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Essential Oils: a Gift From Trees

We love trees big and small. A great coffee table book is Remarkable Trees of the World by Thomas Pakenham. We plant trees at our factories and homes and encourage employees to plant around their homes. Mature trees can improve property values. Urban forests reduce pollution, shrink demand for air conditioning, and make human and non-humans feel more relaxed. A 50% level of noise reduction from sirens, trashcan clanking, and traffic can be achieved by a 100 square foot stand of 45-foot tall trees. An average urban tree removes about a ton of green house gas in its first forty years of life. Individuals heating bills can be reduced 30% by the windbreak created by the same urban forest. There are 60-200 million places in US cities where trees could be planted.

In the draft of the report Changing California, Forest and Range by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Assessment they caution:

by consuming vast amounts of wood products while increasingly protecting our own forests from logging, Californians are sharpening the pace of cutting elsewhere, including Canada.
We can't have a rational forest policy without admitting we use wood products. The more we don't produce here, the more it will come from other areas. We're just shuffling our environmental impacts somewhere else. In the United States we consume far more timber than we produce and over the next 50 years, we expect imports to supply a third to half of our total softwood lumber consumption. We're concerned about undermining the health of the world's forest ecosystems through consumption patterns that are out of balance with production.
Where do our trees go?
  • Book publishing gobbles up 20 million trees a year.
  • Building construction
  • Paper
  • Tooth picks and match sticks
  • Furniture
  • Home accessories
  • Essential oils: 100,000 metric tons of oil is distilled annually, most of which goes to the perfume industry

I don't think many people know how many beautiful essential oils come from so many trees.

The Pine Family

A large percentage of our forests in temperate zones are made up of this beautiful evergreens with their cones and needles that bear all year long. Many cultures have depended on these trees for their most basic sustenance. Indigenous Native American's lived off of pine nuts and used the cones and branches for their campfires and the logs for their building structures. Their local medicine person used the sap and the branches for sweat lodges.

These herbaceous notes are generally stimulating, invigorate and grounding. Frequently I drive from the pines in Lake County to the Redwoods in Trinidad, California. It's a four hour drive and when I get tired I open up the windows to get a whiff of these tress and put a few drops of pine, fir, and maybe a little peppermint oil on the back of my neck to help keep me alert.

They help me focus on what I need to and stay grounded. These essences have soft, warming notes reminiscent of the freshly cut aromatic woods from which they are distilled. Balsamic essences have in common a sweet vanilla note with a woody floral to spicy undertone.

Silver fir (pine needle oil)

It lends a green, rich, sweet refreshing pine-forest woody, and a peculiar balsamic note to an outdoorsy blend.

The silver fir stands 60 feet. It's great beauty is it's majestic, broadly columnar form and soft, silver-green needles, which are long and waxy smooth. I like this species, Abies alba the best. It's the aroma most of us in America associated with a fresh Christmas tree. I use it as a base note in a woodsy blend and I especially love it in footbaths. When we expand our perfume oils we will include Fir absolute, which has a more delicate, more jam-like and fruity essence. Everyone that has got a whiff of it in my studio loves it but can't find the words to describe it. Fir fortifies all citruses, juniper berry, labdanum, oakmoss, patchouli, and rosemary blends.

Virginia Cedarwood

In a perfume blend its' scent starts out to be mild and pleasant, with a slight sweetness. As it dries out it gets woodier, and less balsamic.

This slow growing conifer grows up to 108 feet. It definitely is an acquired fragrance when I've had friends smell it that are not into essential oils the comment I most often get is "it smells like a pencil being sharpened." I have a cedar-lined sauna and often use it in there. I've planted cedars at my home. I prefer the Virginia cedarwood and have found my favorite source from a distiller just east of the Rocky Mountains. He also makes a potent home brew that takes your breath away. In a woodsy blend it can be a softened with other top notes. Overuse it and it can overwhelm your blend and you'll have to start over. In commercial perfumery it is widely used for its fixative effect and blends well with all the other conifers, and empowers labdanum, sandalwood, patchouli, benzoin, rose and vetiver. It used in other woody and woody-floral types of perfumes and colognes.

