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Anatomy of a Scent: Carduus

Black and white image of a perfumer in a lab coat standing behind a table holding digital scales. Image overlaid with a chamomile flower and a medieval dragon illustration

Welcome to Anatomy of a Scent, a series where in-house master perfumer Euan McCall dissects much-loved scents from our collection of unique Scottish fragrances to reveal their inner workings. This time we're looking at Carduus Eau de Parfum, a dry, warm and dark herbal perfume with clary sage, chamomile and tobacco.

Breaking down the anatomy of Carduus is a bit of a daunting task, even for the creator! It's a tricky formulation as it relies on specific materials procured from specific suppliers, each with strict quality criteria – the natural composition and constituents (and thus quality of the end material) must be within certain thresholds, otherwise the batch can be noticeably impacted.

Now, nature doesn’t repeat itself identically – so we allow there to be some subtle shifts, but work hard to keep these to a minimum. Otherwise, Carduus quickly starts to smell not like Carduus. The same can be said for many Jorum Studio perfume creations, but Carduus is one that can be a wee bit more demanding at times, with the raw materials being assessed and QC’d with great scrutiny. 


Chamomile, Bengal Pepper, Honey, Clary Sage, Marjoram Tea, Myrtle, Vetch, Clove Bud, Hart’s Tongue.


Musk-thistle, Heliotrope, Tormentil, Mahogany, Cocoa Absolute, Tobacco, Deertongue, Cherrywood.


Clary Sage + Toscanol™ + Chamomile Blue = Traditional Medicine 

Clary sage is an important building block for aromatic profiles. It seems to be a love/hate material and I do confess that I can appreciate why many struggle with it. I love clary sage and relish the opportunity to use it in my work. Clary sage is crucial in Carduus and it is noticeable from first spray. That beautiful warming skin-like embrace with spicy grit is hard to conceal. Clary sage adds a mellow tobacco fragrance and aged quality to Carduus, softening some spices and warming up others. 

Toscanol™ is never far from hand when building spicy fragrance profiles. It's a versatile material but its concentration within a formula needs to be considered. Using a tiny amount can boost the effect of citrus materials, more noticeable amounts produces a pronounced spicy note, and much higher quantities (over 1% say) push a formulation into an entirely new olfactory landscape. I love using Toscanol™ in unexpected places, but equally in more apt spots where it provides a slight twist to spices. I find it useful in gourmand profiles too, where its effects alongside macrocyclic musks and materials such as vanillin and or heliotrope are really cool. 

Perhaps one of the most undervalued material in all of perfumery, Chamomile Blue is nothing short of breathtaking. Carduus is an attempt to recreate my grandparents' kitchen: heavy wooden cabinetry, too many dried spices, teas, herbal remedies and flowers. In a somewhat reductive manner, Chamomile Blue recalls this environment –  albeit without all the nuances.

Chamomile Blue is a journey. It’s herbal, floral, biscotti-sweet, nutty, caramelised, spicy, dense and for me, totally nostalgic. Chamomile in all its varieties is like smelling through retro filters… different shades, tonalities and moods depending on the type, what it’s paired with and its concentration within a formula.

As a side note, I enjoy playing with chamomile and finding unexpected places within formulations or by using chamomile-like materials (natural or otherwise) to present new chamomile-leaning profiles. You can find a glug of Chamomile Roman in our fragrance ASKR, where it augments the copal/ incense note making it aquatic. Only the finest, richest chamomile is used in Carduus.

Methyl Jasmonate + Heliotropine + Rose Absolute = Angular Dried Flower Bouquet 

When looking at the Carduus formula most would be surprised at how many floral materials are used; on first approach, Carduus doesn’t smell remotely floral. 

A relatively high amount of methyl jasmonate is used in Carduus to bring some light to such a dense herbaceous brew. Methyl jasmonate acts like shining a light source through a prism, adding a targeted amount of intense light that subsequently explodes and projects the heavier materials. Methyl jasmonate is an underused material and understandably so, it’s pretty expensive stuff and its effects are often not immediately detectable. There is a latent richness that isn’t always noticeable.

