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Embodied Rituals for Skin + Soul

Filtering by Tag: distillation

Labdanum: ancient medicine + sacred perfume

Katie Gordon

Labdanum is one of those scents that has been haunting me for the last couple months. It had come as a sample with an order of essential oils. As soon as I opened the tiny bottle it came in, I was transported to an ancient temple, surrounded by sacred smoke curling up from ritual censers. It smelled both familiar and foreign at the same time, as if it was waking up memories from long ago held in my bones rather than in my brain.


Something about Labdanum ignited a new curiosity about botanical perfumes, which I'm already enamored with, but this was different. It was almost as if this oleoresin brought a piece of me to the surface that had long ago been buried and forgotten. 

So I started getting curious about Labdanum.

What is it? What plant is it distilled from?

Labdanum, not to be confused with Laudanum (a tincture of opium), is a dark, stick, brown resin that comes from a couple species of the shrubs in the Cistus genus, otherwise known as Rock Rose. These beautiful + aromatic members of the Cistaceae family grow primarily in temperate areas of Europe and the Mediterranean basin. 

Labdanum has an ancient history of being used in various cultures from Hebrew, Assyrian, Arabic, and Greek traditions. Egyptians used it in their Kyphi mixtures and it's even referenced in the Bible as the Balm of Gilead. It's said the Ishmaelite caravan coming from Gilead to which Joseph was sold, was transporting labdanum.

Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. - Genesis 37:25

It's believed the "myrrh" in this verse actually refers to a mixture of Myrrh resin and the resin of Rock Rose.

Similarly, the combination of Myrrh resin and Labdanum oleoresin has been documented as a food supplement to support the immune system, protecting against bacteria and fungi. Even Hippocrates prescribed it for sores, and the Romans used it to treat worms, the common cold and cough, and various infections. 

The fragrance itself is incredibly complex with balsam-like notes, with hints of oakmoss, leather, amber, smoke, and plum. Earthy, green, and woody. It's said that this complexity is one of the reason for Labdanum's strong affect on the subconscious with its grounding, warming, and sensual aromatherapeutic actions. 

Labdanum mixes beautifully with Lavender, a combination featured in the Imbolc Wild Medicine Bundle, as well as other green and earthy fragrances.