The history of labdanum goes all the way back to the ancient world. It’s mentioned in the Bible’s Book of Genesis and some scholars believe it also has ties to the Torah. Specialists on Ancient Egypt think the false beards worn by Osiris and the pharaohs were actually labdanum-laden goat’s beards. Centuries ago labdanum was collected by combing the beards of goats that had been grazing on Mediterranean Cistus (or Rock Rose) shrubs. It was harvested to use as incense and was also used as a treatment for colds, coughs, menstrual issues and rheumatism.
Nowadays it’s mainly used for perfumery as a primary component of amber accords. When most people think of the word amber, they think of the fossilized resin; however, amber in perfumery has its basis in ambergris. Ambergris is basically the sperm whale’s version of a cat’s hairball. It occurs due to the whale’s diet of squid and a build up of the beaks and other indigestible parts.
Natural ambergris isn’t used much anymore due to the obvious ethical issues. It does sometimes wash up on a beach after being adrift on the sea. There are actually dogs trained to sniff it out. Finding it can be like hitting the lottery. However it’s far too scarce of a resource to be a reliable component of any perfumes produced in large quantities.
Perfumers use labdanum in amber accords because it shares a component with ambergris called ambrein, which is one of the main constituents of ambergris’s aroma. Labdanum is a rich, viscous material that can easily become dominant in a formulation. We love the way perfumer Marie Le Febvre uses it in D:SOL’s Terram to create a bronzed landscape in which she paints an impressionist vista dotted with hearty flora, rugged earth and endless skies.
Jorum Studios’ perfumer Euan McCall utilises it in his fragrances, Arborist and Nectary to deepen the shadows explored in his mesmerising olfactory chiaroscuros while also bringing about a sense of palpable warmth and comfort.
Labdanum can also be sniffed out in Atelier Vesper’s Esencia where it provides a warming blush of treacly sweetness amongst all of the other angular notes to create a beguiling allure.