Whether you’re into fragrances or not, Cedarwood is most definitely not unknown to your olfactory memory… So, hold still because you’re going to want to hear all about this particular ingredient’s secrets!
This wood is one of the most used raw materials in perfumery, and probably the most employed natural woody ingredient.
It is the heartwarming base note in Olfactive Studio’s Still Life, a perfume striking by its diversity of scents! Leaving a woody and spicy trail contrasting with a fresh citrus start, it will make you want to start your day in motion!
At first mainly intended for men’s fragrances, as the woody family was exclusive to masculine creations for decades, a revolutionary perfume, Féminité du Bois, changed the game in 1992, finally introducing those notes to feminine alleys!
Emblematic in many cultures, the cedar tree is sacred for Native Americans, and is even Lebanon’s national tree, proudly appearing on its flag.
In Virginia (United States), the majestic conifer Cedar tree’s scent enchants our nose, carried by the southern wind! In the fragrance industry Virginia and Texas Cedarwood are the two most used Cedar essences, featured in nearly half of the references on the market.
CEDARWOOD AS A FRAGRANT RAW MATERIAL
We treat residues, wood chips and sawdust, which are by-products of the wood industry. This ingredient’s essence consist in a light yellow liquid obtained by hydrodistillation.
Cedarwood is a heart-base note as its odor develops mainly in the heart, and continues in the base of a perfume.
From its Latin name Juniperus Virginiana, Virginia Cedarwood comes from North America and is nowadays grown in Virginia as well as North Carolina. Also called red cedar, and eastern red cedar, it actually belongs to the Juniperus genus (and not Cedrus) just like Juniper Berries, another raw material used and called Pink Berries in fine fragrance. This genus is part of the Cuprecacae family (cypress family), and its trees are actually juniper trees!
You got it, despite being commonly named “cedar”, the Virginian Cedar used in fragrances is no other than a Virginian juniper, belonging to the juniper species.
Its olfactory profile is quite interesting as an ingredient of the woody family: it offers earthy, and dry facets, the latter reminiscent of pencil, along with resinous and terpenic notes, typical of conifers.
Used in woody notes alongside Vetiver, Patchouli, Iris, and spicy raw materials, it’s interesting in the base of modern woody colognes.
Concerning its cost, Cedar is an affordable ingredient with a price around 20 euros per kilogram. Thanks to its reasonable price, it’s also widely used in soaps.
CEDARWOOD ESSENCE IN OLFACTIVE STUDIO’S PERFUMES
Still life or the most in motion of still lives! Virginia Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) is the key woody ingredient in the base of Olfactive Studio’s fragrance of the month.
The head of this perfume is adorned with a Yuzu accord (Japanese lime) that stands out, clearly identifiable by its component notes (bergamot, mandarin, hedione), and whose freshness is increased tenfold by the four spicy/peppery notes: Black pepper (Piper nigrum), Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum ritum or bungeanum) an ingredient obtained from the shell of a fruit of a tree belonging to the Rutaceae family (such as citrus), Pink Berry (Schinus molle), and Elemi (Canarium luzonicum), which is the gum from the trunk of a southern Asian tree.
These last ones bring an undeniable freshness to the fragrance while each having their own features: the first one confers an aromatic and woody facet, the second one is particularly floral, such as the third one which also gives a fruity aspect to the ensemble, as for the last one it is known for its Incense facet.
In the heart, Galbanum (Ferula galbaniflua) is perceived, a very powerful green note which has a terpenic facet as Elemi (scent often compared to paint due to terpenes). We perceive the vegetal green facet, which perfectly marries Star Anise's (Illicium Verum) aromatic facet. This incredible spice also brings a spicy aspect, bonding the heart of the fragrance to the base as Dark Rum possesses a spicy side as well.
Still Life's base features Dark Rum absolute, a very expensive raw material resulting from the distillation of dark rum (also called amber rum), in order to retain only the fragrant compound by completely eliminating the alcohol. This one brings a spicy-vanilla note to the base, allied to the eternal Cedarwood, with its earthy and woody notes, and to Ambroxan, also woody-cedar, and naturally ambery. This raw material adds substance and depth to the fragrance.
In the perfume's discreet and subtle opening, we can distinguish the zesty facet of Bergamot essence (Citrus bergamia) and the peppery-fresh facet of the Elemi essence (Canarium luzonicum), a spicy raw material whose woody and resinous facets can be sensed already.
The structure of Autoportrait allows the woody-balsamic heart and base to reveal itself very quickly. The rich woody aspect of Autoportrait is highlighted in the base of the fragrance by several raw materials. Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) in all its naturalness with its woody-dry side reminds us of pencil lead, the elegant Vetiver brings a refined smoky note.
