Enfleurage (French, from enfleurer: to saturate with the perfume of flowers) is an extraction process first developed by the ancient Egyptians for the transfer of aromatic volatiles found in flowers to a fixed oil or fat. Although seldom used today, it was one of several methods perfected by French perfumers in the early days of that country’s perfume industry. Using only flowers that release their scent long after being harvested resulted in successful enfleurage yields.
Jasmine, tuberose, violet, and jonquil flowers, all hand collected, continuously release their scent for many hours after being picked – thus, they are ideally suited to the enfleurage process. In the original method, both sides of large plates of glass in wooden frames (aka châssis) were spread with specially prepared odorless fats (aka corps or corps gras). Freshly picked flowers were placed face-down by hand across the entire surface of fat on the top side; each plate was then placed horizontally in a tall frame that held numerous plates stacked one above the other and spaced a few inches apart. Depending on the flower, they remained in place on the corps from 12 to 72 hours, after which the spent flowers were removed (defleurage), the plate turned over, and fresh flowers were applied to the corps. This process was repeated until the corps was saturated with the aromatic oil from the flowers – until the end of the flower harvest. The saturated fat (aka pommade or pomade) was scraped from the glass with spatulas into a vessel called a batteuse in which the pommade was continuously washed and stirred with ethyl alcohol that was sufficiently warmed to melt the fat. The alcoholic solution (extrait) was then chilled, causing the waxes and fats to precipitate out, followed by removal of the alcohol via vacuum distillation. This process resulted in products known as, for example, jasmine absolute from pommade, jasmine enfleurage or enfleurage of jasmine. In the words of author Ernest Guenther, “The highest quality of floral oils most true to nature resulted from [the enfleurage method].”