Ask the Perfumer 4/7/2013 The Truth About Honeysuckle Absolute Part 2

by | Apr 7, 2013 | Anya's Garden Perfumes, natural perfume, raw materials of perfumery | 11 comments

Honeysuckle flower

Honeysuckle flower

Disclaimer: I do not sell honeysuckle absolute, so I have no financial interest in this, but as a leader in the natural perfumery field, I do have an obligation to red flag bad information/bad supplies and help perfumers and customers understand the level of purity and ethics that we adhere to.

No names will be mentioned here to protect everyone’s identity.  These two (selected from several) comments were posted by members of the 2400+ member natural perfumery group I host on Yahoo:

#1 Yeah – interesting…. well I remember in xxxxxx book she mentioned the
same thing… that it is all synthetic, but then she brought it onto the
market, from italy…. I called and they said that it is true, nearly all
is synthetic, but that this one was real. I would doubt if after writing it
in her own book she would not be REALLY careful

#2 I agree, of course xxx would be really careful!    I simply do not believe that she would endanger her carefully built brand by promoting an absolute as natural were it not so.  There would be no upside beyond a brief selling period, and the inevitable downside would be very destructive to her brand.  She is wiser than that.

I searched on the Internet, I called several supply houses, and here are my findings.

None of the people from the big houses know of any natural honeysuckle absolute.  I would expect they would have their fingers on the pulse of any new material that came to market, in fact, they would probably be the ones producing it.  One man joked “I’d love to see these trellised* honeysuckle farms, they must be beautiful – in a dream!” *honeysuckles require expensive/extensive trellises for support of the climbing vines. Another wondered why a supplier/extractor in Italy didn’t contact them because the growing, harvesting and extraction process economics dictate that it not be a one-time production, and no more has appeared on the market. (My note: honeysuckle can be grown without trellises, but it would be a nightmare to harvest, a tangled mass of vines.)

The Internet search yielded the usual Indian suppliers touting their honeysuckle absolute, quoting Arctander’s book and giving a botanical name, at least (even if incorrect).  My catch phrase for natural perfumers is “be the captain of your own fragrant ship” and part of the basic knowledge a perfumer should have given by the seller is the correct botanical name, the solvent used in extraction, and yes – a GC/MS!  None of the suppliers on the Internet provide this.  The hodgepodge of misinformation out there on honeysuckle absolute is amazing.  One site says that Julia Lawless says that there’s an essential oil!  The botanical name given isn’t one that would be used in perfumery anyway, and I have NEVER heard of it used in aromatherapy.

The history of the herb and spice trade and of the aromatic oil trade is a history of con artists fooling people.  Unscrupulous sellers of cayenne pepper used to mix the pepper with flour and water, and bake it into crackers, which they then ground up and sold as pure cayenne. Aromatherapists have been complaining for decades that oils are often ‘stretched’ with real – or synthetic – isolates to either bring more profit to the supplier or to enhance the scent.  Those of us who want to use only 100% real, pure, natural aromatics have to be vigilant all the time.

Demand a GC/MS and optical rotation report on any new, “rarer than rare” aromatic on the market.  If you can’t get it, move on and don’t buy the product.  Be aware that those reports can be faked for many oils, since the supplier may just cut and paste the name of the GC/MS company and put it out as the GC/MS for their company, but I doubt, truly, that any previous GC/MS for honeysuckle absolute exists, since it hasn’t been produced in decades, according to my industry sources.

Please take a stance against sweet-talking Indian sellers of compounded part natural/part synth absolutes, and also against big corporation European sellers of ‘proprietary formula’ compounded fruit flavor/fragrance essences.  Let us create our own doppelgänger or simply ignore the tempting offerings.  Tincture dried raspberries or peaches, don’t buy some corporate version of it, it’s easy to make your own.  Be your own captain whenever possible.  Our art will benefit from transparency, good steering through the murky waters by wise captains, and will result in trust and respect from our peers and customers.

Parting words:  if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I encourage you to subscribe to my blog and/or the comments, and if you leave a comment, make sure you check the box that will allow you to see follow-up comments.  The recent Pregnant Perfumer post (see earlier post this week) had some lovely follow-ups as the visitor comments referred to another’s post, but if the original poster didn’t check that box, she may have missed the follow-up.

I’ll be here to answer your questions about perfumery until 10 PM ET tonight, and heck, if you want to send me a smidgen of any honeysuckle absolute you’ve purchased, I’ll try to find someone who can run a GC/MS optical rotation study on it!  Two mls minimum, and I’ll perform an organoleptic evaluation on it, too, and post it here. Please write to me privately with information on your absolute, and I’ll accept the first two samples sent.


  1. Jeanne Rose

    Hi, I did a bit of research on ‘honeysuckle absolute’ and deep in the spec sheets of one of the expensive sources I found that it contains the following ingredients: Honeysuckle Absolute oil is made with Rhodinol, benzyl acetate, linalol, methyl anthranilate, heliotropin. Personally, I do not think there is any honeysuckle absolute obtained from honeysuckle flowers. You have done a lot of work on this item and I commend your time and attention – too bad people want to believe the unbelievable.

