who journeyed into this magical region of the world:
"The essential oil expert and perfumer who has traveled extensively is inclined to associate some places he has visited with certain odors. The scent of otto of rose will always remind him of the 'Valley of the Roses' in Bulgaria, the fragrance of jasmine will recall nights in Seville or Grenada, the heavy perfume of ylang ylang will bring back memories of Nossi-Be, a little island of the coast of Madagascar. On of the most unforgettable odors is that of labdanum, whose, sweet, warm, balsamic odor permeates sunny patches in the pine forests that cover some of the islands in the Mediterranean or stretch along the rocky coasts of that beautiful blue sea. In the natural habitat of the plant its perfume blends with that of pine, and perhaps sage, lavender, or thyme , producing an aroma that one may truly call Mediterranean... "
I have included the above named plants along with a few others in my own interpretation of the Mediterranean aroma and have included some additional literary passages to bring the subject to life.
This pine is a particular variety (Pinus lancio, var. Calabra), known as the “Pino della Sila”—it is found over this whole country, and grows to a height of forty metres with a silvery-grey trunk, exhaling a delicious aromatic fragrance. In youth, especially where the soil is deep, it shoots up prim and demure as a Nuremberg toy; but in old age grows monstrous. High-perched upon some lonely granite boulder, with roots writhing over the bare stone like the arms of an octopus, it sits firm and unmoved, deriding the tempest and flinging fantastic limbs into the air—emblem of tenacity in desolation. From these trees, which in former times must have covered the Sila region, was made that Bruttian pitch mentioned by Strabo and other ancient writers; from them the Athenians, the Syracusans, Tarentines and finally the Romans built their fleets. Their timber was used in the construction of Caserta palace.
--from Old Calabria
by Norman Douglas
"It is a kind of rake, with a double row of long leathern straps. It is used in the heat of the day, when not a breadth of wind is stirring: circumstances necessary to gathering of labdanum. Seven or eight country fellows, in their shirts and drawers, brush the plants with their whips, the straps where of, by rubbing against the leaves, lick of a sort odoriferous glue sticking to the foliage. This is part of the nutritious juice of the plant, which exudes through the texture of the leave like a fatty dew, in shining drops, clear as turpentine. When the whips are sufficiently laden with this grease, they take a knife and scrape the straps clean, making it into a clean mass of cakes of different size, and this comes to us under the name Labdanum or Labdanum. A man who is diligent will gather three lbs. per day, or more, which sells for a crown on the spot. The work is rather unpleasant than laborious, because it must be done in the sultry time of the day, and during the dead calm: and yet the purest Labdanum cannot be procured free from filth; because the winds of the previous day have blown dust on the shrubs."
--from Voyage to Crete
by F. W. Sieber
This side of the hill is a natural plantation of the most agreeable ever-greens, pines, firs, laurel, cypress, sweet myrtle, tamarisc, box, and juniper, interspersed with sweet marjoram, lavender, thyme, wild thyme, and sage. On the right-hand the ground shoots up into agreeable cones, between which you have delightful vistas of the Mediterranean, which washes the foot of the rock; and between two divisions of the mountains, there is a bottom watered by a charming stream, which greatly adds to the rural beauties of the scene.
--from Travels through France and Italy
by Tobias George Smollett, 1721-1771
I remember a night in September of 1908, a Sunday night, fragrant with the odours of withered rosemary and cistus and fennel that streamed in aromatic showers from the scorched heights overhead—a starlit night, tranquil and calm. Never had Messina appeared so attractive to me. Arriving there generally in the daytime and from larger and sprightlier centres of civilization, one is prone to notice only its defects. But night, especially a southern night, has a wizard touch. It transforms into objects of mysterious beauty all unsightly things, or hides them clean away; while the nobler works of man, those facades and cornices and full-bellied balconies of cunningly wrought iron rise up, under its enchantment, ethereal as the palace of fairies. And coming, as I then did, from the sun-baked river-beds of Calabria, this place, with its broad and well-paved streets, its glittering cafes and demure throng of evening idlers, seemed a veritable metropolis, a world-city.
