Labdanum, also called ladanum is a sticky brown resin obtained from the Cistus Creticus species of rockrose. It was historically used in herbal medicine and is still used in the preparation of some perfumes and vermouths.
Cistus Creticus is an endemic plant of Crete. Cistus oil is produced by blending the extract of the plant’s organic resin with extra virgin olive oil. Cistus forms every summer a black aromatic resin on its leaves, the so called labdanum. From as early as the Minoan era, labdanum was the most exported and wellknown natural product in Greece. Minoans used it to create incense, therapeutic and cosmetic artifacts.
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. The raw gum is a black or sometimes dark brown, fragrant mass containing up to 20% or more of water. It is plastic 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, which has been banned from use in many countries because it originates from the sperm whale, which is an endangered species. Labdanum is the main ingredient used when making the scent of amber in perfumery. Labdanum’s odour is variously described as amber, animalic, sweet, fruity, woody, ambergris, dry musk, or leathery.
In our contemporary world of artificiality, a world where the ingredients of most perfumes are concocted in the laboratory, aromatic natural substances are an expression of the primal beauty of Earth. Indeed, they evoke thoughts of exotic places and fascinating stories. Labdanum is a stunning example. In ancient times, according to Iródotos (Herodotus; Gr. Ἡρόδοτος), the resin was collected from the rock-rose bush by shepherds who drove their goats into thickets of the shrub. The resin exudes from hairs which are found on the leaves and young stems of the rock-rose. The animals love to graze on these plants. When they have had their fill, their owners comb out the resin which has stuck to their beards and coats.
Labdanum is a highly fragrant resin which is appropriate as an offering to Gods.The resin can also be obtained with a device known as the ladanisterion or ergastiri, a rake-like tool having long strands of leather that are drawn through the shrubs to gather the resin. In modern times,
it is said that the resin is usually extracted by boiling twigs and leaves of the plant. in the rituals of the ancient Greek religion. It is, typically, burned on charcoal as incense.