  2. Cynthe Brush

    GLORIOUS photo! Who wouldn’t wish for a honeysuckle absolute to work with. Oh, well. Thanks for this post.

  3. MPC

    I’ve learned my lesson. Do not assume that sources can be trusted, even from those who write books on natural perfumery and are considered leaders of the field.

    My take home message: I won’t buy anything rare and/or pricey again until I either smell it first or get a small sample. Anything else is a just a very expensive crap shoot.

    • Anya

      Jeanne, Matthew I’m going to get hold of this and tell the GC person to be on the lookout for synth hydroxycitronellal and muguet alcohol ;-) My source told me that they probably had the concrete made just for this research and publication, and that it’s not in production.

      I know if I ever was offered such a rare aromatic, I would perform due diligence, it’s just wrong to introduce something into the natural perfumery community on some sellers “say so”.

      Matthew – how can you compare the smell of something you are offered unless you have a benchmark to smell it against? Also, think of how jasmine absolute smells different from the growing flower? How would you know what variance to accept? Still more – various distillers/extractors will produce slightly different products from year to year, etc. It’s more than a crap shoot – it’s a cesspool of con artists and gullible buyers who just don’t have the experience and skepticism necessary to bring a 100% natural product to market.

      Don’t get me started on fruity compounds and a lot of the ‘natural’ isolates offered today.

      Thanks for posting,

      • MPC

        So helpful. I’m learning so much. And you’re right. Sometimes the journey from flower to essence doesn’t lead to a favorable and pleasantly fragrant end – even for some true naturals. I’ve smelled so much jasmine over the years, that I can tell pretty quickly how good it is (such as the grasse jasmine I got from you, and treasure). For brand new essences, the cesspool awaits.

        You know, a common hallmark of training in traditional perfumery is chemistry. I think a hallmark of natural perfumery training should be just this type of evaluation of oils. It’s critical.

  4. PerfumeShrine

    Hmm. I do see the petroleum ether method described in the Good Scents company and wonder, though it wouldn’t be too rare if it appears there, would it. Since most elusive flowers can be recreated (in the nat & synth world via jasmolactones, LOTV substitute, orange blossom, a bit of rose -rhodinol or otherwise- and a peppering of accent pieces as per individual case) the matter is resolved there, but it remains here.
    I wonder whether the supercritical CO2 extractions are the means to that end, i.e extracting a more “real” essence that can *then* be extended. Judging by MKK’s breakdown chart, what do you think?

  5. Anya

    Hi Elena:

    Arctander wrote about the solvent and it is the most-quoted bit on HS abs. I am sure it is *occasionally* produced, especially in France, but the rarity and proprietary attitudes would preclude it being in general release, which, of course, the “Italian” version contradicts. Arctander also lists all of the bases, absolutes and other aromatic bits that can be used to create a “compounded” HS abs. Don’t forget, I’m also looking at the agricultural engineering aspect, which I fully cover in my textbook. Plant/field/growing conditions/harvest workers/facility/trained extractor, etc. Who is MKK?

    PS the Japanese extraction I mentioned used hexane as the solvent, so PE isn’t the only one.

    Thanks for stopping by! xoxo

  6. Julz

    Hi Anya ! …
    I really don’t understand why there should be any problem producing a Lonicera type absolute (or an EO for that matter) ?? – I mean, after all, if it’s so easily possible to produce absolutes from Jasmines, many of which the plants’ species are equally twining, deciduous climbers/vines such as Jasminum Officinale or even Grandiflorum. In many ways these plants are (or seem to at least) share similarities to each other (Jasminum/Lonicera) in form of climbing plant, flowers & even their scent. So if it’s possible to cultivate & extract an absolute (or EO) from one, I would’ve thought it just as easily possible for the other. I really do not see or understand why it should be so much more difficult to produce an absolute from one but not the other ?? … Plus I imagine with today’s technology extraction methods shouldn’t be a problem (if ever this was an issue) !?
    So, any enlightenment on why it’s a problem to produce a honeysuckle absolute would be much appreciated. :) – (Or is it just simply because it’s easiest to produce/compound a fake one instead ?? – Tho’ this doesn’t really make much sense to me as surely this would be equally so for other plant absolutes too, which are easily available.) – Plus I imagine there’s more than enough market for it, to justify any effort in producing one. … (Thanx in advance !) – J

    • Anya

      Hi Julz:

      There are a lot of factors why honeysuckle absolute isn’t produced.

      1. no demand, as you noted, there are compounded and synthetic replacements, as is the case with gardenia. There are some gardenia absolutes out of China now, but they are inferior, being made from dried flowers.
      2. no acreage devoted to it.
      3. lack of experienced personnel to extract the concrete and absolute.
      4. lack of demand


  7. Rodney Hughes

    Hi Anya, concerning honeysuckle what are your thoughts on the dried flowers being sold?

    • Anya

      Hi Rodney:

      Thanks for stopping by, long time no see!

      Dried honeysuckle flowers have been used for centuries in Chinese medicine, where they are a “go-to” herb. There is no use in perfumery for the dried flowers, only the fresh.



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