What substance produces a beautiful lilac dye and is one of the raw materials in many well-known perfumes? It’s called Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri), but it’s not a moss, it’s a lichen, and it doesn’t just grow on oak trees, it grows on the bark of other deciduous trees and conifers as well, in most of the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Another of its common names is Staghorn lichen because its branching shape resembles the antlers of deer.
At one time, Oakmoss was one of the most common base materials used in the Chypre and Fougère categories of perfumes, and was highly valued for the rich, earthy and, apparently, very sensual aroma it added to these fragrances. Unfortunately, Oakmoss can produce severe reactions in people with sensitive skin, so the IFRA (the International Fragrance Association) has now imposed restrictions on its use though, through the prudent manipulation of their recipes, it seems Oakmoss is still to be found in many well-known perfumes, like Paloma Picasso, Chanel No. 19 and Miss Dior.
And, if you’re keen to use natural products to dye wool or fabric products, soaking this lichen in a mixture of water and ammonia will produce a vibrant lilac-coloured dye.