If you’re thinking about making perfumes with a warm, dark, woody animalic base note or you want to add a note of moss or leather to your composition then have a look at Labdanum absolute.
Common name: Labdanum absolute
Genus name: Cistus ladaniferus
Family: Amber, Leather (originally I had this down as part of the Wood family because I was smelling with my “assumptions” and not in the present moment; assuming that since it was obtained from a bush that effect should be that of a more woody note, but the more I research and profile this the more it’s clear that it’s part of the Amber, Leather family so I had to change it).
Blends well with: amber, bay laurel, calamus, cardamom, chamomile, copal-black, iris root, lavender, musk seed, nutmeg, oakmoss, opoponax, patchouli, rosemary, rose, saffron, sandalwood, spikenard, storax, tolu balsam, turmeric, frankincense, opoponox, bergamot, clary sage, cypress, juniper berry, lavender, olibanum, vetiver…
Chemical components: spring harvest has more terpenes, carbonyls. Fall has more alcohols. All have little pinene. (Gritman Essential Oils) The main chemical components are: camphene, myrcene, sabinene, phellandrene, cymene, limonene, cineole, nerol, borneol, geraniol and fenchone (OnlyNaturalEssentialOil)
Interesting bits: It is used primarily as a perfume oil to ground and balance competing scents…There is also cistus (C. ladanifer) coming from the same plant, but it is processed differently than labdanum. Cistus is a rare or precious oil distilled from the flowers and leaves, while labdanum is made from the crude gum of the plant. (Gritman Esssential Oils)
“It is well known to our readers by now that chypre perfumes are dependent on a strict formula that juxtaposes bergamot and oakmoss, interlaying labdanum and other earthy elements such as vetiver or patchouli…It (labdanum) comes as a sticky dark brown resin exudate from two sources: from the shrubs Cistus ladaniferus (western Mediterranean) and Cistus creticus(eastern Mediterranean), both species of rockrose. Rockrose forms the Cistaceae (or rock-rose family), a rather small family of plants reknowned for their beautiful shrubs, covered by flowers at the time of blossom. It consists of about 170-200 species in eight genera and those are distributed primarily in the temperate areas of Europe and the Mediterranean basin, although they can be found in North and South America too in some instances. The flowers themselves have a faint odour and are not used in perfumery.
Labdanum is a natural oleoresin but it differs slightly from other oleoresins in that it contains more waxes and less volatile oil than most of the other natural oleoresins.
“The method of extracting it is unusual and highly entertaing at that. Herodotus and Pliny report that labdanum was collected by combing the beards of goats, which were impregnated with the substance. The goats graze from the branches and the sticky resin gets stuck on their beards. Upon their return, their owners comb the resin our of their beards and extract the resin. Also a rakelike instrument with long strips of leather attached to it, which they drag across the bushes to collect the resin, is used, called ladanesterion. To this day labdanum is still gathered in Crete by driving goats into the thick forests overgrown with labdanum bushes. It is difficult work as it is best done in hot weather, under bright sunlight in the summer months. Sises is a Cretan village near Rethymnon, where such work is done to this day.
Today modern production is mainly concetrated in Spain and is done through easier means. However there is something to be said about the small, manual labour of cretan production that is of top quality. The modern method involves boiling the leaves and twigs of this plant in water and the gum being skimmed off the surface and mixed with other resinous matter, which sinks to the bottom of the boiling water, as the resinoid is unsoluble in water. The extraction of the crude or cleaned labdanum gets done with a hydrocarbon solvent, whereas petroleum ether is being used increasingly because it yields a light amber resinoid which contains the most wanted odour principles in high concentration: cinnamon base – (isoeugenol) and labdanum resinoid. An absolute is obtained by solvent extraction whereas an essential oil is produced by steam distillation.” (Perfume Shrine)
“Labdanum can be found all over the Mediterranean coast. This particular species of cistus is remarkable for the gum it produces in the summer which has been used in perfumery for over 3000 years. The gum Labdanum has an exceptionally strong balsamic and ambery odour which made it highly considered amongst the « incense » of Antiquity when it was known as Ladanum Resin.
