ABSINTHE A strong herbal liqueur distilled with herbs like anise, liquorice, hyssop, veronica, fennel, lemon balm, angelica and wormwood.
AGAR WOOD From the Aquilaria tree, and also called Oud or Aloes wood. The tree, when attacked by a common fungus, produces an aromatic resin used in the Middle East as a source of incense and perfume. Now in danger due to overharvesting, modern oud fragrances are often made from synthetic substitutes.
AGRUMEN Organic compounds with a characteristic green, musky odour present in many natural materials, that can be synthesized artificially, such as the aliphatic aldehydes used to give sparkle to Chanel No 5.
AMBER A heavy, full bodied, powdery, warm fragrance
note. Amber oil comes from the Baltic amber tree.
AMBERGRIS Sperm whales produce ambergris to protect their stomachs from the beaks of the cuttlefish they swallow. Ambergris was traditionally used as a fixative, but in modern perfumery, it is now reproduced synthetically (including the compounds ambrox, ambroxan, amberlyn). Ambergris has a sweet, woody odour.
AMBRETTE The oil obtained from these seeds has a musk-like odour and is often used as a substitute for musk. The oil obtained from ambrette seeds has a musk-like odour.
AMBROXAN A synthetic compound created as a replacement for Ambergris.
white-flowering bush or tree found in Haiti and South America. Often used as a substitute
ANIMALIC Refers to animal-derived ingredients such as civet, ambergris, musk, and castoreum. These are usually replaced by synthetics in modern perfumery. In large amounts, many of these notes are unpleasant, but in smaller amounts they give a fragrance depth and sensuality.
ANISE An annual herb of the parsley family, grown for its fruits (aniseed), which have a strong, liquorice-like flavour.
ARTEMISIA See wormwood
ATTAR The English form of itr, the Arabic word for fragrance or perfume. Traditional attar is made from the distilled essence of floral or other fragrance materials in a base of sandalwood oil.
BAIES DE GENIèVRE French for juniper berry.
BAIES ROSE Pink peppercorns, from the schinus molle tree, also known as the Peruvian or California pepper tree. These are dried berries and not “true” peppercorns, and are often called “pink berries”.
BALSAM OF PERU A tree resin from Central America, so named because it was historically shipped from Peru. Balsam of Tolu is from a closely related species of tree grown farther south; both resins are said to smell like vanilla and cinnamon.
BAY RUM A traditional men’s cologne made from the leaves of the Pimenta racemosa (or Bay Rum tree) distilled in a mixture of rum and water.
BENZOIN A balsamic resin from the Styrax tree. It has a sweet odour sometimes described as smelling like root beer.
BERGAMOT The tangy oil expressed from the nearly ripe, non edible bergamot orange (a variety of bitter orange). The oranges are grown mostly in Italy and are also used to flavour Earl Grey tea.
BIGARADE A variety of bitter orange, also known as Seville orange. The zest is used to make the bigarade note used in perfumery.
CALONE An aroma chemical that adds a “sea breeze” or marine note to fragrances, first used in large quantities in Aramis New West (1988).
CANNELLE French for cinnamon.
CASHMERAN An synthetic aldehyde with a spicy, ambery, musky, floral odour. Used to add a powdery, velvet nuance that with the smell or feel of cashmere.
CASSIE FLoral note from acacia farnesiana (sweet acacia), a member of the mimosa family.
CASSIS Black currant or a liqueur made from black currant.
CASTOREUM A secretion from
the Castor beaver, or a synthetic substitute. Used to give a leathery aroma to
a fragrance. Often reproduced sythetically.
CEDRAT French term for citron.
CHAMPACA A flowering tree of the magnolia family, originally found in India, also called the “Joy Perfume tree” as it was one of its main floral ingredients. Traditionally used in Indian incense (see nag champa).
CHEVREFEUILLE French for honeysuckle.
CHOYA NAKH A smoky aroma made from roasted seashells.
CHYPRE Pronounced “sheepra”, French for “Cyprus” and first used by Fran?ois Coty to describe the aromas he found on the island of Cyprus. He created a woody, mossy, citrusy perfume named Chypre (launched by Coty in 1917). Classic chypre fragrances generally had sparkling citrus and floral notes over a dark, earthy base of oakmoss, patchouli, woods and labdanum. Modern chypre fragrances usually use less (or no) oakmoss because of regulatory restrictions; sometimes they use synthetic substitutes.
CISTUS see Labdanum.
CITRON A citrus fruit tree (citrus medica), sometimes referred to as a cedrat lemon. It is not a true lemon, although it is related to both lemons and limes. The peel is the source of the note citron which is used in perfumery; the leaves and twigs are used to distill cedrat petitgrain.