The spicy facet persists in the heart of the perfume with the Benzoin Siam (Styrax tonkinensis), which also possesses a spicy-cinnamic aspect. As for the gourmand facet of Benzoin, with its vanilla and caramel accents, it wraps us in a warm and sweet haze. We also perceive the Incense (Boswellia carterii), with its powerful woody facet, it feels resinous and reassuring.
The Oakmoss Absolute (Evernia prunastri) with its woody-mossy facet and its earthy aspect accompanies the Cedar and Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanoide) while giving a chypre dimension to the fragrance. As for the Musks, they bring a smooth creamy effect.
Autoportrait is an elegant, deep, truly carnal fragrance with a mesmerizing trail.
In this fragrance, the Cedar is vibrant! It is preceded by an opening bursting with freshness and vitality: both sparkling with citrus notes such as the essence of Red Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi), Orange (Citrus sinensis), and green notes with a Rhubarb facet that gives it a joyful, tangy, fruity note, which recalls the rhubarb pie of our childhood.
The heart of the fragrance is adorned with a cold spice with a floral and fruity facet, the essence of Pink berries (Schinus molle). As for the base of Flash Back, it combines the essence of Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanoide) with that of Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), whose smoky and woody facets are rounded off by Musks and ambery notes. The latter also brings a mineral facet.
The contrast between the humus facet of Vetiver and the woody-dry facet of Cedar reminds us of the diversity of scents that mother nature can offer us.
A real stroll through the mists of an undergrowth!
The variety of notes in Flash Back is such that they seem to juggle under our noses, juxtaposing each other along the rhythm of its composition.
Lumière Blanche is a very soft and subtle fragrance. If the top of the perfume is certainly spicy, it has the particularity to be woody from the first notes. Despite their volatility of heart/base notes, the woods already strike us! Our nose meets both "cold" and "hot" spices. We find among the cold spices the essence of Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) which is distinguished by its zesty facet (but not citrusy!), and the essence of Star Anise (Illicium verum), also called Badiane, bringing a small anis note combined with a slight touch of licorice, one of its characteristic facets.
As for the hot spices, they are embodied by their leader, the essence of Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) very cinnamic (a word sharing the same etymology that refers to the spicy scent of Cinnamon) but also remarkably woody, and slightly sweet thanks to the almondy notes that follow!
The heart is adorned with a beautiful Iris (Iris pallida) revealing its powdery-iris facet that reminds us of the vintage Rice powder accord providing a "cosmetic" effect. This accord was indeed very common among 19th century face powders and lipsticks. It is combined to a creamy Almond milk accord offering balsamic, and coumarin notes, (from the coumarin molecule which possesses an almond scent). This accord's sweet aspect is perfectly combined to the Tonka bean (Dipterix odorata), which is also has almondy and vanilla facets.
Note that Cinnamon is very interesting in compositions when it meets Sandalwood, just like in Lumière Blanche.
In this spicy-powdery-woody fragrance, the essence of Sandalwood (Santalum album) is omnipresent, we sense it from the top of the fragrance, and until the base. It even leaves a trail that lasts wonderfully on the skin! We meet the Sandalwood in all its splendor with its rich side reminiscent of yellow flowers, and its silky lactonic facet. The essence of Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana), both woody-dry and raw, underlines the warm and woody base of this contrasted perfume.
Musks, especially Cashmeran with its singular earthy aspect, stand out with their creamy facet, and thus join the lactonic facet of Sandalwood and Almond milk. Their combination accentuates the soft and milky effect of the fragrance.
Lumière Blanche gives us a warm-cold sensation from head to toe, while enveloping us in a soft spicy-milky veil reminiscent of the comforting chai tea.
At the top of Leather Shot we immediately feel the citrus, acidic facet of the Orange Bigarade! Also known as Sweet Orange (Citrus aurantium), this one matches perfectly the zesty, lemon-like facet of Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum). This spice so appreciated by fine fragrance also has a peppery side that gives an aromatic dimension to the perfume top notes.
In the heart of the fragrance, another spice is found, none other than Cumin (Cuminum cyminum), more discreet but distinguishable by the Femme de Rochas effect it provides and its sensual facet, with leathery accents. The mythical spicy-fruity fragrance created in 1944 by Edmond Roudnitska was born from an overdose of cumin!
No need to wait for the base of Leather Shot to perceive the leathery notes, reminiscent of a smooth leather. The Iris (Iris pallida) with its woody-dry facet is felt in the heart and persists in the base. Black Tea absolute (Camellia sinensis) evoking the characteristic Ceylon tea offers a natural effect and compliments the leathery facet. The base of the fragrance nicely holds the leathery heart, a modern and reinvented leather.
Sandalwood (Santalum album) and Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) intermingle in a strong woody base with Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanoide). If the first is lactonic and rich, with a facet reminiscent of yellow flowers and orientals, the second stands out for its naturalness recalling the great cedar forests of Virginia. The Driftwood accord goes hand in hand with its woody peers and Vetiver does not go unnoticed with its nutty and smoky facet, which blends very well with the leathery notes.
