Sunday, March 30, 2014

Wild Chicory

Wild chicory is unbearably bitter. But it's exactly what your liver needs in springtime, to cleanse and renew itself after the long winter struggle with reduced sunlight, and the body's tendency to go into hibernation mode (i.e.: storing fat, reducing circulation, and general stagnation). It is one of the many wild bitter herbs that pop up in early spring.

Chicory is a useful medicinal plants with several properties and uses. The leaves are mostly known for their cleansing and liver-protecting properties (either when eaten raw or cooked; or when dried and used in teas or other medicinal preparations). Leaves also can be used to redue skin inflammation and swelling.

The roots are often dried and roasted to prepare a coffee substitute, or are even added to coffee to extend its nutty flavour. It's interesting to note also, that chicory root also balances the stimulating properties of coffee.

Aside from the medicinal properties, chicory leaves provide a marvellous culinary experience for those who appreciate wildcrafted foods and the often neglected benefit of bitter flavour. Fresh leaves may be added to salads (use only the tender young leaves). Larger leaves may be steamed or sauteed and prepared similarly to kale, as a warm salad drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. You may feel the need to balance the bitterness with a little sweet touch of Silan (date molasses), honey or coconut palm sugar, or a handful of chopped almonds and raisins.

The Arabic cuisine in the Galilee includes a fascinating pastry, in which simple flatbread layered with with a mixture of steamed chicory leaves (known as "Elt") are seasoned with red chili pepper, salt and fried onion. The dough is than rolled and baked, and served along with other mezze and dips, or as a side dish with more hearty dishes such as mujadarah or lamb stew.

Note: Cultivated types or relatives of chicory include radiccio (also extremely bitter) and endive, which is grown in the dark to keep the leaves pale and tender (and also a little less bitter).

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Vernal Equinox & Hyacinths

Wild Hyacinth by Ayala Moriel
Wild Hyacinth, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
Happy Persian New Year!

Today is the vernal equinox, where the Persian New Year begins. Hyacinth is one of the symbols of this ancient holiday, and I’m excited to share a photograph of a related beautiful wild plant: the Hyacinth Squill (Scilla hyacinthoides). It may not be as fragrant as the grape hyacinth found on the altar of most Persian homes, but it is a strikingly beautiful flower to find in the wild, in the mountainous Mediterranean woods.

Sonbol (Farsi for Hyacinth) is one of the Haft Seen (7 S’s), and symbolizes fertility and continuation - and brings the blessings of life and beauty to the new year. Think about it: a bulb has been buried in the dirt since last year, survived the dry summer, storing its energy for the right timing. A flowering bulb is an act of faith in life and renewal; but also an act of madness. There is no guarantee that the hospitable conditions that triggered the blossom will continue long enough for it to come into seed. The creation of new life requires gambling one’s own life, in other words: risking death.

Life and death take different faces, shapes and forms as the cycle of seasons evolve. Winter might seem like a deep sleep (if not death itself) in the colder parts of the world, while summer is bursting and buzzing with life; while in the hotter and dryer countries, the harshness of the sun is lethal and only the rainy winter season will bring relief and encourage any growth... In the transitional seasons, it’s a balancing act between the two: life giving way to death in the autumn, as fruit rot and allow the pure essence (seed) to preserve itself. In springtime, the force of life is so strong it will push through anything - ice, frozen earth and even flood - in order to renew the cycle with the visual and fragrant botanical orgy also known as wild flowers.

The aroma of hyacinth is sadly not one that is easily found in natural perfumery. I’ve been fortunate to have had hyacinth absolute on my palette at some point; but those days are long gone. The absolute had a very different character than the fresh flower, as it was sweeter and deeper. But that’s no longer a surprising result for me in the world of extraction. I’ve used it in more formulations than I should have (Rainforest, Tamya, Song of Songs, Sagittarius), but was somehow able to recuperate once my supplies ran out.

Wild hyacinths can be found in the eastern Mediterreanean region (i.e.: Israel, Lebanon, Turkey). There are far fewer flowers on the wild plants, while the cultivated variety (aka “Grape hyacinth”) has very fleshy flowers, filled with water, and with an almost overbearing heady aroma that is both green, sharp yet balsamic-sweet and with fruity, full-bodied undertones. The fresh hyacinth flowers owe their scents to several odorants, including 3,7 dimethyl-1,3(E),5(E)-octatriene-7-ol and (E)-cinnamic alcohol and ethyl 2-methoxybenzoate.

