the threefold heritage

Perfumery has hardly ever been acknowledged as a valuable heritage – especially the perfumery arts beyond the Western world. However, Asia’s treasury speaks for itself.

(in respect of the UNESCO criteria)

cultural heritage

  • Representing landscapes, growing areas of raw materials, trade entrepôts, as well locations of the fine use of aromatics with their distinctive infrastructure and visible achievements.

natural heritage

  • Mirroring Asia’s diverse and unique climates and natural features that led and supported the development of an abundant, unique and diverse (fragrant) flora.

cultural intangible heritage

  • Representing practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith.
  • Recognized by communities, groups, and in some cases, individuals, as part of their cultural heritage.
  • Transmitted from generation to generation.
  • Constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history.
  • Providing with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.

further information about the heritage

benchmarksits therapeutic valuetoday’s challenges
Keywords desribing the scopes and facets of the huge and diverse field of traditional Asian perfumeryMedical terms hinting at the therapeutic effects of aromatic substances and indicationspointers at recent developments influencing and/or resulting from perfumery practices

visual impressions

A collection of pictures will give you a better idea of the wealth and aesthetics of Asian perfumery practices.

ALT ALT project goals ALT-fuer Muell

* education for sustainable development
* specific goals
* re-/ definition of keywords
* key publications
* further bibliographic hints

ALT education for sustainable development

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a ‘blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’. They were set in 2015 by the United Nations. Perfumery not only, but especially concerns the following goals:

Goal 1. No poverty.End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
The production and refinement of aromatic substances has been a means of livelihood for innumerable local stakeholders.
Goal 3. Good health and well-being.Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
Aromatics have made up the means of naturopathic healthcare and traditional medicine for centuries.
Goal 4. Quality education.Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Perfumery has been deeply intermingled with high education – concerning the knowledge of poetry, cultural history, geography and biology, medicine and pharmacy, and neuro-psychological techniques of intuitive perception.
Goal 12. Responsible consumption and production.Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
Aromatics have been valuable in many regards, and their value calls for thoughtful consumption – consuming as much of them as it is necessary for therapeutic goals, but not more than nature produces.
Goal 15. Life on land. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
Many key aromatics, as well as innumerable fragrant plants in general, are endangered or threatened with extinction. On the other side, their industrial mass cultivation and mass production puts its stamp on agricultural fields nowadays.

ALT specific goals

This website aims to draw light to the existence, character, and value of the Asian perfumery heritage. 

In a longer perspective, this website is hoped to initiate and support:

(1) cultural awareness

… of the threefold Asian heritage, by informing about its special facets including specifically Asian achievements, and thereby simultaneously supporting Asian identity.

Transgressing Asian borders, the website intends to call for and strengthen an awareness of the cultural significance of fragrances probably for all communities since the beginning of human mankind.

(2) sensory curiosity

… for the wealth of olfactory phenomena in nature, by hinting at the existence of this treasury and suggesting methods of how to connect with it.

(3) therapeutic knowledge

… for the exceptional potential of natural aromatics, by mentioning health benefits of their selective, sustainable use.

(4) green care

… by emphasizing the beauty and value of perfumery on the one side, the flora’s frequent threat with extinction and dependence from an intact global ecological equilibrium on the other side.

(5) networking

… by encouraging local users, producers, health professionals, spiritual masters, and others, to respond to this project, and supporting research by offering links, or rather informing about gaps of knowledge.

ALT re-/ definition of keywords

As this project aims to establish an intercultural discussion and look at cultural arts beyond the Western borders, it has been necessary to (re-) define keywords.

  • (an) aromatic‚= a material of potential olfactory quality
  • perfume‚= all kinds of materials that are valued specifically for the capacity of creating an olfactory phenomenon with them.
    In juxtaposition with fragrances: The visual tactile material for creating a fragrance.
    In Asia e.g.: incense, aromatic wood artefacts, fresh flowers, distillates, pastes, and powders.
  • fragrance‚= any kind of olfactory phenomenon which is intentionally created and perceived by awareness.
    In juxtaposition with perfumes: The olfactory phenomenon.
  • perfumery‚= all matters and activities dedicated to the possibility of creating an olfactory experience.
    In Asia e.g.: the offering of fragrant flowers to divine entities, the appreciation of fragrances in special rituals specifically for this purpose, or simply the production and use of incense.

