The word Attar is derived from the Hindu/Urdu word Ittar which in turn derives from the similar Persian word for Perfume, Itar, and is an essential oil derived from botanical sources usually blended with a wood oil like, but not always, Sandalwood.
Most commonly these oils are extracted via hydro or steam distillation. They can also be expressed by chemical means but generally natural perfumes which qualify as Attars are distilled with water.
The term is mostly used in the Middle East and India nowadays instead of the term essential oils but historically an Attar was very different.
Attar oils were once generally distilled into a wood based oil such as sandalwood and then aged. By and large they still are.They are extremely strong in aromatic terms and a little (just a drop) can be overpowering. Their use is popular in the middle and far east particularly as they are alcohol free but they should be used sparingly and with circumspection.
The aging process could last from one to ten years depending on the botanicals used and the results desired. Technically Attars are distillates of flowers, herbs, spices and other natural materials. As they age they thicken and become strong.
Their expense is down to the use of Sandalwood or other expensive or endangered wood oils let alone the additional distilled ingredients like oud which is the most expensive wood in the world or Rose which takes at least 9000 petals to make just 1ml of oil.
The ancient Egyptians were famous for producing perfumes or Attars throughout the ancient world and they are still renowned in the field today. The perfumes were extracted from plants and flowers by a process that we, today, would call “enfleurage” before they could be added to other oils. The process was later refined by the famous Muslim physician Shaykh al-Rais who made a distinctive type of distilled aromatic product. He was referred to as Abi Ali al Sina. Some say that he was the first to make a distillation of Rose. Liquid perfumes were previously just a mixture of oil with crushed herbs and aromatics until his distillation process where he is said to have first experimented with roses.
The most famous Attars of his day were Rose, Saffron, Jasmine, Oud and at the time were greatly favoured by the Islamic world to treat numerous health disorders largely. They are still popular today along with a variety of musks but are more highly regarded for their aromatics qualities than their medicinal attributes.
Some of the first users of Attars were the Mughal invaders of India from Persia. Jasmine Attar was the favourite perfume of the Nizams of the Hyderabad state. Traditionally in the Eastern world, it was a customary practice for the nobility to offer an Attar to their guests at the time of their departure. The Attars are traditionally given in ornate tiny crystal cut bottles called Itardans. This tradition of giving a scent to one’s guests continues to this day in many parts of the Eastern world. Among Sufi worshipers the use of Ittars during meditation circles and dances is quite common.
We’ve noticed so many people searching for Ambergris essential oil on our website and as no such thing exists (although there are very good extracts and synthetics) it occurred to us to explain exactly what it is and why it is now almost entirely a synthetically made material used in perfumery as a fixative ( a substance that makes the perfume long lasting and “fixes” it ) as, with the exception of a few countries, it is largely illegal to trade in natural Ambergris.
Firstly it is not a plant. It is a gastric bi product from the Sperm whale (an endangered and vulnerable species) which eats giant squid and as large numbers of squid beaks have been found in natural ambergris it has been suggested that the beaks irritate the Sperm whale’s stomach and are too sharp to pass easily through its digestive tract (as the beaks cannot be digested ) and the resultant production of ambergris lessens the irritation as it coats the beaks, making it easier in digestive transit. Larger ambergris deposits are suggested to be from whale vomit.
It takes years for ambergris used in perfume to form. The main odorous constituents in ambergris are ambrox and ambrinol.
Christopher Kemp, the author of Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris, says, “It is only produced by sperm whales, and only by an estimated one percent of them. Once expelled by a whale, it must float for years, then it must make landfall, avoid being broken into pieces by rough seas, and someone must find it. In other words, the odds of finding ambergris are extremely small.”
When first expelled ambergris is soft, whitish (occasionally with black or dark brown streaks in it) and smells strongly of faecal matter. It takes months and even years of photo degradation and oxidation in the seas for it to harden and darken, its eventual colour being dark grey or even black. Its texture is still waxy but also crusty at this stage and its smell has altered to an animalistic, sweet and earthy fragrance which is then processed to be used as a highly prized fixative in the perfume industry – or rather was in the past. Whilst there are still a few perfumes that exist using ambergris that is found either floating at sea or washed up on various beaches, since 1986 when the majority of nations banned whale hunting, the product has been also banned as exploitation of whale species by all but a few countries such as France and Switzerland.