The combination is very harmonious, offering a persistent freshness throughout the evaporation of the different raw materials.
Leather Shot is a leathery fragrance, both spicy and woody, with a touch of citrus and powdery notes, that confer a very elegant allure to it.
The start possesses a bursting and metallic facet attributed to Iris aldehydes. We immediately perceive the Iris (Iris pallida), modern and powdery, as usual. Its woody-dry, earthy, almost dusty side radiates the fragrance from the heart.
The top is also very spicy offering us the finesse of the essence of Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), both fresh by its zesty and aromatic side which does not escape us, and warm by its cinnamic and oriental facet.
The " queen of spices ", marries its colder but equally delicious mate, the Pink berry of Madagascar (Schinus molle), which doubles the aromatic facet with its peppery side. It also merges the top and the heart of this soliflore through its floral aspect. Blackcurrant Bud absolute (Ribes nigrum), a natural raw material of the green family with a distinctive sulfuric side, brings vitality and naturalness to the ensemble.
Iris Shot is a consistent and linear Iris, faithful to its precious rhizomes, whose scent can only be extracted after 6 years (three years of cultivation and three years of drying).
The Almond milk accord is gradually revealed by its soft and almondy facet, reminiscent of unctuous flavored desserts. This balsamic note rounds out the proud Iris to sweetly envelop it. The essence of Carrot Seed (Daucus carota), accentuates the beautiful Iris even more as both ingredients share a woody, earthy facet, truly rooted in the soil.
Very "heart" fragrance by its star flower, the base still finds its place as Virginian Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana), brings a different woody dimension, more resinous, evoking the bark of the American tree. The Haitian Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanoïde), brings a moist touch contrasting with the dry character of the other ingredients, as well as a smoky facet of its own!
Ambroxan, which appropriately bears its name, brings a powerful ambery note to the base, contributing to the fragrance's substantivity.
An elegant and cocoon-like fragrance, Iris Shot explores genres by bringing back to life a beautiful flower, long associated with rice powders and lipsticks in cosmetics.
MANY CONTINENTS FOR MANY CEDAR TREES
FOCUS ON THE JUNIPERUS
As mentioned earlier, different Cedar essences are used in the industry, the most common one being Virginia Cedar (Juniperus virginiana).
Part of the conifer group of plants, it is an evergreen plant reaching 5 to 20 meters high. It possesses a distinctive reddish-brown bark, doesn’t require too much sun nor water and grows on limestone.
Want to hear a fun fact? The oldest known Virginia Cedarwood comes from West Virginia and is 940 years old!
Native American tribes used to burn the tree during healing ceremonies, as they believed its smoke chased away evil spirits. They also made cedar poles to mark each tribe’s hunting lands.
Nowadays it is used to build objects such as fence posts, chests, closets (since its aromatic wood repels moths), and pencils even though incense-cedar (another species) has taken over such market since the 1940s!
Another type of Cedarwood comes from Texas. Its Latin name is similar to its Virginian cousin: Juniperus mexicana, giving us a hint on its birthplace which you might have figured out to be Mexico!
Also a juniper tree, its scent is very close to that of its Virginian cousin. On a regulatory level, both American Cedarwoods aren’t limited by any IFRA restriction.
FOCUS ON CEDRUS AND CUPRESSUS
Another type of Cedar essence is used in perfumery: Atlas Cedar. From its latin name Cedrus Atlantica, it is a whole different species found in the Atlas mountains of Morocco and Northern Africa. Atlas Cedar turns out to be a real cedar tree just like its Latin name indicates it.
Sawdust (wood chips) are also extracted by a hydrodistillation to obtain another light-yellow liquid, slightly viscous. A heart-base note of the woody family as well, its scent is more balmy and cresolic than its American cousins. It possesses camphorous and yellow flower notes (reminding us of mimosa) but also a distinct urinal aspect, disliked by many of us.
Regulated by the IFRA (International Fragrance Association), it is not as employed as Virginian and Texas Cedarwood and is considered a by-product of woody notes. It is combined to spicy and aromatic ingredients in fragrances.
RARE CEDARWOODS WORTH MENTIONING
Among the 600 different species of conifers on this planet, many other species are commonly called “Cedars” in perfumery. As we mentioned earlier, most of them are identified as so because of the presence of cedrene and cedrol in their essential oil.
Let’s give you an overlook of the main ones whose essential oil is distilled, yet barely employed!
Remember the Cuprecacae family? Well, among this family we can find not only juniperus species, but also cupressus species which are no other than cypress trees! Cedarwood Chinese (Cupressus funebris) and Cedarwood Alaska (Cupressus nootkatensis) belong to this family.
