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tom ford

I am starting to run out of strange animal parts so I will continue on the resin-incense-path tonight with frankincense, also known as olibanum. Also known as the incense of incenses.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11)

Frankincence is an aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes. It comes from Boswellia trees. Four types species of Boswellia are used and each of them give a resin with variation depending on tree-type, soil, climate and time of harvesting. Boswellia thrive in arid, cool areas of the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and India. The finest type is Boswellia sacra, which grows in Somalia, Oman and Yemen. To obtain the resin you cut the bark of the tree which then starts to bleed a fluid that hardens. The hardened resin is called tears.

Frankincense trees are true survivors. They can grow in very demanding conditions, sometimes directly on solid rock in stormy areas. The rougher the conditions, the stronger the aroma. The trees have to be 8-10 years old to produce resin. It seems that there is a declining amount of frankincense trees, partly because of over-exploitation but also as a consequence of beetle attacks. The predictions are quite sad unfortunately so it might be a good idea to stock up on essential oils.

Frankincense is the incense of incenses, and appears in both Bible and Talmud. According to the gospel of Matthew 2:11, gold, frankincense, and myrrh were among the gifts to Jesus from the wise men. It has been used for a very long time, for example it is known that frankincense has been traded on the Arabian Peninsula and in North Africa for more than 5000 years. At that time it was known as olibanum. This name is likely to be derived from the Arabic al-lubān which is a reference to the resin being “milked” from the tree. 

Henry Siddons Mowbray
If you should have the fortune to visit Oman, you can go to the excavation of Ubar, a trade center along the “Incense Road“, that was rediscovered in the early 1990s.

Frankincense has a sweet, warm, balsamic aroma that is stimulating to the mind. The scent uplifts, calms and comforts and is therefore a natural choice for religious and spiritual ceremonies and for meditation. The tree itself is a symbol of life and carries cultural and historical significance. In Ayurvedic medicine Indian frankincense (Boswellia serrata), also known as “dhoop,” has been used for hundreds of years for treating arthritis, healing wounds, strengthening the female hormone system, and purifying the atmosphere from undesirable germs. In Indian culture, it is suggested that burning frankincense daily in the house brings good health.

I think frankincense is a good example of our olfactory memories and identities, not as individuals, but as humans. We have used the same olfactory symbols for thousands of years, and we use them to worship in different religions. Scent is cultural, but also trans-cultural. Scents repel, and connect. Scents, like you, like me, are not arbitrary. Being aware of this makes the search for fragrances even more special and full of mysteries, symbols and stories, does it not?

If you are interested in going on a frankincense perfume exploration, here are some suggestions.

Vetiver in a perfume signals a woody note, although it is not a wood type at all but grass. Vetiver grows in India, Thailand, China, Java, Haiti and the island of Réunion (a small island outside of Madagascar – the main things I remember from a trip there 15 years ago was that there was a lot vanilla everywhere, an active vulcano and amazing fruit). The oil is brown and thick and the odor is sweet, amberesque and balsamic but also woody, smoky and earthy. The oil distilled in Haiti and Réunion has a more floral quality and is considered of higher quality. Haitian vetiver is appreciated but after the earthquakes in 2010 supply has changed drastically (affecting prices). If you look at the information about the notes in a perfume with vetiver you should be able to see where the vetiver in it comes from. For example Creed’s vetiver is haitian.

Vetiver can smell in different ways, more or less sweet, earthy, smoky etc. From sweet moss to dry hay. This depends on where the grass grew but also on how the oil is processed. (The oil often goes through several chemical processes before parts of it are used in perfumes, among other things to soften the scent). You will often hear vetiver-fans discussing their particular favorite vetiver-kind. Which means – that if you are curious about vetiver and want to discover if it could be your thing – then try several ones. Try fragrances with a couple of different kinds of vetiver rather than finding one and letting it decide whether you ”like vetiver” or not. Vetiver is more common as a prominent note in perfumes for men, and often considered a classic male note. But readers of this blog know how I feel about these things… If you want to go on a vetiver-safari here are some suggestions for destinations.
And then of course monsieur Ford.