ALT key publications

The following publication may give a first glimpse of sich an intended, unbiased view on non-Western perfumery arts. They may simultaneously reflect the character of this project’s approach to Asian traditions.

Article: Perfumery in Asia. Reflections upon the Natural, Cultural and Intangible Heritage. (2015)

Exhibition catalogue: Das Parfumerbe Asiens / The Perfumery Heritage of Asia (Bonn/Germany, 2015–2016)

ALT further bibliographic hints

A list of links offers you a multitude of starting points to dive into perfumery studies.


01 history
02 resources
03 feedstock
04 producing
05 products
06 using
07 utensils
08 intake
09 appreciating
10 aesthetics
11 meaning
12 profession
13 changes

01 history


  • Appreciation of the fragrant landscape presumably since the beginning of Asian civilization and throughout Asia.
  • Provable origins of a ‚handicraft‘ over 2–3,000 years ago.
  • Specialization of a perfumery art – i.e. skills of conserving and refining the aromatics as well as as appreciating them reverently – over the course of the centuries at exclusive locations.
  • Intracontinental transmission of materials, techniques and meanings via land and sea routes over the course of time – with the effect of exchange and mutual inspiration.
  • Notable entanglement with Western business activities since the 16th century.

02 resources


Agarwood – ambergris – basil – benzoin – birch – cajeput – camellia – camphor – cardamom – cassia – cedar – cinnamon – civet – cloves – conifer – coriander – cypress – elemi – eucalyptus – fenugreek – fir – frangipani – frankincense – galbanum – gallnuts – ginger – jasmine – kanuka – lemongrass – lily – litsea – magnolia – maple – musk – myrrh – neroli – nutmeg – osmanthus – palmarosa – patchouli – pepper – pine – rhododendron – rosemary – roses – saffron – sandalwood – shell hinges – spikenard – spruce – star anise – storax – tea tree – tuberose – tulsi – vetiver – yarrow – ylang-ylang.

03 feedstock


Balm – bark – blossom – fruit (peel) – grass – leaves – lichen – needle – resin – root – seeds – wood.

04 producing



  • growing
  • harvesting


  • cleaning
  • washing
  • drying
  • carving
  • grinding
  • distilling
  • extracting


  • blending
  • cooking
  • saturating

05 products


  • the natural surrounding as such
  • aromatic wood artefacts
  • fresh (parts of) plants (flowers, herbs, and other)
  • dried (parts of) plants (flowers, herbs and other)
  • powders
  • incense cake (as balls, cookies, soft sticks)
  • incense sticks (including a wood stick)
  • pastes
  • distillates
  • oils
  • cremes

06 using


  • diffusing
  • boiling
  • censing

07 utensils



  • cooking pots
  • still
  • productional tools


  • sstoring boxes


  • sprinkler
  • censer
  • incense holder
  • fine boxes
  • fine cutlery
  • rack

08 intake


  • inhalation
  • skin application
  • ingestion

09 appreciating


  • Sensory appreciation of the natural atmosphere by full awareness.
  • Garden architecture.
  • Fragrant sacrifices to divine entities.
  • Noble gesture of respect and hospitality to the community.
  • Ritual appreciation of select olfactory notes for leisure and spiritual aims.
  • Therapeutic use of aromatics.
  • Flavoring food.

10 aesthetics


  • Naturalness (Eastern Asia)
  • Support of ritual purity (Islamic Asia).
  • Representation of Paradise (Central Asia).
  • Supporting harmony and balance of physical energies (South Asia).
  • Accompanied by visible smoke rising to the sky, or to the Gods respectively (Eastern Asia).

11 meaning


  • Representing, symbolizing and supporting divine presence and energies.
  • Source of gaining spiritual insight and refining one’s personality.
  • Signifying healthy conditions.
  • Supporting the maintenance of human health (’natural pharmacy‘).
  • Paying respect towards divine entitites as well as the community.

