Attars, What are They?

Attars / Perfume Oils

While in the mist of writing my third title, I needed to explain what an Attar was. Although I’m pretty knowledgeable when it comes to Aromatherapy and essential oil extraction, this was quite new to me and I needed to get more information before I could proceed. What I did find was quite interesting!

Attars are traditional from India and are used on plants that give a very small yield of essential oil. If you will remember, essential oils are extracted in quite a number of ways. Some flowers give very minute amounts of essential oil, even though they may be extremely fragrant in nature. Other times the essential oil and scent becomes denatured with some of the extraction processes.

This is the case with the henna essential oil which has been made for thousands of years in the form of an attar in India. How attars differ from Otto, which is an extremely, highly concentrated essential oil form, is that they are rendered in a base essential oil of sandalwood. The sandalwood essential oil used is very low grade though and this is due to the fact it is only being used as a base or carrier oil, as sweet almond or jojoba is.

One may wonder, as I did, “wouldn’t the pungent, warm and woody scent of sandalwood obscure the true sent of the botanical rendered in it?”. In the case of an attar, the answer is no. The reason for this is the sandalwoods scent is quite easily displaced by the high pressure distraction method for creating attars.

Instead of a jinn type still which most steam distilled essential oils are created in, attars are made in a set up very reminiscent to a pressure cooker. The creation of the attar is a fine art because no electronic heat measuring tools are used. A real fire burns underneath using dung and the only way to cool down the plant material and steam inside is to use a wet cloth. The attendants which create the oils are extremely gifted to be able to feel when the fire is just right and time the batches.

The attar creation process has greatly been a secret to India. Now companies are starting to export the specially created oils for everyday use, mostly for perfumery. These essential oils may have different degrees of healing properties because they are both more concentrated than Aromatherapy grade steam distilled oils and use the sandalwood as a base. Even though the scent of the sandalwood is displaced, it doesn’t mean its inert properties are. This may denature the effects of certain essential oils. The use of attars for health may be a viable new form of Aromatherapy. Time will tell.


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