The product has been valued for millennia. The Ancient Egyptians used to burn it as an incense and modern Egyptians still use it for scenting cigarettes. In medieval Europe it was considered to be an effective protection against the Black Death and for those that could afford it, it was carried around as a small ball, like a pomander. In those days disease was thought to be in the air as a miasma and the smell of ambergris was so strong that it effectively masked the smell of anything else in the vicinity. It was also more commonly used by apothecaries to combat epilepsy, head pains and even colds.
It has been used as a flavouring in food and been thought to be an aphrodisiac. The Chinese call it Dragon’s spittle fragrance.
So because of its rarity, its unlikely discovery in the seas of our world, the vulnerability of the species that produces it and our quite natural reluctance to return to the days of indiscriminate slaughter of the rich number of animal species so abundant but continuously threatened by mankind – we now, quite rightly, use a synthetically produced version of ambergris.
How to Make a Rose Infused Oil
Making a Rose Infused Oil is very easy but time consuming. The results can be well worth it though. Make small quantities at a time and do so every year and you will never run out.
Rose absolute oils are expensive, Rosa otto being the most expensive and Rosa Damascena Maroc being one of the cheaper ones. They are all rich, deep and extremely concentrated; usually dark brown in colour and very viscous. They are quite divine but beyond the purse of most of us and usually sold in tiny retail quantites ( like 2 or 3 ml)
So why not have a go at making your own infused oil?
It will not be anywhere near as deep, complex and rich with those honey overtones provided by absolutes (which, on average, use 9000 petals to make just 1ml of the absolute oil) but it could be deliciously floral and refreshing and good for your skin lt alone provide a decent rose oil based perfume. Remember though it ill be an infused oil so much weaker than an absolute.
Rose Infused Oil:-
You need a plentiful supply of rose petals and I really do mean plentiful. This is no job for the faint hearted. If you grow roses in your garden then you need a lot of them and you need to keep picking when they are at their best, not faded and past their best. Choose, if you will, an old fashioned highly perfumed rose. The Old English Roses are perfect. Choose one for its scent but if its just the floral rose secnt in general that you are lookig for then mix and match from any that you grow as long as they are scented.
You need a stable carrier oil to make your Rose infused Oil and to steep the petals in. Now White Mineral Oil is cheap and very stable but is a petroleum by product so whilst it IS ideal you might not want to use it. It is the stuff from which Baby Oil is made but ultimately the choice is yours.
If you want a stable but natural carrier oil then I don’t think you can go far wrong with Jojoba oil (which is really a wax but behaves like an oil) which is both stable and takes a long time to go rancid. It aso has a pleasing yellowish to green colour.
Get yourself a clean and sterilised glass Kilner type jar. One that is airtight but can be easily opened. Wash it thoroughly and then make sure you have sterilised it properly by placing it in a hot oven (200 degres Celsius) for 10 minutes and don’t wipe it with a tea towel which will just transfer all the bacteria on the tea towel to a nice warm glass jar.
Make sure your Rose petals are as clean and free from insects and dust as possible but don’t wash them – you can lightly rinse them but then let them dry.
Pack them as tighly as you can into your Kilner jar whilst it is still warm ( try not to handle the jar ) and then pour your chosen infusing oil over the top so that there is at least a centimetre between the rose petals and the top level of the oil.
Seal and put in a warm, preferably sunny, position for ten days. Open a couple of times very carefully and check that there is no fermentaton taking place and agitate gently every now and again.
The Rose petals will turn brown and the Rose Infused Oil will take on a subtle fragrance of the rose but you can increase the intensity by straining the oil and starting the whole process again with a new load of rose petals and using the same oil.
Keep doing this until the intensity of the fragrance held in the oil is at the level you like. This may take up to 5 or 6 infusions but the more you do the headier the final infused oil will be.
The oil is wonderful for skin care, can smell divine and will last about 6 to 12 months, longer if kept in the fridge. If you want to add a presevative then add some grapefruit seed extract or vitamin c powder to your final oil.