Cypress

It has a sweet-balsamic, refreshing, aroma similar to pine needles. It has a dry out of delicate and tenacious sweetness that can be compared to that of labdanum or amber.

The cypress is exotic looking with it's connected, tubular base, bulbous trunk and leaves as delicate as table clothe lace. In Florida they grow along on islands of elevated terrain in saw grass marshes where they form characteristic canopy of domes and strands. Up until the late 1940's, when after World War II, big lumber companies came in motivated by a postwar construction frenzy that was ravenous for building materials. Dried and milled, this handsome conifer was insect and rot resistant — perfect for houses. It took the companies less than nine years to clear-cut many millions of board feet, an epochal forest that had been the centerpiece of an ecosystem that dated back to the Pleistocene. In the Glades you can still visit a few old giants that stand out like solitary living tree dinosaurs.

As a top note it transforms lavender, mandarin, clary sage, chamomile. In commercial perfumery it is sometimes used to soften the pine aroma in citrus, fougeres, and chypres colognes.

Deciduous Trees

These trees tend to be more medicinal and seldom used in natural perfumery.

Tea Tree

Has a distinct warm, fresh, spicy-camphoraceous aroma.

They are native to Australia but now cultivated extensively. Grown from cuttings in summer the leaves and small branches are picked throughout the year and distilled. It considered to be one of the safest oils to put on the skin directly. It is one of the most important natural antiseptics. I imagine it got is name because indigenous Aboriginals in New South Wales prepared a type of herbal tea from its leaves. They add other things to it depending on what symptoms you describe but it is can be pleasant as a warm drink. I've mixed it with honey, milk, clove, and nutmeg. It's great for colds, sinus congestion and coughs.

It’s part of my first aid kit and I've used it on insect and animal bits, itchy feet, and slight burns. It has proven to be active against all three varieties of infectious bugs: bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Some studies are suggesting it is a strong immuno-stimulant. It mixes well with spices and lends a certain confidence when added to clary sage, rosemary, lavender, and geranium.

Eucalyptus

It has a fresh-peppery, spicy and almost minty citrus aroma.

I love the trees and we have some beautiful giants along the California coast. There are a lot of varieties and often by the time they get to the broker have been mixed or diluted. It's always in my first aid because it has strong antibacterial, antiviral, and expectorant properties. I use it almost every day in the sauna to clear my lungs. I've never used it in perfume blends but it's great for full body soaking, chest rubs, and foot bath blends when you feel a cold coming on (see Self Help Recipes.) With thyme, rosemary, lavender marjoram, pine needles, cedarwood or lemon it creates a kind of openness or soothing freshness.

Evergreens

Cinnamon Leaf

Cinnamon leaf gives the feeling of warmth with spicy top notes that are also fresh and fruity. Probably that's why it is so popular in candy. As it dries out on the skin it becomes more powdery, diffusive, and less pungent.

We don't see these trees often in North America but they grow wild in the tropics. The shiny, leathery leaves smell when you crush them. We found the best oil in Madagascar. It does not have the harsh aroma of all the other oils we tried. So we set up an eco-friendly farmer who collects the leaves, does his own small-scale distillation and does not destroy the tree. You have to be careful whom you source it from because it is often diluted with the less expensive cinnamon and even clove oil. Sticks of cinnamon and oils used in cooking come from the bark and this should not be used on the skin.

Some perfumers prefer the oil from the bark. We only use oil from the leaves. Leaf oil is relatively non-toxic but can be an irritant to the mucous membranes. We use it sparingly in natural perfumes because it's so powerful and tenacious and has such a strong association with baking and potpourri. Although you may love the smell of cinnamon buns you probably don't want to smell like one. It is often used in woody-oriental types of perfumes. I've used it spice up blends with Peru balsam, bergamot, geranium, jasmine, lime, neroli, orange, patchouli, rose, and sandalwood.

Litsea Cubeau

It has an intense, lemony, fresh fruity aroma that is sweeter than lemongrass and without the harshness with a soft and sweet-fruity, uniform dryout.

