Aromatic Alchemy

Fragrance lovers, foodies and flower enthusiasts from across the province gathered at The Hedge Shed last week for a workshop on making perfume.

One can be certain to meet interesting people at this venue and leave inspired. “Feel free to nibble the purple beans on the fence, cuddle the ducks or pick some herbs,” invited Eidin Griffin, the dynamo behind the initiative.

r sunflowers and soap

Kate Chanthunya, creator of everyone’s favourite soap Rondavel, shared the secrets of scent making – using the essence of plants.

Humans have used fragrant herbs for thousands of years and, during the past decade as soapmaker, Kate has certainly learnt how to combine essential oils. “Everyday is filled with smells in our world. Leaves, flowers, earth, water – we find natural scents addictive, and are always thinking of ways to add them into our products. Nature is our inspiration.” 

r kate

We began by folding our own little box (Rondavel boxes are cleverly designed to use no glue) to collect our favourite herbs from the abundant piles on the table.

r box of herbs

Plants contain fragrance for different reasons, sometimes to attract pollinators but most often to repel predators, so it is surprising that humans find them so beguiling.   Kate told us that the sense of smell is present in the womb. “Humans can recognise 3 million scents, and we have a book shelf of fragrance in our brain. This is the reason that when we smell a combination of leather, wood and furniture polish (for example) we immediately remember our father’s office.”

r smelling

While we kept asking the names of the herbs, Kate encouraged us to simply inhale the essences and work out what they might be. Knowing the name means we might not always smell them properly, having a previous experience stored on our mental bookshelf.

First we learnt to make an infusion, by gathering flowers each day and adding them to a jar of alcohol or oil (removing the old ones each time).  There was much sharing of garden favourites – from lemony Perdepis (Clausena anisata),  pine cones (reminiscent of honey and toast), Buchu (a bit like naartjie) and the faint honey fragrance of ordinary clover flowers.

r choosing herbs

Then, armed with strips of filter paper and pencils crafted from scrap paper, we began to test the essential oils to find those that we loved the most, and start to build a personalised perfume.  Rondavel buy only African products that support holistic, organic farming methods and that help to conserve the natural biodiversity and community of an area.  There certainly is no shortage of spectacular products on our continent!

r testing papers

We  were transported by Namibian Myrr,  Madagascan Katafray, Atlas Cedar from Morocco, Cape camomile and Buchu from the Cedarberg, African bluegrass from the Eastern Cape, naartjie from the Free State, Jojoba from Grahamstown, Rose Gerqanium and Rosemary from Hilton, spicy oils from Zanzibar and the aromatic Frankincense resin from East Africa.

r spicy

After spending time sniffing all the options and feeling a little overwhelmed by the fragrance, we retreated to the shade outside for herbal tea, fresh fruit, just baked rhubarb muffins and warm scones with local goats milk cheese – and succulent conversation.

r blue teapot

Linda, a trained aromatherapist, loved the herbal and citrus options and is dreaming of putting the tea tree plants growing on her property to good use.  Deborah was surprised that the floral range appealed to her most as she usually didn’t like floral perfume. Natural florals are a whole lot different from the synthetic chemical scents we usually associate with perfume. Receptors in our brain recognise real scents more easily, we learnt.

Christina was determined to try and recreate her favourite Rondavel soap blend of Marula and Charcoal.  This soap is reminiscent of an evening in the Bushveld – when the heat from the earth carries the rich scent of dry soil, smoky bark and sweet flowers that have begun opening for the moths. Irresistible.

r dropper

We all set about creating our own enticing and complex perfumes. Adding a few drops of this and a couple of that, making sure to balance the base notes with the volatile top notes and include some middle notes too. Eidin heeded the advice that simple was better and combined Peruvian balsam with naartjie and helichrysum to create a bright, fresh, earthy fragrance that suited her perfectly.

r naartjie infusion

Kate was on hand for expert advice. She is a font of fragrant information and certainly has a well trained nose!

r elaine kate

Besides the cologne made with alcohol and the perfume with Jojoba oil, in a tiny tin box, blended oils were mixed with melted beeswax to make a solid perfume that would release its secrets slowly once applied to warm skin.

Lulu was a little surprised that her combination of naartjie, blue grass and black cardamon smelt of old oranges, but it was quickly named Fermented Midlands Citrus – which is right on trend and could well become a hit!

r lulu

Everyone left determined to stick their noses into pumpkin flowers and pine cones, to smell the clover and explore the floral and herbal abundance on our doorsteps. And most definitely to return for another magical morning of learning and sharing in The Hedge Shed soon.

Contact Eidin Griffin for a 2018 calendar of events. 083 429 2867

r intention

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Christeen says:

    How I wish I could have been there, what a joy to be immersed in natural scents, then create your own blend, Kate is an inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Despite the fact that I am not usually a fan of fragrance, it was lovely. There is a big difference between these scents and those crammed into lux soap! Lots more inspiring things coming up,so follow Hedge Shed on FB to keep abreast, Christeen.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. christinapevgmailcom says:

    Ooh I loved the workshop! And can’t stop sniffing my wrists today, where I dabbed a bit of my beeswax ‘Marula & Charocaol – inspired’ scent this morning.


    1. That is fabulous to hear! Kate will be delighted.


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