#Lovelocal: Scents and fragrances

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A most grievous sin by omission we have committed on the local resources given to us by God is how we have largely ignored the potentials of our fragrant flowers.

Perhaps because they are abundant and common, we have taken them for granted, not knowing how much we have lost simply because we did not try to fully exploit their full potentials.

Have we ever come to think how much dollars the country is spending on perfumes and scented sprays, not to mention the aromatic materials we use to beautify the air in our homes?

Have we even thought how these scents and fragrances came in fact from the plants and trees and flowers many of which grow wild in our farms, usually in the roadsides and canal, and in our gardens, mostly in the margins and peripheries?

To see how much premium there is in these fragrances, one need only go to the perfume and body care sections of our department stores and see how much we are willing to pay so we can spray ourselves with some lovely scent – again, as in flower arrangements, we go for the rarer and the more exotic.

So accustomed have we been as a people to take fragrances from sprays and bottles, I bet not too many young people realize they all came from trees, plants and flowers. Some of them may even have come from the juices of plants similar to those growing in our roadsides. Think, for example, of the lovely scent of frangipani, which is actually kalachuchi one of the most popular flowering trees we have hereabouts. Or the lemongrass, tanglad to all of us, which we have so unfairly limited only for use in the kitchen.

It is sad that we have not even realized how much we have been blessed by a profusion of native fragrant plants flowers that can very well be tapped for what could be a billion-dollar industry have we but the interest and the wherewithal to develop them.

I remember back in high school when some of my classmates who lived in farms outside our town had lovely-smelling oils which on closer examination were really just Johnson’s baby oil in which they steeped Ylang-ylang flowers. The process was really simple: they plucked an ylang-ylang flower, put it in the baby oil canister and in a day or two, the oil itself would be fragrant. You can adjust how strong the smell is by adding more flowers. I also heard some people use virgin coconut oil for this.

But Johnson’s or VCO, this is perfume, isn’t it? Natural, homemade, organic , precisely the kind the world would pay loads for. Yet, why aren’t we selling it? Even more important: why aren’t we using it, why do we insist on spending thousands on those bottled synthetic scents?

If you also come to think about it, a vase of sampaguitas can fill a room with its inimitably sweet and natural scent, it is madness to buy those expensive essences to burn so the air smells good. We have sampaguitas in abundance; we also have the dama de noche whose nocturnal scent can rival the most romantic of sprays we pay dollars for.

A piece of gossip that I once heard was that a big multinational fragrance company has already processed the ylang-ylang in their laboratories, and now owns the copyright to its scent. I don’t know how true this is, but that would be tragic, knowing ylang-ylang is one of our native trees.

Too, we’ve heard of “tourists” who have taken inordinate interest in our native scents, some of whom smuggle planting materials when they leave. Ever the gracious hosts, we send these plants to them when they go home, not knowing that years later, they just might back to us, packaged in pretty bottles and priced so they become part of your obsessions.*

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