Muguet - could it be natural?

Image: Muguet by Guerlain (from Diane James homepage)

As I mentioned in my previous entry, the lily-of-the-valley odour in perfumery is made from the synthetic materials. Hydroxycitronellal is known in perfumery since the beginning of the former century. But how did perfumers make the muguet note before the synthetic era when almost all perfumes were made of naturals?

What naturals can imitate the smell of lily-of-the-valley? Well, jasmine smells close. And some perfumers mention that diluted ylang-ylang oil smells like muguet as well. I have tried a 1% solution of ylang-ylang oil in alcohol and indeed it has a resemblance with lily-of-the-valley. Cardamom is another ingredient used in muguet formulae.

Here is an example of lily-of-the-valley formula from an apothecary magazine from 1892:

Extract of jasmine – 200 g
Extract of ylang-ylang – 100 g
Alcohol 95% – 200 g
Powdered cardamom – 5 g

After two days of maturation of cardamom powder in alcohol solution of jasmine and ylang extracts, the blend becomes to achieve the resemblance with lily-of-the-valley odour.

Extracts are probably the alcohol tinctures of fragrant materials. For flowers it would probably be the pomade. But may be the ylang-ylang extract can be substituted by essence (a alcohol solution of ylang-ylang oil). I haven’t tried this formula yet, but would give it a chance as soon as I get the jasmine pomade to make an extract.


Muguet - Hydroxycitronellal

Hydroxycitronellal is the synthetic Muguet. It posses a very fragrant fruity floral odour resembling the smell of lindenblossom or lily-of-the-valley. It’s not strong and is also a base note, so for the first time your nose might smell almost nothing from the blotter dipped in hydroxycitronellal. But the more you work with it the more intensive it gets – a warm, musky sweet, very fragrant and fruity floral smell. I have two samples of this aromachemical. One is from the PerfumersWorld and another one is from the Hekserij.nl. It’s interesting to notice that the sample from the PerfumersWorld has a touch of unpleasant bitter citronella-like top-note. Depending on surrounding materials this note can either disappear or give a disturbing citronella smelling nuance to the Muguet compositions (especially when mixed with low quality citronellol). But the aromachemical from the hekserij.nl is divine – almost like smelling a real flower.

This material has been manufactured and sold by Givaudan under the name of Laurine since 1906 and is the oldest essential building stone of the muguet note. But another sources mention the 1908 as a year when hydroxycitronellal was made by Chuit for the first time. Both can be true. Although it has some disadvantages (weak odour, stability problems, irritating effect on skin), it’s the best aromachemical reproducing the lily-of-the valley odour. The problem is that because of it rather weak smell it needs to be used in relatively high amounts to make a noticeable effect. But from another side it irritates the skin at high concentrations. IFRA has restricted the use of hydroxycitrobellal up to 1% in perfumes that makes problematic to use of high concentration of this aromachemical in fragrances at perfume concentration. But it is still enough to make a descent Muguet soliflore at EdT or even EdP concentration.

For the first time it was successfully used in Quelques Fleur by Houbigant (1912). The most famous is its use in Diorissimo – the Lily-of-the-Valley perfume. Hydroxycitronellal is used in the notes of muguet, lilac, lindenblossom, sweat pea, magnolia, hyacinth, but also as a modifier in many other perfumes.

Muguet - what could be the reference?

Image - from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lily-of-the-valley)

May, the last month of spring, has left and I’ve realized that I couldn’t smell the fresh lilies-of-the-valleys this year. Pity… as the fresh flower is always the best reference odour. So, what could be another reference odour for Muguet?

In many cases essential oils of the plant smell more or less similar to the plant itself. Is there lily-of-the-valley essential oil available? Unfortunately there is not. Those flowers are too fragile and contain very small percentage of essential oil, so it’s impossible to yield it by mean of distillation. But lily-of-the-valley absolute was commercially available. It was produced in small quantities, but on regular bases. Robertret was one of the firm producing the best lily-of-the-valley absolute. In Yearb. Pharm. from 1902 was even mentioned that Haensel distilled some pleasantly smelling essential oil from the leaves of this plant. The yield was only 0.058%, but he did it. Although lily-of-the-valley absolute posses a pleasant smell, it doesn’t reproduce accurately the smell of the fresh flower and is not really interesting for perfumers. So, it can’t compete with cheaper synthetic materials. Thus, there is no reference for muguet odour among naturals.

So, it looks like I better go and search among synthetic materials and floral bases. Hydroxycitronellal, Lyral, Lilial and Cyclamen aldehyde are the most common Muguet compounds. And hydroxycitronellal is often mentioned as an aromachemical that accurately reproduces the smell of the real flower. Could it be the reference muguet or should I look further among more complex accords and bases?

Well, Osmoz.com has made a very pleasant surprise to all perfumery addicted and fragrant junkies. Firmenich, the firm behind Osmoz has created three sets of notes and accords used in perfumery. Firmenich is famous by the quality of its raw materials and you can expect their nice notes and accords to be the good reference points. As those accords are made for educational purposes and are not supposed to be applied on skin, there is no need to follow IFRA recommendations and you can expect high quality accords not restricted by safety concerns.

The fourth bottle of their Original Flowers set contains Lily-of-the-valley accord (based on restricted, but beautiful hydroxycitronellal). I think this one will become my reference Muguet till next May when I hope to be able to smell the fresh flowers. It’s tender and soft, but very fragrant Muguet combining the fruity jasmine notes with freshness and fruitiness of rose, some wetness, green aspects and some very small nuances of spicy and narcotic notes. It recalls a carpet of fresh flowers in a shadow of the trees of a leafy forest. A spot of refreshing coolness on a hot summer day. Fresh green leaves. Softness. Semi-transperency. White and bluish white colour. Round forms. Dew drops. Very natural Lily-of-the-valley scent. So, let it be my reference Muguet.