However, when a client questions my choice to use methyl jasmonate (and the high attributable cost as a result) I respond not with words or explanation... I recreate the formula without it and send the sample. Ninety-nine percent of the time the formula with methyl jasmonate is approved!

Its effects are hard to value without this comparison but it can positively transform a formulation by an unknown factor. I like to use it in an obvious sense (such as in florals) or as a tool in less obvious places. In Carduus, methyl jasmonate helps to create the effect of the morning sun flooding a room with glowing light, warming everything inside and helping to quietly diffuse aromatics into the space. 

Heliotropine is another useful material. I’ve written about it in the past so won’t digress too much. What I will say is: without heliotropine, Carduus withers. The subtle peppery spiciness and ambrosial sweetness bridges the herbal opening and floral tonalities of Carduus and helps set up the incense-y finale where deertongue takes over the coumarinic baton so to speak. 

When creating Carduus I knew I needed a floral intensity and before formulating I noted this may come from one of three materials: nigella damascena, tuberose absolute or rose absolute. The nigella and tuberose were both enticing as I love what they bring to a formula, however the samples created with these aromatics pushed Carduus in too much of an exotic direction. As lovely a direction as it was it was – more rural India than Scotland. Rose absolute on the other hand blended seamlessly, adding a soft honey and dried petal note. Upon experiencing Carduus you won’t scream 'ROSES!' but its inclusion is irreplaceable and forms the beating heart of Carduus. 

Cedarwood + Deertongue + Cocoa Absolute = Cedarwood Spice Chest 

There’s a huge cedarwood note in Carduus. So much so that it saturates the profile, playing with the olfactory perspective and making Carduus appear massively dense on application before becoming more ethereal and light with wear. The resulting effect is like inverting a traditional perfume. Perfumes typically seem to become heavier as they wear, Carduus starts heavier and becomes lighter. I always say that Carduus is a ‘stealth' incense perfume as it feels like burning incense as it wears over time. Using a high quality Texas cedarwood in huge quantities helps provide this rich impact note initially, before drying out to an incense-stick wispy smoky tendril.  

With a name like deertongue you know you’re in for a wild and perhaps surreal adventure. Deertongue – or liatrix – never disappoints. Imagine taking sweet vernal grass, dry hay, a handful of tonka beans, pistachio paste and grinding in a pestle and mortar.  That’s just the start of the deertongue journey. As it develops theres a shisha pipe fug that turns pistachio bitter-sweet. Taking over from heliotropine, deertongue reinforces the pastry-sweet and xeric leafiness of Carduus. 

Deertongue is what I imagine Russel – the mushroom dwelling, shisha smoking caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland – smells of. Groovy, indulgent, dangerous and alluring grasses. 

The final material of note in Carduus is cocoa absolute. I use cocoa absolute to smooth the edges of the entire fragrance profile. Yes: it adds characteristic chocolate gourmand perfume deliciousness, but it also softens the entire blend in a manner that is still in-keeping. Cocoa absolute is patience-testing stuff as it is extremely viscous and sticky, and also likes to gloop out of its canister, so a watchful eye and steady hand is required. Oh, and you'll need to work at speed, as it has a tendency to cool quickly and become less mobile!

We blend by hand here at Jorum, but even if we did use automation, working with cocoa absolute requires hand-blending as it would clog machinery unless pipelines were temperature controlled (which is itself rare in perfume manufacture and more typical of food processing). Cocoa absolute also requires fine filtering so we have to filter Carduus precisely in order to remove any unwanted residues without removing anything that we do want left behind. For the curious, this means we are filtering Carduus a fraction of a micron above sterile filtration, and we don’t chill filter.

Carduus: a unique perfume experience you are sure to love – and even if you hate it, you’ll agree that there isn’t anything else remotely like it! 

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