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Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Best & Worst Oils/Absolutes I've Ever Purchased. An Insider's Guide to buying Botanicals Without Wasting Money

Let's face it, essential oils and absolutes are expensive.  Whether you are buying a pound of lemongrass E.O. for scenting soap or an ounce of lemon petitgrain for perfumery you want to make sure you are getting what you pay for.  Adulteration of oils runs rampant.  Quality varies wildly.  While I'm not a professional nose per se, nor do I have access to a spectometer gizmo which measures the components of essential oils and can detect adulterants, I'm pretty sure I've been ripped off by a few companies.  I've received oils that smell like . . . nothing.  That's right--NOTHING.  I've received oils that smell glorious, only to find out at a later date they're not real (more on this later.)  Because I'm a cost conscious perfumer (a misnomer if I've ever heard one), I decided to compile this list of the best and worst botanicals I've purchased recently.  I want to help you avoid the pitfalls I've succumbed to and help you discover the hidden gems available while saving you money.  Please note I have no affiliation with any of these suppliers.  I'm just writing my own opinions on what I found good and what I spent way too much money on.

The Good Guys

Let's begin with the positives.  Moving from left to right in the photo.  The following seven botanicals rank high on my list for quality, aroma and price.
  • Eden Botanicals Organic Vetiver-Sri Lanka: A fantastic high quality vetiver, resinous, smooth, green and grassy with a hint of smoke.  Great tenacity and blends well with most botanicals.  The organic costs a little more bit it's worth it.  This is my favorite vetiver Eden Botanicals offers.
  • Eden Botanicals Jasmine Sambac Absolute-India: My favorite Jasmine Sambac. This is saying a lot as I'm a "jasminaholic" and have tried every Jasmine I can get my hands on.  This one's plump, fruity, musky, green and indolic.  LOVE!
  • Essential Oil University Rosewood-Brazil: (EOU claims this is the lowest priced Rosewood available on the internet AND it's good!) Before getting this rosewood, I believed rosewood smelled like pledge furniture polish.  The rosewood's I had used previously smelled astringent, lemony with a hint of oily wood in the background.  I marveled when people described rosewood as "floral" and "rosy."  Now I understand.  EOU's Rosewood is a clean, sweet rose-lemon.  You can really smell the rose!  I love this rosewood and am happy I finally got to smell a good quality oil, especially as my guilt at rosewood's over harvesting may prevent me from ordering more.  FYI--EOU claims the rosewood is from a "renewable source" but call me a wee bit skeptical . . . 
  • Liberty Natural Products Carnation Absolute-Egypt: One of the smoothest carnations I've tried.  It's much less spicy and clove-like than most carnations and very floral and sweet, reminiscent of champaca.  I've noticed as it ages the spicy notes seem to be  decreasing, and floral tones increasing.  This could be a plus or a minus depending on how you like your carnation.  I like it very much and it's priced much lower than other carnations on the market.
  • Liberty Natural Products Lavender Absolute-Bulgaria: Sweet blueberry vanilla lavender with creamy notes of green tea.  Beautiful emerald green, delicious aroma, and blends with a wider variety of botanicals than most lavenders do. Very economical, one ounce costs less than $14.00!
  • Liberty Natural Products Bitter Orange Absolute-Egypt: I'm a little nervous to write about this one.  It's always been my little secret.  Every perfume I make with this absolute garners rave reviews.  It seems to have mass customer appeal.  I LOVE it madly, and worry once I write this I'll discover my readers (all 13 of you-smile) have gone and bought all the remaining stock available from Liberty, which you should do immediately because it's that good!  I refer to this paranoia as "coffee flower syndrome."  Ahh, my beloved coffee flower absolute.  I discovered you on a whim when placing an order from Liberty.  Proceeded to make the most amazing, special, beautiful perfume with you and then, alas you were gone.  Never to return back into stock.  R.I.P. my darling coffee flower absolute.  Wherever you may be . . . Getting back to the Bitter Orange Absolute.  It doesn't smell much like traditional Orange Blossom Absolute.  It's less sharp and citrusy.  No indolic notes or sharp neroli aromas.  It's a very smooth, almost lactic orange blossom with tea notes and a vanillic undertone.  It's sensational.  It blooms in alcohol, expanding and radiating it's smooth white blossoms.  It's my favorite hidden gem.  p.s. If you decide to buy some make sure you order Bitter Orange Absolute-Egypt as Liberty has strangely named it.  The other Orange Blossom's offered are not similar.
  • Eden Botanicals Vanilla Bourbon Total CO2:  My favorite vanilla.  It boasts 26% vanillin and it's very strong.  I like that I can use less and still get lots of vanilla aroma.  It blends seamlessly in alcohol and is easy to use after warming in a hot water bath.  I find vanilla absolute hard to work with, vanilla bean tincture is wonderful but significantly colors perfumes, vanilla Co2 is perfect, and Eden's is the best I've found.  
p.s. Additionally I really like Liberty's Tuberose absolute (buttery, waxy, rich white floral) and Jasmine Grandiflorum-Egypt (sweet, creamy and powerful) as good as many higher priced jasmine grands.  Also their Osmanthus Absolute smells just as good as many higher priced options.

