Cistus ladaniferus is one of my favourite oil; it has a very enigmatic incense like balsamic with a warm resinous, leathery and sweet smell. It is very powerful and impactful in any essential oil blends and perfumes.
When we talk about this material, we actually mean two raw materials: cistus is an extract from the whole plant, stems and leaves, while labdanum is extracted from the sticky gum that exudes from its stems and leaves in the hot and dry summer days of Southern Spain.
Although it grows in all Mediterranean countries, its largest natural habitats can be found in Southern Spain along the border with Portugal, especially in Extramadura and Western Andalucia.
Above is a picture I took not in Spain but in a garden in Dublin of all places! It's missing a petal but you can see clearly the dark red spots on its white petals. They are nicknamed 'the tears of Christ' in Southern Spain and this plant is of religious significance locally as its gum is also used as an incense for Catholic ceremonies.
Also nicknamed the rock rose, its lovely flower actually doesn't smell much and only its stems and leaves are of value. And it is when the weather is the hottest that the plant produces its strong fragrant gum, to protect itself from the scorching sun. The harvest therefore starts usually in July and goes on until September/October. Local collectors, very often Gypsy families, go through the wild fields with a sickle and bundle them for the distilleries.
Beside the essential oil, it is transformed in various other extracts that enhance some of its facets and for this reason this material has become a critical ingredient in perfume making especially for 'chypre' and 'amber' accords.
I was lucky to work for one of the main producer of this amazing oil, a French company that has a distillery right in the growing area in Northwest Andalucia. And it gave me an appreciation for this unique raw material.
Great for calming and meditating, the oil can also be used for its skin repairing benefits.