Scents of Spring – two fabulous boys and a catty treasure

scent sciences - flowers - blogHere in Great Britain, the seasons are certainly turning, and in the southern parts of our Isles, it would seem that the weather is positively balmy and spring-like. Here in the north, our days are brightened by early flowers, as we await the arrival of warmer weather! In this blog post, I would like to talk about the scents of three spring flowers – what they meant to our ancestors and their important role in contemporary perfumery. We will explore two ‘narcotic’ floral scents – narcissus and hyacinth – whose names are immortalised in Greek mythology. To the ancient Greeks, both symbolised the cycle of life, death and rebirth, or transition and transformation. Our third spring flower is that of the blackcurrant, and in this blog we will appreciate the significance of this trio in the classic fragrance Chamade, composed by Jean Paul Guerlain and launched in 1969.

HyacinthusWe shall begin by looking at the myth of Hyacinthus – a beautiful youth, and lover of Apollo; Zephyrus, god of the West Wind was also a rival for his affections. Apollo taught Hyacinthus many skills such as archery, music, and divination, and throwing the discus. Apollo threw the discus and, trying to impress, Hyacinthus ran to catch it; however the jealous Zephyrus blew the discus off course, and it hit and killed him. Distraught, Apollo transformed his blood into the hyacinth flower, rather than have him descend to Hades. Sometimes it is said that the letters ‘ai, ai’ were traced on the flower, so that Apollo’s cries of grief would always be heard. Some versions of the myth suggest that the iris was the flower that represented his transformation; while other versions suggest that Hyacinthus was taken to the Elysian Fields by the goddesses Aphrodite, Artemis and Athena. His tomb was at the foot of Apollo’s statue at Amylcae, south west of Sparta, and in the Mycenaean era, a cult grew around him. Every summer, in Sparta, the three day festival of Hyacinthia was held; the first day was spent mourning his death, but the following two days celebrated his rebirth.

The hyacinth emerges from a round bulb; it has bright green lance shaped leaves, and spikes of very fragrant, bell-shaped flowers. Linnaeus the taxonomist and botanist called the hyacinth the flower of grief and mourning. However, as the related, but largely unscented, wild bluebell of the British Isles did not appear to have Apollo’s cries of grief written on it, the early botanists named it Hyacinthus non-scripta (Grieve 1992). Despite the fact that it does not have a scent, when in full flower, bluebell woods are very special places to be; they can impart the sense of being at the fringe of another world, and have inspired many faery tales and even fragrances. The hyacinth that is grown for its scented oil is Hyacinthus orientalis.This is sometimes called jacinthe oil, and is cultivated commercially in both Holland and France. The absolute is a dark greenish liquid that has a very powerful, sharp, green, leaf like odour, only pleasant on dilution, and only resembling hyacinth on extreme dilution (Jouhar 1991). At the time of writing, hyacinth absolute is very scarce; however synthetic hyacinth is easily obtained. There is a marked difference in the Continue reading