In the beginning…
The birch is an ancient tree, renowned for its austere beauty and resilience in the face of winter's rigors. Its Latin name, Betula, may derive from the Gallic word betu, meaning "tree". Traces of the birch tree can be found in ancient cultures, where it was used not only for its wood, but also for its medicinal and symbolic properties. Among the Celts, for example, the birch was a symbol of renewal and purification.
The history of birch in perfumery, however, is fairly recent. In 18th-century Russia, it was first used to make eau de boule, a subtle, delicate fragrance. Birch bark, rich in essential oils, gives a woody, smoky and slightly sweet olfactory note, which has been appreciated and used by perfumers over the centuries.
Birch trees are native to the northern hemisphere, mainly the temperate and boreal regions of Europe, Asia and North America. There are several species of birch, each with specific characteristics and slightly different olfactory notes. The most commonly used in perfumery are the white or silver birch (Betula pendula), for its resin, and the paper birch (Betula papyrifera), for its oil.
Growing birch requires good sun exposure and well-drained soil. These trees are hardy and can survive in difficult conditions. In perfumery, the bark and buds of the tree are harvested. The harvesting period varies according to the part of the tree used and the growing region, but is generally in late winter or early spring, when the sap rises.
What do you know about Birch in perfumery?
In perfumery, it's mainly birch oil, derived from heated birch tar, that's used. It's a golden-colored oil with a strong woody scent. Birch tar is obtained by dry distillation of the tree's bark. It has an intense, smoky odor, and is often used in small quantities to give a perfume a base note.
Birch belongs to the woody olfactory family. It adds a woody, balsamic, leathery or animalic note to perfumes. Its presence in a fragrance is often discreet but decisive, as it lends depth and complexity to the composition.
Birch has a very distinctive olfactory profile. It evokes dry wood, smoke and leather, with earthy nuances. The scent of birch oil is often described as both powerful and raw. It is said to evoke the image of a wood fire in a birch forest in winter.
In perfumery, birch blends well with many other ingredients. It can be combined with top notes such as orange, lemon or bergamot to bring freshness to its woody side. It also pairs well with floral heart notes such as jasmine, rose or ylang-ylang, creating an interesting contrast between the sweetness of flowers and the strength of wood. As a base note, it complements notes like patchouli, vanilla, musk or sandalwood, to give depth and longevity to the fragrance.
Some popular Birch perfume
• Cuir Cannage is a birch perfume from the house of Christian Dior, launched in 2014, that evokes worked leather, referring to Dior's leather goods heritage. This unisex fragrance begins with a top note of orange, which gives way to a bouquet of rose, jasmine and ylang-ylang. The dominant note is leather, supported by cedar and tobacco in the base notes. Despite its depth and character, Cuir Cannage remains subtle and delicate, perfect for evenings or cooler months.
• Bel Ami, launched in 1986 by Hermès, is a men's eau de toilette famous for its leathery-spicy accord. It opens with notes of citrus and sage, followed by a spicy heart featuring clove and basil. The intense leather accord in the base note, supported by oakmoss and vetiver, gives this fragrance its depth and masculine character. Bel Ami is associated with classic masculine elegance, ideal for those who prefer strong, distinctive fragrances.
• Habit Rouge by Guerlain is an eau de toilette launched in 1965, designed by perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain. It's a woody oriental fragrance for men, known for its sophisticated, elegant character. Habit Rouge by Guerlain starts with fresh top notes of citrus and bergamot, evolves to a warm, spicy heart of cinnamon and jasmine, and finishes with deep base notes of leather, vanilla and amber. This fragrance is a timeless classic, representative of French elegance.
• Cuir de Russie is an emblematic Chanel fragrance, introduced in the 1920s. Inspired by the mystical aura of Russian leather, this olfactory composition evokes the luxury and exoticism of the Tsars. Its elegant leather notes blend with accords of tobacco, birch and jasmine, creating a fragrance that is both audacious and refined. It evokes the spirit of Coco Chanel's Parisian adventures, surrounded by the exiled Russian elite.
• Antaeus is another masterly Chanel creation, launched in 1981. It's a masculine fragrance that takes its name from the ancient Greek hero, reflecting strength and virility. A complex alchemy of chypre notes, myrrh, clary sage and patchouli gives Antaeus a powerful, earthy aura. Its captivating trail combines robustness with elegance, making this fragrance a must-have for the contemporary man in search of character and distinction.