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.


Feb 06, 2014

I am so interested in trying this! I am assuming with fruits such as strawberries, one would use freeze dried for best results?

Jan 20, 2014

Hi Nicole,
Not all material needs to be perfectly dry when creating a tincture. I don’t recommend using dried flowers as their aroma is lacking. One can clover dry rose petals for example before adding them to alcohol. However, the greater the amount of water in the botanical material, and the more recharges done with the material, the greater the amount of water in the tincture which lowers the alcohol content. When using the tincture to make perfume one can experience separation between the oils and alcohol when the water content is too high. I have experienced this with some lilac tinctures for example.
In my experience drier material yields better, stronger results in less time.

Jan 16, 2014

What fun! I’m curious as to why you say that all material must be dried when you are tincturing? Flowers in particular lose much of their mojo when dried. I have been making medicinal tinctures for years, and have never run into trouble, in fact the quality is better with fresh herbs in my opinion. Alcohol is a preservative after all. However, when I am making an infused oil, water is most definitely the enemy and can certainly cause spoilage.

May 30, 2013

Anna, I’ve been trying several different ways on how to tincture the lilac samples I’ve collected during the blossom season. Unfortunately, I had a limited amount of harvest.

I’d tinctured the purple lilacs (syringa vulgaris strain) in Everclear alcohol for the past three weeks. Just strained out the alcohol, filtered it twice to remove all the green matter (perhaps rot, along with the tiny green bits that stick to the petals at plucking).

I ended up with a deep violet tincture, smell still reeks of alcohol. However, the green matter evaporated quickly due to almost all of the everclear filtered out – and I could clearly smell the “green” parts of the lilacs; the unappealing parts that don’t hold the lilac fragrance that we all hold dear to our hearts.

I’m assuming that if I evaporated all of the alcohol out of the purple liquid, it would leave a residue of the fragrance of lilac in a goop, oil, or whatever form it is in its purest form. Hopefully my theory proves correct.

From my experience, lilac fragrances are delicate when it comes to heat exposure. So I’m evaporating the alcohol in a patient, gradual way – at room temperature. To keep the bugs and dust out, I’ve placed the alcohol in a glass Bell jar; along with the metal screw-on lid – minus the removable top cover. In the cover’s place, I put a coffee filter to allow breathing and evaporation, with very tiny holes punched in everywhere.

Even fruit flies cannot get in; and dust is guaranteed to be kept out at the maximum efficiency. I hope!

If it works, I’ll chime right back in. If it doesn’t…. I’d just be too damn embarrassed to come back here and report it. So, cross your fingers… I’m crossing mine!

Mar 22, 2013

Do you ever evaporate the alcohol to get an absolute? If yes, how do you do it?

Sep 03, 2012

Hello Wesley,

Big flowers such as gardenia or peony can be problematic to tincture due to their high water content. Drying the flowers ruins their beautiful aroma. I would recommend a homemade enfleurage to capture the scent of the gardenia. It’s a time consuming process and you need to have a good supply of flowers over an extended period of time available.

Aug 28, 2012

I have just started tincturing with gardenia. I am on a mission to capture the scent using fresh flowers. I am having problems with water in the flowers, and drying them deplete so of their natural scent. So the questions is, can gardenia, or any fresh flower be freeze dried and still maintain that natural smell?

Thank you

Wesley V.
Jun 29, 2012

Charna, You have to try toasted coconut tincture! It’s incredible, and long lasting. I used an organic finely shredded unsweetened dried coconut, used about a cup, toasted it in the oven till golden brown and threw it warm in the jar and added a cup of alcohol.
Also, are the scented alcohol tinctures that you are selling now made by you?

Brian S.
May 07, 2012

So hypothetically speaking, if I wanted to make a “perfume” that was strictly a tincture, could I put multiple things in it at once? Or stick to one smell good item at a time? I know it won’t be a true perfume, but I’m trying to satisfy my craving for experimentation until I can afford to stock up on oils.

Mar 30, 2012

Hi Charna. I had no idea a citrus tincture could extend the citrus notes all the way down to the base! I know it’s not the first time I’ve thanked you, but thanks again for being so generous with your knowledge.

Laura Natusch

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