The Bad Guys

Now let's talk about the duds.  I would avoid these botanicals at all costs literally.
  • Liberty Natural Products Palmarosa-India:  This is definitely a case of you get what you pay for, and I umm paid very little.  This palmarosa is terrible!  It starts off sharp and acrid and only gets worse.  There's a persistent strong back note of burnt rubber and chemicals.  I get faint whiffs of peppery lemon.  Spend a little more and get something better than this, I'm sure almost any Palmarosa you can find will smell better.
  • Liberty Natural Products Kaffir Lime Leaf-Thailand: I love Kaffir Lime (Combava Petitgrain) and have ordered samples from at least four different companies.  This is the worst.  There's no sparkling bright limey green notes.  It's faded and sweet.  Why is it sweet?  It has no spunk or clarity and is a muddled sweet mess.  Stay away. Try White Lotus or Anatolian Treasures instead.
  • New Directions Frankincense-Eithiopia:  This was the first frankincense I bought when I started making perfume.  I didn't understand what all the fuss was about with Frankincense.  Mandy Aftel was raving about it.  People were blogging about "magical frankincense" and I just didn't get it.  Turns out I had the worst frankincense ever bottled.  This smells like eucalyptus mixed with turpentine.  As it ages it grows more camphorous and terrible.  I've since smelled better versions and realize I was ignoring frankincense as my initial impression was a bad one.  If anyone has recommendations for a great frank. send it my way!
  • EOU Yuzu-Japan: I am a huge yuzu fan.  I adore it's fresh zippy scent.  I've sampled a few and have always been happy, until now.  This yuzu is not good.  I actually do not believe it's real yuzu.  It smells like white grapefruit mixed with something.  Maybe another citrus oil.  I'm pretty sure it's bunk.  A big letdown as I now have one whole ounce of bad yuzu.  I thought about contacting EOU and asking them about the yuzu, but I haven't had good experiences with their customer service.  I assume I will have to chalk this up to a bad choice, money lost and move on.  Don't buy yuzu from here.
  • Eden Botanicals Tuberose Absolute:  I'm not a fan of the tuberose here.  It's floral and fussy and reminds me of old lady cologne or Fracas before I even begin blending.  I prefer my tuberose big, creamy and buttery.  I find this tuberose thin.  It's not waxy.  It's just lackluster, and it's expensive.
  • Eden Botanicals Carnation Absolute:  Again I find this absolute lackluster.  The fragrance is faint, with a weird undertone of decomposition.  I do not like it.

So, in summary there are hits and misses with most suppliers.  It's hard to write off a supplier for one bad botanical when they offer others that are good.  There's lots of opinions regarding which suppliers are the best, which have the best or worst quality.  I think it's all a roll of the dice.  A company may offer a great rose otto, but their citrus oils are awful.  Some offer beautiful but pricey absolutes but the selection is limited.  That's what's so tough about finding good ingredients.  Unfortunately, we often find out through trial and error and it can be easy to make pricey mistakes.

I usually order my botanicals from Eden Botanicals, Liberty Naturals, White Lotus, and Aftelier.  I have experience with products from many other suppliers.  I have listed my personal impressions below.

LIBERTY NATURALS: Great citrus oils.  Some great absolutes.  Website is not user friendly or informative.  Shipping takes a very long time.  The best prices.  I have had bad luck with some lower priced essential oils like palmarosa, juniper berry, nutmeg.  Avoid their Sco2's.  They don't blend in alcohol and their scent profile is faint.

WHITE LOTUS:  Amazing high quality oils, great customer service, and informative newsletter.  Website is awkward to navigate and you must email your orders.  Prices are very high.  I wish I could shop here more often.

EDEN BOTANICALS: One of my favorites.  Great website, and generous free samples.  Try before you buy.  Middle of the road prices.

