Labdanum – from the Cistus plant (better known to some gardeners as Rock Rose) – is a pillar of chypre perfumes and many Ambrées.  What you smell actually comes from a sticky brown resin, taken from a plant that grows (often in very inhospitable, dry locations) in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East.  Harvesting techniques have become somewhat more sophisticated since the time when labdanum was collected from the coats and beards of sheep and goats that grazed on these tough little shrubs…!  (Labdanum is today extracted from the leaves using solvents, although the branches can also be boiled.)    

The early Arab perfumers used labdanum in their recipes – ‘the sweetest-scented of all substances’, as it was described, its links to perfumery actually go back to Egyptian time, when labdanum (a.k.a. ladanon, black balsam and gum cistus) was a key ingredient in the kyphi incense blend, used for ceremonial purposes.  It’s also referred to in the Bible (as Balm of Gilead).  In natural medicine, labdanum’s prescribed to boost the immune system.  

One of the reasons it’s so widely used now is that it mimics the scent of ambergris – it’s also referred to as ‘amber’ – but it’s also a ‘fixative’, helping other ingredients to stay true, and to stay put.  This warm and complex resin is sometimes perceived as leathery, sometimes honey-like, with hints of plum.    

Atelier Cologne Ambre Nu
Byredo Rose Noir
Chanel Coco
Chanel Les Exclusifs 31 Rue Cambon
Dior Miss Dior
Dior Oud Ispahan
Hermès Un Jardin Sur Le Nil
James Heeley Cardinal
Le Labo Labdanum 18
Memo Shams
Miller Harris La Fumée Arabie
Prada Intense Prada
Roja Parfums Risqué
Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan
Yves Saint Laurent Opium