When you smell something sweet, powdery, fluffy-little-cloud-like in a perfume, chances are there’s a touch of heliotrope in there. Or do you get a whiff of almond…? Maybe that’s chameleon-like heliotrope, in the blend… A touch of vanilla? That could be heliotrope, too.
The use of this gloriously purple-coloured plant in perfumery goes right the way back to Ancient Egypt. Technically, heliotrope can be still extracted by maceration (or through solvent extraction, the modern form of enfleurage), an echo of those times – but today it’s synthetic heliotropin – read about it here – which perfumers rely on.
Heliotrope’s teamed with violets and iris for a talcum-powdery, lipstick-esque sweetness – but as you may now have guessed, it’s actually very versatile, becoming almost mouthwatering when used alongside bitter almond, each ingredient turbo-charging the other’s marzipan-ish qualities. Put it with frangipani or vanilla, though, and their mutual sweetness comes out… (If you were to look under a microscope, vanilla essential oil actually contains a little heliotropin in its make-up.) You’ll find heliotrope in many legendary Guerlain fragrances, as well as countless contemporary ‘gourmand’ scents.
An annual-flowering member of the borage family, also known as ‘cherry pie flower’, you’ll often find Heliotropium arborescens on sale in nurseries and garden centres for summer bedding (and you can create a wonderfully scented display with the plants, which butterflies will also love).
Smell heliotrope in:
Guerlain L’Heure Bleue