Tincture Madness

peaches and apricots in tincture

Peach and Apricot Tincture


My obsession has returned.  Sometimes, it's pushed aside for other important daily tasks, but it never dissipates.  I LOVE making tinctures for perfume!  When teaching perfume courses, my students favorite part of the class is when we create a tincture.   I've decided this is due to my overwhelming passion and tinctures benefits to perfumery I outline to the students.  In addition, students feedback indicates they find making tinctures manageable and fun.  Tinctures are easy to make, utilize imagination (can I tincture seaweed, and if so what will it smell like?) and easy to understand whereas blending accords and remembering which botanicals are base notes are decidedly less "fun" to many Introductory students.

The benefits to using tinctures as the alcohol base for botanical perfumes are numerous.  Notice I stated "as the alcohol base." I recommend using tinctures as the perfumers alcohol for blending a perfume.  I stress to the students that we are not creating a tincture to replace an essential oil or absolute (although one can tincture vanilla beans very successfully and use them as a replacement for vanilla absolute) we are more creating a subtle back note for the perfume by using the tinctured alcohol to blend.

The benefits to using tinctures in perfumes are as follows:

1. ORIGINALITY By using a tincture in your perfume you can put a highly original spin on your scent.  Will anyone else be blending with your homemade squash blossom tincture?  Doubtful.  That unplaceable irresistible note you detect?  Why it's my own New England blackberry leaf tincture!

2. FIXATION Many tinctures are created from botanical matter containing sugars and starches.  These ingredients actually help a natural perfume last longer as they help trap scent molecules to the skin and slow evaporation.  In addition, by using a tinctured alcohol to blend perfume we help extend a note throughout the drydown of the perfume.  For example, it is notoriously hard to create a long lasting natural citrus perfume as citrus oils are top notes and evaporate quickly.  If formulating a perfume using an orange tincture we are able to pull the citrus note through the length of the perfume and we can help extend the orange note through the mid and even base notes of the perfume as it dries down.  I find this incredibly exciting.

3. PALETTE EXTENSION While we may not be able to source a natural blackberry essence, we can create one by tincturing freeze dried blackberries.  The ability to create new aromas allows us to expand our perfumers palette.  


Lilac Tincture

Lilac Tincture

Creating a tincture is easy, as long as you follow a few simple rules:  

*The material you tincture must be dry.  Water is the enemy of a good tincture.  

*The material you tincture must be fragrant.  If it doesn't have an aroma before you tincture, it won't after.

*Some botanical material needs to be removed and replaced repeatedly to create a aromatic tincture.  This is especially true of flowers.  

*Be prepared that your tincture may take months to create.

*Using a clean dry glass jar with a tight fitting lid is a must.

*High proof alcohol (190-200 proof) necessary for perfumery tincture use.

Another interesting aspect of using tinctured perfumers alcohol to blend with is the idiosyncratic nature of the aroma.  I often find using a strawberry tincture when blending a dark, woody masculine scent offers an interesting and pleasing result.  Who would think that strawberry would blend so well with oud, patchouli, amber and spruce?  The possibilities are endless as is the variation on scent.  When done correctly, tinctured base alcohol adds depth, richness and intrigue.  While I don't use tinctures in all my perfumes, I find them indispensable in creating effect.  I have often made two versions of a perfume.  One made with tinctured alcohol, the other with plain alcohol. The formulation of the perfume will be exactly the same.  90% of the time, the customer will choose the version I've created using a tincture.  There is something to be said for its subtle magic.  While your nose may not be able to recognize the subtle strawberry note generated by using strawberry tinctured alcohol, there's a difference.  A delicate, delicious difference.


Apr 17, 2016

Dear Charna!
In my tincture I am using 95% Ethanol, but it has a very strong smell! How can I remove this smell from tincture?
Thank you!

Feb 17, 2016

Hi Charna,
I know this is an older post but I’ve been doing a lot of tincturing lately and as with most research I’m getting a lot of conflicting info. I use Everclear but it is my understanding through much research that sometimes distilled water should be added to bring down the % of alcohol depending on the material being tinctured. For instance, Benzoin recipes call for 75% alcohol. Frankincense anywhere from 65-80%. I know you are the expert and love to tincture so I am hoping you can shed a little more light on this subject. Thank you. p.s. Love your new labels.

Mary Reyes
Sep 25, 2015

I am just about to try my hand in creating an alcohol-based perfume. I have lots of experience with oil-based ones. I read above that both Everclear 190 and organic alcohols from Alchemical Solutions have no additives. great! However, of these 2 products, which draws out the most aromatic molecules from the plant, imparting more of a full-body aroma? Is it conceivable that Everclear still carries pesticide/insecticide residue? Do either impart almost zero of their own odour or is one more odourous to begin with? Are there any other reasons to choose one product over the other, other than cost, availability or loyalty to the organics or small businesses?

Laya Shriaberg
Aug 16, 2015

Hello Patrick,
When creating natural perfumes or tinctures, you can use organic grain, grape, or sugarcane ethanol from Alchemical Solutions or Everclear or other 190 proof grain alcohol. These options have no additives and are what we use when creating tinctures. Standard “perfumers alcohol” is not considered natural as additives such as bitrex are added to render the alcohol “undrinkable.” I think these additives are what you are referring to? I should have been more clear in the post about what type of ethanol we use. Let me know if you have additional questions.

Aug 11, 2015

In perfumers alchohol I notice there are some other ingredients besides ethanol. So if you are using tinctures as the alchohol, are you leaving out the other compounds found in perfumers alchohol? If so… how does that affect the perfume? Why are the other compounds present in perfumers Alchohol ?

Feb 23, 2015

Llewellyn, I do prefer to use unbleached coffee filters for a quick filtering job. I don’t see any reason to use the bleached version. I don’t see the need to use filters that have undergone the bleaching process, just more chemical processing if you know what I mean.

Feb 23, 2015

Sara, I do recommend using freeze dried strawberries. You can experiment with lots of freeze dried fruits, but remember they need to be fragrant. Sometimes I run across a bag of not-so-fragrant raspberries or peaches for example. It’s too bad you can’t open them and sniff before buying to make sure they’re fragrant!

Feb 09, 2015

Re: Coffee Filters
I thought I read a post somewhere that coffee filters should be non-bleached? They were washed or something like that, I think it had to do with additives or impurities that even a coffee filter might have? I rarely shop for coffee filters so I am not sure how hard they might be to find etc. Can anyone speak to this issue. I don’t know anymore where I saw the original post for this. thanks

Llewellyn Kouba
Nov 12, 2014

Dear Charna

I found this blog most inspiring. I have made tinctures for medicine most of my life and have recently began distilling oils from native plants to try and make some exquisite perfume. I don’t know why exactly, must be some previous life thing.:}
However the fixative thing kept being a problem because the civets wont be still and too many bombs where the frankincense and myrrh so I being my self reliant fanatical as I am kept getting stuck on the fixative. SOmehow the study led me to your point. I am strongly believing the answer lies in tincturing some plants like Bugleweed (Lycopus) which is highly resinous. Wow unexplored ground. Thank you for this inspiration.
Your friend Darrell

Mar 23, 2014

Would a tincture of dried figs work out nicely, do you think? And would it be skin-safe? I read something about the IFRA banning fig absolute, so would a fig tincture similarly be a cause for concern? Thanks, Charna!


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