--from Old Calabria
by Norman Douglas
Vivaldi pointed out to Ellena the gigantic Velino in the north, a barrier mountain, between the territories of Rome and Naples. Its peaked head towered far above every neighbouring summit, and its white precipices were opposed to the verdant points of the Majella, snow crowned, and next in altitude, loved by the socks. Westward, near woody hills, and rising immediately from the lake, appeared Monte Salviano, covered with wild sage, as its name imports, and once pompous with forests of chestnuts, a branch from the Appemine extended to meet it. “See,” said Vivaldi, “where Monte Corno stands like a ruffian, huge, feared, threatening, and horrid! — and in the south, where the sullen mountain of San Nicolo shoots up, barren and rocky! From inhence, mark how other overtopping ridges of the mighty Aperinine darken the horizon far along the east, and to circle approach the Vehinon the north!” “Mark too,” said Ellena, “how sweetly the banks and undulating plains repose at the feet of the mountains, what an image of beauty and elegance they oppose to the awful grandeur that overlooks and guards them! Observe, too, how many a delightful valley, opening from the lake, spreads its rice and corn fields, shaded with groves of the almond, far among the winding hills; how gaily vineyards and olives alternately chequer the anclivities, and how gracefully the lofty palms bend over the higher cliffs.”
--from The Italian or the Confessional of the Black Penitents: A Romance
by Ann Radcliffe
In these half desolate, savage, yet strangely beautiful tracts of sun-scorched land, I sometimes endeavor to search out the secret of their fascination my soul. Here in the wild plains of the north-east, as in the wild despoblados of the south, perfumed with rosemary and thyme, I am thrilled with primeval feelings. Sometimes they appal, at other times they amaze, and occasionally they fill me with joy. But they never fail to exert a subtle fascination upon my heart, the secret of which I cannot discover.
--from Idylls of Spain: Varnished Pictures of Travel in the Peninsula
by Rowland Thirlmere
The collection of mastic begins when the mastic producers clean the area under the tree and they cover it with white clay so that the tears will stay clear and dry faster as they fall to the ground. The kendos begins in June and lasts through September.
The mastic producers make an incision along the tree trunk in the shape of an arch with the kentitiri. Their day begins early before sunrise and they make their way to the fields with their donkeys in one of the most picturesque scenes ever seen on the island those days. The mastic growers are suitably dressed and well equipped in their endeavor, racing against the sun, trying to avoid his presence.
The curing of the mastic tree ends before the sun reaches its highest point. When the tears have been coagulated, the mastic laborers use the timitiri to gather the precious crystals. Every little piece of this natural product is collected even if it is mixed with dust.
The narrow streets of the mastic villages come alive as the mastic collectors start the tahtarisma (sifting), the cleaning of the crystals with soap and cold water, the drying and the scratching of the mastic tears.
Signor Guglielmo sniffs the air noisily.
"Bergamot!" he says.
And there, indeed, a hundred years in front of us, peasants in Calabrian dress, men with short trousers, the women with red petticoats and the great dropping head-dress, are escoring a cart loaded with the precious fruit on its way to the mill. The cart leaves behind a perfume so strong that it completelyty overpowers that of oranges and lemons. We are in a bergamot-steam. My host seems enraptured. ...
Let us go to the orchard!
It is an enchanted spot. Emerging from under the vine arbor, we enter a grove of oranges, mandarins, and bergamots; very high, very luxuriant, meeting above our heads, and having beneath their arches a shadow that is scarcely flecked here and there with a ray of sunlight. A little further on their is great square inclosure entirely filled with bergamots.
In close proximity to the sea the reddish-brown earth of the cap is colored an almost uniform gray byquantities of a much branched, very hairy, prostrate shrub. Only the withered inflorescenses are to be found on this plant in Spring, but its odor is so characteristic that we instantly recognize it as Helichrysum stoechas. It is a spicy smell like a mixture of Wormwood and Licorice. At every step we take, especially toward evening, the volatile oil is liberated from these plants, and we walk, as it were, in a cloud of perfume...In summer it bears shiny, yellow, scarious capitula united into flat topped panicles, which were used by the ancients to weave "everlasting" wreaths.
--from Rambles on the Riviera
By Eduard Strasburger
1/3 ounce Labdanum "amber note" absolute
1 ounce Lavender absolute
1/3 ounce Sage eo
2/3 ounce Rosemary verbenone eo
1/3 ounce Lavender "Mailette" eo
1/2 ounce Pine Needle absolute
1/6 ounce Cistus eo
1/2 ounce Helichrysum absolute
1/16th ounce Mastic eo
1 ounce Bergamot eo
*As noted earlier newsletter, after making the base perfume concentrate (as above) a solid perfume base is prepared using 1 ounce of Beeswax (the "beads" or "pearls" are the easiest to you in my opinion) along with 3 ounces of a carrier oils such as marula, jojoba or fractionated coconut oil. These are melted together and to this is added 1/2 ounce of the concentrate. The exact proportions for the solid perfume base can be adjusted according to the degree of softness or hardness one prefers. In any case it is best to prepare a batch of the solid perfume base first and let it solidify before adding the perfume concentrate to see how one likes it. One can add more beeswax or more oil if needed. Once you find a consistency of base that you like make notes so you can repeat it in the future.