There is a magic to the month of May that is off the scale of flower power. In Hawaii, May is Gardenia Season. Florists sell bundles of gardenia buds wrapped in Ti leaves, like a present, with the spine of the Ti leaf tied in a tiny bow around the bouquet. As the flowers open, I put an ice cube in their water each morning to keep the water cooled and the flowers freshened. The trade-winds stir the scent around the room, giving a note of gardenia grace to all who enter.
For the thirty years I have been formulating skin food under my business name Alexandra Avery Purely Natural, I have had the unique pleasure of infusing fresh gardenias for the Hawaiian Aloe Sun Oil. It is a procedure that in itself is infused with magic. Here’s my secret: It begins with a morning jaunt to a farm at the base of our mountain range, where the air is cooler and the rain is consistent in the afternoons.
Once the dew has evaporated, when there is no visible water on the blooms, I pick to my hearts content from a hedge that is 8 feet tall and 300 feet long. I take only the fully opened blooms because their scent is strongest. Once I have filled my back seat with upwards of 1000 blossoms, I begin the first of several infusions. When infusing fresh flowers, you want to head them, to take off any green parts and stems. The flowers are then placed in a stainless steel or glass bowl, large enough to submerge the petals. In Hawaii, I am lucky to live near a kukui nut factory so I pour a few gallons of fresh kukui nut oil over the gardenias, just enough to cover them. I put a cloth or thin towel over the bowl to keep insects out but to allow for water evaporation. All fresh plants contain water, which is a potential bacteria problem, so when making fresh flower infusions you want to be careful not to trap the water evaporation in your infusion.
Depending on the temperature in your home, you will be infusing for up to five days. Each day, look into the infusion, making sure that all petals are covered by the oil. To strain off the oil, I use a rice sieve lined with a paint strainer bag. Lining a suitably sized strainer with cheesecloth also works well. pour the oil through your strainer into a clean bucket or gallon jar. When you are down to just flowers, put them into the strainer or paint bag and let them drip into a separate jar, squeezing out all the excess oil. A separate jar is good for the flower matter because you will see some water and particulate matter. I use this jar for squeezing the following infusions and finely strain it at the end of the infusion process.
To get a good strong scent, you will need to infuse a few more flower pickings into the same oil. For the best gardenia infusion, I go for three to four pickings, using the same oil each time. This is the easiest way to handle fresh flowers in an oil base. To handle fresh flowers in a water base, the following method is easiest.
Fill a glass, stainless, or ceramic bowl with rain, spring or distilled water. Take the bowl to the flower source, and begin pinching the flowers from their stems, placing them directly in the water. When the water surface is completely covered with flowers, place the bowl in the direct sun where no shadows will pass over it. You want full sunlight to most effectively distill the essences. At the end of the day, strain the flowers (you may want to use a few in your evening salad or as a garnish), pour the water into a clean bottle, and preserve in the refrigerator. Use this potent flower
extraction by the droplet in masks, toners, facial steams, cleansers, and creams. Put a few drops into a glass of water for an aromatic elixir and float a flower in the glass. You may want to collect the thin film of essential oil that floats to the surface of the bowl. Take a Q-Tip or small piece of cotton and skim the surface of the water, pressing the drops into a small clean bottle. Add some grain alcohol to this collection of oils, and use as an essential oil.