CIVET The African civet cat looks like a fox, and is related to the mongoose. Civet musk is produced by a gland at the base of the cat’s tail. Pure civet is said to have a strong, disagreeable odour, but in small quantities it adds depth and warmth to a fragrance. Civet is also an excellent fixative. Most modern fragrances use synthetic substitutes.
An herb of the salvia
family; the essential oil is described as smelling sweet to bittersweet, with
nuances of amber, hay and tobacco.
CLOU DE GIROFLE French for clove.
COPAHU (balm): Also called Copaiba balsam; an oil obtained from trees of the Copaifera family, which grow wild in South America. Has a mild, sweet, balsamic peppery smell.
COUMARIN A commonly used perfume compound that smells like vanilla. Usually derived from the tonka bean (see below), but also found in lavender, sweetgrass and other plants. Also a valuable component of incense and perfumes.
CUIR French for leather.
CYPRIOL An essential oil derived from the roots of Cyperus scariosus, or Indian papyrus, or nagarmotha grass. The term cypriol is sometimes used interchangeably with papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) in lists of perfume notes.
DAVANA Oil derived from artemisia pallens, it has a sweet, fruity odour.
ELEMI A gum resin which introduces a light, fresh, balsamic-spicy, citrus-like scent.
EPICES French for spices.
FOUGèRE One of the fragrance families and named after the French word for fern and established by the 1884 Houbigant fragrance Fougère Royale. Fougères centre on an herbaceous accord that can include notes like lavender, coumarin, oakmoss, woods, and bergamot.
FRANGIPANI The common name for Plumeria, a tropical flower. Frangipani is also known as West Indian Jasmine (although botanically speaking it is not a member of the jasmine family), and is frequently used to make leis.
FRANKINCENSE A gum resin from a tree (genus Boswellia) found in Arabia and Eastern Africa. It is harvested by making an incision in the bark; the milky juice leaks out and is left to harden for several months before it is collected. Also called Olibanum.
GALBANUM A gum resin that gives a “green” smell.
GOURMAND In perfumery, describes fragrances which evoke food smells, such as chocolate, honey, or fruits.
GUAIAC (OR GAIAC) WOOD The oil is steam distilled from a South American tree that produces the hardest, densest wood known. Also known as ironwood, lignum vitae.
HEDIONE An aroma chemical said to have a soft but radiant jasmine aroma, and also appreciated for its diffusive effect.
HELIOTROPE Botanically speaking, this refers to more than one type of flower, but in perfumery, it refers to a flower of the heliotropium family, which has a strong, sweet vanilla-like fragrance with undertones of almond.
HESPERIDIA A general term for citrus oils.
IMMORTELLE Also called everlasting flower or strawflower; the Latin name is helichrysum. Has a greenish, herbaceous, almost bitter smell.
INDOLE A chemical compound with a floral smell at low concentrations, fecal at high concentrations. Used widely in perfumery, also found naturally in some floral notes, such as jasmine, tuberose and orange blossom. The term “indolic” usually means that a fragrance has a decidedly overripe or animalic characteristic.
ISO E SUPER An aroma chemical, described as a smooth, woody, amber note with a velvet-like sensation. Superb floralizer. Used to give fullness and subtle strength to a fragrance.
JASMINE A flower
employed widely in perfumery.
KALAMANZI also called calamansi, acid orange or Panama orange. A citrus fruit, with a sour flavour similar to a cross between mandarin and lime.
KARO KAROUNDE (sometimes karo karunde) A flowering shrub from Africa. The scent, which is apparently very potent in the wild, is similar to jasmine, but woodier, spicier and more herbal.
KHUS Also khus khus. An Indian term for vetiver, or the oil derived from vetiver roots (see Vetiver).
LABDANUM An aromatic gum that comes from the rockrose bush (genus Cistus). The sweet woody odour is similar to ambergris, and can also be used to give a leather note.
LIQUORICE A shrub native to Europe and Asia. The roots are used for sweets and flavouring, and are said to be 50 times sweeter than sugar. Almost all liquorice sold in the United States is flavoured with anethole, which is derived from anise.
LIGNUM VITAE see Guaiac.
LINDEN Also called lime-blossom, but this is from the flower of the Linden (Tilia) tree, not the citrus tree that produces limes. French name is Tilleul.
MASTIC Also called lentisc, this is a plant resin from a small shrubby tree (Pistacia lentiscus), the collected raw resin crystals are called “mastic tears” or “chios tears”. Mastic is used as a seasoning in Turkey and Egypt and is known for its medicinal properties. It is used in perfume, varnish, and as a liqueur flavouring.
MONOI The word means “scented oil”; in modern perfumery, and almost always refers to tiare (gardenia) petals macerated in coconut oil. Sometimes called Monoi de Tahiti.
MOUSSE DE CHêNE see oakmoss.
MUGUET French for Lily
of the Valley. The Italian term is “Mughetto”. One of the three most used
florals in perfumery. Unlike jasmine and rose, it is usually synthetically
MYRRH A gum resin produced from a bush found in Arabia and Eastern Africa.
