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Iris (Orris) Roots in Natural Perfumery

IRIS ROOTS in NATURAL PERFUMERY

Softness. Powdery. Feminine. Sweet and slightly earthy. Waxy. Tenacious. Mysterious. Alluring.

These are a few of the terms used to describe orris root, a perfumery ingredient more than worthy of its high praise. The orris root, actually the rhizome of a sweet iris, usually Iris Pallida, features an incredible aroma often used to conjure violet themed fragrances. Rich in the unctuous, fleshy-sweet smelling irones that come to full fragrance after 2-4 years of careful drying and aging, orris root is distilled into concentrated aromatic substances that are quite expensive (example: $270 for 1/2 oz) and rarely used in commercial perfumery anymore. It is a glorious material to work with; soft yet intense, creamy and semi-solid at room temperature, this plant aromatic is a treasure indeed.


In natural perfumery, orris root gives tenacity, depth, dimension, and mystery to a fragrance, and is a stunning element in the base note accord of a chypre style fragrance, which I take full advantage of in my Vintage Violet perfume. Oriental style perfumery utilizes orris root to achieve the powdery notes recognizable in famous fragrances like Samsara and Shalimar by Guerlain. Even though they are now created from aromachemicals, their history is rooted in orris. (See what I did there? ;)


There are nuances of time in the smell of orris, as though it tells the tale of scent lineage. Sometimes it makes me think of antique books, stored linens, heirloom wooden beds and hope chests, cashmere shawls, or the sweet, loamy smell of spring soil. Nostalgia is present, and definitely stories through generations.


And while there is subtlety, there is no lack of personality. Too much orris root and a perfume can become dank smelling, like musty baby powder or "old lady", not allowing the song of the heart and top notes to resonate. Too little and we lose the tender depth and sophistication that iris root boasts. We loose that 'purple or blue color smell' that I associate with iris and violet flowers.

 Iris (orris) roots in natural perfumery, article by Ananda Wilson, Gather perfume

I have many fond memories of using orris roots and the smell is something familiar and comforting to me. Reading magical herbal books as a teenager had me making charmed medicine pouches and enchanted mojo bags with consecrated herbal mixtures of plants like orris, tonka beans, nutmeg, patchouli, clove, sandalwood, and roses. When I learned to make incenses and kyphi, orris root was an easy addition to the balsamic smells of myrrh, vanilla, pine resin, and benzoin. Orris root can be found in old love spells and amatory elixirs, potpourris and body powder formulas, with the intention of being aphrodisiac as well as a fragrance fixative.

One of my favorite things about my old colonial home where I live and work, is the grand display of iris blooms in the spring. There are several varieties here, each one a distinct and personal fragrance. Some smell faintly grape like hyacinth, some smell tart like lemon or orange blossom, and some smell more rosey and spicy. What joy the bees and I have in spring!

Today, while I use the distillations of orris (sparingly) I also tincture strong extracts for your perfumes. The tincture features a potent fragrance that lends its fixative gifts while offering a gorgeous, soft powdery violet fragrance unique to only iris.

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Find iris root in Vintage Violet, Ylang - Iris perfume simple, and a touch in Tea Season.

Iris botanical illustration; article orris root in natural perfumery, Ananda Wilson, Gather