Before the Northeastern I made rose water from the heirloom roses than grow around our house.
For years they have entangled themselves in the field-stone foundation of my parent's home, and they are nearly impossible to get rid of... though I can't think why anyone would want to be rid of them. They smell so sweet for the first two weeks of July and are the most perfect pink imaginable. Weeding is a bit tricky as the thorns are sharp and they grow close together, but the beauty and scent of the blooms are well worth the pain of caring for them. They are very pest & blight resistant and just love being cut back. They flourished after Dad mowed them down.
Since the blooms only last a day I didn't feel bad for picking the petals that were about to fall and using them for rose water.
Rose water can be used as a facial astringent, perfume, light facial/body wash mixed with water, or you can even cook with it. While I was camping I used it in the rinse water for my hair and it smelled delightful all day.
Be sure to pick the blooms in the morning and only use the petals, not the hips or leaves.
It must be used within 2 weeks or it will go bad. Using it in time will not be a problem, believe me.
Distilled or spring water works best, but you can use tap water if you filter it through a Britta or let it stand overnight so the chlorine evaporates.
Pick a bunch of petals (just dead-head before they are completely wilted) and remove any bugs or green bits.
Rinse in cool water briefly to get rid of any dirt.
Add equal parts petals & water to a metal pan and slowly bring to a simmer. Don't let it boil until all the color has faded from the petals. You will have to watch it the entire time, so don't walk away. Do not allow it to actually boil; turn it off as soon as the first big bubbles come up. Boiling will destroy the scent.
Allow to cool naturally to room temperature.
Strain out the petals and squeeze the last bits of water from them.
Put the rose water in sealed, refrigerator-safe glass containers. Canning jars will do fine, but vinegar decanters look very nice too.
This is a fast & easy way of making seasonal scents for yourself, family & friends.
It doesn't take a lot of petals to make a large quantity of flower water, so you can get a big batch from relatively few flowers.
It's not something to keep, it's something to use and enjoy in the moment.
Alternative flowers: lilacs, lavender, orange blossoms, peonies, hibiscus, etc. Any edible flower with a nice fragrance will make good flower water.
You can find some wonderful cooking recipes on the internet that use flower water.
Caution: only use flower water that you KNOW is edible.
Natural Flower Perfume
The next thing I am making is natural floral perfumes. I'm roughly following the directions from here: http://www.ehow.com/how_4480818_make-perfume-using-flower.html
The nice thing about perfume is that it lasts for a year or two, rather than two weeks. The down-side is that you only get a little bit. You can use just about any non-toxic flower or herb with a pleasant scent.
It takes about 3 weeks before a perfume is usable, so plan ahead if you want to make this as a gift.
Gail's Variations & Directions:
I'm using rubbing alcohol instead of vodka. Vodka perfumes are illegal to sell without a liquor license in most of the US, and I don't want anyone trying to drink something made from potentially inedible flowers.
I'm figuring 1 part chopped blooms to 2 parts spring or distilled water. So if you've got 2 cups of chopped flowers, soak them in 4 cups of water. I've also cut the alcohol : flower water ratio. 1 part alcohol to 1 part flower water seems to work just fine. The down side to using rubbing alcohol is that you can't smell the perfume in the bottle. But once it's on your skin the natural scent takes over and it's divine.
Pick blossoms in the early morning when scent is strongest. You can use fresh-fallen blossoms, but fresh is better.
De-bug & De-slug your petals and briefly rinse them in cool water.
Chop finely and put 1 part petals into 2 parts room temperature spring / distilled water.
Cover & allow to steep overnight. I used glass canning jars and they look very pretty.
I also put the mixture through the blender before the next step and let it soak another hour or so.
Strain out the petals, squeeze out the water & throw away the "pulp."
Slowly reduce the water in a sauce pan or deep frying pan over low heat. This will take an hour or more. Have patience and don't let it boil. Steam & simmer are OK, but boiling will destroy the scent.
You should reduce 1 cup to 1 tablespoon, approximately.
I used coffee filters to get the fine petal bits out of the water at about the 1/2 way point in reducing. Do not allow it to cool in between.
When you've got the right amount of liquid left remove from heat and allow to cool.
Add equal parts rubbing alcohol & floral water together in a stoppered bottle.
Shake gently and allow to sit for 3 days.
Test on your skin for scent & allergies.
If it's too strong, add 1 tbsp of water. Let sit for another 24 hours then test again. Add more water as needed, but allow it to rest between each addition.
The entire process is delightful, from picking the blossoms, to chopping, soaking, cooking and mixing. Once it's in the colored glass containers it will be absolutely lovely.
The phlox is the most delightful scent on my skin. It lasted about 4 hours strong, and is still lingering at 6 hours. I wanted to roll in it it smelled so good.
I made one batch of phlox, one of white rose and two batches of honeysuckle. After you get the hang of single-scent perfumes, try double and triple scents.
Alternative flowers: iris, tulips, violets, vanilla, jasmine, geranium, etc.
Avoid: foxglove, morning glories, lily-of-the-valley, wisteria, oleander and other potentially toxic plants. Leave these to the professionals. Please do some research before handling any of these plant materials, some plants can be dangerous or deadly, especially in concentrated forms.
Caution: some flowers may cause allergic reactions, so if you are unsure do a small test-patch on your arm and hope for the best. I make no promises on the safety of any of these perfumes, you are responsible for doing your own research on the plants you are using.
Some links for your enjoyment.
History of Perfume: a brief history of perfume.
Timeline of Perfumes
Another timeline of perfumes with people, styles, etc.