Also, I have to recommend this article by Clayton of What Men Should Smell Like about the Guerlain Vetiver Pour Elle because it is so very beautifully written.
Good night, sleep well.

My plan is to have a few re-occuring topics in the blog, for example perfume searching tips and tricks, famous houses/brands and common – or just interesting – ingredients.

This time – tonka bean.

Dipteryx odorata (known as cumaru) is a flowering tree in from northern South America. Today, the main producers of the seeds are Venezuela and Nigeria. Kumarú is the word for tree in Tupi, in the region of French Guiana. The tonka bean is the seed from this tree. The beans are black, wrinkled and brown on the inside. They smell like vanilla similar to vanilla with a touch of almond, clove or cinnamon. The seed contains coumarin, which gives the seeds the great smell. The taste however, is bitter and eating coumarin can damage the liver.


Tonka beans are banned or subject to restrictions in several countries (for example use in food is forbidden in the US – probably because it affects coagulation). In others (like France), they are used in desserts as a vanilla substitute or to enhance the flavor in nuts or poppy, and in South America it seems it is used to create a specific aphrodisiac beverage. A google session will indicate that there seem to be a lot of chefs around the world who do like to experiment with this bean. And then they also appear in pipe tobacco and…in perfume.

The tonka bean has been considered to have both magical and medicinal powers. It has been used to cure depression, to boost the immune system, to cure snake bites and to treat coughs and rheumatism. The bean has been used for a long time for medicinal purposes among tribes in the Amazon. In occult traditions ceremonies that involve tonka beans are believed to help wishes come true. I also found recommendations to carry a bean in your pocket or bag for courage.

You will usually find tonka bean in an oriental fragrance, for example legendary Shalimar and Tonka Impériale (plus generally Guerlain), but also in fougères like previously mentioned Houbigant Fougère Royale. In Ellenas Hermessence series you cand find the fragrance Vetiver Tonka. If you are looking for more contemporary brands try Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford or A Taste of Heaven from By Kilian. 

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Min plan är att ha några återkommande teman i bloggen, till exempel parfymletartips, berömda märken och intressanta ingredienser.

Den här gången – tonkaböna.

Dipteryx odorata (kallas också cumaru) är en blommande träd från norra Sydamerika. De största producenterna/odlarna är idag Venezuela och Nigeria. Kumarú är ordet för träd på Tupi, i området Franska Guyana. Tonkaböna är fröet från cumaru. Bönorna är svarta, skrynkliga och bruna på insidan. De luktar vanilj med inslag av mandel, kryddnejlika eller kanel. Fröet innehåller kumarin, som ger fröna den fina doften. Smaken är dock bitter och om man äter kumarin kan man skada levern.

Tonkabönor är förbjudna i flera länder (till exempel är användning i livsmedel förbjuden i USA – förmodligen eftersom kumarin påverkar koagulation). I andra länder (t.ex. Frankrike), används tonka böna i desserter som ett substitut för vanilj eller för att förstärka smaken i nötter eller vallmo. Det verkar finnas en hel del kockar runt om i världen som tycker om att experimentera med denna böna. Och så finns den också i piptobak och … i parfym.

Tonkabönan har ansetts ha både magiska och medicinska krafter. Den har använts för att bota depression, för att stärka immunförsvaret, för att bota ormbett och för att behandla hosta och reumatism. I ockulta traditioner finns ceremonier som involverar tonkabönor som tros hjälpa önskningar att gå i uppfyllelse. Jag har också hittat rekommendationer att bära en böna i fickan eller i väskan för mod.

Tonkaböna finns i nästan alla orientaliska dofter, till exempel legendariska Shalimar och Tonka Impériale (plus Guerlain generellt), men också i fougères t ex tidigare nämnda Houbigant Fougère Royale. I Ellenas Hermessence serie finns doften Vetiver Tonka. Om du söker bland mer moderna märken så testa t ex Tobacco Vanille av Tom Ford eller A Taste of Heaven från By Kilian.