Castoreum is the yellowish secretion of the castor sac. Beavers use castoreum in combination with urine to scent mark territory. Both beaver sexes have a pair of castor sacs and a pair of anal glands, located in two cavities under the skin between the pelvis and the base of the tail. The castor sacs are not true glands (endocrine or exocrine) on a cellular level, hence references to these structures as preputial glands or castor glands are misnomers. Castor sacs are a type of scent gland.
In perfume-making, the term castoreum is more liberally applied to denote the resinoid extract resulting from the dried and alcohol tinctured beaver castor. The dried beaver castor sacs are generally aged for two or more years to mellow and for their raw harshness to dissipate.
In perfumery, castoreum has largely been used as an animalic note suggesting leather, compounded with other ingredients including top, middle, and base notes as a composition. Some classic perfumes incorporating castor are Emeraude, Chanel Antaeus, Cuir de Russie, Magie Noire, Lancôme Caractère, Hechter Madame, Givenchy III, Shalimar, and many "leather" themed compositions.
"New-car sprays" are available that purportedly reproduce the smell of a new car in older vehicles using an aerosol spray. The probable origin of this fragrance concept was before the use of plastics and related chemicals, being simply a leather scent (based on castoreum and birch tar oil) to mimic the smell of expensive leather upholstery.
No pharmaceutical authorities in the Western world recommend castoreum for any medical condition. It was still in the materia medica in the 18th century as a treatment for many ailments—including headache, fever, and hysteria. The Romans believed the fumes produced by burning castoreum could induce an abortion. Paracelsus thought it could be used in the treatment of epilepsy. Castoreum was also used as an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antipyretic. Castoreum was described in the 1911 British Pharmaceutical Codex for use in dysmenorrhea and hysterical conditions (i.e., pertaining to the womb), for raising blood pressure and increasing cardiac output. The activity of castoreum has been credited to the accumulation of salicin from willow trees in the beaver's diet, which is transformed to salicylic acid and has an action very similar to aspirin.
It is one of the 65 ingredients of mithridate, a semi-mythical remedy used as an antidote for poisoning. It is also an ingredient of theriac, a medical concoction originally formulated by the Greeks in the 1st century AD as an alexipharmic, or antidote, considered a universal panacea.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration lists castoreum extract as a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) food additive. In 1965, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association's GRAS program (FEMA 2261 and 2262) added castoreum extract and castoreum liquid. Product ingredient lists often refer to it simply as a "natural flavoring." While it is mainly used in foods and beverages as part of a substitute vanilla flavor, it is less commonly used as a part of a raspberry or strawberry flavoring. The annual industry consumption is very low, around 300 pounds, whereas vanillin is over 2.6 million pounds annually.
At least 24 compounds are known constituents of beaver castoreum. Some of these have pheromonal activity. These are the phenols 4-ethylphenol and 1,2-dihydroxybenzene (catechol) and the ketones acetophenone and 3-hydroxyacetophenone. Five additional compounds noted are 4-methyl-1,2-dihydroxybenzene (4-methylcatechol), 4-methoxyacetophenone, 5-methoxysalicylic acid, salicylaldehyde, and 3-hydroxybenzoic acid. Other neutral compounds are oxygen-containing monoterpenes such as 6-methyl-l-heptanol, 4,6-dimethyl-l-heptanol, isopinocamphone, pinocamphone, two linalool oxides and their acetates. Other compounds are: benzoic acid, benzyl alcohol, borneol, o-cresol, 4-(4'-hydroxyphenyl)-2-butanone, hydroquinone, phenol. All those compounds are gathered from plant food. It also contains nupharamine alkaloids and castoramine, and cis-cyclohexane-1,2-diol.
Related animal products
- Taxea, a secretion of the badger's subcaudal glands comparable in its medicinal use to the better-known castoreum
- Hyraceum, the petrified and rock-like excrement composed of urine and feces excreted by the Cape Hyrax (Procavia capensis), and a sought-after material that has been used in traditional South African medicine and perfumery
- Walro, J.M. and Svendsen, G.E., "Castor sacs and anal glands of the north american beaver (Castor canadensis): their histology, development, and relationship to scent communication" Journal of Chemical Ecology, Volume 8, Number 5 / May 1982, Department of Zoology and Microbiology, Ohio University,
- Müller-Schwarze, Dietland (1992). "Castoreum of beaver (Castor canadensis): function, chemistry and biological activity of its components," Chemical Signals in Vertebrates IV, 457–464, Plenum Press.
- Johnston, Robert E.; Sorenson, Peter W.; and Müller-Schwarze, Dietland (1999). Advances in Chemical Signals in Vertebrates, Springer, 1, 282. ISBN 0-306-46114-5.
- Svendsen, G.E., Huntsman, W.D, "A field Assay of Beaver Castoreum and Some of its Components," American Midland Naturalist, Vol. 120, No. 1 (Jul., 1988), pp. 144–149, University of Notre Dame.
- International Perfume Museum, Grasse France, Website: http://www.museesdegrasse.com/MIP/fla_ang/mat_prem_10.shtml
- Hyraceum.com, "Castoreum, Perfumer's Ancient Intrigue," http://www.hyraceum.com Archived February 7, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
- Compare Boericke, Materia Medica.
- Compare mummy
- Stephen Pincock (28 March 2005). "The quest for pain relief: how much have we improved on the past?". Retrieved 2007-06-17.
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- Burdock, George A., Fenaroli's handbook of flavor ingredients. CRC Press, 2005. p. 277.
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- Baron Ambrosia (26 February 2015). "Tales from the Fringe: Beaver Gland Vodka". PunchDrink.com. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
- BVR HJT
- "What's Inside: For a Refreshing Hint of Tear Gas, Light Up a Cigarette"
- The Beaver: Its Life and Impact. Dietland Muller-Schwarze, 2003, page 43 (book at Google Books)
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- Stereoselective synthesis of enantiomerically pure nupharamine alkaloids from castoreum. Stoye A, Quandt G, Brunnhöfer B, Kapatsina E, Baron J, Fischer A, Weymann M and Kunz H, Angew Chem Int Ed Engl., 2009, volume 48, issue 12, pages 2228-2230, doi:10.1002/anie.200805606
- Zur Kenntnis der stickstoffhaltigen Inhaltsstoffe von Castoreum. B. Maurer and G. Ohloff, Helvetica Chimica Acta, 2 June 1976, Volume 59, Issue 4, pages 1169–1185, doi:10.1002/hlca.19760590420
- cis-cyclohexane-1,2-diol in the beaver gland. Z. Valenta, A. Khaleque, M. H. Rashid, Experientia, 1961, Volume 17, Issue 3, page 130, doi:10.1007/BF02160827