AFTELIER: Rare botanicals in small sizes.  Very nice website.  You can often find botanicals here that you can't find anywhere else.  Remember the botanicals are rare and you may not be able to get them again.

NEW DIRECTIONS:  I have had bad experiences with this company ranging from them double charging my credit card, to receiving adulterated rose absolute.  Prices are low, but trust me.  It's not worth it.

ESSENTIAL OIL UNIVERSITY:  All oils are available in 1 ounce size and up.  NO samples.  I was not impressed with the absolutes I have ordered, however some oils such as patchouli and rosewood were good and very reasonably priced.  After the yuzu I received I don't think I will place another order with them.  However, for soapers or those who need larger quantities of essential oils (not absolutes) they are a good option and very economical.  Also, great prices on bulk disposable droppers here.

I'm hoping this will spur those who read this to leave comments regarding their own hits and misses.  I love trading tips and sources and maybe next time you can save me from wasting money on bad yuzu.


Lisa Abdul-Quddus said...

I have to agree with you on White Lotus and Eden Botanicals. Two of my favorites by far. I've purchased from EOU several times. I just received an order yesterday and wasn't too pleased with it. I do like EOU's floral waxes. With Liberty some I like some I don't. They're never my first choice though.

Ambrosia said...

It's amazing how much the different oils and absolutes can vary from supplier to supplier...and even from lot to lot!
I originally bought THE BEST Rose Maroc ever from an Australian company called Escentials of Australia....beautiful, soft, with a deep rose colour....the next batch I ordered was yellow! and has a sharp top note with none of the softness I had fallen in love with!!!
I was furious and sent it back with a complaining phone call, and got some garbled explanation of different years harvests etc...
I've had mixed results from the Australian version of New Directions too...
My favourites at present are an Ozzie company called Auroma, and White Lotus and Eden Botanicals partly because their customer service is great! But BOY is their ordering system a pain! (which reminds me, I need to sort out payment for another Eden order...mutter...GET PAYPAL AND ONLINE ORDERING!!!)

Johanna Knox said...

This is a lovely, measured post Charna!

Well, you probably already read my worsts and one of my bests. I'll add the LN tonka abs to the worsts ... And the WLA fir balsam abs to the bests!

Those are among of the few where I've had the opportunity to compare different ones from different companies and noticed a really marked difference in my reaction to them. (But then I'm such a noob, you have to take what I say with a grain of salt! :o)

I was really interested in what you said about the LN carnation. I have a small sample of it, and find it nicely strong. I was puzzled when I read someone saying carnation was an extremely delicate scent, because that wasn't my experience of it at all ... So now I guess maybe they just have a different one from somewhere else that really is delicate?

indieperfumes said...

Great and useful post!
I have collected a few things myself, for personal pleasure/education, and have had some good experiences from Eden and Liberty. I love the White Lotus articles and have yet to order from them because of their $100 minimum but I know they care and watch over their offerings very closely. I recall from time to time that Anya has had some of her garden materials on offer.

Mama G said...

ARGH. I just lost my comment.

Well long story short, this is a wonderful resource, and I wanted to mention that I recently ordered from Samara Botane, and was so pleased with the quality, and they also sent some nice samples too.


HJ said...

Wonderful post Charna!

My best has been stunning Turkish Rose Absolute from Anatolian Treasures [I'm hording a couple of ounces I've purchased over the last few years....]; EB's Genet and Orris. Oh and some rather fine high altitude french lavender right from the source [I just happened to be up in the mountains in southern France recently... *grin*].

Worst would be Rose Maroc from the same place Ambrosia purchased the oil from here in Oz. All I can say is it ain't all rose to be sure! Sigh, I really should have sent it back but never got around to it.

I don't purchase essences much from my homeland Australian suppliers any more and buy mostly from EB, WLA and few others in the US. I get highly frustrated that many suppliers won't allow samples. And then there are those who look promising but then you find them trying to sell essences that WE all know are impossible and highly suspect. Makes me grumpy lol. ;-P


SarahG said...

Have others had the same experience with New Directions? Is it all of their products or just certain ones that are not as good? I am curious because I have used their oils and while I like them very much, the scent dissipates rather quickly!

Maggie Mahboubian said...

Thanks for sharing your "frank" comments! As for a great frankincense, try the Boswellia frereana from Oman that Butch Owens offers. It has a citrus top note that transitions to a church-y incense after about an hour. Fascinating. I also like the Boswellia serrata CO2 from India that EB carries. Very sweet and smooth. I'm not fond of Boswellia carterii in general. Tends to be high octane and pierces my nasal passages.

Charna said...

