A few weeks ago, just prior to Valentines Day, Gorilla was asked by House of Wolf to put together a talk about love potions. I went along to represent the Gorilla team. The talk took place in a bar in House of Wolf called The Apothecary, which has some lovely old-fashioned medical curiosities dotted about the place. The bar has a huge Prescriptions sign above it, which we loved. We were really enamoured with a hidden room behind a bookcase. I had only seen these in movies. Behind the bookcase was a room with a table and benches. I heard from Becky, who organized the event, that this room was made in Victorian times for when women would faint because of the tightness of their garments, corsets and the like, they’d be shuttled into this secret room and be revived with smelling salts (see! Scent IS everywhere). We had a really enjoyable evening talking about essential oils, aphrodisiacs, and love spells. Our favourite bar-man, Paul Tvaroh of Lounge Bohemia, made two cocktails based on the two flowers we predominantly discussed- rose and jasmine. We handed out pipettes of both rose and jasmine absolutes to get everyone in the mood for Valentine’s Day. The audience was gracious and attentive. Another Guerilla Gorilla event done and dusted. This is a portion of the talk I gave.
Researching love potion inevitably leads to aphrodisiacs, and things like oysters and strawberries and the like all feature heavily on lists of love enhancers. In my research I found out something that I thought to be an urban myth but turns out to be true, is that there is an “aphrodisiac” called Spanish Fly, which is made from a beetle that secretes an acid like juice from the thighs when he is threatened. The entire beetle is dried and crushed to produce a powder that is added to a beverage to be consumed. It got its reputation as a love potion is because when the powder is ingested, the body excretes the juice and it causes itching and burning in the intestinal tract that leads to itching and swelling of the genitals. It is toxic. It can lead to kidney damage, convulsion and death. So. Not very charming. Nor seductive. The other reference I found to ingredients to love potions in beverage form is a “wine” of blueberries, sugar and water; left in a glass bottle, naturally fermented by the wild yeast from the blueberries is sometimes referred to as Lappish Hag’s Love Potion.
I talked to Mark Constantine about love potions- him being one of the geniuses at Lush who has invented many products and fragrances based on magical influences. He told me to consider language and love. Words like “enchanting”, “charming”, “bewitching” have their roots in magic. We talked about throwing rose buds in water, and the bewitching beginnings to some of Lush’s most beautiful products, Cerdiwen’s Cauldron and Tisty Tosty. Mark also showed me what has now become one of my favourite clips of all time, of a Love Potion in action, starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, from the film, Bell, Book and Candle.
When you look at the history of scent, what you start to find is the scent was considered in all civilizations. The 1st objects considered as vases for perfumes and cosmetics date back to 7000 BC. These housed mainly resins. In 1200 BC, scent started to play a prominent role in therapeutic, cosmetic and culinary domains, from the Aztecs, to Asia, and in Europe. The Aztecs for instance, demanded flower tributes and went to war to get them. A war in Tlaxiaco, Mexico, was a site conquered by the Aztecs for a flower that was indigenous there. I daren’t pronounce the Aztec name, and there is no translation. But flowers became so important in Mexican origins that the first courts of royalty also included a flower officer who filled private and public temples with strong smelling flowers.
In perfume history, we have examples of Romans scenting clay before they built houses so that the house was effectively fragranced. Cleopatra used to scent the sails of her ships. Pistachio seeds and red dogwood are regularly found in dwellings from the Mesolithic era circa 10 000 BC; the oil was used for lighting- the scenting of the household was a pleasant byproduct.
The Bible is full of references to scent with references to raw materials: matt grass, saffron, fragrant reeds, wild myrrh, aloe, cinnamon, cassia, for example, and also to skilled perfume makers making scented things like: perfumed essences, incense, scented oils, and sweet smelling sachets. In the Song of Songs- a duet by lovers of their exotic desire- the savouring of good ointments is mentioned in the opening verse, and the closing verse references mountains of spices. Queen Esther was also called Hadassah, which is also the name for myrtle. She is described as being anointed with myrtle for an entire year before being taken to her bridegroom.
So we’re meant to be talking about love potions- and love is a ritual- no matter how unique, how individually esoteric love feels; love has ritualistic tendencies, such as Valentines Day. When we’re talking about love potions, it’s flowers that I want to talk about. Humans have used flowers for rituals since the beginning of civilization. The use of flowers in important rituals can be traced back to Neanderthal man- in which a tomb was found and excavated in Kurdistan and petals were found in the casket. They identified the 60 000 year old (or older) pollen to be that of hollyhock, of hyacinths, amongst other flowers. In fact, in terms of death and dying and scent, there could be a whole other topic about funeral flowers and their cultural symbolism, or even about cremation, about funeral pyres and which woods and fragrant resins are burned (Us Gorillas can be a bit macabre) but I think we’ll stick with the theme of love them for now.
Some of the most ancient perfume vases discovered have taken the shape of animals that symbolically represent sexuality, eroticism, and seduction. Perfume vases have been found in the shape of a monkey- an animal which symbolically represented sexuality in ancient Egypt. Additionally, antique perfume vases have been found in the shape of cats and felines which were a symbolic gift by men as gifts to the object of their desire in exchange for “favours”. In my research, it didn’t say what those favours were. Ahem.
