From the Garden to the Bottle: Anya McCoy’s Homemade Perfume

Anya McCoy’s book on homemade perfume and essence extractions

This certainly has been a long hiatus.   I find that although I don’t need to keep up with what happens in the perfume world every week, I do love perfume, and flowers, and scented gardening,  so will continue to post occasionally about both, and as to the reason for my absence, I can give you that in one word: sinusitis.  Yes dear readers, you can overdo it, and I find that the best cure is restricting the number of things worn,  as well as choosing fragrances that don’t irritate.

There is no better way to get back into the world of scent than with Anya McCoy, who has written a how to manual on perfume making and extracting perfume essences.  Oh, how I wish this had existed earlier! Groan!  Really, the dreadful experiments that I tried over the last year while trying to make my own non irritant fragrances would never have been so awful if I had read this book first.   Believe me when I say, there were some appalling oily messes that went into “bath salts” last fall.

Why make your own perfume in this age of the scent explosion?  Apart from irritants  I am trying to avoid, the other reason is restriction.  No lavender,  limitations on all sorts of naturals, which I miss.  Finally, there is cost.  If I want to smell  true sandalwood, I am better off sourcing the real thing, and making my own ( I did)  or if I want jasmine rather than ylang-ylang, I am better off finding some, and making my own version (I did).  However, and no matter how diligent you are, there will be times when the jasmine you buy is cut with an aroma-chemical, and the same will be true of just about any material you can source.  Adulteration in perfumery is a fact of life. Enter Anya.

Honeysuckle a flower said to be impossible to capture but you can tincture it or use enfleurage…

In Homemade Perfume, she gives you step by step instructions that are very clear, and with their help, you can make your own essential oils, tinctures, even hydrosols!  What is a hydrosol you ask? It is a distillation of plant material using water, literally slow simmering a plant substance, until you extract all the scent you can from that batch of leaves, flowers, berries, etc.   Now you would imagine (I did) that something of that kind requires a still.  I was wrong.  Anya gives you a  method which uses ordinary kitchen equipment, such as a pot with a lid, a heat proof custard cup, and a bag of ice.  The end result is poured into a sterile jar, of the sort you might use if you were putting up jam, and then sealed with a tight lid.

You can see from this description that trying out some of these recipes is nearly

A gadenia in full bloom from garden .org A candidate for tincture or enfleurage…

irresistible. I admit that I have not attempted a hydrosol yet, but I have made a water perfume following Anya’s instructions, and I have made tinctures in alcohol and in oil.  Those have been very successful, and I have been able to avoid paying through the nose for say, vanilla extract, because I simply source my own vanilla beans from Mexico or Madegascar, and use those.  The results have been first rate, and allowed me to make my own amber which, thank heavens, I can finally smell, because in the days when I relied upon commercial perfumery, I often could not smell synthetic ambers at all.  Anya even explores the difficult subject of enfleurage.  This is the method of extracting flower essences using fat  with which the flowers are layered, to absorb their fragrance.  This time consuming technique is too expensive to be used much in mainstream perfumery, but Anya gives you the methodology for enfleurage, and in a section towards the back of the book, discusses fragrant garden plants one by one, including which method of essence extraction works best in the case of each flower or herb.  Enfleurage she tells us, is most successful with highly scented flowers, such as gardenia, honeysuckle, and magnolia, and not recommended for dry aromatics, like lavender.

The book is really nicely produced, clear, with a large number of photographs so you not only have instructions, but also have visual references to help you to understand exactly what to do, and how to do it in sequence.  She explains how to clean your materials and containers, how to store your tinctures, and hydrosols, and how to make your perfume, although she leaves the choice of notes to you, after giving you some information on base notes, heart notes, and head notes.  You really do get comprehensive advice here, and it is by far the best book I have seen on this subject.  I have been looking for such a book for some time., and I admit agreed to review this one, because I really wanted to get my hands on a copy.  Well, I am not disappointed.  This one is a keeper.



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4 thoughts on “From the Garden to the Bottle: Anya McCoy’s Homemade Perfume

  1. I tried commenting a couple of days ago but the evil captcha kept me away 🙂

    I wanted to say that I’m not into making perfumes myself (I blame it on the childhood trauma of trying to make my own rose perfume 😉 ), but I was glad to see you around, and it was interesting to read about this book.

    1. Hi Undina,

      Glad to be back, and too bad about the trauma of rose perfume. I have been there to say the least.

      This book was a revelation to me because I honestly had not considered making my own materials. It gets a little messy at times (for me cleaner better organized people would probably manage better) but not bad, and I do like having a range of vanillas to choose from!

  2. I had the dreaded captcha problem too, glad to see it’s fixed. Thank you so much for such a thorough, enjoyable read of a review! You really dug into the book and experimented, and what more could an author hope for? I wish many more fun experiments and lovely results for you.


    1. Yes, it was time to fix the re-captcha glitch.

      Really enjoyed this book, and I certainly will continue experimenting with scents. This was a very worthwhile, and I hope the other perfume makers and experimenters out there take a look and learn to try some of their own mixtures!

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