Thank you all for your comments and recommendations! Unfortunately blogger doesn't let me reply individually to each comment, so I emailed some of you directly (those whose comments came with an email return address) and I guess I'll post one general thanks to all. Maggie, thanks for your tip on AT's frankincense. I was just about to place an order there. Perfect timing! Ambrosia, have you tried Auroma's boronia? They're the only place I can find that carries boronia.

Sonsa said...

I've found that ordering oils from anywhere is a roll of the dice. It depends entirely on the batch, at the time, and can change with the same product from the same company the next time they get a new supply. If they're ordering a huge amount each time (i.e. 55 gallons) the supply will be consistent while this batch lasts but when they reorder it can change drastically.

Helena said...

Hi Charna, I just discovered your blog and have enjoyed reading it thoroughly! I wish I had somehow come across your wisdom when I began perfume making as I can certainly relate to the aspect of 'wasting money'.

I'm still finding my trustworthy list of resources. When I first began, I was directed to Oils & Soap and Escentials (which Ambrosia mentioned). I ordered from the former first and I can say pretty much every bottle I bought was a write-off. The nauseating scent of first collection put me off natural perfumery and I couldn't bear the thought of blending for a year. I don't think there is anything wrong with the oils per se, but I can see now that the inventory is fairly limited and oils listed as "ylang ylang" or "sandalwood" are actually the cheapest varieties.
Escentials at least specifies the variety of their oils more explicitly so you know you're buying ylang ylang extra or Australian/East Indes/Mysore sandalwood and they have really a good reputation here in Australia, but I frankly find their service lacking. I appreciate that they are a small family-run business although sometimes when I'm simply excited to blend, it does hurt a bit to wait days and sometimes weeks for a email response. My last two orders from them placed July and August this year have arrived with several bottles leaked through.
I like New Directions because they have a showroom about a 20min drive from where I live and I'm able to sample their oils before I purchase. Their range is also greater than Escentials. They have a nag champa essential oil which is divine and will be finding its way into a sweet woody perfume I have in the works :).
I have never heard of Auroma before and it's certainly piqued my interest. I noticed that their website is under construction. Has that only recently gone under construction or has it been that way for ages?

Helena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Good point, though sometimes it's hard to arrive to definite conclusions

Molly said...

Just discovered your blog and have loved reading it. I thought this post was particularly great, though now I have even more oils and absolutes I must resist buying, for now. (And the wish list grows ever longer.) I did, of course, at least have to check things out at LN and EB to see what sort of price tags I should plan for in the future. While looking around, I did see a coffee flower absolute on LN's list. Not sure if this is the same one you were pining over, but wanted to pass that info along just in case. Thanks again for this informative and entertaining blog!

prabha said...

Thanks for this informative post. Can you please suggest a source that will sell ginger absolute and rosemary absolute in small quantities?

Charna said...

Hi Prabha,
Aftelier has rosemary absolute and only sells in small quantities. I think White Lotus has Ginger absolute, but I'll have to double check.

jon said...

Hello Charna,

I just stumbled across this blog entry last night when shopping for a Jasmine Sambac absolute. I am a beginning homemade cosmetic hobbyist (male) and your blog has given me some increased confidence in ordering the low-priced products from Liberty Natural.

What are your thoughts about the Sambac absolute from Liberty. I just don't think I can afford the cost of the one from Eden.



Anonymous said...

I wish there was a more recent update.
This is the first review of EO's that I feel is honest.
Most of the other reviews are nothing more than shilling.

Thanks for the review and maybe there will be an update at some point.



Jeanne Freeland said...

I am not a perfumer: though I love the scents of some of the essences, my main use for them is medicinal. I have ordered quite a bit from White Lotus. I trust them and as noted by some others here, their customer service is outstanding.

I did want to bring to people's attention a local (Sedona AZ area) supplier called Wisdom of the Earth. Their stuff is pricey, but is of the very highest quality. They have over 200 pure essences that they get from all over the world, from small suppliers who do this out of devotion. There is nothing they sell that isn't pure enough to put in your mouth! They also handle them very consciously. When it is time to pour, they do so in silence, and if there is any tension between any of them, they work it out before they sit down to do so.

There are certain White Lotus essences, like balsam fir, that I use a lot of and daily, and which seem to be comparable to WOTE's, but certain others that don't even smell like the same plant, so I bite the bullet and go to WOTE. They also have a sister company, Shining Sun Aromatherapy, in Santa Fe New Mexico---same suppliers. Check them out when you don't want to have the slightest doubt of something being genuine and of the very highest quality!