Basil, The Tomato’s Friend

basilEveryone has a  different inflection point that indicates the waning of summer.  My own is the time when the basil plants come into the local farmer’s markets with the bracts of flowers attached, and a certain rubberiness to the leaves.  When that happens, I know that summer is almost over and that soon I will be back purchasing school supplies.

I’m sorry to see the basil pass its peak.  There isn’t any better herbal smell, not to me, and like the late Eleanor Perenyi,  I find “the aroma so intoxicating, that I would turn it into a perfume  if I knew how.”

Of course, others do know how.  The first time that I recall was Isabella Rosselini’s perfume Manifesto, from the 90’s, predicated entirely on basil and owing something when you smelled it to Cabotine.  Well, that wasn’t too much of a surprise. After all, Cabotine was a heavy hitter back in those days. 

Then basil made another more sophisticated appearance in Sisley’s Eau de Campagne, a Jean Claude Ellena perfume that curiously seems to have become completely obscure although it is still in production.  The basil note in it is pronounced, and the formula has a pleasing kind of rusticity to it, sort of reminiscent of Diptych’s Virgilio, although that scent reminded me of other herbs, thyme and rosemary, no parsley for the record or sage, but a sort of crumbling sunny garden smell.  All that Virgilio needed to complete its illusion of a decaying Italian garden was the drowsy buzz of bees.

Eau de Campagne, though, was less rustic and had a lot in common with another Jean Claude Ellena composition, L’Haie Fleurie du Hameau, one of his earliest fragrances for L’Artisan Parfumeur.  The  main attraction there was not herbal but flowery- specifically jasmine-   My Mother had a small bottle, and it reminded me of Eau de Campagne which I had met more than once on forays into Bergdorf Goodman’s. Then there was Maitre Parfumier et Gantier’s  Baime, which always reminded me of a wonderful salad dressing.  That featured basil too.

What all these perfumes had in common was a kind of endearing informality.  There was basil in their formulas but the effect reminded you of kitchen gardens and gardens, and well, …kitchens.  Basil it seemed was not a perfume ingredient that was elegant.

That is, until Jo Malone came along and created Lime Basil & Mandarin Cologne.  That scent was a game changer for basil, because it gave the herb an up to date chic.  The scent was crisp and had terrific lift, like a troupe of mandarin oranges and limes with basil leaves for wings had filled the air,  playful, a bit surreal, but cooling and clearing not only to the air around you but to the head.  Lime Basil & Mandarin was, and is, a perfume to clear the air.  Currently trapped for the second day in a windowless room with a bunch of jurors in New Jersey, I powerfully wish that I had some.  It might clear up the atmosphere at least.

(The Hub, who lived in Genoa for a few years, is a basil snob and insists  that the minty variety that turns up in our part of the country is not a patch on the product of the Ligurian terroir.  Don’t get him started on the subject of pesto.)



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11 Responses to Basil, The Tomato’s Friend

  1. Vanessa says:

    It’s funny, because I love basil as a cooking ingredient – and have lovingly cared for many of these insanely thirsty plants down the years (just bought another one the other day in fact!) – but I do not like the note in perfume, especially not in JM Lime Basil & Mandarin, which is so popular amongst my friends. It really is the default choice of many British people discovering niche fragrance for the first time, or that is my impression. I think LB & M is doubtless a fine scent, only the basil note goes all muddy on me. ;-(

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Well, certainly understand about growing as much basil as possible.
      Lime Basil & Mandarin is a little less popular around here than it used to be. Unlike you, I do find it attractive, but I like the basil note and find it behaves pretty well on me.
      Have you ever come across de Nicolai’s Eclipse? That is se- quentially: black pepper, basil and lily of the valley. Weird combination, but a strangely appealing green perfume recalls Eau de Camille.

  2. Undina says:

    I could just copy-paste the first four lines of Vanessa’s comment above! :)

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Don’t we all love our basil? One of my fellow jurors turned out to be a basil grower as well, and thank goodness we could talk about gardening rather than the case!

      I thought you were a Jo Malone fan so I’m surprised that you don’t like her big hit. For the record I think Eau de Campagne is a better basil note than the Malone.

      • Undina says:

        I am a Jo Malone fan but there are several scents that I actively dislike (in addition to those I love, like or feel OK about) and Lime Basil & Mandarin is one of those – I can’t even explain why. I don’t think it’s basil that spoils it for me.

        • Blacknall Allen says:

          It’s a line I have mixed feelings about. Really like Nutmeg & Ginger, Anice & Vanilla, also Blackberry& Bay, but could not warm up to many of the others. The Ginger Biscuit one from their limited edition series last Spring was good too.

  3. annemariec says:

    I adore basil, I really do. In the summer I grow heaps of it and the glory of late summer is being able to make my own pesto sauce. The winter frosts kill it of course, so I leave it as late as I dare before making that last, glorious supply of sauce.

    But I imagine that, like mint, basil must be a hard material to work with in perfumery. I have only fleetingly smelled LB&M so I must remedy that. (And I still have not tried Blackberry & Bay either). But rather than chic, I think I would enjoy rustic informality more. Un Jardin en Mediterranee has something of that crumbling sunny garden smell (though without basil). The crumbling comes from a sort of crumbling loamy, earthy scent, mixed tomato stems. In the end I bought Nil and not Mediterranee and I still wonder if I made the right choice.

    • Blacknall says:

      Brinksmanship is the name of the game in getting in the late basil crop. We always cross our fingers and hope that we’ll have it processed.

      I like your “loamy’ description of some of those rustic formulas with basil, that’s exactly what they are like, I have not really paid attention to the Jardin series, and now belatedly feel that was a mistake. Like you, I would probably be attracted to the Nil, but might love the Mediterranee better in the long run. I love scents that reference an entire garden- including the soil.

      • Anne-Marie says:

        Feel I should add a warning that Mediterranee has a fig note in it as well, so approach with caution if you don’t like fig. But yes, it is very gardeny. It encompasses the warm sun, the cool earth and everything in between.

  4. everette says:

    And there is a similar analogue?

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