By Rachel Syme. This article originally appeared on The New York Times on June 18, 2019.
If you smell like a kale smoothie, can true health be far behind?
Sometime near the dawn of the 12th century, the German Benedictine abbess and all-around mystical soothsayer Hildegard of Bingen became obsessed with the concept of viriditas, a word she stole from the Latin root for greenery but twisted into her own ecstatic definition.
For Hildegard, who was also, as of 2012, anointed by the pope for her early contributions to holistic medicine, the word was synonymous with health, of both body and mind. Viriditas was a feeling of lushness, of fullness, of overall well-being, and it could come only from an engagement with the natural world.
In other words, Hildegard was one of the original wellness mavens, pushing herbal poultices and ground-up seed pod pastes as the path to enlightenment. Her woo-woo cure-alls may not be with us today, but her viriditas has turned out to be a viral idea. Healing via plants is a seductive concept. If only we could solve what ills us by loping through meadows carpeted in thyme.
This year, perfumers have taken the concept of viriditas and transformed it into a bevy of zippy new fragrances. There is a hunger, it seems, for pungent, herbal smells that are almost medicinal in nature.
These are wearable green juices, wheat grass shots for your collarbone. Perhaps our digital lives have left us starved for sylvan fantasy, because the hottest trend this summer is smelling like a bouquet garni.
Diptyque Eau de Minthe
Some of the finest mint in the world comes from the Pacific Northwest. Oregon, for example, is the largest producer of peppermint in the country: More than 35 percent of the nation’s crop is grown there.
The Parisian house Diptyque looked to that verdant area to source the Altoidesque base for its new unisex cologne.
Eau de Minthe is a traditional fougère (a word that comes from the French for “fern”), which means it has the spicy, woody base of oakmoss and top notes of bitter florals and tart citrus that you find in many traditional men’s colognes. But the zing of cool mint turns it into something far more interesting.
All perfume is genderless, but this scent manages to have something for everyone. It’s like an ice-cold martini that slides effortlessly down the throat.
Heretic Dirty Grass
These days, cannabis is the plant most people associate with so-called wellness. While the varietals containing THC may not be legal in most states, cannabidiol (or CBD), a compound found in cannabis that doesn’t get you high but may help calm nerves and release happy-making neurotransmitters, is the health craze of the day. It comes in lattes, body lotions, gummies, even dog biscuits. And now, perfume.
“I’ve been wanting to develop a weed-inspired fragrance since 2016 but couldn’t find the right blend of ingredients,” said Douglas Little, a creator of Heretic. “I began looking at hemp-derived CBD for another project and was blown away by its aromatic profile. It had a distinctive herbaceous, green and sagelike odor that I fell in love with.”
Each 15 milliliter bottle of Dirty Grass, which smells a bit like an Arnold Palmer made with bong water, contains 150 milligrams of CBD, which the creators say the wearer can absorb through the skin.
Tom Ford Lavender Extreme
Lavender is the elegant, begloved lady of the herb world; it smells like both decadence and delicacy. Yet the scent is difficult to capture in perfumery in all its French blue glory. Most lavender fragrances end up smelling like bedtime tea or shortbread.
But this new offering from Tom Ford contains so much pure, unadulterated lavender essence that the smell is almost profane. It is bitter and absinthal and overwhelming. This isn’t lavender as a sleep aid. This is lavender that awakens you to new possibilities.
The motto of the Swedish fragrance house 19-69 is “bottling counterculture,” which means that most of its perfumes draw inspiration from chaotic historical periods. (In other words: The revolution will be packaged and spritzed.) Chronic, according to Johan Bergelin, its founder, is a homage to the cannabis culture of Los Angeles of the early 1990s.
“In 1996, California became the first state in the U.S. to legalize medical cannabis,” he said. “But there has been a long history of cannabis cultivators and enthusiasts dedicating their lives to refining the herb.”
This perfume attempts to honor those weedy pioneers with notes of clary sage, petitgrain and, of course, a cannabis accord that smells like a room where someone smoked a joint 10 minutes ago.
The plant that animates this fragrance, which is inspired by the extinct birds of Mauritius Island, is the fiddlehead fern. “Dodo embodies the green and herbaceous elements of a traditional fougère, but mixed with something strange and unexpected,” said the Zoologist founder Victor Wong.
The scent also has a fatty underbelly of synthetic ambergris (an unctuous mineral material derived, glamorously, from whale vomit), which gives it something of an ancient, wet cement feel. This is a green that is sprouting up from the pavement.
Les Colognes Louis Vuitton Cactus Garden
Cactus Garden is one of three new summer scents from the Louis Vuitton perfumer Jacques Cavallier, who was thinking of California from his native France when he made the collection. (Alex Israel, a Los Angeles artist, designed the packaging.)
Cactus Garden is a mixture of zesty bergamot, earthy yerba mate and a rare, pricey varietal of lemongrass. “I love all the infusions, all those things coming from nature,” Mr. Cavallier said. The result is a perfume that smells like the essence of viriditas: lush, green and full of vitality, sitting on the razor edge of spinach and sublime.