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Labdanum, also called ladanum or ladan, is a sticky brown resin obtained from the shrubs Cistus ladanifer (western Mediterranean) and Cistus creticus (eastern Mediterranean), species of rockrose. It has a long history of use in herbal medicine and as a perfume ingredient.


In ancient times, labdanum was collected by combing the beards and thighs of goats and sheep that had grazed on the cistus shrubs.[1] Wooden instruments used were referred to in 19th-century Crete as ergastiri;[2] a lambadistrion ("labdanum-gatherer") was a kind of rake to which a double row of leathern thongs were fixed instead of teeth.[3] 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 were made of goats' hair [4] which was held together by labdanum.[5][6][7][8] The resin was also used to treat colds, coughs, menstrual problems and rheumatism.

Some scholars, such as Bochartus,[9][10][11] H.J. Abrahams,[12] and Rabbi Saʻadiah ben Yosef Gaon (Saadya), 882-942,[13][14] state that the mysterious onycha, an ingredient in the holy incense (ketoret) mentioned in the Old Testament, (Exodus 30: 34-36), was actually labdanum.

Modern uses[edit]

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 (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 its precursor originates from the sperm whale, 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 in perfumery. Labdanum's odour is variously described as amber, animalic, sweet, woody, ambergris, dry musk, or leathery.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Rhind, 1857. A History of the Vegetable Kingdom: embracing the physiology of plants, pp 130, 157, 554.
  2. ^ Rhind 1857:554.
  3. ^ Rhind 1857:Robert Bentley, Henry Trimen, Medicinal Plants: Being descriptions with original figures, Volume 1.
  4. ^ Newberry, PE, The Shepherd's Crook and the So-Called" Flail" or" Scourge" of Osiris, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 1929, pg.10
  5. ^ Newberry, PE, The Shepherd's Crook and the So-Called" Flail" or" Scourge" of Osiris, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 1929, pg.9
  6. ^
  7. ^ Reutter L. Analyses des parfums égyptiens. Annales, Le Caire 1914
  8. ^ Lucas A. Cosmetics, perfumes and incense in ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries. London; 1926
  9. ^ A Synopsis of Criticisms Upon Those Passages of the Old Testament in Which Modern Commentators Have Differed From the Authorized Version: Together With ... in the Hebrew English Texts V.2 Pt.2 by Richard Arthur Francis Barrett
  10. ^ Rimmel, Eugene, The book of perfumes (MDCCCLXV)
  11. ^ A dictionary of the natural history of the Bible: By Thaddeus Mason Harris
  12. ^ Abrahams, H.J. - Onycha, Ingredient of the Ancient Jewish Incense: An attempt at identification, Econ. Bot. 33(2): 233-6 1979
  13. ^ Abrahams, H.J.
  14. ^ Sanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,