Up until the 20’s the gum was collected directly from the plant and made into balls or bars. Originally it was collected by the shepherds from Crete or Cyprus from the fleece of goats covered in gum by wandering in the cistus fields. Later on the gum was collected by whipping the twigs with a large rake called a Ladanisterion, which was made of strips of leather from which the gum was scrapped with a knife. From 1920, companies in Grasse began to produce the essential oil by distillation of the cistus from the Estérel region. At the same time in the Salamanca province of Spain harvesters began to collect the gum by boiling the twigs.” (Biolandes)
Their nose: “The fragrance of Labdanum is very complex. This waxy resin produces a balsamlike, woody, earthy, marshy, smoky, ambergrislike, leathery, flowery…” (Scents of Earth)
“It is balsamlike, with woody, earthy, smoky, and even marshy undertones. Some even desrcibe it as ambergris-like, or leathery and honeylike with hints of plum or oakmoss after a rain. Usually it is referred to as ambery, but it is mostly used to render leather or ambergris notes, the latter especially after its ban on using the real animal-derived material, as there were concerns about the ethical production of it from sperm whales from which it originates (Ambergris is therefore very rare and costly if ethically harvested and is mostly synthesized in the lab.)” (Perfume Shrine)
My nose: the top note opens up with a green note that is a bit more ‘refreshing’ than the cistus absolute; animalic, musky, discrete, with a hint of vanilla, thick and deliberate. After 15min it’s warm, dark and dense with a hint of woodiness; it lingers, and isn’t as imposing as cistus. I get a vision of cathedrals, huge vaulted ceilings and incense wafting in the air. 30min into the top notes and it’s exuding a sleek, feline, feminine quality, where cistus has a more masculine vibe. It’s rich with a sense of timelessness, and the impression is more of the action of a flutter and puff of smoke. After 45min I find myself having to slow down, to be more present with this one, it’s so soft, now a whisper, it’s almost religious, like a constant note in a piece of music that you can consciously, continuously follow from begin to end. 1hr – (Dalma called so I decided to skip this evaluation and move on. Priorities.) 2hrs later and it dries down to a dry, library, churchy, understated impression; there’s a hint of radiance still there and it’s holding up quite well. After 3hrs this is more sharp and has now acquired an edge to it that cistus doesn’t have, it’s also drier, more woody, more still; where cistus absolute is ’round’ labdanum absolute is ‘angular’. It’s now 7hrs later and labdanum absolute is like a warm summer breeze, solitary, aloof, yet very present, still noticeable. It settles into something more aged and mature quicker than cistus. 12hrs now it’s still holding onto the musky, animalic layer tightly, I can pick up amber here too and it develops into delicate tawny ribbons of comfort. Some random associations that come to mind are: a trail, the desert, a lion. This still has a wonderful grip. 24hrs later labdanum is light as a feather, warm, comforting, lasting and supportive, tranquil too. It still has a solid effect. And I still get incense and a church atmosphere making an impression.
12/24 comparison: in the side-by-side comparison the 12hr strip is very much the church scent that is a constant. I can pick up the vanilla a lot more and this strip conjures adventures in the desert much more rapidly. This layer seems to penetrate the Soul, touching every part of me, relaxing the spaces and corners within to remind me to be at peace. So very warm. The layer that is revealed in the 24hr strip is a whisper of these adventures, like an old man telling tales of his youth to children gathered at his feet in awe. I find this layer warm, loving and very protective.
I hope you enjoyed the profile on labdanum absolute as much as I have sniffing and researching it. It’s a totally inspiring material and one that I reach for often.
Have a wonderful Wednesday and I’ll be back Friday with a profile on the sister scent, Cistus absolute.