12 profession


  • In the beginning: Everyday habit – overlap of cooking, hygienic care, and reverent devotional service.
  • Over the centuries: Hobby – especially among those populations living in the cultivation area of aromatic plants.
  • By time: Special profession – of herbalists, pharmacologists, therapists, spiritual masters, and perfumers.

13 changes


  • Integration into global markets of multinational enterprises especially since the 1990s.
  • Object of (international) patents.
  • A sizeable multi-billion dollar business.
  • Overexploitation and loss of natural resources.
  • Loss of local knowledge and traditional (sensory and production) skills.

its therapeutic value

exemplary therapeutic qualities of aromatics

Anti-allergic, antidepressant, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, antiseptic, antiviral, bactericidal, disinfectant, epithelializing, facilitating concentration, fungicidal, harmonizing, immunomodulating, immunostimulating, mood-enhancing, mucolytic, neurotonic, secretolytic, sedative, spasmolytic, virucidal, vitalizing, and other.

Note: The information describes the use of natural, pure, biologically grown/produced aromatics!

general indications

Breathing, care, concentration, energy, immunity, metabolic processes, mood, psyche, skin, sleep, stress, vitality, and other.

today’s challenges

entanglement in global economic strains

  • Integration into global markets (with a volume of billions of dollar) of multinational enterprises.
  • Object of (international) private patents.
  • International industrial marketing.
  • Growing demands due to population growth and increasing consumption quantities.
  • Shift of roles – concerning Asian countries often towards the role of exporting raw materials and importing ready products.
  • Decline of earlier local professions and possibilities of livelihood.

interdependence with ecological processes

  • Overexploitation and overconsumption of natural resources.
  • Endangerment and loss of biological resources with their unique aromatic notes and character, resulting in a decline of biodiversity.
  • Mass cultivation, often including the use of pesticides and fertilizers and followed by their effects on local ecosystems and human health.
  • Distribution of synthetic substitutes in nature, followed by their specific effects on ecological systems and human health.

expression of profound cultural changes

  • Change of consumption habits (towards mass-consumption and preference of fashionable international products).
  • Loss of traditional skills of recognizing, growing, refining and appreciating aromatics.
  • Loss of (phyto-) therapeutic resources, knowledge and skills.
  • Loss of earlier olfactory knowledge.
  • Neglect of effective methods of preventive und curative healthcare, in favor of (often costly) synthetic remedies.
  • General detachment from nature, followed by the so-called ‘nature deficit disorder’ with its typical mental and physical health symptoms.

further information

Links for taking up further research on this topic


The wealth of the Asian perfumery arts is portrayed along five thematic categories: resources - skills - artefacts - knowledge - rituals.

Pictures from various regions of Asia are displayed side-by-side in order to emphasize the joint history that gave rise to a pan-Asian perfumery heritage, while also emphasizing special, local features.


flora – fauna – minerals


production – use – perception


perfumes – accessories – (re-)presentation


fragrances – aesthetics – codification


procedures – spaces – transmission

research links

Become involved, and join the research of the natural treasury and the cultural arts of fragrances!

The following links may serve as starting points towards identifying scholarly gaps.

I. Perfumery traditions of Asia
II. Nature medicine and therapy
III. Natural resources
IV. Green care
V. Political framework and institutions
VI. Chemical compounds
VII. Global industry
VIII. Research centers
IX. Museums, libraries and platforms
X. Western perfumery education

I. perfumery traditions of asia

Please, note: It is impossible to cite all publications – though limited in number – in this field. Alternatively, the following publications serve as starting points to sketch the Asian landscape of perfumery traditions.

II. nature medicine and therapy


Nature and forest medicine

Asian Medical Systems




III. natural resources

World Natural Heritage

Trade regulations

IV. green care

Please, note: Green care studies have not thematized perfumery issues yet. The following links may support ideas towards such a goal.

Public discussion

Children's education

V. political framework and institutions



Protected areas

Sustainable development


VI. chemical compounds


Trade regulations

VII. global industry

Industrial information

International meetings

Top ten global leaders

VIII. research centers

Sense of smell research institutions and clusters

IX. museums, libraries, and platforms (primarily highlighting western perfumery history)





X. western perfumery education

Practical education

diving into scents

It is not necessary to import aromatics from Asia, or to buy and consume industrial products, for getting an idea of Asian perfumery arts. The fragrant nature of our immediate surrounding itself offers us the possibility for such an adventure.

