Labdanum and Cistus are not the same, but they come from the same plant, and both have an important use in perfumery – both with a luscious fragrant, rich scent. This profile provides a detailed description of growth, description, chemistry, odor, and uses.
CISTUS/Labdanum Resin & E.O./Hydrosol Profile
By Jeanne Rose ~ January 2023
CISTUS LADANIFER – TThe Plant That Produces Cistus Oil And Labdanum Resin
CISTUS ~ This plain plant, with its wondrous resin and fragrant oil, has been one of my favorites since I first learned of it back in 1969. I knew of Cistus as a plant growing in the San Francisco Arboretum. However, here in San Francisco, it has very little odor as it doesn’t get hot enough. One day, some time ago, in June, when it was clear, sunny, and very hot, I rubbed the leaves, which were sticky and fragrant. That is when I began to study it in my antiquarian herbals, including Dioscorides, which I had acquired in 1970. How can anyone ignore a plant once harvested from the wool of goats?
COMMON NAME/LATIN BINOMIAL OF CISTUS and LABDANUM are two products of the Cistus ladanifer (syn. ladaniferous)plant, also called Rockrose. Cistus is the essential oil distilled from the leaves and twigs and the resin called Labdanum that is scraped from the leaves. Cistus species used for Cistus E.O. and Labdanum resin include Cistus creticus and the subspecies incanus).
Family ~ Cistaceae is a family of perennial shrubs and flowering plants found on dry and rocky soil with about 20 species.
Other Common Name/Naming Information: Cistus is from the Greek and simply means Rock rose because they frequent rocky places, and this is a common name that is given to several other species of plants as well. The typical Greek word is simply ladan. Cistus ladanifer is also called the gum Rockrose, and the resin is called Labdanum.
NAMING MISINFORMATION ~ Some people misspell and misuse the word laudanum for Labdanum. Laudanum (a ‘u’ not a ‘b’) is a tincture of opium containing approximately 10% powdered opium by weight (the equivalent of 1% morphine). It is reddish-brown and extremely bitter. Labdanum (with a ‘b’ not a ‘u’) is the resin from the plant Cistus.
COUNTRIES OF ORIGINS ~ Portugal, Morocco, Spain, and the Canary Islands.
Harvest Location ~ Spain, and my Cistus hydrosol is from Portugal.
ENDANGERED OR NOT ~ It is on the list of threatened plants. These plants are considered to be threatened and/or endangered due to heavy usage, people moving into the areas where they live, and over-tapping.
SUSTAINABILITY ~ These items may not be sustainable in the amounts used.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF PLANT HABITAT AND GROWTH: Cistus ladanifer is an evergreen shrub and grows quickly to a height of about 5 feet and 3+ feet wide. They are heat-loving (thermophilous plants) and require open sunny places. Its flowers are in June, and though they have both male and female parts, they are incompatible. Some books suggest that it is self-fertile. The plant is bee-pollinated. The flowers are white or pink with a simple structure. Cistus species are used as food plants by the larvae of some butterfly species. The petals are papery and crumpled, most commonly pure white, with numerous bright yellow stamens in the center, and there is also a form that has a dark purple or crimson blotch at the base of each petal. The leaves are elongated and covered with glandular trichomes that secrete a viscous gummy balsam that exudes when it is hot. Because of the content of pinene in the resin, the plant is quite flammable, possibly can self-ignite, and is responsible for some severe fires. Spain is a leading producer of Cistus and Labdanum.
PORTION OF PLANT USED IN DISTILLATION, HOW DISTILLED, EXTRACTION METHODS, AND YIELDS:
Cistus ladanifer is the essential oil distilled from the leaves and twigs of the same plant that produces Labdanum from the resin. Cistus #267, organically grown and wild from Cistus ladanifer, is steam distilled from the leaf in Spain.
Yield: Results are discussed from 0.1% to 0.3%.
