Three Methods of Producing Perfumed Oils by the Egyptians

Enfleurage involved steeping the flowers or aromatics in oils or animal fats (usually goat) until the scent from the materials was imparted to the fat. The impregnated fat was often molded into cosmetic cones and used for perfuming hair wigs, worn on festive occasions, which could last for 3 days; the fat would soften and start melting, spreading the scented grease not only over the wig, but also over the clothes and body—more pleasing than the stench of stale wine, food, and excrement (Manniche, 1999).

Maceration was used principally for skin creams and perfumes: flowers, herbs, spices, or resins were chopped up and immersed in hot oils. The oil was strained and poured into alabaster (calcite) containers and sealed with wax. These scented fatty extracts were also massaged onto the skin (Manniche, 1999).

Expression involved putting flowers or herbs into bags or presses, which extracted the aromatic oils. Expression is now only used for citrus fruit oils (Lis-Balchin, 1995). Wine was often included in the process and the resulting potent liquid was stored in jars. These methods are still used today.

Megaleion, an Ancient Greek perfume described by Theophrastus who believed it to be good for wounds, was made of burnt resins and balanos oil, and boiled for 10 days before adding cassia, cinnamon, and myrrh (Groom, 1992). Rose, marjoram, sage, lotus flower, and galbanum perfumes were also made. Apart from these, aromatic oils from basil, celery, chamomile, cumin, dill, fenugreek, fir, henna, iris, juniper, lily, lotus, mandrake, marjoram, myrtle, pine, rose, rue, and sage were sometimes used in perfumes or as medicines taken internally and externally.

Dioscorides, in his De Materia Medica, discussed the components of perfumes and their medicinal properties, providing detailed perfume formulae. Alexandrian chemists were divided into three schools, one of which was the school of Maria the Jewess, which produced pieces of apparatus for distillation and sublimation, such as the bain Marie, useful for extracting the aromatic oils from plant material. Perfumes became more commonly known in medieval Europe as knights returning from the Crusades brought back musk, floral waters, and a variety of spices.

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