Category Archives: History of Scent

Lavender & Old Ladies

Havenessence usually stocks half a dozen lavenders from around the world. Varieties include angustifolia, hybridia sumian and latifolia. Most are steam distilled but we usually hold a lavender absolute — bright green, camphorous, powerful, expensive, to be used with caution!

But it’s our English lavenders which take pride of place: low, sweet, floral, herbaceous, soporific, without the high camphor or eucalyptus notes of lavenders grown further south.


We buy from different English counties, depending on quality and supply. Some fields and distillers are better some years than others so we move around the country, sourcing the unusual and the best.

Lavender in Britain gets a bad press, being associated with old ladies. Our English lavenders are sweet, sexy, and infinitely surprising — scents for all ages.

Lavender effects some people strongly in terms of sleep and relaxation, helping to produce a deep, dreamless sleep when dripped on the pillow or used in the bath at bedtime. Accordingly, our lavenders are a top ingredients for soaps, creams and massage oils.

As a child I was fortunate enough to take part in a lavender harvest. The field was cut and the crop transported by tractor and trailer through the lanes to where the distiller was waiting. I travelled sitting on the freshly cut lavender and, forty years later, still remember that smell. At Havenessence we can share some of that magic.


Queen Victoria’s Knickers


Chatting just now with a customer I learned a startling fact. Queen Victoria’s knickers…


… were scented with patchouli! Well I’m blowed.

It seems that 18th and 19th century silk traders from China packed their cloth with dried patchouli leaves as moth repellent. This led wealthy Europeans to associate patchouli with opulent Eastern goods. Which, in turn, caused Queen Victoria, Empress of India, ruler of half the globe, to pack her knicker drawer with the famous Hippie Gold.

Chill out ma’am!


Frangipani, Hawkmoths, God & Sex

Frangipani - plumeria rubra
Frangipani - plumeria rubra

One of the most exotic oils we sell is frangipani. We describe it as ‘rich, heady, exotic, deeply floral’ but that does not do it justice. Together with jasmine, gardenia, lotus, the roses, and a few other flower scents, frangipani is an aristocrat of the sweet, in-your-face, ‘feminine,’ essential oils/absolutes.

Some people baulk at the scent. It’s so sweet. Rose, for example, can be understated. But not frangipani. In its raw form, as an absolute, it grabs you by the throat and may make the eyes water. The variety we sell — plumeria rubra — is coloured blood red.


The frangipani tree enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the Frangipani Hawkmoth (pseudosphinx tetrio). The caterpillars are tremendous: six inches long, a poisonous yellow and black, a spike on abdominal segment eight, feeding on the frangipani leaves before pupating and emerging as a moth with a five inch wing-span.

Frangipani Hawkmoth - pseudosphinx tetrio
Frangipani Hawkmoth - pseudosphinx tetrio

The moth returns to the frangipani flowers, attracted by the perfume, in search of nectar, and a dirty trick is pulled on it: there is no nectar, only pollen, which the moth distributes unwittingly to other trees, causing fertilisation to occur.

Frangipani Hawkmoth - pseudosphinx tetrio -1

There’s much more to be said about frangipani. It has a role in both religion and sex. It is the national tree of Laos (called dok jampa) and every Buddhist temple has one or more in their courtyard.

frangipani - Laos

In Polynesian culture, the frangipani is worn by women to indicate their relationship status – over the right ear if seeking a relationship, over the left if taken.

Frangipani Polynesia

Osmanthus Absolute – Coming Soon

osmanthus - osmanthus fragrans
Osmanthus - osmanthus fragrans

A rare, expensive, and (in Chinese culture) historically important scent: Osmanthus (osmanthus fragrans).

The scent is described variously as a blend of jasmine, gardenia and ripe apricots and like new shoe leather with cherry-like overtones. This will be available once we source a good, reputable, supplier who doesn’t charge an arm and a leg!

Also known as Sweet Olive, Tea Olive and Fragrant Olive. It can be seen in the Temperate House at Kew.

osmanthus - osmanthus fragrans -1

Essential Oils — beauty on many levels

Essential oils:

  • smell fabulous — used for millennia in scents and balms
  • good for you — we sell lots of Tea Tree for spots and Athlete’s Foot!
  • go deep into human history — Mary Magdalen poured Spikenard on the feet of Christ and wiped it away with her hair

Not only that but the plants they come from are often exquisitely beautiful:

caraway - carum carvi
Caraway - carum carvi
Cardamom - elettaria cardamomum
Cardamom - elettaria cardamomum
Carrot seed - daucus carota
Carrot Seed - daucus carota
Chamomile moroccan - ormenis multicaulis
Chamomile moroccan - ormenis multicaulis
Dill - anethum graveolens
Dill - anethum graveolens
Frangipani - plumeria rubra
Frangipani - plumeria rubra
Grapefruit - citrus paradisi
Grapefruit - citrus paradisi
Jasmine - jasminum grandiflorum L
Jasmine - jasminum grandiflorum L
Oakmoss - evernia prunastri
Oakmoss - evernia prunastri

Galbanum Essential Oil

Galbanum - ferula galbaniflua

We are proud to supply Galbanum essential oil, steam distilled in England from resin of the ferula galbaniflua plant imported from Iran.

Galbanum, a green, fruity-floral odour reminiscent of green apples, sometimes referred to as the sacred “mother oil” goes deep into human history.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; [these] sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like [weight]:

And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure [and] holy… Exodus 30:35-6

Often used as a “green” note in perfumery, it is the ingredient which gives the distinctive odour to “Must” by Cartier, “Vent Vert” by Balmain, “Chanel No. 19” and “Vol De Nuit” by Guerlain.

Initial notes are bitter, acrid, peculiar, followed by a complex green, spicy, woody, apple-like balsamic odour: reminiscent of crushed foliage at the height of summer.

Supplied in 5 ml bottles only. Best to telephone before visiting as stocks are low. A tester is available.

Hyacinth & Apollo

The Death of Hyacinthos by Jean Broc (1801)
The Death of Hyacinthos by Jean Broc (1801)

Hyacinth, a beautiful youth, son of the King of Sparta, was loved by the God Apollo, who would visit him for manly pleasures. One day they took turns throwing the discus and Apollo made a mighty throw. Hyacinth, running to catch it, was struck on the head.

One version of the myth posits a homosexual love triangle, claiming that Zephyrus, God of the West Wind, also loved Hyacinth and in a fit of jealousy blew the discus off course, so it hit the youth.

Hyacinth by François Joseph Bosio (1817)
Hyacinth by François Joseph Bosio (1817)

Hyacinth died in Apollo’s arms, his blood flowing onto the earth. Apollo, finding it intolerable that Hyacinth should be dead, made a hyacinth grow from the bloody soil.

Mozart: Apollo et Hyacinthus (1767)
Mozart: Apollo et Hyacinthus (1767)

Mozart, age 11, wrote an opera Apollo et Hyacinthus based on the myth. But the librettist Rufinus Widl (a priest) modified Ovid’s story, changing the sexually desired character from Ovid’s Hyacinth to Melia, his sister.

Hyacinth absolute is available from us at Piccadilly Market.

Hyacinth Absolute Piccadilly Market
Hyacinth, Piccadilly Market