” Labdanum resin is obtained by collecting and boiling the twigs in the spring and early summer, skimming off the resin as it comes to the surface.”“Labdanum Absolute is obtained by solvent extraction of the resin – and is very different in scent, color, and viscosity from steam-distilled Cistus essential oil from the leaves.”“ Labdanum resin is obtained by collecting and boiling the twigs in the spring and early summer, skimming off the resin as it comes to the surface. “Labdanum Absolute is obtained by solvent extraction of the resin – and is very different in scent, color and viscosity from steam distilled Cistus essential oil from the leaves.”
CISTUS SPP. ORGANOLEPTIC CHARACTERISTICS
Odor Description/ Aroma Assessment: Cistus E.O. has a distinctively warm, fruity-floral scent, a rich herbaceous scent, with notes of a leather-hay odor that is intense but less tenacious than Labdanum and is used with Lavender in spicy men’s products.
Labdanum has a rich, tenacious, but not intense odor of sweetness, smoky-woody, leather, powder, and earthy-moss, with back notes of honey, warm animals, and floral with fruity overtones.
I love these two odors and find them extraordinarily useful in many perfume applications. The Labdanum recalls the odor of ambergris and is used as a vegetable substitute for ambergris in a perfume base note or as a fixative. The aroma is tenacious in a blend but not intense; it lends a subtle richness to any perfume you use it in. (See page 97 of 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols for other vegetable substitutes for the animal fixatives).
CHEMISTRY OF CISTUS (Rockrose) ~ The essential oil of Rockrose was characterized by a high content of 1,8-cineole (19.27%) and viridiflorol (16.38%), while the predominant compounds in Montpellier cistus essential oil were 1,8-cineole (9.17%), bornyl acetate (9.14%) and α-pinene (5.84%).5
Chemical Components of Labdanum ~ “The main components were α‐pinene (39%), viridiflorol (11.8%), ledol (3.3%), and bornyl acetate (3.1%). ….Two samples exhibited a different chemical composition, not as yet described, characterized by the predominance of viridiflorol (20–22.6%), ledol (6.4–6.7%), and trans‐pinocarveol (5.4–8.6%).” © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. — Composition of the Essential Oil of Cistus ladanifer L. Cultivated in Corsica (France) by J. P. Mariotti, F. Tomi, J. Casanova, J. Costa, A. F. Bernardini, First published: 28 April 1999
GENERAL PROPERTIES of CISTUS
Cistus essential oil distilled from the leaves and twigs is considered a wound healer, and as with most essential oils, it has antiviral and antibacterial properties. Inhale the oil to boost the immune system and reduce colds and infections resulting from the flu. Cistus is considered antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-arthritic.
Labdanum is the sticky brown resin obtained from the shrubs of Cistus ladanifer (western Mediterranean) and Cistus creticus (eastern Mediterranean), species of Rockrose.
CISTUS APPLICATION/SKINCARE USES ~ Cistus EO and tea of the leaves have great application in skin care, particularly oily skin, acne skin, and irritated skin. Use the EO in your lotions, other creams, and clay masks using white clay. It is used for mature skin, wrinkles, and the EO as an inhalant for coughs and bronchitis.
Cistus Anti-Wrinkle Lotion,
a recipe by Jeanne Rose
I like to purchase an 8-oz bottle of pre-made unscented lotion with organically grown ingredients and then add my own unique additions. If the lotion is thick, I will thin it with some Rosemary or Cistus hydrosol until it is the texture I like. Then I add 5 drops of Cistus E.O. to an ounce of my thinned lotion. I add the drops, and with a long narrow thin wooden spoon, I stir in the E.O., stirring around and around, up and down, figure 8 round and round. This is a singsong that I do until the E.O. and hydrosol is thoroughly incorporated into the lotion. I only make an ounce at a time as it is easy to do and keeps the balance of the lotion fresh to make something else with. I apply this Cistus Lotion alternately with the Elemi/Galbanum Lotion every evening before bed.