NARCISSUS The white
flowers of this tree are used extensively in French perfume production.
NAG CHAMPA The name of a perfume oil originally made in the Hindu and Buddhist monasteries of India and Nepal and used to perfume incense. Traditionally made from a sandalwood base, to which are added a variety of flower oils, including the flower of the Champaca tree.
NEROLI An oil from the blossoms of either the sweet or bitter orange tree. True neroli is created using steam distillation, whereas “orange blossom” is usually extracted with solvents. The Italian term for neroli is zagara.
OAKMOSS Derived from a
lichen (evernia prunastri)
that grows on Oak trees. The use of real oakmoss is restricted (but not
prohibited) in order to avoid allergic reactions. Prized for its aroma, which
is heavy and oriental at first, becoming refined and earthy when dried,
reminiscent of bark, seashore and foliage.
OLIBANUM see Frankincense.
OPOPONAX A herb that grows in the Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean, also known as “sweet myrrh” and “bisabol myrrh”. The resin produces a scent similar to balsam or lavender. when used as incense. King Solomon supposedly regarded opoponax as one of the “noblest” of all incense gums.
ORRIS Derived from the
rhizome of the Iris plant. Has a flowery, heavy and woody aroma.
OSMANTHUS A flowering tree native to China, valued
for its delicate fruity apricot aroma. Known as the Tea Olive in the southern
United States. A flowering tree native to China, valued for its delicate fruity
OUD The Arabic word for wood, in perfumery usually refers to wood from the Agar tree, found mostly in Southeast Asia. The fragrant resin is treasured by perfumers.
OZONIC Used to describe aroma chemicals that reproduce the smell of fresh air. right after a thunderstorm.
PAMPLEMOUSSE French for grapefruit.
PATCHOULI A bushy shrub originally from Malaysia and India. Legend has it that the leaves were folded into cashmere shawls shipped from India to England during Victorian times in order to protect the fabric from moths; eventually, the scent became a mark of authenticity and customers refused to buy unscented shawls. Patchouli has a musty-sweet, spicy-earthy aroma. Modern patchouli is often molecularly altered to remove the musty components.
PETITGRAIN Oil distilled from leaves and twigs of a citrus tree, usually the bitter orange tree.
PIKAKI A form of jasmine (jasminum sambac) grown in Hawaii and used for making leis. Also known as Arabian jasmine, and widely used to make jasmine tea.
PIVOINE French for peony.
PLUMERIA see Frangipani.
POIVRE French for pepper.
ROSE One of the main flower notes used in
ROCKROSE see Labdanum.
ROSE DE MAI Rose absolute made from the centifolia rose.
SANDALWOOD An oil extracted from the heartwood of the Sandal tree, originally found in India. One of the oldest known perfumery ingredients, the powdered wood is also used to make incense. Indian sandalwood is now endangered, so many modern perfumes use Australian sandalwood or synthetic substitutes.
SILLAGE The trail of scent left behind by a perfume. Fragrances with minimal sillage are often said to “stay close to the skin”.
SOLIFLORE A fragrance which tries to recreate the aroma of a single flower. Soliflores often have more than one floral note.
TIARE A variety of Gardenia, Gardenia tahitensis, the national flower of Tahiti. See also: monoi.
TILLEUL French for Linden.
TOLU Also known as Balsam of Tolu. A tree resin from South America, which when dried has a strong aroma with elements of vanilla & cinnamon. Also used in cough syrups. Balsam of Peru is from a closely related species of tree.
TONKA BEAN A thumb-size pod from a plant native to Brazil, with the smell of vanilla with strong hints of cinnamon, cloves and almonds. Cheaper than vanilla pods, and sometimes used as a vanilla substitute outside of the United States.
TUBEROSE A plant
with highly-perfumed white flowers, similar to those of a lily.
VANILLA Vanilla is derived from the seed pod of the vanilla orchid, a flowering vine native to Mexico (although most of the vanilla available today comes from Madagascar). The vanilla orchid flower itself is scentless. True vanilla requires extensive hand-processing, and is therefore very expensive.
VETIVER A grass with heavy, fibrous roots, which are used to distill an oil with the odour of moist earth with woody undertones.
WORMWOOD A diverse family of plants, so named because at one time they were used to prepare worming medicine. The Latin name is artemisia, and in perfumery, wormwood and/or artemisia often refers specifically to artemisia absinthium, one of the key ingredients of Absinthe.
YUZU A citrus fruit grown in Japan. It looks like a small grapefruit; the flavour has been described as a cross between grapefruit and mandarin orange.
YLANG YLANG The “flower of flowers” and the Malayan term for Cananga odorata, an Asian evergreen tree. Used in expensive floral perfumes.
ZAGARA Italian for neroli.