The fragrance of nature

By Heather Kirk-Ballard

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

National Fragrance Day, celebrated March 21, might not be a widely recognized day on our calendars, but it's hard to deny the integral role that fragrances play in our everyday lives. The scents in the soaps and cleaners we use, the deodorants and perfumes we apply, the candles and essential oils that scent our homes and even the air fresheners that keep spaces fresh all contribute to the tapestry of our daily experiences. As a horticulturist, I consider it my profound duty to remind you that most fragrances stem from the plant kingdom.

The natural aromatics found in the herbs and spices we use in cooking add a literal and metaphorical flavor to our lives. In this way, fragrance enriches our lives, weaving through the moments of our day with subtle yet significant presence.

The history of fragrance has been in recorded history since 7000 BCE from the region currently known as the Middle East, where aromatic resins were once used as incense in ceremonies, primarily by Mesopotamian priests and royalty, to enhance their spiritual connection with the deities.

From its ancient origins, fragrances became status symbols in Roman, Chinese and Indian societies. Through the Middle Ages, the Islamic world played a crucial role in the spread and development of perfumery, particularly with the introduction of distillation techniques. The Renaissance marked a surge in Europe's fascination with fragrances, further elevating its importance among the nobility.

The 17th and 18th centuries, especially in France, witnessed the golden age of perfumery, with Grasse becoming a significant perfume capital and the rise of alcohol-based scents. The Industrial Revolution brought about mass production and the introduction of synthetic fragrances, leading to the birth of modern perfume brands.

The 20th century saw the evolution of marketing strategies, expansion of the market and a shift toward natural ingredients and sustainability. Today, the perfume industry continues to evolve with technological advancements, ethical sourcing and personalized scents, maintaining its capacity to evoke memories, enhance moods and express individuality.

Many plants are crucial in the production of perfumes, each contributing its unique scent to the olfactory palette. Lavender, with its calming and fresh aroma, is widely used for its soothing properties. Jasmine, known for its intensely floral and slightly sweet fragrance, adds a rich layer of depth to many perfumes. Roses are perhaps the most classic scent, lending a romantic and sophisticated note. Sandalwood, with its warm, woody aroma, provides a base note in many fragrances, adding richness and longevity. Citrus plants like bergamot offer a crisp, refreshing top note, injecting a burst of energy into scents. Citrus flower blossoms are perhaps one of my all-time favorite scents.

Each of these plants plays a significant role in the art of perfumery, contributing to the complex and varied world of fragrance. These scents don’t have to be distilled and bottled for you to enjoy them. Many can be planted into your own home gardens.

The wind can carry the smell of fragrant flowers such as banana shrub, citrus blooms, hybrid tea roses and sweet olive. And don’t forget about fragrant herbs such as lavender, lemon verbena, mint and thyme. Bulbs such as hyacinth can be especially sweet in the spring. Daphne, lilac, freesia, magnolias and gardenia also are very fragrant. Some fragrant vines for Louisiana are Dutchman’s pipe, coral honeysuckle, Confederate jasmine, four o’clock and wisteria.

All of these plants do well in Louisiana, so add some to your landscape. Make note of bloom times so you can have scents in the garden year-round.

Purple flowers.

Wisteria is a beautiful, spring-blooming vine with wonderful scents. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Purple spikes on lavender plant.

Lavender, with its calming and fresh aroma, is widely used for its soothing properties. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Plant with green leaves and white flowers.

Citrus plants offer a crisp, refreshing top note, injecting a burst of energy into scents. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Copper distiller for essential oils for perfumes.

Copper distiller for essential oils for perfumes. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

3/6/2024 4:49:51 PM
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