• • •
EMOTIONAL/ENERGETIC USES ~ I have never found Cistus essential oil to have much emotional effect, and it has rarely been mentioned in my past classes. However, Labdanum is used by inhalation and is considered to have a powerful ability to bring up past lives and past or buried memories. It is conducive to ritual work.
Diffuse/Diffusion ~ You can add Cistus E.O. to a blend for a diffuser for the fresh sharp scent. It will give a room. However, do not diffuse Labdanum, as it is a sticky resin, and even the steam-distilled product can gum up your diffusor. I suggest you learn to use this substance in other ways and use the Labdanum and the Cistus essential oil in your perfumes.
“HYDROSOL USES ~ Cistus hydrosol is available and just an excellent product to use. It is bright and fresh and cleansing to the skin. I get mine from “Naturalness” in Portugal, which is available through them. This excellent product is harvested using the stems and the leaves and steam-distillation.
Use it as a spray after putting on make-up to set it, or on your clothes that have been crushed in a suitcase to freshen them, or on the pillows before sleep. I am particularly fond of Cistus hydrosol.
The distiller recommends Cistus hydrosol as a powerful but gentle astringent. It is used as a daily toner for highly oily, acne-prone, or irritated skin. Only use a 20% solution with other hydrosols or distilled water for dry skin.
PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under short pressurized steam runs for essential oil or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers precisely distill a product by using fresh plant material.
HERBAL USES ~ “The use of the Cistus incanus has a long history and can be traced back to the 4th century B.C. In the Middle East, northern Africa, and the European Mediterranean region, the Cistus incanus was enjoyed as a wellness tea for breakfast and right throughout the day as a drink for relaxing after a strenuous day. When guests arrived, offering a freshly boiled pot of Cistus tea was common. “The knowledge of the benefits of this tea were passed on late into the Middle Ages.” 3
Properties and Uses of the Herb ~ Cistus leaf tea is helpful for children’s illnesses such as whooping cough and for adults for general all-over body inflammation.
Cistus tea is used as a treatment for Lyme Disease. The study’s conclusion showed that to date, clinical work with wild-harvested pure Sardinian Cistus tea and whole-leaf Stevia is the least invasive yet most effective treatment for Lyme disease and many other chronic chronic chronic illnesses caused by persistent and hidden infections.
See the entire article at https://kiscience.com/sardinian-cistus-incanus/.
JEANNE ROSE’S TOMATO TALES
A Personal Story of Labdanum
Labdanum resin/resinoid/absolute/E.O. is a favorite of mine, and when I teach Perfumery classes, I encourage the students to use my absolute which dates back to 1969. We make an old perfume called Chypre in class. See formulas in my Natural Perfumery booklet.
‘ Years ago, about 1970, I made a mixture of Labdanum resin that I had read in a 400-year-old herbal that also used Benzoin and Storax with Civet, spike Lavender, and spices. It was to be inhaled to’‘comforte the brain.’ It looked exciting and certainly doable, and whose brain does not need a certain amount of comforting. I found it was like playing with mud and very messy. I wrote about this in my first book, Herbs & Things, and if you want to try it, there are two recipes on pages 153-154.’ Years ago, about 1970, I made a mixture of Labdanum resin that I had read in a 400-year-old herbal that also used Benzoin and Storax with Civet, spike Lavender, and spices. It was to be inhaled to ‘comforte the brain.’ It looked exciting and certainly doable, and whose brain does not need a certain amount of comforting. I found it was like playing with mud and very messy. I wrote about this in my first book, Herbs & Things, and if you want to try it, there are two recipes on pages 153-154.