The first step to approach the fragrant world is to sharpen one's own olfactory sensitivity.

Select aesthetical practices from Asian cultures help with ideas of how to achieve this sensory 'grounding'. The following step-by-step instruction is an invitation to become familiar with local aesthetics from Eastern Asia, and to open up for the fragrant world.

Beyond getting an idea of the fragrant world, the following practice – if done regularly – will let you experience beneficial effects on physical and mental health. Expressed poetically, you will experience 'whiffs from the fragrant Paradise' (according to Asian notions), or simply relaxation and joy!


1. Set your intention. Choose which landscape, which surrounding, which nature area, or which plant or part of a plant or refined perfumery good you want to discover in regards to its fragrant character, and on which day.

2. Don't use any body perfume, and try to avoid as many scent additives as possible on that day, such as scented soap, scented washing powder, scented cremes and lotions, as well as all kinds of smokes and drugs.

3. Leave behind everything that distracts you, such as your mobile phone, music, and work papers.

4. Forget all expectations, open up for the present sensory experience.

5. Take time, slow down.

6. Close your eyes, and breathe in the air. How and where do you feel the fragrant air? Which olfactory character do you notice? Does it change?

7. Deepen your attention. Also feel the tactile quality of the air. Is it humid, warmed up by sunlight or glowing charcoal, swirled up by wind, purified by rain?

8. Take note of the fragrance' source. Use all your senses. Listen to the surrounding, welcome its visual appearance, possibly taste it (if you are sure about its safety!!).

9. Observe your feelings. Does the fragrance arouse any special emotional tuning in you?

10. Observe your intuitive thoughts. Which images, ideas and stories does the fragrance evoke in you? Are they related to earlier experiences in your life? Or could you give expression to their kind and quality by the help of poetry or painting?

last but not least: enjoy!

scientific board

The following renowned scholars kindly support this project.

Prof. Dr. Sebastian Günther

  • Professor and Chair of Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of Göttingen.
  • Visiting professorships at various universities and other institutions in the Middle East.
  • Co-editor of the Islamic History and Civilization series, published by Brill Academic Publishers.

Prof. Dr. Efraim Lev

  • Head, Department of Humanities and Arts, Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa.
  • Head, The Interdisciplinary Center for the Broader Application of the Genizah Research, University of Haifa.
  • George Urdang Medal for pharmaco-historical writings (2012). (Award of the American Institute of the History of Pharmacy).
  • Medal and membership of the International Academy of the History of Pharmacy (Warsaw 2017).

Prof. Dr. Qing Li

  • Department of Rehabilitation and Physical Medicine, Graduate School of Medicine, Nippon Medical School, Tokyo.
  • Founding member and chairman of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine.
  • Vice president and secretary general of the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine (INFOM).

Prof. Dr. Jenny So

  • Adjunct Professor, Department of Fine Arts, Chinese University of Hong Kong.
  • (formerly) Senior Curator of Chinese Art at The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  • Associate in Research, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Wulf

  • Professor of Anthropology and Philosophy of Education, Free University of Berlin.


This website is a non-profit, private initiative by Dr. Dinah Jung, and is based on long-term research on Asian arts of producing, refining and appreciating aromatics as well as on therapeutic experience.


The research has been possible through the enormous support by uncounted perfumery stakeholders all over Asia and elsewhere:

  • Producers, retailers, and vendors, of both raw materials and fine products,
  • Physicians, therapeutic specialists, spiritual masters, and other experts of aromatics,
  • Users,
  • Museums, archives, libraries, cultural and educational institutions,
  • NGOs.

Due to the impossibility of presenting all Asian perfumery stakeholders individually on this website, none of them is named here in favor of impartialness towards all of them.

The website was established in the frame of an interdisciplinary and multicultural research project at the University of Heidelberg (2009-2013). Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Lothar Ledderose. Research assistants: Jiani Gao, Rima Haj Rachid, Stephanie Akiko Haschke, Tayebeh Rafiee Sadi, and others.

The project has been kindly supported by outstanding scholars since then.