by Lisa Abdul-Quddus
It happens often yet I still get amazed at how simple actions can spark inspiration and discoveries. Take, for example, a conversation back in January 2009 between Natural Botanical Perfumer Justine Crane and one of her Antiquarian Perfumery students, Pauhla Whitaker. Pauhla started a discussion about a subject totally different from where that discussion ended. Basically, she casually mentioned the smell of horse chestnuts and very briefly described what they were. Justine suggested she tincture them, and voila! The Natures Nexus Academy of Perfuming Arts students had begun a journey in horse smells. Pauhla generously supplied the students with horse chestnuts and there began the experimentation.
If you do a search for horse chestnuts you will most likely find links to Aesculus hippocastanum, a tree that bears fruit containing seeds or nuts, referred to as chestnuts or horse chestnuts. So to give a brief description of what horse chestnuts are for those unfamiliar, they are the soft knobbly bits or growths found on a horse above the knee area of the front legs and below the hock of the hind legs. They grow normally over time in layers and can be easily peeled or shaved off. If horse chestnuts grow too big they can be unsightly but cause no harm to the horse. Pauhla says think of them as toe nails. When your toe nails grow too long you clip them. If left alone horse chestnuts can peel and fall off on their own. Often though they are taken care of by a farrier during regular grooming. And being that they grow from the horse's body they carry within them a mildly horsey more leathery scent. As a bonus for those that use animal essences in their natural perfumes horse chestnuts are cruelty free.
When I evaluated the horse chestnut tincture I found it to be cool and actually somewhat fresh. It is rustic for sure, but not fecal. Definitely animalic, sweaty, but not like stepping into a barn where horse scents can be concentrated. A chestnut is but one element taken from a group of other horse related smells, most notably lacking the warmth or heat that I would guess comes more from the horses own body heat than anything else. In conducting my own experiments with this tincture I found it gives my blends a 'lift' and cuts some of the sweetness of various essences while adding an agrestic note. I found this happened when added to a blend that was dominant in jasmine sambac.
I randomly selected a few essences to test with horse chestnut tincture added and these are some of my findings.
Patchouli - 10% dilution - ratio 1:1 Patchouli alone has a warm earthy, woody scent. With the addition of horse chestnut tincture it became almost boozy like congac with a light leather. Over time, and as the alcohol evaporated the leather note became stronger.
Tobacco absolute - 1% dilution - ratio 1:1 Tobacco absolute is warm, sweet and smoky. Adding horse chestnut tincture gave this a lift with a faint animalic note that blends well with the richness of the tobacco absolute. Think a campfire, burning tobacco, leather saddles and of course the horses.
Cilantro - 1% dilution - ratio 1:1 Cilantro is fresh, bright and herbal, like drawing in the aroma of a fresh cut bunch from a garden. The horse chestnut tincture overpowered the cilantro at the 1% dilution, although the cilantro was still detectable. These two together made for a very fresh, cool combination that actually pulled a tiny bit of sweetness from the cilantro.
I've found that when added to heavier base notes the horse chestnut tincture takes a back seat but still makes its presence known. With lighter notes it can take over but will diminish over time letting the lighter notes shine through while still adding an animalic element to a blend. One must also factor in the dilution percentages of the essences being used as well as the strength of the tincture. For those interested in animal smells horse chestnuts are worth adding to your palette if you can obtain them. Experiment with various essences to see what this tincture can add to your blends.
******************************************************************************Lisa Abdul-Quddus, Owner of Blossoming Tree Bodycare on Etsy, Third-Year Student/Mentor NNAPA Antiquarian Perfumery Course
Justine Crane, Natural Botanical Perfumer, Owner of The Scented Djinn, Tutor for Natures Nexus Academy of Perfuming Arts
Pauhla Whitaker Consultant, AmimOils, essential oil therapy for animals, Third-Year Student/Mentor NNAPA Antiquarian Perfumery Course