Distilling your garden in a bottle



All it takes is neutral 190 proof alcohol or Everclear,
fiberglass netting, a jar, and flower petals. I am intrigued by a recent New York Times piece on people who make
their own perfume from their gardens.

Gardenia, lily, and wisteria are some of the flower scents I
love but have never been able to find in a commercial perfume, though many
claim to have captured them. Lucky Scent—which distributes a wide array of the
rarer perfumes—will send you samples for a few dollars, but they’ve all been
disappointing in terms of being true to the flower. Some flowers—roses, violets, carnation—seem easier to distill,
and good citrus is very common. Others, like lavender, are all over the
place—some can be very medicinal and way too strong.

The Times story tells about a few home perfumers who blend
scents from such plants as laurel, yarrow, rosemary, plum and peach peel,
passion flower, plumeria, and jasmine. 
The tinctures are totally natural and aren’t anywhere as strong as commercial
scents.  The women in the story
seem to be making their own perfume for reasons that have nothing to do with
commerce or even wanting to smell nice—it’s more about strengthening their
connection with their gardens and the earth.  

Fascinating—and worth a try. 

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Tincturing is an economical way to gain access to aromatic materials that one cannot normally find, or that are too pricey to source. You can do this with just about anything that grows in the garden, although I’d draw the line at solanums (there was a trend in perfumery towards tomato leaf-type scents awhile back) because of alkoloids, tropanes and so forth.

    The only potential issue is that alcohol is not a universal solvent for aromatic compounds. Water also acts as a solvent, so it pays to work with alcohols of various %, because there can be a real aromatic difference between rose petals tinctured in everclear (which in CA is standardized somewhere around 154 proof), and the same tinctured in 190 proof, or even anhydrous of 200 proof. As the alcohol goes up, more fatty substances and waxes come through, which themselves can be aromatic.

    (I guess you can tell I’m a natural perfumer, too… Blew my cover!)

  2. My mother (and many others’ I bet) wore Jungle Gardenia. Having smelled real gardenias in adulthood, that perfume came very close to the real thing.

    But memories about fragrance and our mothers (separately or together)are not necessarily accurate, are they? Still, say “gardenia” or smell “gardenia” I see my mother dressed to nines getting ready to go out on a Saturday evening with my father.


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