I’ll be honest—I really don’t like artificial fragrances. I must’ve burnt out in high school on body sprays and boys with cologne, because these days I have no tolerance for synthetic smells, especially in a world ripe with so many intoxicating natural ones.
I do like the ritual of anointing one’s self with a special fragrance as much as anyone, though, so my version of perfume is a botanically infused skin oil. I like to make a handful of seasonal skin oils throughout the year with my favorite smelling plants or a suite of plants from my favorite smelling places, and for the holiday season, nothing beats the smell of the winter woods.
I sometimes use a combination of fir, pine, and spruce, but sometimes I just want the pure essence of balsam fir, the hallmark scent of winter in Maine, all on its own.
While I like to forage for evergreen tips for food and flavor in the spring, I collect the needles for skin oil any time of year. It’s especially timely now, in the fall, to make a fresh batch to use all winter and to give as gifts.
Evergreen oil is more than just a fragrance though. The phytochemicals of evergreens that we perceive by smell are well-documented to improve both our physical and mental health. As an added bonus, not only do smelling evergreens do us good, but they are renowned for their topical skin healing abilities. The oil can be applied to small wounds, burns, bites, and irritations for faster healing. It can be slathered onto dry winter skin and rubbed into an itchy scalp for relief, massaged into the beard for a lustrous glow, or just dabbed onto the wrists and neck for pure, unadulterated, pleasure.
When you gather with friends and family over the winter and make the rounds for hugs, you’ll be spreading palpable olfactory cheer, and you won’t be competing with the smell that everyone is really there for—the tree.
If your oil isn’t infusing as quickly as you’d like, or you’d like to really speed the process up and skip the cold infusion altogether, this can be done with heat, but with caution.
After the second step, instead of pouring the oil into the jar, you can pour your evergreen needles from the jar into the top of a double boiler and cover them in the oil there. This can be done on the stovetop, woodstove, or slow cooker on the very lowest setting. You only want to warm the oil and the needles, not cook them, or you’ll lose the fresh evergreen scent. Check your oil often and as soon as you really smell the bright fragrance coming through, remove it from heat. This usually takes about 1 to 2 hours on the very gentlest heat.