Since the pioneer days of Vent Vert by Balmain (1947), the use of hyacinth note in perfumery was secured in green florals and green-aldehydic Chypres. It is therefore no surprise that hyacinths have been in vogue int he 1970’s, when this genre was at its peak. Notable perfumes with a hyacinth note include mostly these two genres, with the occasional heady white floral such as the original Chloe and Fracas:

Amazone (Hermes), AnaisAnais (Cacharel), Chamade (Guerlain), Cristalle Eau de Toilette, Deneuve (1986), Envy Gucci (1997), First Van Cleef & Arpels (1976), Fleur No. 1 (1000Flowers), Laura Ashley No. 1, No. 19 (Chanel), Ombre de Hyacinth (Tom Ford), Parfum d’Ida (Neil Morris), Pêche noir (Envoyage Perfumes), Private Collection (Estee Lauder), Safari (Ralph Lauren), Silences (Jacomo) and Wrappings (Clinique). Oltremare (Bois 1920) presents an unusual context for hyacinth, comprising of woodsy musks and tea-like nuances.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Perfume & Costumes

In preparation for Purim, I started thinking a bit about the connection between perfume and costume. I've discussed before how wearing a perfume can carry the same power and purpose of wearing a mask. This topic can be approached from different angles though: the similar angle of "wearing" perfume as you wear a garment, to present yourself to the world via an olfactory image. Such a picking the perfume equivalent of a navy or grey suit for a job interview (No. 19, Grey Flannel) versus a red one (the perfume equivalent of which could be Giorgio); picking a floral dress for a  or jeans and pearls for Sunday brunch or a picnic in the garden with your in-laws (wearing AnaisAnais, YSL Paris, or Laura Ashley No. 1).

Thierry Mugler's Angel gowns by Ayala Moriel
Thierry Mugler's Angel gowns, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
The other aspect is the elaborate costumes designed for perfume commercials, designer fragrances most likely. Thierry Mugler has gone through elaborate lengths to design a different haute-couture gown for each of his Angel campaigns, all of which completely impractical for wearing in real life (even in a very fancy ball or red carpet event). One, for instance, was made entirely of heavy crystals (meant, no doubt, to hold the waif model down so she does not fly off the tower where it was shot). Nevertheless, Thierry Mugler carried his Angel dream all the way to reality in the most admirable over-the-top-manner only an artistically obsessed personality would.

YSL's famous dress for his Paris perfume: a black velvet gown with a pink satin haltertop that gathers into an impossibly enormous pink bow at the back - just as likely as the acrobatic lover who would smell your perfume miles away, only to drop out of thin air from a helicopter to kiss you upside down atop the Tour Eiffel. Voila:

Additionally, the tie between perfume and fashion has never been more crisply outlined than in Christian Dior's introduction of Miss Dior and his "New Look" in 1947. The ultra-feminine silhouette that characterized his collection were reflected truly in the perfume's vivacious juxtaposition of green galbanum, aldehydes, animalic civet and patchouli, and a bouquet of flowers to harmonize these contrasts. By the end of WWII, Chanel as a brand was out of the picture, and was not creating any new scents (not until the mid 70's with Cristalle). Although she can by and large be credited with marrying perfume and fashion; it is Christian Dior who took this marriage seriously with a very strong connection between his brand and perfume, hiring the best noses of the time - Jean Carles for Miss Dior, and later on the equally legendary Edmond Roudnitska, who created for the house numerous groundbreaking perfumes: Eau Sauvage, Diorissimo, Diorama, and Diorella; and Guy Robert to create Dioressence. Dior has been consistently taking their perfumes seriously and naming them often with the name of the brand included.

Last but not least: some bottles look like a costume or a fashion illustrator's sketch on their own right. Take Tocade's bottle, for instance: reminiscent of the Chinese straw hat and pagodas, charicaturized rather than getting the very stylized treatment YSL did in his Orient-inspired collections. Or take Ginvenchy Organza and Organza Indicence - both looking like three-dimensional glass gowns. The torso-shaped bottles of Shocking by Schiaparelli, as well as the more provocative Jean-Paul Gautier's fragrances for women as well as La Male are also both relating more to fashion than the human body per-se, tying together fashion and fragrance in a more costume-oriented manner.