Litsea comes from the small Chinese laurel tree (may chang), with intoxicating fragrant leaves and flowers. It is steam distilled from the small pepper like fruits. Unlike lemon oil it tends to linger longer on the skin even though the oil has very little fixative power and whereas lemon is always a top note Litsea can be cleverly blended in as a middle note. I've never had it turn rancid on me and prefer it to the more expensive lemon verbena, which has to be refrigerated. It belongs to the same family as the laurel tree, rosewood, and cinnamon and blends well with all of these. Of course it blends well with all the citrus oils, and also works in blends that contain petitgrain, rosemary, and lavender. The largest producer is China, where their "May Chang" tree fruits are used not only as a modifier for lemon and lime flavors, but as an ingredient in many Chinese medicines.

Rosewood or Bois De Rose

It has a refreshing, sweet-woody, somewhat spicy rosy-floral scent.

A medium sized, tropical evergreen with reddish bark and yellow flowers. Used extensively for lumber it one of the trees that has been extensively clear cut in the South American rainforest and may be consequently environmentally damaging. It’s used in soaps and commercial perfumes has been replaced with synthetics. We feel it still has a place in natural floral-woody perfumes and offers a pleasing top note to blends with neroli, nutmeg, coriander, geranium, sandalwood, vetiver, and frankincense.

Clove Bud

A fruity fresh top note and it's characteristic spicyness and with aging. A wine like note develops.

It's water distilled (not steamed) and comes from a pyramid shaped strongly aromatic tropical tree that can grow up to 50 feet high. The clove flowers in full bloom have more of a floral and balsamic, sour-sweet but immensely rich fragrance and that's what we look for in the variety we buy. It can easily overwhelm any blend. Delicately balanced with other oils it can create a transition from a fresh, fruity, spicy note to a warmer, more woody, but still spicy dry out. It can be combined with vanilla to produce a carnation like note. It blends well with the same oils cinnamon blends with but added to rose, honeysuckle, and certain deep-sweet florals it lends a unique natural richness and body. It also adds zest to lavender, clary sage, cananga, and ylang ylang. It can cause skin irritation and should be avoided in bath blends. Most of the oriental blends contain some clove.

Citrus Trees

Lemon

It has the sweet, light, fresh aroma that were all familiar with when you peel a lemon.

This small evergreen grows to 20 feet. The fruit is harvested in the winter when the vitamin C content is the highest. Lemon zest or peel is used in many recipes and most widely used in the beverage, food, and household cleaning product industry. Although it is used in most citrus type colognes and perfumes I've wrecked a number of possibly light and fresh natural perfume blends with lemon so I tend to use Litsea cubeba described above when I need a good lemon note. Lemon lends a light, fresh, sweetness in uplifting bath blends. We only use expressed oil (that is machine pressed from the peel). We avoid oils that have been treated with anti-oxidants. It blends well with all the other citrus oils, cardamom, chamomile, and ginger. I like it with oakmoss, benzoin, and even have a blend I wear with vetiver.

Grapefruit

A refreshing sweet citrus aroma.

We get it cold-pressed and it has more of the fresh-citrusy aroma and we prefer the pink because it is slightly sweeter and has a lighter influence. It can be blended with basil, bergamot, cedarwood, lavender, and ylang ylang to bring out it's natural uplifting quality. It can create a natural transition between sweet and bitter orange. It not used much in commercial perfumery except with some perfumes that use bergamot.

Sweet Orange

A very sweet fresh fruity scent.

You've got to love orange trees not just for the tons of delicious fresh fruit or gallons of juice it produces. Orange flavor is one of the most popular all over the world. We only offer the expressed oil because it is sweeter, lighter, and richer. It becomes rancid easily so we get it the day it is produced and add nitrogen. It does not get used much in commercial perfumery but sometimes appears in older fougeres and chypres as a simple top note. It's great in uplifting bath blends.

These next three are all from the most productive perfume tree the bitter orange, Citrus Aurantium, an evergreen that gets about 30 feet high with glossy, dark, leathery, green leaves, smooth grayish trunk and branches, and fragrant white flowers. It is well known for it's natural resistance to disease and is grown without pesticides or fertilizers. No one has bothered to get it certified as organic but it's something we are working toward. Michael the tree photo could go here and then individual photo of blossoms, etc below

1) Orange flower absolute

It has a thick and intensely floral scent that paradoxically is heavy yet delicate, rich yet pungent, and fresh yet cool and imparts a clarity and steadiness to floral blends.

