I got some Orris Butter. After mixing it with alcohol, there are white particles in there. Are these waxes? Is it ok to filter them out without losing a great deal of valuable material? Are these particles useless?
Hey kamas, yes it's waxes and other lipids. They usually don't contain much in the way of aroma but sometimes a little. You basically had an orris concrete. By dissolving it in alcohol and filtering out the waxes, you'll have something similar to an absolute. The only difference being that an absolute has had the alcohol removed through evaporation. If you want to remove even more of the waxes, you can chill the solution (winterize) down to -20 °C for 48 hours, before filtering (while still cold) through coffee filter paper. The additional chilling causes more wax to precipitate, by decreasing it's solubility in alcohol.
Really good question.
First up I should explain what Orris Butter actually is: it is the essential oil of orris root. Not a concrete and not an absolute even though it is sometimes sold under those names (there is a real absolute of orris but it's almost never offered because it's so expensive - it's liquid at room temperature). I'm planning a blog post shortly to explain exactly what all the terms used mean and why some of them are mis-used so much.
Orris butter is produced by steam distillation of the macerated orris root and it just so happens that, unlike most essential oils, it is solid at room temperature. The reason it is solid is that most of it is myristic acid. Unfortunately myristic acid isn't very soluble in ethanol and so it can often end up left behind as a precipitate - assuming that your orris butter hasn't been adulterated with a fixed oil or wax it's most likely the myristic acid that is floating about in your ethanol - if it was adulterated then it could (also) be waxes or lipids.
So, should you filter it out and does it have any value? Myristic acid does not have an significant aroma of its own. This is where it gets more difficult though because most perfumers believe that orris butter has a significant fixative effect above and beyond that from using pure alpha-Irone which is the main component responsible for it's smell, though not the only one. That fixative effect is generally attributed to the myristic acid and so if you filter it out that effect will be diminished. Also those particles may still contain some of the alpha-irone and other scented materials.
On the other hand you can't have solids floating about in your perfume and it's doing no good in that form anyway.
One alternative would be to add some isopropyl myristate to the mixture, which will encourage the myristic acid into solution: you'll have to experiment to see how much you need.
For future reference I would dissolve the orris butter in IPM prior to using it for blending rather than going direct to ethanol. When you are making a finished fragrance it is usual practice to add it in pure form and rely on the other oils to dissolve it, which generally works well but isn't very practical for small-scale work. It does also mean that the acid is going to be still in the perfume, which may cause other problems depending on what else is in it.
Very interesting, Chris. My advice was based on having read several sources stating that orris butter was a concrete. If it's actually an essential oil then that may change things. Myristic acid could indeed act as a fixative but it is really just a saturated fatty acid. They're often favored for removal from concretes, along with the waxes. I guess it just comes down to what the intended purpose is as to whether to leave it in or not. Thanks for sharing what you know on the matter.