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Sunday, March 09, 2014

News from the Nose: Carnival, Chaos, Renewal and Rebirth

Dear Fragrant Friends,
“I keep turning over new leaves, and spoiling them, as I used to spoil my copybooks; and I make so many beginnings there never will be an end. (Jo March)” - Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

In a chaotic world overflown with demands, there is nothing more empowering and freeing than the possibility of new beginnings. Don’t let the Polar Vortex convince you otherwise: winter will come to an end soon enough. Beyond the piles of seemingly endless snow, the days ARE getting longer; and the sun will again achieve its balance and return to power on March 20th. As shooting bulbs and new growth slowly but surely replace winter’s icy embrace, spring is the time of rejuvenation and rebirth. Time to start anew, shed our old skin, refine and re-define our path and distil our true essence. Time to establish a renewed sense of passion and purpose before we push ahead above the icy grounds. Like the Sonbol (Persian hyacinth, which symbolizes fertility and continuation), which is still curled up concealing the grape-like cluster of fragrant bells - this season offers a nurturing and quiet environment that will allow us to grow to our full potential.

Perfume has the power to restore one’s joie-de-vivre, increase mindfulness and nurture a greater sense of connectedness. The sense of smell is so intrinsically linked to our emotions and memories that it can help us reconnect with ourselves and with the here and now. Our obsession with the seasons – while might seem naïve – is no accident. By connecting to the cyclic rhythm of the seasons and changing with them, we find life lessons that ring true and timely in spite (or because) of the fact that the sun has been spinning this way for billions of years. This Spring we urge you to be in the moment, whether you are enjoying a hot cup of tea with a loved one, or catching up with your taxes.
Breathe deeply, and live fragrantly!

  1. Celebrating Chaos: Carnival Season is Not Quite Over Yet!
  2. Perfumes for Purim  
  3. Scents for Persian New Year
  4. Conscious Cleansing & Emotional Renewal
  5. Prune, Learn & Grow 
  6. Mindful Health & Inner Cleansing  
Read Ayala Moriel Parfums' March 2014 newsletter in it's entirety, and sign up to our mailing list to get future inspiring & informative newsletters with recipes, seasonal celebrations with scents, and  special promo codes only offered to our loyal customers and newsletter subscribers. 

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

In Praise of Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettle by Glover747
Stinging Nettle, a photo by Glover747 on Flickr.
Stinging Nettles are a magical herb. This hardy little plant grows almost everywhere - in the wild, or amidst urban decay, providing those who know its secrets with a the best of wealth: health.

In the Northern Hemisphere it will arrive during the winter or early spring, just when it's needed for its many health benefits. First of all, in a season devoid of greens* nettles provide iron which is much needed to keep our red blood cells count, and keep us strong and energetic. Tea brewed from stinging nettles (fresh or dried) also help in many other aspects, such as cleansing the urinary tract, and combating inflammation. And the best part? It gives your immune system a boost against hay fever, which is everyone's least favourite part of spring!

If stinging nettles scare you, here's the trick: once you blanch them in boiled water, they immediately lose their sting! Of course that does not solve the problem of picking them (use gardener's gloves, unless you are blessed with rough worker's hands or have developed and immunity to the stinging venom in the leaves - something that most regular pickers of nettles develop after repeated exposure). Secondly, if you get them in the farmer's market, you just need to be careful to not touch them until after you blanch them - just pour them into boiling water, like pasta, and wait till they change colour into a dark green and look limp.

If the health benefits alone don't appeal to you all that much, here are a couple of delicious tips recipes using nettles, for any meal of the day:

1) Soup Broth: If you haven't developed a taste for the steeped nettles, you can use the hot tisane in addition to the broth of any soup.
2) Smoothie: The chilled tisane can be used as a liquid in smoothies. Try it with pineapple and kiwi!
3) Fritatta: Chop up a handful of the blanched nettle leaves, and add to 3 whisked eggs. Chop up one scallion, a handful of cilantro leaves, and add a dash of dried chili pepper flakes and 1/4tsp each of turmeric and cumin, and salt to taste.
4) Lentil & Chickpea Soup: In a saucepan, sautee onions, once golden add garlic, sautee for 10 more seconds and add 1Tbs of each cumin and coriander seeds. Sautee for additional 10-20 seconds. Add 6 liters of water and 1 cup each green and red lentils, and 1-2 tsp salt. Cook until the lentils have soften, and add pre-cooked chickpeas (or canned ones). Add chopped up bunch of blanched nettles and chopped fresh cilantro leaves. Serve with lemon juice.

