Smells Like Spring

Over the next few weeks – the season of April showers and May flowers – I’ll be sharing my adventures in making natural perfumes and other springtime-scented goodies for the home and body. My theme for this month, then, is Making Scents of Spring. First up: DIY essential oil roll-on perfumes.

The novel The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George was a light and airy balm to my winter-weary spirits. The France of books and screen always gives me a much-needed boost, whether it be the Provençal countryside with its warm azure skies, lavender fields and cedars, or the cafés, boulangeries and rain-washed pavements of the City of Light. Charmant! After reading Bookshop, I was inspired to get out my box of essential oils to create three new seasonal fragrances, each of them incorporating some form of citrus to brighten and invigorate. Look for my recipes at the end of this post.

But before we go on, I’d like to offer an alternate title for this article: Natural DIY Perfumes – Debunking the Online Myth. Most recipes tell you to add a scant few drops of your favourite essential oils to a lot of carrier oil (usually 10 mL), et voilà! You have your own bespoke perfume. Well, oui et non. Yes, the result will be a lovely blend that smells great in the bottle, but it’ll likely be a transitory whiff that simply won’t offer staying power on the skin. After plenty of research, trial and error, what I’ve found is that a perfume that is actually noticeable and long-lasting requires a fair amount of essential oil and a fixative to help those volatile oils from evaporating dans un instant.

My next post will list a variety of essential oils perfect for creating your own light and refreshing personal blend, as well as information on fixatives – the most effective of which are less well known and harder to find. But first…

What You Need to Make Your Own Natural Perfume:

  • a few favourite essential oils, including one fixative
  • a stable carrier oil such as fractionated coconut (my favourite), apricot kernel or jojoba
  • glass bottle – I like to use 5 mL vials with rollerball tops for ease of application
  • small funnel and reusable glass eyedroppers (pipettes) for no-mess dispensing (optional)

How To:

Add essential oils drop by drop to the empty perfume bottle, sniffing as you work • Top up with carrier oil, making sure to leave enough room for the rollerball, which you will insert once you’re satisfied with the blend • Cover the bottle top tightly with plastic wrap and an elastic band, shake thoroughly, and let sit for at least 24 hours to allow the blend to develop • Shake and test periodically, adding more essential oil if necessary (I wear mine after each addition to see how it performs) • Push in the rollerball insert securely and close with the cap • Shake well before each use, and apply sparingly to pulse points.

Here are the scents I came up with for my (imaginary) trip to springtime France. The numbers are the drops needed for each essential oil. Top, middle, base and fixative notes are also indicated.

Fleurs de Provence essential oil perfume (5 mL)

A lemon-drop sun and fields of fragrant mauve stretching to a horizon of saturated blue. Sweet citrus and warm cedar round out the sharp hit of lavender in this decidedly feminine scent. The resinous evergreen notes of cistus (Cistus ladaniferus) work particularly well with the perfume’s other bright elements.

35 lemon (t) • 5 lavender (m) • 5 cedarwood (b) • 5 cistus (f) • fractionated coconut oil or carrier oil of your choice

Rain on the Pavement essential oil perfume (5 mL)

If you enjoy sipping café au lait and nibbling orange brioche whilst admiring the reflected lights of la tour Eiffel in the rainwashed street, this crisp and slightly spicy fragrance is for you. Bonus: it’s unisex! 

20 bergamot FCF* (t) • 2 clove (m) • 10 sandalwood (b) • 5 cistus (f) • fractionated coconut oil or carrier oil of your choice

* furocoumarin-free, which means the phytochemicals which cause skin to become photosensitive have been removed; sometimes labelled bergapten-free

Springtime in Paris essential oil perfume (5 mL)

This perfume is my favourite of the three: fresh and floral, with a subtle je ne sais quoi lent by the sandalwood. I use 5% rose and 20% frankincense in jojoba oil as affordable alternatives to the pure oils.

20 sweet orange (t) • 20 rose (m) • 15 sandalwood (b) • 5 frankincense (f) • fractionated coconut oil or carrier oil of your choice

Notes & Cautions:

• Never ingest essential oils • Do not apply undiluted to the skin • Do a patch test first • Avoid using if pregnant • Some essential oils, especially citrus, can cause skin to become photo-sensitive, so keep perfumed skin out of the sun • Test to make sure the bottle doesn’t leak before carrying in your handbag • Keep perfume and essential oils away from heat and direct sunlight.

Literary Apothecary

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George (Penguin Random House, 2015)

My mother found this gem in her condominium’s lending library and gave it to me with glowing reviews. As I began to read it (the fourth of my 16+ goal for this year), I was immediately drawn in to this charming and sometimes heartrending world of lost love, regret and redemption, set in the streets of Paris and the canals, rivers and vineyards of southern France.

The Little Paris Bookshop was originally published in German as Das Lavendelzimmer (The Lavender Room) in 2013. The English-language version is pretty good; there are only a few passages that hint of this being a translation, and even they lend a quaintly amusing air to the book.

The title is a bit of a misnomer. Only the first few chapters take place in Paris, and the bookstore in question is of a rather peculiar nature: it’s a renovated barge operated by Monsieur Perdu, a self-styled “literary apothecary”. Like the bonbon-dispensing confiseuse in Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, Perdu prescribes just the right book to his customers, each of whom is searching for more than a good read. The lonely and broken-hearted, the damaged and bewildered – even the stereotypical silly tourist – all board the floating bookshop in search of Perdu’s particular brand of pistou for the soul.

When it comes to helping his patients, the apothicaire may be skilled, but he is unable to find a cure for his own despair. Just as the book barge is permanently moored to the banks of the Seine, the middle-aged Perdu has lived-but-not-lived for twenty years, transfixed by grief, regret, missed opportunity and the fear of death. Will he, with the aid of several eccentric companions, be able to cast off the tethers which bind him to the past and navigate the winding and sometimes treacherous route to wholeness and a peace-filled mind, body and soul?

Literary references, gustatory delights and lyrical landscapes abound in this novel which is equal parts travelogue, culinary journey and paean to books and food, friendship, France and love. It is by no means perfectly written; there are some tiresome clichés, and I can’t stomach the fact that all the characters spend every moment of their lives in deep, hand-wringing angst. However, I’m a sucker for evocative novels set in sun-drenched, lavender-scented France and Italy (think: Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert), and George’s take on the countryside, traditional food and wine, plus the quirky French-ness of the protagonist and his friends, came at just the right time. As the stubborn vestiges of winter still cling, The Little Paris Bookshop is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Up next: Do-it-yourself springtime scents, inspired by The Little Paris Bookshop!

Detail, 12″ x 12″ Recollections scrapbook paper in “Paris Florals” from Michaels