There are few ingredients that play a more important role in the history of perfumery than oakmoss.
True oakmoss is a lichen that grows on oak trees. When it is extracted with a hydrocarbon solvent (usually petroleum ether or benzene) and the solvent evaporated off, there remains a concrete. When this concrete is extracted with alcohol and the alcohol evaporated off (preferably under vacuum) there remains the absolute. It’s hard to say that the absolute smells like moss (who knows what moss smells like?), but it does have a characteristic aroma that ends up being called “mossy” for lack of a better description. It is earthy and a little bit reminiscent of hay. It ranges from dark brown to dark green although decolorized versions are much lighter.
Oakmoss absolute is fundamental to chypre perfumes, which are based on oakmoss with jasmin and bergamot. It can also be added to any number of perfume creations, particularly fougères and “moss” perfumes to improve tenacity and add complexity. I also use it to add base notes to florals.
There is, however, one big problem. Oakmoss, in anything other than derisory concentrations, is forbidden by IFRA, the organization responsible for consumer safety in the European Union. Fortunately, rather than having to abandon such perfumes as chypres that rely on oakmoss, a number of manufacturers have come up with oakmoss versions with the offending toxin taken out. Because none of these (expensive) interpretations captures the total aroma and feeling of authentic oakmoss, I have combined them with each other and with some celery seed essential oil to round out their aroma and create the feeling of the authentic product.
Now that I have a workable and legal oakmoss mixture, I’m going to set out to make a chypre and to experiment adding my oakmoss mixture to any number of perfume experiments.