What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


When I wrote about sage the other day, I mentioned sagebrush, which is not sage at all, but Artemisia tridentata. Artemisia is another widespread genus with hundreds of species, some of which are useful in perfume making.

Artemisia tridentata, commonly known as North American sagebrush, is one of the shrubby, drought-resistant bushes that grows all over the western part of the US in desert-like areas, including Eastern Washington. The plant is woody and tough, with leathery, silvery-gray leaves and yellow flowers. The essential oil, made from the leaves and stems, not the flowers, has a dry, pungent fragrance that’s a little like garden sage, but much more “wild”- smelling. If you could call a plant “gamey”, sagebrush would fit that description. I use this oil in my Arizona fragrance as part of the desert vegetation note.

Artemisia absinthium, or wormwood, is another shrubby plant with silvery-green leaves, and was the ingredient for which absinthe was named before it was regulated and reformulated using anise flavoring. Its traditional medicinal use is to eliminate parasitic worms from the gut. Historically, it was also used to flavor vermouth and some other wines, and may still be used that way in small amounts. So far I have not found this essential oil for sale by any of my usual sources, but I did locate some to try, and it should be on its way.

Artemisia dracunculus is garden-variety tarragon, used in cooking. It’s smaller than the other Artemesia varieties, the leaves are greener, and it has a characteristic fragrance that falls somewhere in the space between anise, basil, and sweet clover. I used tarragon in Kingston Ferry as part of the aromatic herbal component.

[All plant photos from Wikimedia]


  1. Ellen,

    North American Sagebrush is a fragrance I love in your "Arizona". I think an even drier version, sans the Juniper of Arizona, would be a great scent to represent Eastern Washington. Sage brush recalls to me the vast, seemingly vacant expanses of the west, in particular the lands just west of Vantage and along the eastern reaches of the Columbia basin.

    I vaguely remember the taste and smell of wormwood absinthe from years ago, but I don't know now if I was tasting the real thing or just a copy. It would be interesting to experience the real absinthe.

    Regarding tarragon: I recently purchase an herbes de provence blend for cooking that included not only tarragon abut also lavender, fennel and the usual provence blend. The tarragon and lavender really set this blend apart. It has a great nose and would be an interesting fragrance if provided with appropriate base notes.



  2. Gail, I've used that same "herbes de Provence" cooking mix, which seems to be common in Europe. You're right that it would make an excellent perfume.

    Yes, sagebrush really does epitomize the vacant spaces of the eastern Columbia basin. It's like a different world on the other side of the mountains!

    When I get the absinthe oil, I'll send you a little sample. I tried absinthe when I was in Prague many years ago, but I'm not sure how authentic it was.