The first one is employed for its smoky effect, meanwhile the second one is principally incorporated in woody-floral fragrances and appreciated for its dry wood chip facet.
As for the “real” cedars, we have Cedarwood Himalaya (Cedrus deodora) and Cedarwood cyprus (Cedrus brevifolia), which are also uncommonly used in fragrances.
A LITTLE HISTORY: LEBANON’S EMBLEMATIC TREE
Found in the Lebanese mountains, the Lebanese cedar tree (Cedrus libani) is a symbol of Lebanon as it represents eternal life, because of its strong resistance to deterioration, and is also associated with the creation of the country.
AN ANCIENT MYSTICAL OIL
The wood’s essential oil turns out to be one of the most ancient raw materials in the world since it was employed by the first Christians to purify the participants of sacred donations, along with another essence called hyssop.
Yellow colored just like modern Cedar essences, Lebanese Cedar essential oil has a peculiar woody-herbaceous scent, but it is barely produced nowadays and extremely hard to find. Its closest essence would possibly be that off Atlas Cedar, because of its geographical origin.
A TRADING GOOD
During antiquity, cedar wood played an important part in the Phoenicians’ commerce (the population who lived in the region before the Arabs), as they sold it to the Jewish from the kingdom of Israel, and to the pharaohs. Moreover, it made them the most important sea trading community at that time, as the many cedar forests flourishing across Mount Lebanon produced an easy-to-harvest wood thanks to its light weight and softness, and able to resist water.
The Egyptians were some of their biggest clients as in their culture, cedar represented the underworld, heaven, and earth, and its scent was associated with holy rituals.
Therefore the Lebanese cedar tree had a commercial value since antiquity and even before, and a symbolic value starting from the 19-20th century.
A RELIGIOUS EMBLEM
Now let’s give you some context along with a very simplified explanation of how the country was founded. The French isolated the Christian population of the region to have a small allied country in the zone, and because this minority had tensions with the Muslims who ruled it (ottoman empire). The Christians happened to be wealthy landowners who were turned more towards agriculture than commerce.
Oppressed and chased by the Ottomans, the christians escaped massacres by hiding in the mountains, where the cedar tree grew. The tree was and still is one very important Christian symbol, often mentioned in the bible.
A DISAPPEARING TREE
Less and less present in the beautiful Lebanese mountains, the cedar tree is nowadays protected and mainly a beloved sight in the Lebanese national parks.
Some artisanal objects are still made out of cedar and its essence is extracted locally but in a very small quantity and barely used in perfumery.
So what gives Virginian Cedar its uncomparable scent? To find out, we must take a closer look at its chemical components, or in other words, the synthetic molecules in its essence.
First we have identified many terpenes like alpha and beta cedrene (25% and 7%), thujopsene (15%) beta caryophyllene (3%). Alcohols such as cedrol (25%) and cedrenol.
And what about Texas Cedarwood? More terpenic than Virginia’s essence, thujopsene is its main component (40-45%), followed by alpha cedrene (20-25%), cedrol (15-20%), thujopsanone, a ketone (15-20%), and beta cedrene (5-10%).
It’s the significant amount of cedrol and cedrene contained in these two essential oils which owes them their name of cedar!
When it comes to the tree’s fruits, their rarely employed essence is mainly composed of D-limonene, giving it zesty and lemony notes. Cedar Leaf essence also exists: its main components are safrole (contained in saffron) and limonene.
SOME WOODY CLASSICS
This article wouldn’t be complete without talking about some of the most famous fragrances out there containing Cedar!
Déclaration from Cartier, composed in 1998 by Jean Claude Ellena, is probably one of the most representative fragrances of Cedar. Let’s acknowledge Féminité du Bois from Shiseido (mentioned earlier), which was created by Pierre Bourdon and Christopher Sheldrake in 1992, and is today sold under Serge Lutens’ brand. It was the breakthrough fragrance that introduced woody notes to women’s fragrances.
The famous Terre d’Hermès composed by Jean Claude Ellena, a woody spicy perfume launched in 2006 and winner of the 2007 FIFI award (the equivalent of an oscar in the fragrance industry) for “Fragrance Of The Year Men’s Luxury” features Cedarwood in its base notes.
CEDAR, A WOOD LIKE NO OTHER
Cedarwood’s particular earthy and resinous fragrance has adorned women’s and men’s woody perfumes for decades! We aren’t surprised its extraordinary scent was a weapon for Native Americans to drive off vicious spirits…
As September’s sun is slowly drifting away, with soon-to-fall leaves and a foliage about to be gold, a new season awaits! Be on the watch because you might have the chance to cross your path with the majestuous cedar tree ! Or should I say “be on the smell”, to enjoy its unique perfume.
Anna Grézaud-Tostain for Olfactive Studio