Are you crafty? Me, neither. But I love talking to people who make things. Once I happily spent half an hour listening to a stranger explain how to transform a thrift store needlepoint canvas into a tote bag, and now I have an adorable vintage needlepoint of a cat and a bird, half a yard of upholstery velvet, and pagoda-printed fabric waiting to be made into that perfect bag. Will it happen? I doubt it.
Similarly, as much as I love perfume, I’ve never had the yen to make my own fragrances. It’s fun to learn about, though, and exploring the fine points of techniques such as enfleurage and distillation gives me a keener appreciation for the perfume I wear. If I ever were to tackle a tincture, Homemade Perfume by pioneering natural perfumer Anya McCoy of Anya's Garden is where I’d start.
In a nutshell, Homemade Perfume is a primer on how to extract scent from botanicals and turn it into personal and home fragrance, including perfume, linen spray, body butter, vinegars and more. The first part of the book gives an overview of making perfume at home. Then the book dives into techniques for basic tinctures, infusions, distillation and enfleurage, including the intriguing idea of enfleurage with powder.
McCoy describes the basics of composing a fragrance — for liquid perfume she recommends that a composition be about 20 percent top notes, 50 percent middle notes, and 30 percent base notes, for instance — but also provides her own straightforward, tried-and-true recipes. For instance, her Morning Sun perfume blends grapefruit, jasmine and vanilla. The Sweet Meadow Tincture linen spray is lemongrass, bay laurel and vanilla.
The last part of the book gives an alphabetical description of dozens of fragrant garden plants you might consider growing, depending on your region. (I only wish I could grow frangipani where I live!) Each entry describes the plant and some of its needs, as well as where it thrives in a fragrance (tuberose for middle notes, for example) and how its fragrance is best extracted. I was especially fascinated with McCoy’s description of growing vetiver. Did you know its roots can stretch 20 feet down?
The book’s tone is friendly, straightforward, and encouraging. Each technique is carefully laid out with “materials and equipment” in the margin and a numbered, step-by-step guide for “process.” The book is a large-format paperback that would comfortably slide into a cookbook holder for easy reference.
The book’s interior layout is lovely, with lots of photographs with white backgrounds, bottles full of intriguing potions, and flowers. My only quibble with the photographs is how many of the flowers come off as dead of scent. The roses on the book’s cover look like straight-jacketed South American roses that probably smell like bug spray and nothing else.
Homemade Perfume didn’t prompt me to order beakers and eye droppers. I love my Miss Dior et al too much for that. But for someone wanting to explore making botanical fragrances from scratch, this is the book to have.
Homemade Perfume is by Anya McCoy. It retails for $21.99 and is published by Page Street Publishing Co. (Current prices on Amazon: $18.91 for the Paperback or $9.99 for the Kindle version.)