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"Libraries: The medicine chest of the soul."
Library at Thebes, inscription over the door
The fragrances of many exotic perfumes contain ingredients from nature; plants such as amyris, tuberose, cassie and narcissus are popular ingredients for such perfumes.

Ancient and Exotic Perfume Ingredients

Ancient perfumes were made from plant ingredients found in the natural world; ancient perfumes of Pompeii, and those of Egypt and other ancient civilizations, contained botanical ingredients which were both medicinal and fragrant.  The original inspiration for a fragrance is commonly taken from plants;  amyris, tuberose, cassie and narcissus have been used in past and present exotic perfumes.

Amyris as a Perfume Ingredient

Amyris (Amyris balsamifera) is a member of the Rutaceae plant family of which lemon (Citrus limon), petitgrain (Citrus aurantium var. amara) and orange blossom (Citrus aurantium var. amara) are members, also common perfume ingredients.  Amyris is a small bush or tree that has white flowers; it is indigenous to the island of Haiti but amyris can also be found in South America, Central America and Jamaica, or any other tropical country.
Amyris is also known as West Indian rosewood or West Indian sandalwood and should not be mistaken for sandalwood (santalum album) or rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora).  Amyris is often used as a substitute for sandalwood in exotic perfumes, as it is cheaper to extract than the more expensive sandalwood; amyris is also used in soaps as a fixative.

Tuberose as a Perfume Ingredient

Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) belongs to the Agavaceae plant family; the tuberose is a perennial plant which grows up to 20 inches in height.  The flowers of the tuberose, which are highly perfumed, resemble those of a lily and are white in color; it has narrow leaves.  The tuberose is indigenous to Central America and is commonly found growing wild; it is also cultivated in southern France, Egypt and Morocco.

Tuberose is used in expensive perfumes which require an oriental or floral fragrance; tuberose bears some botanical relation to jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla) and narcissus (Narcissus poeticus), also used as perfume ingredients.   Marie Antoinette of France (1748 – 1806) had perfumes made for her which contained jonquil, narcissus and tuberose.

Cassie as a Perfume Ingredient

Cassie (Acacia farnesiana) is of the botanical family Mimosaceae; it is a shrub of many branches and thorns which grows up to 33 feet in height.  Cassie has yellow flowers which are perfumed and resemble those of mimosa (Acacia dealbata), also a member of the Mimosaceae plant family.  Cassie is also known by the synonym sweet acacia.  Cassie is a cultivar of many tropical countries of the world and can be found in Egypt, Morocco, India and southern France.

Cassie is a perfume ingredient of expensive, oriental perfumes; in India, a perfume is made from cassie,  known as attar of cassie.  Although cassie has the synonym opopanax, opopanax (Commiphora erythraea) is an entirely different plant of a different botanical family (Burseraceae); however, opopanax is also used as an ingredient in exotic, expensive perfumes. 

Narcissus as a Perfume Ingredient

Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus) is a member of the Amaryllidaceae plant family; it is indigenous to the Middle East and eastern Mediterranean.  Today, narcissus is found in southern France, most notably in the perfume capital of Grasse.  Narcissus grows up to 20 inches in height with perfumed white flowers, edged by a yellow trumpet; both the daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) and the jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla)are close family members of the narcissus.

Narcissus was used in ancient Roman perfumes and in medieval perfumes of France; today, narcissus is used in expensive floral perfumes and used extensively in French perfume production.  Narcissus is a narcotic and should be used with extreme care as misuse can result in death.

Expensive Perfume Ingredients

Expensive perfumes contain exotic ingredients from nature; in the past, these have been the actual plant material but today, synthetic perfumes may contain synthetic ingredients, imitating the scents of nature.  Although an exotic synthetic fragrance may be pleasing to the nose, it will not contain the same medicinal properties of an exotic perfume made from natural ingredients of plants such as amyris, tuberose, cassie and narcissus.

References and for Further Reading:

–Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK: Thorsons
–Lawless, Julia 2001 The Aromatherapy Garden UK: Kyle Cathie Ltd

This article was written by Sharon Falsetto and appeared in its original format on Suite101 as Exotic Perfume Ingredients From Nature

It is expressively prohibited to copy or use this article in any way unless written permission is given by the author Sharon Falsetto.  If it is discovered that copyright laws have not been complied with, legal action will be pursued by the author Sharon Falsetto.

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