One of the most expensive perfumery ingredients is solvent extracted from it's leaves. It's often used in heavy oriental perfumes as well as light citrus colognes and chypres and ambres. It generally masks or rounds off the sharp notes. I've used it successfully to deepen the heart note in floral bouquets.

2) Bitter orange oil

It has a fresh dry almost floral aroma with a rich sweet undertone.

It is expressed (machine pressed) from the outer peel of the almost ripe fruit. It's used extensively in flavoring and as a fragrance component of soaps, detergents, cosmetics, perfumes and colognes. It is the main ingredient in "triple sec" liqueur (see Edible Essentials). It lends body and a pleasant twist to all citrus blends. It blends wonderfully with lavender, rosemary, clary sage, oakmoss, and labdanum. It ends up in all types of colognes, chypres, fougeres, and citrus blends.

3) Neroli or Orange blossom

A fresh, delicate yet rich and strongwarm sweet-floral that is very true to how it smells in nature.

It is simply water distilled from the same flower. It is fantastic for enhancing a mature and sensitive skin. I only use it for blends for very special friends and only combine it with expensive florals and other high quality citrus. Next to rose, jasmine, and ylang ylang it is probably the most frequently used florals in perfumes. A talented perfumer can blend it with virtually all oils adding a sensual and spiritual dimension. It likes chamomile, benzoin, clary sage, coriander, lavender, and of course ylang ylang, jasmine and rose. Perhaps one of the best known commercial blends is the natural eaux de cologne of the Marin Farina type 4711. Which contain top notes of citrus, with heart of lavender, roses, and neroli.

Petitigrain

A perfect fresh, orange floral middle note with slightly woody-herbaceous undertones and very faint but sweetly floral dry out notes.

After the flowers are picked and distilled the tree is trimmed and this oil is distilled from the leaves and the twigs. It can also be acquired from lemon, lime, clemintine, and mandarine trees so you have to really know your source. It's used in many foods, especially candy, alcoholic and soft drinks. It's one of the classically ingredients of eau-de-cologne (traditionally with lavender, lemon, rosemary and bergamot.) I've often had people smell it from the bottle and they did not like it yet used modestly with Roman chamomile, bergamot, clary sage, labdanum, oakmoss and jasmine it can add the perfect sweet floral note. It's in most citrus blends and fougeres.

Bergamot

When you first smell it you sense the extremely rich, sweet and fruity top note. Then you notice it's more characteristic oily-herbaceous and slightly balsamic body and dry out.

Is a small tree no more than 15 feet high with smooth oval leaves and a miniature orange like fruit. It is also produced by cold expression. It's widely used in many foods and beverages most notebably Earl Grey Tea. It serves well as a fixative with clary sage, lavender, neroli, jasmine, cypress, geranium, lemon, chamomile, juniper, and coriander. Like all the citrus oils it deteriorates if not stored in a cool place protected from light. With increasing and unscrupulous adulteration we finally decided to pay the price to get our bergamot oil from a supplier in Calabria, the southern part of Italy, where carries the seal of the Consorzio di Bergamotto.

Ylang Ylang

Intensly sweet. At the same time it is powerfully floral with a cresylic and benzoate topnote of limited duration. The fade out is more pleasant, softer, slightly spicy and more balsamic- floral.

This tropical tree grows up to 65 feet with large flowers that can be pink, mauve, or yellow. The yellow flowers are considered best for the finest oils. We get our's from Indonesia where we have a candle factory and also distill patchouli. The flowers are spread on the beds of newly wed couples to help them overcome their post nuptial anxiety. The flowers are even more simple, yet more complex and just as intoxicating as the oil. The locals cure them in coconut oil that they use to nourish and rejuvenate their skin. This complex aroma adds a sensual and cooling quality when blended with rosewood, jasmine, vetiver, bergamot, mimosa, peru balsam, and rose.

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