Yesterday I was lucky enough to hear some of the story of Queenstown Natural Perfumiers, a business founded by Serena and Harold Jones (she a botanist, he a poet) which has set out to capture some very specific scents from the Queenstown area landscapes and create them as naturally as possible – of the four scents, three are Ecocert-certified as 100% natural, while the fourth uses ‘synthetics’ as an environmentally conscious choice.
Both Harold and Serena, whom I’ve known for years, are passionate about the wild places of this country and our beautiful landscapes. I was able to sample each of the scents, picking out Lakeland Flora and Wilderness Berries as the two with most ‘nose appeal’ for me.
For a sense of what the perfumes invoke – and for much better writing than you’ll get from me – try these reviews by novelist Laurence Fearnley.
Queenstown Natural Perfumiers’ products are not available in stores or by mail order, just at two outlets, so far, in Queenstown.
Ngāi Tahu has a project under way to re-create a perfume known by the South Island iwi and which used the bayonet-like leaves of the plant known as taramea (Aciphylla spp, Spaniard or speargrass). Leaves were gathered, plaited and heated to extract resin with a fragrant oil made by mixing the resin and animal fat. The perfumed oil was highly valued and used in trade for food, pounamu (greenstone/jade) and as gifts between chiefs. Read more here.
Another ingredient in this ‘grand Māori perfume’, is pātōtara (Leucopogon fraseri, dwarf mingimingi), a prickly, low shrub that grows at altitude throughout New Zealand. According to Te Karaka website, it has been reported that, when the plant was more plentiful, the fragrance of its profuse flowering filled whole alpine valleys – and with an offshore wind, apparently the perfume was perceptible to mariners, even before land was within sight.
In Traditional Lifeways of the Southern Māori, Ngāi Tahu ethnographer Herries Beattie records that the bark of the mountain toatoa tree (Phyllocladus alpinus) was carried by southern Māori as a scent, with one informant saying the bark was used to make a scent similar to the highly-prized taramea perfume.
The leaves of the lemonwood tree (Pittosporum eugenioides) were bruised and mixed with fat to use as a perfume, as were the scented flowers, and Eldon Best also mentions the resin being used for perfume making.
Read much more on this topic of native perfumes at Forest Lore of the Maori: Various Scents and Gums by Elsdon Best (1856-1931).