Orris root is a term used for the roots Iris germanica, Iris florentina, and Iris pallida. Once important in western herbal medicine, it is now used mainly as a fixative and base note in perfumery, as well as an ingredient in many brands of gin.
Fabienne Pavia, in her book L'univers des Parfums (1995, ed. Solar), states that in the manufacturing of perfumes using orris, the scent of the iris root differs from that of the flower. After preparation the scent is reminiscent of the smell of violets.
After an initial drying period, which can take five years or more depending on the use, the root is ground, dissolved in water and then distilled. One ton of iris root produces two kilos of essential oil, also referred to as orris root butter, making it a highly prized substance, and its fragrance has been described as tenaciously flowery, heavy and woody (Paraphrasing Pavia, Dutch translation, page 40). Typical iris-perfumes (where the compound of the ingredient prevails over the other components) are: "Infusion d'iris"(Prada*); "Tumulte"(Christian Lacroix*); "Aqua di Parma"* and "Iris nobile"(Aqua di Parma*); "Irisia"(Creed*); "Y"(Yves Saint Laurent*) and "Vol de nuit"(Guerlain*).
Orris root is often included as one of the many ingredients of Ras el hanout, a blend of herbs and spices used across the Middle East and North Africa, primarily associated with Moroccan cuisine.
Orris root has been used in tinctures to flavour syrups; its taste is said to be indistinguishable from raspberry.