‘ These raw resins can stick almost permanently to everything. If you make it ““keep one mortar and pestle aside just for this type of recipe or any recipe that calls for the heating or’‘beating’ of a resin. It was nearly impossible to roll the combination into a ball, especially with the stinky civet, so I finally dipped my hands into the powdered Benzoin and Storax (sort of like dipping your hands into flour to roll out bread or cookie dough) and rolled the resin around. This gooey mess stuck tenaciously to my hands, and it took two days to wash it all off, but at least now I had a ball of resin. I then pierced the ball with a bodkin (big blunt needle with a big eye) and hung it from a string.’ These raw resins can stick almost permanently to everything. If you make it … “keep one mortar and pestle aside just for this type of recipe or any recipe that calls for the heating or ‘beating’ of a resin. It was nearly impossible to roll the combination into a ball, especially with the stinky civet, so I finally dipped my hands into the powdered Benzoin and Storax (sort of like dipping your hands into flour to roll out bread or cookie dough) and rolled the resin around. This gooey mess stuck tenaciously to my hands, and it took two days to wash it all off, but at least now I had a ball of resin. I then pierced the ball with a bodkin (big blunt needle with a big eye) and hung it from a string.
It immediately oozed away from the string, plopped to the ground, and proceeded to ooze amoebically about the floor, peeling up paint as it went. It was then that I finally realized the exact nature of this pomander. It was and is ever flowing and takes on the shape of whatever object it is on or in. I captured the now pancake-shaped resin, rolled more Storax into it, and put it on the ledge above a window. Within a day, it had migrated off the shelf and down the wall. It smelled deliciously but it left a trail of black resin (rather like the slime trail of a snail). Again, I captured it, and this time rolled it up and stuck it in the freezer to freeze. After thinking about it for some time, I let it out of the freezer and put it immediately into a small black leather bag. We call it the Mental-Health Bag. The more you massage the bag, the more it smells, the better you feel, and the more powerful and tranquilizing its effect on the brain.” 1 — Herbs & Things.
And I still have this fragrant Bag of Mental Health creeping around after 53 years.
HISTORY ~ The Cistus plant has been known since ancient times and is described by Dioscorides, Herodotus, and Pliny. Dioscorides says, “Now, that which we call Ladanum, is made of this plant. For the Hee goats, & shee goates, feeding on the leaues hereof, doe manifestly beare away the fatnesse of them on their beards and on their thighs, because it is of a viscous nature, which taken off thence they straine, & hauing fashioned them into little balls, lay them vp in store.” 4
‘ In ancient times, labdanum gum was collected in Crete in two ways:”“Pliny says that the gum was harvested by combing the coats of goats that grazed in the cistus-covered hillsides, and later it was collected by thrashing the branches of the cistus plants with a leather strap and then scraping that strap with a knife. Cistus’’ glutinous properties made these forms of harvesting possible. Today, most cistus production takes place in Spain, where the leafy branches are collected using a sickle before being processed” ”2 But this may be where its history of being ‘‘leather scented’ comes from.’ In ancient times, labdanum gum was collected in Crete in two ways: “Pliny says that the gum was harvested by combing the coats of goats that grazed in the cistus-covered hillsides, and later it was collected by thrashing the branches of the cistus plants with a leather strap and then scraping that strap with a knife. Cistus’ glutinous properties made these forms of harvesting possible. Today, most cistus production takes place in Spain, where the leafy branches are collected using a sickle before being processed.”2 But this may be where its history of being ‘leather scented’ comes from.
““In ancient Egypt, the false goat-hair beards of the pharaohs were impregnated with Labdanum to surround these men with an impressive aura of distinction. The Cypriotes mixed Labdanum with Styrax and Calamus oil, creating an early masterpiece of perfumery. When they conquered the island, the Crusaders became so enthusiastic about the fragrance that they brought the recipe to the rest of Europe. Known as the’‘Chypre’-theme, it is still employed in modern perfumery.”““In ancient Egypt, the false goat-hair beards of the pharaohs were impregnated with Labdanum to surround these men with an impressive aura of distinction. The Cypriotes mixed Labdanum with Styrax and Calamus oil, creating an early masterpiece of perfumery. When they conquered the island, the Crusaders became so enthusiastic about the fragrance that they brought the recipe to the rest of Europe. Known as the ‘Chypre’-theme, it is still employed in modern perfumery.”