Herbal Tea and infusions (Tisane or decoction) is a general term for the use of any hot or cold beverage made from plant material steeped in water other than the tea bush (Camellia sinensis) Purists would argue that tea can only be called tea if its made from the Camellia sinensis leaf (in all its forms) and anything else is an infusion!
Herbal tea and infusions are mostly consumed for their perceived health benefits which may be for a specific malady where a herb or combination of herbs and botanicals is known to contain chemical constituents that may be helpful in the relief of discomfort or it may be for general health giving properties like high antioxidant content, high vitamin or mineral content required for good health. Not to ignore the many which are consumed purely for the taste and fragrance. Many also have stimulant, anti inflammatory, pain relieving, sedative or relaxing properties and a herbal tea is the most simple way to consume such plant material’s constituents, easy to make, enjoyable to consume and with so many benefits, not least there is no caffeine in them.
Herbal Infusions have been used for nearly as long as written history has existed. Documents, stone tablets, scrolls and dedications have been recovered dating back to as early as Ancient Egypt and Ancient China extolling the virtues and discussing the enjoyment and uses of herbal infusions.
Now it is not to say that true tea from the tea bush doesn’t also contain antioxidants, mostly in white or the much more popular green teas and seasoned herbal tea drinkers will often blend their own herbal mixes with green tea to make a pleasing decoction to be drunk hot or cold.
Some of our favourite herbal tea and infusions:-
A really good example of this is Tuareg Mint Tea which is traditionally made from Nana Mint (The North African Mint) but travellers who have enjoyed it so much whilst visiting that area seem unaware that the Arabic favoured tea is Gunpowder Green Tea and this, blended with Nana Mint, is the traditional drink, sometimes referred to as Thé a la Menthe in those North African countries that have a history of French colonialism.
It is a far superior drink when made this way than with just mint. We have all seen photos or film of grinning tea bearers in soukhs pouring from one glass to another from a great height, the mint tea that is served usually in glasses. This is called stretching and tends to froth the resultant tea a little but is said, by almost all, to improve the flavour – well yes of course it does, it assists greatly in extracting the flavours from the plant material and is fun but messy too for those not too experienced. Such teas are best served in Russian Tea glasses for appearance sake as well as assisting in cooling the hot mixture to a more palatable temperature.
Some herbal tea and infusions are better made using milk rather than water and an unusual one and great for pain relief in arthritic or rheumatoid conditions is Turmeric and Ginger. Believe it or not – it is actually delicious and so easy to make. Turmeric contains large quantities of Curcumin which is anti inflammatory.
Take two heaped teaspoons of turmeric powdered and one of ginger powdered and bring them to boiling point in a drinkable measure of milk in a small saucepan. Simmer for a 3 minutes but do NOT let the milk boil. Add a pinch of your favourite loose leaf tea for extra flavour if you wish and a sweetener of your choice if so desired (honey is best). Stir all the time you are simmering and then let the mixture rest for a minute or so. Pour from one container to another several times to froth or use a commercially made whisker if you like but it tastes better (although it is probably only psychological) if frothed so even vigorous whisking with a fork seems to improve it.
Much herbal tea and infusions is made using the herbal material in sugar syrup in order to make a final cordial that may be drunk diluted with ice cold still water or, more usually, carbonated water.
Karkady is probably one of the best known of these and is widely consumed in Egypt. It is made from whole hibiscus petals and the resultant cordial not only tastes delicious but is a most beautiful purple colour. Simply take 100 grams of Hibiscus petals and steep for twenty four hours in half a litre of water that you have simmered them in for four of five minutes first. Strain the petals out of the liquid after 24 hours and add twice the volume of the liquid in sugar and bring to the boil slowly again stirring until all the sugar crystals are dissolved. This is most important because if the sugar crystals are not completely dissolved the whole mixture will crystallise again. Do not continually boil the mix otherwise the syrup will become too thick. Let the resultant syrup cool and bottle in properly sterilised bottles and refrigerate. Use as a cordial base as and when. Other variants are Rose Petals, Jasmine Flowers, and Orange Blossom.