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Labdanum

Labdanum

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Labdanum is a sticky brown resin obtained from the shrubs Cistus ladanifer
Gum rockrose
Cistus ladanifer is a species of flowering plant in the family Cistaceae. It is a native of the western Mediterranean region. It is indigenous to Spain, Portugal and north-west Africa. Common names include Gum Rockrose, Ladanum, Gum Ladanum and Brown-eyed Rockrose.It is a shrub growing 1-2.5 m tall...

(western Mediterranean) and Cistus creticus
Cistus creticus
Cistus creticus is a species of shrubby plant in the family Cistaceae. Though it usually has pink flowers, of 4.5-5 cm diameter, this species is very variable. It is widely known as a decorative plant.-Subtaxa:*Cistus creticus subsp. creticus...

(eastern Mediterranean), species of rockrose. It has a long history of use in herbal medicine and as a perfume
Perfume
Perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils and/or aroma compounds, fixatives, and solvents used to give the human body, animals, objects, and living spaces "a pleasant scent"...

 ingredient.

History


In ancient times, labdanum was collected by combing the beards and thighs of goats and sheep that had grazed on the cistus shrubs. Wooden instruments used were referred to in 19th-century Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

 as ergastiri; a lambadistrion ("labdanum-gatherer") was a kind of rake to which a double row of leathern thongs were fixed instead of teeth. These were used to sweep the shrubs and collect the resin which was later extracted. It was collected by the shepherds and sold to coastal traders. Many of the false beards worn by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 were made of goats hair which was held together by labdanum. The resin was also used to treat colds, coughs, menstrual problems and rheumatism.

Some scholars, such as Bochartus, H.J. Abrahams, and Rabbi Sa Ľadiah ben Yosef Gaon (Saadya), 882-942, state that the mysterious onycha
Onycha
Onycha , along with equal parts of stacte, galbanum, and frankincense, was one of the components of the consecrated Ketoret which appears in the Torah book of Exodus and was used in the Jerusalem's Solomon's Temple. This formula was to be incorporated as an incense, and was not to be duplicated...

, an ingredient in the holy incense (ketoret
Ketoret
The use of incense in Judaism was related to perfumed offerings on the altar of incense in the time of the Tabernacle and the First and Second Temple period, and was an important component of priestly liturgy in the Temple in Jerusalem....

) mentioned in the Old Testament, (Exodus 30: 34-36), was actually labdanum.

Modern uses


Labdanum is produced today mainly for the perfume industry. The raw resin is usually extracted by boiling the leaves and twigs. An absolute is also obtained by solvent extraction. An essential oil is produced by steam distillation
Steam distillation
Steam distillation is a special type of distillation for temperature sensitive materials like natural aromatic compounds....

. The raw gum is a black (sometimes dark brown), fragrant mass containing up to 20% or more of water. It is plastic
Plasticity (physics)
In physics and materials science, plasticity describes the deformation of a material undergoing non-reversible changes of shape in response to applied forces. For example, a solid piece of metal being bent or pounded into a new shape displays plasticity as permanent changes occur within the...

 but not pourable, and becomes brittle with age. The absolute is dark amber-green and very thick at room temperature. The fragrance is more refined than the raw resin. The odour is very rich, complex and tenacious. Labdanum is much valued in perfumery because of its resemblance to ambergris
Ambergris
Ambergris is a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish color produced in the digestive system of and regurgitated or secreted by sperm whales....

, which has been banned from use in many countries because its precursor originates from the sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

, which is an endangered species: although the best-quality ambergris is found free-floating or washed up onshore (long exposure to sunlight, air and water removes offensive-smelling components of the fresh substance), and thus raises no ethical objections, a lower-quality version can also be recovered from some fraction of freshly slaughtered whales, and so may encourage poaching of sperm whales. Labdanum is the main ingredient used when making the scent of amber
Amber
Amber is fossilized tree resin , which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Amber is used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and as jewelry. There are five classes of amber, defined on the basis of their chemical constituents...

in perfumery. Labdanum's odour is variously described as amber, animalic, sweet, woody, ambergris, dry musk, or leathery.