Magazine Home
The Perfume of Rosemary
A Radio Interview

an excerpt from the book series, The Perfume of Life

by A.S. Reisfield

I arrive at a radio studio for an interview, so-called, but really to pitch rosemary. I unpack some glass vials, paddle-style scent mouillettes, headphones in place…

"A first for this station, this presentation," the on-air personality suggests that I should spare no effort to describe our fragrant attractions.

Sweating hands reveal my unease, so I suppose I lack confidence, not in my message, but in how to deliver it? and in this anxious state I become a domineering pedant? I don't waste time to begin imposing my extravagant proclamations…

"Our listening audience can learn something from these oils?"

These are a set of boutique vintage small-batch rosemary distillates that bypass corporate chemical holdings and collectively convey a powerful and timely message—the rejection of modern rectified culture that so devalues the particularities of Earthly Life in favor of the virtually real always-connected all-embracing always-advancing all-inclusive heedlessly technological worldwide top-downloaded collectively conscious mind-uploaded mass-produced tightly controlled hyper-rational and across-the-board?—if I'm correct?

"Unusual, how you read so much into this."

Here, with eyes closed, inhale slowly, deeply … now say, what is aroused by your perception of this whole extract? Any sensation suggested? sensibility supported? one of dumbed-down people-centric coarse consumerism?—no way—these are provocative vapors issued by this enigmatic mobile substance, encoded compressed and sequestered information concerning Creation emitted by this fluid lipophilic envoy from wild ecologies, this situational organic emissary from the Natural World, this fluxing dispersive Nature agent, this concentrated sensitizer, sensitizing us to states of affairs among living communities, to s-o-s signals from plants and animals. Feel at all moved to take a stand? on behalf of our besieged (distant) green cousins?

"Unusual, take a stand, well put (though I'm not sure what you mean). Shall we take some calls from our listeners?"

Here, sample again—affecting yet hard to describe? deeply nuanced, but more … with me?—it's not static, but shifting, swelling, changing shape, direction … begin to grasp how the oil engenders in beholders an appreciation of the immense elaborateness of Living Nature?

"Unusual, what you gather from smelling."

No no, that term is unsuited to this practice. We experience, perceive, behold, sample, explore (not smell) aroma, in the same way that we listen to (not hear) music, that we view (not see) paintings. With respect, please.

Okay, here, this Corsican extract, a verbenone type (from the Keyserlingk operation familiar to boutique-oil aficionados)—inhale … now share whatever comes to you … any attributives brought to mind? I perceive a refined resilience, with me? too abstract?—all right, let's see if we can untie some olfactory knots…

"Untie knots, unusual."

Guitar players should understand—interested that chords give the impression of openness? whether tones of each string are clearly distinguished? Imagine an instrument with dozens of strings (imperfect analogy, nevertheless), we likewise judge an oil by how open it rings, for the degree of clutter, the way one principle grades into another, the smoothness of transitions, spacing of constituents, which if conducive will allow us to maneuver among facets of expression—makes sense?

"I believe we have some callers on the line?"

Hold on, I'd like to appeal to the audience, for this next aesthetic encounter, to avoid all distractions, to follow along, as we appraise this vital perfume designed and engineered over generational time—we're first greeted by a light slightly tangy diffusive terpenic emanation indicating evergreen needle-leaves yes? hinting of spruce perhaps, this the famously volatile alpha-pinene, a monoterpene readily shed from plant canopies to spread out and explore ambient winds, but other entangled evocations qualify that early inference, effects cooler-seeming, such as a near-subliminal minty helping that involves itself in the initial wafting, and more, try for instance to identify the mild oily lift (camphene)? and camphor too? a bit coarse, closely trailing the cloud of precociously buoyant scented scouts, this eager metabolic troupe extricating from the solution and radiating under the influence of woody dry fresh flourishes (beta-pinene), and check if you can detect the molecules effusing citrus-toned references to olibanum (myrcene)? then succeeding are more terpenoids and ketones and benzenoid hydrocarbons teaming to impart an inimitable aromatic spectrum of resinous soft and hardwood invocatory infochemicals, with several prudish fatty touches offering the faintest embellishment, then a flirty floral whisper arrives from somewhere, and a caramelic toffee-like balsamic reduction (n-bornyl acetate)? a transitory clove-tinged tone (caryophyllene)? an indirect allusion to anise (methyl chavicol)? and (stretching our imagination to further recognize) intimations of basil tarragon and black pepper? and camphor voices a return entry as the compound borneol, famous of Chinese moxa therapy and considered a contributor to the suite of olfactive traits distinctive of rosemary, as if included in order to tie together disparate outdoorsy features—wood mint oil resin and pepper.

Notice how we tease apart traces? An interest of mine, you can tell. Yet the practice requires only a modicum of mindfulness. We're attending to the intricacy of Creation. And ideally, we draw upon lessons incorporated by these dynamic agglomerations of vaporous metabolites—plant perfumes.

