My friend Mary has a green thumb and gets a bumper crop of clary sage every year. We are always trying to preserve the unusual,heady scent. Last year she put some in a mason jar with vodka in the hope that the scent would transfer to the vodka. It did not work. I did some research about homemade essential oil stills, thinking maybe we should try that route. These run the gamut from store bought copper stills that will extract the pure scent from your flowers and herbs to homemade stills employing modified kettles, bags of ice and hoses. Either way, we are a little intimidated by the distiller idea and decided against it.
This year I invited Mary to bring her giant bag of dried clary sage over to my kitchen and attempt to extract the scent into a vegetable oil in the hopes of making a solid perfume with it. She also brought some lavender to add to our mix. I would have liked to add rose petals from my garden but this summer we are experiencing a drought in Chicago and my roses are ailing. It is a good year to be growing native plants like herbs that don’t need lot of water. I am hoping that if you are also suffering from the drought where you are, you may still have some lavender, chamomile, clary sage or other good-smelling herbs to pick and extract. We decided to use a crockpot to keep the kitchen cooler and not have to hover over a hot stove. You can use a crockpot or a regular saucepan. The saucepan requires more continual stirring and surveillance.
- We used 2 cups of vegetable oil (Do not use olive oil as it has an odor.) You can use more oil if you want to produce a larger batch of scented oil.
- 1-3 cups of dried herbs and flowers, stems removed. You need enough plant material so that it sits in the pot and is covered by your oil. The more you break and cut up the plants the more you can cram into the oil.
- Grated beeswax. In the process of infusing the oil you will wind up with less than 2 cups when you are ready to add the wax. The exact amount will vary depending on how well you get the oil out of the plant material. When it is completely strained at the end you will measure it and then determine how much wax you will use. You will need to use 4 parts oil to 1 part beeswax.
- Crockpot or saucepan
- Strainer or clean coffee press
- Assorted wooden spoons, ladles, pot holders etc.
- Put the oil in the crock pot (or saucepan) and add as much plant material as will fit. Heat it up to a simmer. Let it simmer until the flowers seem to be dry and crunchy. They are ready to be removed.
- Strain out the plant material using a coffee press or a wire strainer. The press is really effective as it squeezes every last drop of oil out of them. With a strainer you would employ a spoon to press into the flowers and herbs to get the oil out.
- If you want to intensify the oil you can opt for repeat infusions. Add another batch of dried plant material to the scented oil and repeated the process.
- When the oil is ready, strain out the plant material for the last time and return the oil to the pan.
- Add the grated beeswax to the oil and stir it in. Most of it will melt on its own in the hot oil or you may have to heat it up again on low to get all the wax melted.
- Once the beeswax is melted, transfer your perfume into containers. We used mini-mint tins, baby food jars and other small lidded containers. We employed a ladle to get the oil into the small vessels. You could probably come up with all sorts of clever solid perfume holders.
- Because I am impatient, we put the tins in the freezer so they would harden quickly, and then opened them up to reveal the perfect solid perfume, all from Mary’s garden!
Ideally, this perfume should be stable at room temperature and you won’t need to worry about mold. This summer I have witnessed unusual phenomenon like my sunblock and makeup separating due to the heat so I am opting to keep my perfume in the refrigerator.
You also could simply fill a glass jar with oil and herbs and put it in the sun to extract the scent. This can take a few weeks. Then heat it up and add beeswax and you will have made a solar solid perfume.
Photos by Sarah Hart Boone