Scent extraction through enfleurage, a newly rediscovered tradition
You might already be familiar with the term ‘enfleurage’ from Patrick Süskind’s historical fantasy novel ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ about a man with an exceptional sense of smell who captures the scent of young women. While the story itself is fiction, the method he uses — called enfleurage — to extract natural fragrances from flowers is, in fact, real and features a long history of use.
Although it’s a very elaborate technique, enfleurage has not only gained popularity recently as a Do-it-Yourself project, but it’s also still used to this day by some major perfume and cosmetics manufacturers. The reason: Distinguished by its ancient tradition and cultural history, enfleurage is one of the few methods that manages to preserve the pure scent of the flowers and top fragrance notes, which can often get lost using other extraction methods .
How the enfleurage technique works
Much like the use of cannabidiol (CBD) , the non-psychotropic cannabis component we use in our creams, the enfleurage technique dates back to antiquity and has experienced an upswing in recent decades. ‘Enfleurage’ is a French term that was coined at the beginning of the 18th century when it became a widespread method of obtaining fragrances in Grasse in the south of France.
Enfleurage roughly translates to ‘bearing a flower scent’ in English. The fragrance is obtained from flowers in two distinct ways — enfleurage à froid (cold method) and enfleurage à chaud (hot method) — which both use the flowers’ specific properties to enhance and release fragrances even after they’ve been harvested .
Enfleurage à froid
For the enfleurage à froid method, fresh flowers are placed on glass plates that have been pre-coated with a layer of odor-free fats. The glass plates are surrounded by a wooden frame and stacked on top of one another. After several days, the withering flowers are replaced with fresh ones, and the process is repeated over the course of about three months until the fats are saturated with the essential oils from the flowers. With the help of solvents — typically alcohol — the pure fragrance is extracted from the resulting fatty pomade and the result is the highly concentrated form of the floral fragrance, also known as essence absolue d'enfleurage, or ‘absolute enfleurage essence’.
The absolute essential oils produced by this technique are among the most valuable fragrances — and this comes at a price. After all, the process is quite laborious and the yield is very limited. By way of illustration, it takes 200 jasmine flowers to produce just one drop of absolute jasmine .
Enfleurage à chaud
Another similar method that takes even less time is called enfleurage à chaud and is where the fats and flowers are stirred together at a temperature of about 60 °C. Here, too, the process is repeated several times with fresh flowers, and then the essential oil is extracted from the fat using an alcohol solvent.
While this process is much faster, some delicate, sensitive flowers cannot withstand the heat and thus their fragrances are not released. Flowers like tuberose, for example, which is known for its sweetish, honey-like scent, are much better off using the cold enfleurage method .
Where to find absolute enfleurage essence
The highly concentrated, precious fragrances created by careful enfleurage techniques can be used for perfumes or as essential oils. Essential oils have been shown to have a positive effect on our central nervous system and are mainly used in alternative therapies to treat depression, anxiety and stress, among other conditions .
The fragrances obtained through enfleurage techniques not only ensure pleasant scents in our cosmetics, creams, body lotions, soaps and massage oils, but also sometimes contain hormones, vitamins and other natural flower components that can support our well-being .
Scent extraction today — Has the enfleurage tradition been preserved?
Just because your favorite product contains essential oils like the seductive tuberose doesn’t mean that those essential oils were made using an enfleurage technique. Over time, traditional scent extraction has increasingly been replaced by more inexpensive and faster techniques. That is why modern methods such as cold pressing, distillation and extraction dominate today.
Nonetheless, thanks to its gentle procedure, enfleurage techniques have a clear advantage. Namely that even the most delicate and very sensitive flowers can remain in-tact, despite high temperatures, pressure and other external factors. Flowers that retain their intense scent for at least a couple days after harvest are especially popular candidates for the enfleurage process. These include, for example, jasmine, orange blossom, rose, hyacinth, honeysuckle, peony, lilac, magnolia, gardenia, jonquil and daffodil.
Perhaps you’re familiar with one or many of these flower varieties, and maybe you might even find them in your garden. With our Guide to Enfleurage, you can use these flowers and try your hand at creating DIY fragrances. We hope you enjoy ‘bearing flower scents’ of your own.
 McCoy, A. (2018). Homemade perfume. Salem, MA: Page Street Publishing Co.
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 Enfleurage Essential Oil from Jasmine and Rose using Cold Fat Absorbent