Cistus creticus has a subspecies, C. incanus, and is thought to be the ‘myrrh’ of Genesis. Both resins are obtained by boiling twigs and skimming the resin from the water’s surface. —Mabberly.
Jeanne Rose collection of Cistus & Labdanum from 1972 to the present
CISTUS AND LABDANUM are used in Natural Perfumery. Cistus E.O. is considerably easier to use than the resinous Labdanum. Try substituting it for Elemi, Rosemary, Myrrh, or any other sharp-scented essential oil harvested in the Mediterranean area, such as Lavender or Myrtle.
BLENDING ~ Various types of essential oil are produced by the steam-distillation of the leaves and twigs. They are usually called Cistus E.O. Cistus blends best with Labdanum abs, citrus oils such as Bergamot, floral oils, rich deep Oakmoss, and base earthy oils such as Vetivert.
Labdanum, the concrete is alcohol extracted to obtain the absolute, a semi-solid soft and sticky green-colored substance. It must be diluted in (grape spirits) alcohol to be used. The scent is balsam, herbal and spicy resin, warm and rich. Works well with citrus, Lavender bases, green and conifer scents. Labdanum 50•50 is Labdanum diluted 50% with neutral spirits.
Galbanum & Labdanum/Cistus Base Accord
- Dilute Galbanum and Labdanum individually 50•50 with neutral grape spirits.
2. Let the above age and meld for a week.
3. Take 12 drops of Galbanum (50•50) and 12 drops of (50•50) Labdanum, add 12 drops of Cistus and mix them together. Age it for 1 week. Smell and experience.
4. After it ages, you can add an equal amount of grape spirits to make a 25% pure scent base. Give it a name that you will remember.
A CHYPRE PERFUME
A Simple Chypre Perfume is made as follows: Mix together 5 drops of Bergamot + 5 drops White Grapefruit + 5 drops of Clary Sage with sclareol + 5 drops of Cistus, mix this together using succession, and as a bridge, add 1 drop of Oakmoss dissolved in several drops of alcohol; for your heart note add 5 drops of Patchouli + 2 drops of Rose + 1 drop of Neroli, mix this using succussion; and then add the base note of 3 drops of Labdanum (pre-diluted in high-proof alcohol + 3 drops Atlas Cedarwood.
The total equals 30-35 drops. Succuss. Age this for at least 2 weeks (maybe more), then add 90 drops of 95% neutral grape spirits (alcohol) and age again for 3 weeks before you decide to do or not do anything else.
Equals 4 ml of finished scent at 25% perfume ingredients by volume. This is one of my favorite perfumes and odors – but remember, start with the best quality ingredients to get the best scent in a perfume.
INTERESTING INFORMATION: The Ladanesterion or ladanesterion is a tool made of leather leads used to comb out the Labdanum from the Cistus plant. It was described by Pedanios Dioscorides in the 1st century A.C. It was also described by the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort in his travel to Crete in 1700. The tool today has been replaced with plastic.
KEY USE: The Oil of Perfumery
This work is sponsored and supported by Prima Fleur Botanicals.
1Rose, Jeanne. Herbs & Things. Only available from jeannerose.net with coil binding.
4 Greek Herbal of Dioscorides. Hafner Publishing Company. 1933 from the great work of the first century A.D.
Arctander, Steffen. Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. Elizabeth, NJ. 1960
Guenther, Ernest. The Essential Oils. Volume VI. Reprint 1972.
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose .2015 edition. San Francisco, California
Langenheim, Jean H. Plant Resins. Timber Press. 2003
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.
Pliny. Plinie’s Natural History. My copy is dated 1601.
Poucher, William A. Perfumes and Cosmetics. Van Nostrand Company. 1923
Rose, Jeanne. 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols. Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999
Rose, Jeanne. The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations. North Atlantic Books. 2000
Rose, Jeanne. Natural Botanical Perfumery. JeanneRose.com. 2002