Transcendental Notes: How To Extract Your Inner Perfume Maker

In the spirit of inspired collaboration, we bring you the latest from our friends at the Tamworth Lyceum. Jamie Oakes, Lyceum proprietor and self-taught distiller, has made a foray into…wait for it…perfume-making! He’s done his fair share of experimenting over the summer months and was kind enough to share the fruits of his labor with us.

Take a deep breath. Transport yourself. And next time you’re in the middle of the woods, maybe you’ll pick up a hatchet and give it a go yourself.


Transcendental Notes | Photos and words by Jamie Oakes

Extracting the essence of any botanical captures the scent and some medicinal properties of that material in a highly concentrated liquid. This liquid is usually achieved by, but not limited to, basic distillation.  The process of extracting this volatile concoction varies from plant to plant, and the resulting liquid comes in two usable parts: the essential oils and the floral water.

The following steps show the backwoods method of extracting Birch essence with a few inexpensive tools.  You’ll need a hatchet, a shovel, a clean sealable paint can (or other heat proof canister), a collecting tin, a mason jar, a knife, a lighter and a pair of pliers.

Step One: Cut a hole in the bottom of the paint can to allow the essence to escape into the collecting tin.

Step Two: Find a good source of white birch bark. I found this snag with sheets already unfurling from the trunk.

Tear off in sheets to match the size of your sealable paint can.

Pack the container with tight rolls of bark, and trim the top to allow for easy closure.

Step Three: Dig a fire pit. Sink the collecting tin below the base of the paint can, and fill in around the sides of the collecting tin.

Place the birch bark packed paint canister atop the collecting tin in the fire pit. Place the lid on the can and seal. It’s important to get a complete seal—otherwise the vaporized essence will escape out of the top instead of collecting at the bottom.

Step Four: Build a fire around the paint can.

Allow to heat all sides of the paint can thoroughly and evenly. The fire should burn down to coals, without burning through the paint can at any point.

Step Five: Remove the coals and ash carefully from the pit. Be sure to extinguish the coals carefully and without water (water will contaminate the birch bark essential oils that have collected at the bottom of the fire pit). Any debris should be carefully removed from the pit, so that it will not fall into the collecting tin. Now with pliers or knife, slowly remove the paint can from the top of the collecting tin.  Be careful not to burn yourself or get debris in your collected essence. The next step is to remove the collecting can from its subterranean home.

What you should have in the collecting tin is a substance that looks like spent motor oil, with the same consistency. This should be transported in a sealed glass Mason jar for safekeeping.  The suspension will separate further into a deep rusty red oil top layer and a translucent watery bottom layer.

Now what you’ll have is the very intense Birch essential oil, and the floral water that contains about 1% of the molecularly trapped oils derived from the bark. Both liquids are usable in soaps, custom scents and are even as flavor additives, granted your equipment is free of harsh chemicals like lead or plastics.

Birch has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, and adds a woody/musky deep base note to any custom scent. When unfiltered and extracted in the field using this simple method, the rich campfire aroma will be infused into the birch essence, creating a truly outdoorsy accent.

And here you have it!