Enfleurage is an old technique used for extracting essential oils from the most delicate flowers and this includes some of the oils that we sell here at Artisan Aromatics like Frangipani, Gardenia, Jasmine, Lily, Rose, Tuberose and Lilac.
Enfleurage Essential Oils are extremely rare. Steam Distillation is the most common method used to extract essential oils from plants like Lavender, Tea Tree, Geranium and hundreds more. Expression is most commonly used for extracting essential oils from citrus fruit (orange, lemon, grapefruit, etc.)
Enfleurage is a very old technique of extracting the aromatic oils from flowers that was popularized in France during the 19th century. It works on the simple principle that fats dissolve essential oils and thereby absorb their aromas. Petals and other fragrant plant parts are soaked in fat or vegetable oil which absorbs the fragrance. In the 19th century and early parts of the 20th, pork, lard and beef fat were used though now most of the world’s few producers use vegetable fats like palm oil. In the early days, the animal fat was smeared on glass plates in a wooden frame called a chassis and then the flowers were placed on the fat and left to release their oils for several days. The process was repeated several more times with spent flowers being removed and fresh flowers being added to the plates until the fat on the plates was completely saturated with the aromatic oils of the flowers. The oil saturated fat, called a pomade, was then dissolved by alcohol. The aromatic oils migrate to the alcohol and finally the alcohol is evaporated to leave the pure aromatic oil of the flower. The process is the same today except that vegetable oil is often used instead of animal fat. The resultant essential oil extraction is technically called an “absolute” but the term is deceptive since most products called absolutes are extracted in a different method by chemical solvents, such as hexane. Our supplier of absolutes extracted by enfleurage uses only organic palm oil and organic sugar cane alcohol in the extraction process.
Enfleurage is used on certain flowers because their fragrant compounds cannot be extracted by distillation. Today most essential oils extracted from flowers that are too delicate for steam distillation are done so by solvent (chemical) extraction but, of course, the resultant oil can no longer be considered organic and there is always a hint of “chemical” smell to the aroma of the oil. Today only a very few few producers use the old technique of enfleurage because it is quite labor intensive and therefore quite costly but the exquisite results are truly worth it. Just one drop of Frangipani Absolute, Jasmine Absolute, Gardenia Absolute, Lily Absolute, Rose Absolute, or Tuberose Absolute oil added to an appropriate diluent makes a wonderful perfume. In addition to the extraction process being labor intensive, a lot of plant material is needed to produce the oil. In one study, 1000 kilos of Tuberose blossoms yielded only 801 grams of oil.
Here at Artisan Aromatics, we work closely with a small producer in South America that uses a modern version of the ancient technique of enfleurage to produce completely organic oils of Frangipani, Jasmine, Gardenia, Lily, Rose, and Tuberose. He grows his flowers on his small farm and then processes them using Palm oil as the fat and pure alcohol derived from local sugar cane. By using all local products, he helps to support the local economy and small farmers and gives employment to indigenous residents.
2017 Update: This producer has recently begun making Limited Edition batches of some Enfleurage Oils based on pure Organic Coconut Oil, rather than Palm Oil. The result is very special – pure flower aroma without even a hint of the earthy undertone of Palm Oil.