frankincense: 4 posts

On The Beauty of Fresh Incense

Incense is one of those materials that changes its character depending on what else is present in the formula. It can be bright and peppery or dark and smoky. It can even evoke the verdancy of spring buds. Incense is one of the most incredible ingredients used in perfumery. Before I describe a few fragrances to illustrate how incense is used as a fresh note, first a few words on what we mean by incense. Typically, perfumery incense is frankincense or olibanum. It’s sourced from the Boswellia species, most commonly found in countries like Sudan or Ethiopia. In its raw form incense comes as opaque lumps of resin that are called frankincense tears, and the tears need to be further processed into essence.

The scent of raw frankincense is peppery and vivid, and one of the easiest ways to enjoy it is to put one tear into a glass of water and leave it to infuse. The taste of such incense water is refreshing and bright, with a spicy edge.  The closest equivalent in fragrance is Serge Lutens’s appropriately named L’Eau Froide, which explores the bright nuances of frankincense.

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Three Crisp and Bright Incense Perfumes

Frankincense, the subject of my recent article and video, is on my mind again. Today I would like to reply to a request for fresh and bright incense fragrances that can be worn during warm weather.

Frankincense is a chameleon of a note, and it can evoke different impressions depending on what other ingredients are used in a composition. In general, if you’re looking for a fresh incense blend, consider fragrances with green, leafy and citrus notes. If you’re after a dark, smoky incense, search for notes like benzoin, tonka bean, Peru balsam, amber and guaiacwood.

Fragrances mentioned in the video:

Aedes de Venustas Copal Azur

Comme des Garçons Zagorsk

Hermès Un Jardin sur le Nil

More on the subject of incense: why the supplies of frankincense are fragile and which brands source sustainably.

What unconventional fragrances do you prefer during summer? What are your favorite incense perfumes?

Why Frankincense Is On The Verge of Disappearing

Incense is one of my favorite notes, whether it’s the classical frankincense (olibanum) or the blends meant to evoke the aroma of Japanese or Indian powders and joss sticks. I will eventually cover the different notes that convey an incense-like effect, but today I will start with frankincense. It’s an iconic ingredient, and in perfumery if you see incense mentioned in a fragrance pyramid, it’s often frankincense. Another reason I would like to start my incense series with frankincense is that it’s an ingredient under threat.

Frankincense is obtained from about five species of Boswellia trees found in North Africa, Western Africa, India, Oman, and Yemen. Centuries before oil became the source of Oman’s wealth, frankincense was its true gold. In order to collect frankincense, harvesters make incisions in the trunks of the trees. The oozing sap eventually hardens and is gathered in pellets. Men typically gather the resin, while women clean it and sort the so-called frankincense tears by size. In my film, I described the danger of frankincense harvesting, since the trees grow on hard-t0-access cliffs.

In Somalia, trees have always been highly valued and the groves were local property, passed down within clans. Trees were tapped only after they were at least 12 years old and the harvest would be rotated to give the plants time to heal. However, armed conflicts and rising demand for the resin collided to create conditions for overharvesting.

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Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary, his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

Gold, frankincense and myrrh have been venerated since antiquity and their importance often exceeded their monetary value. Many know the Biblical story of the adoration of the Magi, but you can find mentions of these materials interspersed in Hindu, Islamic and Judaic texts. Since perfumery reflects trends in art, fashion, and society at large, I have always wanted to explore the three gifts of the Magi in the context of fragrance. I thought that it would be a fascinating exercise.

While the value of gold may be self-evident, its ability to hypnotize and dazzle is even more prized. The pursuit of such an irresistible sensation has deeply influenced perfumery, despite the fact that gold does not have an obvious olfactory profile. After all, just as gold is an exquisite adornment, so too is perfume.  Although every perfumer might interpret the gilded idea differently, many gold fantasy accords fall in the realm of rich oriental notes—spice, amber, balsam, tobacco, vanilla.

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