A Variety of Perfumes Dr Dawn Gould

PERFUME:    fragrance, smell, scent, aroma

Perfume as a word immediately suggests a pleasurable scent to be dabbed on the human body but there are other perfumes: fragrance of flowers growing in one’s garden: e.g. the lemon scented Pelargonium citronlellum, the rose scented P. graveolens;   the wonderful aroma coming from the oven when chocolate cakes are being baked; think of the aromas of the spices we use in making of food – each refers to substances, natural or made, of a pleasant smell.

In recent years there has been a great deal of exciting work done in South Africa at a paleoanthropological site about fifty kms (31mi) northwest of Johannesburg, Gauteng Province.  Local scientists and those from various parts of the world worked at the site ending in a statement that flew around the world:


It could be asked what this has to do with perfumes. Perhaps one may speculate that as these human beings spread worldwide they would, in time, be the originators of what we today call perfumes.

Scented mixtures can be traced back thousands of years. It would become part of human culture.  The Wise Men carried frankincense, a sweet smelling resin and myrrh an aromatic gum.  Other countries would follow: Egypt, China, Arabia, the Greeks and the Romans.

Approximately thirty thousand years ago the Khoi and the San (today the first people) reached southern Africa.  The Khoi were pastoralists, owning sheep and cattle whereas the San were hunter gatherers.

The Khoi/San people used buchu, Agathosma betulina, as a perfume in certain ceremonies.  The leaves which were chewed have a strong aroma. It was also mixed with fat to rub over their body for cleansing particularly where water was scarce.  A tortoise shell was used to contain aromatic plant material.

Time always passes and as it did the demand for perfumes for various uses grew.  Today the sale of perfumes, in all its practices, is a huge business.