The word perfume comes from the Latin phrase, per meaning "through and fumus meaning smoke." The French later gave the name parfum to the pleasant smells that drift through the air from burning incense. There are few periods of history that have not been influenced by perfume.
In ancient Rome the practice of "strewing herbs" was done to enhance the arrival of the Royal party as they strolled the ancient streets. Rosemary would be strewn in front of the procession so as the Emperor and his entourage advanced they stepped on the rosemary and the delightful fragrances wafted into the air. To the commoners it added a delightful fragrance to the experience of meeting the rulers of their country.
The practice of spraying perfume on the body originated in medieval Europe when bathing was outlawed as a religious taboo so the commoners had to deal with an annual bath and in between the terrible problem of body odor. Rose water was an instant hit among the perfume users, owing to its more delicate nature, and since then there has been no looking back for perfumes using flowers. Also, many ancient perfumes were made by just rubbing flowers and sweet-smelling plants on themselves. Today this is still done but in many situations it's done as an insect repellent such as rubbing mint leaves or rosemary on the body to repel flies, mosquitoes and other insects as a repellent, not as an attractant to other humans. Natural organic essential oils are used extensively for cosmetic and medicinal purposes.
Making perfume was also fun. It provided a social outlet for people to gather and share harvests from the field and experiment with differing combinations of ingredients for special aromas. Making perfume is an old art, traceable to ancient Egypt, Rome and Mesopotamia. Once considered the domain of alchemists, the makers of perfume were both feared and revered. Making perfume is a rare craft to learn but for most people a delightful experience to share and enjoy with family and friends.
Plants are by far the largest source of fragrant compounds used in perfumery. The fragrances are derived from what are called the essential oils of the plant, which is also responsible for the taste. Maceration lasts anywhere from hours to months and it was not rare in the "rotten pot" (potpourri) room in the basement in medieval castles for blends of herbs and spices in alcohol to sit for years to perfect the aroma for each room in the castle. Plants are known as the largest source of fragrant compounds used in perfumery. Perfumes of natural origin are made out of complex blends of woods, resins, spices and dispersed often with some form of alcohol.
Aromatic oils of flower petals, fruit peels, or herbs are released when put in rubbing alcohol. The alcohol breaks down the petals, leaves or peels allowing the aromatic oils to be released into a solution. Aromatherapy - smelling essential oils to cure physical and emotional problems - is being revived today.
The very good perfumes are "layered" which is nothing but the fragrance oils are balanced according to their volatility, or rate of evaporation. The heavier oils will remain on the skin throughout the day while the lighter "notes", such as floral smells, evaporate quicker and is the initial fragrance one smells in the application of the perfume but quickly disappears and is replaced by a heavier note. The layering is why the perfume smell in the morning is different than what it is at night. Different oils have evaporated during the day and only the heavier remain by night.
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