"Our telephone switchboard—"

Wait, here, reckon this—an industrial rosemary product from a retail shop, likely compounded with 1,8-cineole derived from eucalyptus. Ninety-nine percent of traded oils are the same, flat and standard, without a specific history, or individuality, without a story.

Now this one—from another Corsica distilling concern (run by the Astratella sisters, renowned among faithful adherents) that caters to the French aromathérapie community—lifted from plants cultivated at sea-level, perpetually bathed by warm moist Mediterranean breezes, sitting in sun and vigorously metabolizing month after month—thus healing practitioners who employ essential oils suggest application to support metabolic activity, regenerative skin care for example. In Traditional Chinese Medicine parlance, it resonates with blood. Your regard?

"My gums are tingling, now my scalp, and my cheeks, and sinuses full up … it's an exotic balm? what do I know?"

The action is similar to fireworks that explode with bursts of color according to a timed sequence, the oil known for those high-flowing flighty notes that unfold as they float and spread inside your pharyngeal cavity as shimmery sweet-cinnamic jelly-like waves, collectively complex but direct and unmistakable in effect.

Next selection, again, another artisanal vintage rosemary, this from Croatia, the Adriatic Island of Hvar, coming straight from the producer (Catherine Zurak), who says she turned out only ten liters, so go ahead … try to make out the indications that shake out from vegetation when subject to the entraining steam of distillation.

"This elicits differently, granting that I'm at a loss, and scared to admit, that my heart flutters a bit?"

Idiosyncratic responses to idiosyncratic expressions of Nature are precisely what specialty runs are about. Inasmuch as I detect a characteristic rosemary aspect, it is uncharacteristically subdued, yet seductive, even sexy … it wells up, a soft subtle deep bolus we notice that's suspended and swollen like a distended scented presence of extended radiant warmth. If it were a textile, it would be velvet. Too precious to use for skin care, this one's for resolving anger.

"No anger here. Will you take a phone call?"

Next is our last sample—this will take us out into the elements (ready your sunblock and insect repellant!)—here goes—to the high plains of Provence where the producer (Roselyne Dubois) is one of a number of dedicated artisans who prepare specialties for phytomedicine from wild populations of hyssop thyme cypress carrot thuja artemisia and … abundant wind-pruned rosemary shrubs adaptively tuned to the harsh Prealpine conditions. Whereas the plants are classified among the mint family, the growth habit of these defensive specialists is hardly lamiaceous, suggesting instead an affiliation with gymnosperm needle-leaved trees, the grayish foliage appearing prickly and thorn-like, armored and piercing, its surface area reduced to conserve moisture. Healers consider the oil as armament, shielding and warding off foreign pathogenic principles (resonating with defensive chi).

So breathe … and savor … early to exhibit are top-notes, seeming herbaceous? a minimum of menthol comes on, a tone of burned toast, a flowery shade, perhaps lilac? and vegetal, celery? and spicy, cloves? and more, yarrow? grass? incense? earth? lemon? hay? tea-tree? stay now, stay with me. Overall the oil is colder and bracing, coarser and penetrating, pungent and mucus-membrane-abrading. (I imagine a musician who's down-and-out, his vulnerability and bare honesty revealed by the cracking voice as he sings an old refrain.)

"Unusual, all your analogizing to music."

And the primary components—camphene borneol and myrcene, beta-caryophyllene alpha-pinene beta-pinene and bornyl acetate—are also molecular couriers that serve to constitute the volatile exudates of quite a few pine and fir and spruce trees. So the composition of a highland rosemary oil curiously resembles more that of (unrelated) conifer leaves than that of many (closely related) culinary medicinal herbs. How?—evolutionary convergence? between tips of unrelated genealogical twigs borne on the arborescent shrub of Life? because like environments promote the production and release of like perfumes? and various terpenoids assort to form strikingly similar assemblages no matter the phyletic lineage? so these are high-elevation chemical stable states of some kind?—either way, a fine evolutionary improvisation, agreed? (anyone listening)?

"I'm afraid we're out of time."

Summing up, in the matter of moral implications, about the idea of heralding a cause and making a difference … it's how we began this session? by relating that these expressions of Life convey a message about society off course.

"About next week's show…"


Destilaciónes en Domingo

Avant Garde Aromatica invites you to Destilaciónes en Domingo / Sunday Distillations, a regular Ceremony featuring a series of distillation events for the collection of plant perfumes. These observances are carried out by means of our stunning all-glass hydrodistillation apparatus, which lends itself both to stirring demonstration as well as the production of elegant hydrosols and volatile oils.

You are invited.

Consider any of the following:
1. We will host guests interested in informal observation and discussion.
2. We will present organized masterclasses and workshops for your group.
3. We are interested in agreements with growers to distill your plants: provide us with plant material and we'll return to you the distillation products, essential oil and hydrosol.


A.S. Reisfield [a bit about you here]


Visit SMA's Social Network

events @

Subscribe / Suscribete  
If you receive San Miguel Events newsletter,
then you are already on our mailing list.    
Click ads
copyright 2023