*Go to the local farmer's market to see how little there is of fresh green leaves in the long-nighted months: even kale is quite miserable come February and March).

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Must Read: The Guardian's Article About Natural Raw Materials Issues

The Guardian published an article about the challenges and scarcity of natural raw materials, from the large players' point of view (Givaudon, LVMH, Loreal...). And the bottom lines might indicate some hope for the perfume world at large:

"For a long time the perfume industry has lacked the organisation to lobby Brussels, but it has finally woken up. A delegation met representatives of the European commission, stressing that growing roses provided work for 200,000 people in Bulgaria and that this European industry, which is export-led, cannot be relocated.

Brussels seems to have got the message and the decision to extend legislation has been postponed until 2015. Ifra hopes it has convinced the commission to ban three rather than 12 of the ingredients listed."

Monday, March 03, 2014

Narcissus Absolute

Narkiss Blue BG by Dror Miler
Narkiss Blue BG, a photo by Dror Miler on Flickr. 
There is no denying it. The relationship between narcissus absolute and the living flower is nil. Void. Nada.

If it wasn't for the name, there would be nothing in it to suggest the intoxicating perfume that linger in the air in mid-winter in the Mediterranean region. When a Narcissus tazetta* is around and in bloom, you can't miss it. The humble little bulb plant often hides between thorny bushes but the scent cannot conceal itself. Little pillars carrying bright shining stars that seem to have a face and a character of their own. The flowers radiate a most audacious, heady, refreshing, intoxicating and inviting aroma.

On sunny winter weekend, after a night of showers, we would jump in the puddles and the scent of narcissus flowers will stop us on their tracks. We'd look around for the source of this lovely scent (and after a year or two in the village, noticed they will usually show up in the same place - which is only logical for an endangered bulb plant). But once coming closer - there is a certain point when you're too close, and the scent is almost repulsive, reminiscent of ripe corpses and feces abandoned in some ancient battlefield.

The absolute of narcissus, while certainly haunting, as a different story. It has a certain voluptuous darkness about it, yet is also honeyed, greenish and soft. Narcissus being related to tuberose, it is no surprise to find relationship there - tuberose-like character but not nearly as dominant. Not quite powerful as to bring to mind any of the dark tales of doom associated with this flower in Greek mythology. Like its tuberose cousin, it is heady yet waxy and smooth, green and also slightly buttery and powdery. There is also an underlying sweetness reminiscent of dry hay-laden meadows and wet soils it brings to mind the surroundings of a Mediterranean winter landscape rather than the aroma of the flower itself. 

Coming back to the lab this morning for round 3 of my narcissus perfume, I'm now compelled to tell the story of the winter meadow, rather than a standalone flower perfume or a soliflore. I wanted version .03 (created on 03.03.2014) to feel like that haunted moment when you spot a rainbow in the cloud. The realization that some mushroom have grown overnight after the rain, within arm reach of where the narcissus flowers are hiding.

* The cultivated plant Narcissus Poeticus is also used for extraction. So the variations in scent also are due to the variations between these particular species, not only the extraction method or the locale.

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Sunday, March 02, 2014

Crisp Linen

The 2nd version of my laundry scent is a crisper, cleaner and sharper interpretation. The key notes are lavender - the classic linen scent; and petitgrain - which is simultaneously citrusy, leafy and flowery and with a very clean edge to it. The scent I've created reminds me of crisp linen, actually. Stiffened by the sun, and taken off the laundry line before nightfall will dampen or soften it.

I've tested it today, and it's wonderful both for the wash cycle (the laundry comes out smelling fresh and clean, with only 5 drops of the essential oil blend). Another 5 drops or so can be placed on a cloth or woolen dryer ball to give the laundry an extra oomph. And there are many other versatile uses for the blend which I will tell you about once it's ready, packaged and on the shelves!

I'm aiming for an April launch at the co-op boutique Giving Gifts & Co I'm part of, and am curious to see how the laundry line will be received in Eco-conscious Main street! 

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