Perfume was used by Aphrodite and Hera (the goddess of Love and the goddess of marriage, respectively) and Aristophanes advises perfume to be used by lovers during foreplay. Application instructions:
Apply to the hair, chest, and inner thighs.
Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie describe smell as being the most voluptuous of sense that opens up all other fields of thought.
So now onto the flowers. I’ve looked at flowers that have a historical relationship with romance and sex and I’ve chosen to focus particularly on two that pose as diametric opposites. Rose, which represents purity and innocence and jasmine which is a sultry harlot. So to speak.
Roses have long held symbolic power. Rose oil is interesting in perfumery because it was the first oil to be distilled. It takes 5000 kilograms or 1 ton of petals to make 1 litre of essential oil. It takes about half that for the absolute.
Persian warriers adorned their shields with red roses. In terms of love, rose has long been a symbol of love and purity. It has inspired Islamic poetry and mysticism- the Berber name for Rose is also the term for a young girl. In the Western World, roses traditionally are spread on the beds of honey-mooning couples. And its smell is powerful, yet fresh.
And then there is jasmine. Jasmine is part of the olive family. Jasmine must be collected at night, when it’s most fragrant. Our jasmine is from Egypt. Like rose, huge quantities are needed to make an absolute- an oil is impossible because the petals are so fragile. In some Eastern countries, women apply jasmine on their hair (which is clever because hair holds fragrance for a long time). Jasmine contains flavor compounds that are downright controversial- it has indoles in it, which are flavor compounds that have the most in common with fecal smells. In perfumery, you can figure out ways to mute or amplify various flavor compounds that exist in essential oils (which is what we primarily use). A lot of perfume companies mute the indoles in jasmine. At Lush and Gorilla, we have a perfume called Lust- which has a clever acronym if you switch the letters around. This is a jasmine perfume in which Mark Constantine doubled the indoles on purpose. It is an intensely heady sexual scent. At Lush, it also fragrances the popular Flying Fox shower gel and Godiva shampoo bar. In terms of perfumery, this is diametrically opposite to what other companies are doing with jasmine. Jasmine has been considered so hedonistic and sexual that it’s rumoured that in primitive societies, virgins were barred from wearing jasmine because of its heady aroma.
For the most part I’ve been talking about the power of flowers- and my thesis is that flowers are under-appreciated in our society at this time. I’ve talked about ancient civilizations considering scent and actively engaging with their aesthetic surroundings (I mean scenting the clay of your house. That’s consideration). And now, I fear we’re at a point where most people don’t think about their sense of smell at all. And the funny thing is it doesn’t have to be hard to think about your sense of smell. So that’s why I’m talking about flowers. And the power of simple things that go quite far to augmenting not only our rituals, like Valentines Day, but our daily life in general.
The power of flowers is intense. Jasmine is an interesting case for non-romantic reasons also. The Arab Spring is also called the Jasmine Spring. (Interestingly, Damascus means the City of Jasmine). And, literally, right now jasmine is illegal in China. The flower of jasmine is illegal in China because of thoughts that the revolution may spread and come to China. It is illegal to wear in a lapel and/or cultivate jasmine- and in addition, the Chinese character from jasmine has been deleted from autocorrect on mobile phones and web-based programmes in China.
(And at this part, I gave the lucky audience members instructions for their two cocktails prepared by Paul Tvaroh from Lounge Bohemia based on rose and jasmine as their own Love Potions to take home with them. They also received a pipette of the very finest essential oils that both Lush and Gorilla Perfume makes many of its most lovely smelling products with- rose absolute and jasmine absolute).
I’ve told you about jasmine and rose I scent and I’ve also conscripted the help of Paul Tvaroh in making our own love potions that we’ve crafted for you. We’ve made two- 1 is based on the purity of rose and involved only flavours that you would think of as innocent and pure. The 2nd is based on jasmine and should be drunk when you want to get a bit wild. It’s like the ultimate Valentines Day chocolate.
To sum things up, basically, what I’ve wanted to do here tonight is to talk about sense of smell so that there becomes an appreciation in society of this sense. The reason why it matters is because sense of smell is free; I know I’ve provided you with ludicrously expensive perfume absolutes that are prohibitive to try to find on your own, but the point I would like to make is that it does not have to be complicated- you do not have to pay a fortune for a department store perfume if you don’t want to, to appreciate your sense of smell. When you walk around, when you pass a florist, or a bakery, when you go on holiday, or visit a carnival, if you consider your sense of smell as part of the experiential aspect of your trip, you’ll be living more fully- and this interest can lead to all manners of fun past times in tasting for instance. Jean Jacques Rousseau said the sense of smell is the sense of the imagination. And I agree. Those roses that bloom so heartily in the UK, in between the cracks of sidewalks and that bloom even in the winter- (I’m from Canada, people pay a small fortune on roses)- they deserve to smelled, not for their benefit but for your own day’s experience.