Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Myrtus communis is an attractive shrub that grows in areas around the Mediterranean. It has white flowers that look almost tropical, and purple berries that are used to make liqueur, but it’s the essential oil extracted from the leaves that is most interesting for perfumery. It’s a top note that dissipates quickly, but it lends an aromatic herbal nuance to the early development of a scent. There are two different types of myrtle, the “green” and the “red” type. The green variety is heavy on the alcohol linalool, a major component of lavender and many other herbal scents. The red type contains a high proportion of cineole, which is the main component of eucalyptus oil.
Green myrtle essential oil, applied to my skin in about a 10% dilution, starts out with a camphorous turpentine-pine scent with notes of lavender, bay leaf, and a bit of eucalyptus. After it dries down some, it reminds me of crushed fresh bay leaves and tarragon. It doesn’t have the sweet aspect of lavender, but does have some of the same dry herbal notes. Red myrtle essential oil is similar, but has a more woody, peppery scent with less of the pine and lavender notes. It also smells a bit like fresh bay leaves and tarragon as it dries down.
By itself, myrtle oil of either variety only lasts for about 30 minutes, but that’s enough for a top note. It would probably be hard to identify in a mix, especially if combined with other aromatic herbal notes.
I like to use myrtle in compositions that demand a fresh, clean, non-sweet, herbal note in the beginning. I’ve used it in Kingston Ferry and Olympic Rainforest, two fragrances that are meant to represent some of the quasi-Mediterranean-type vegetation that grows near the ocean in the Pacific Northwest.
True myrtle from the Mediterranean is not to be confused with lemon myrtle, an Australian tree that goes by the name Backhousia citriodora. The essential oil of lemon myrtle, distilled from the leaves, is extremely high in citral, giving it a powerful lemon scent. It’s a nice, fresh lemon, but is one of those oils that could easily be overused, producing a lemony cleaning product fragrance. I haven't used it yet in a perfume, but can imagine that, used sparingly, it might be a way to enhance and prolong citrus top notes.
[Myrtle images from Wikimedia]