This resin is a must-have for ingredient in the chypre family of fragrances (in a marriage with patchouli, bergamot and oakmoss): rich, green, mysterious, woody. A little dry, but with hints of pine in there, too. It evolves over time and is very complex, and requires a perfumer’s deftest touch – but it’s incredibly valuable to ‘noses’ as a fixative. It works wonderfully in floral accords alongside hyacinth, iris, narcissus, violet and gardenia – and blends well with spices, too.
The gum itself comes from an umbelliferous (umbrella-like) Persian grass, and can vary from amber to dark green. It’s collected from the stems in small drops (‘tears’). Isn’t it hard to imagine that a plant so green and wafty can produce a scent that’s so deep and resinous. Its use in perfumery goes back millennia: galbanum appears in the Old Testament as an ingredient in holy incense, and was an ingredient of the Egyptian perfume Metopian.
Galbanum essential oil is quite different to the gum: intensely green, slightly bitter, earthy. This product of the galbanum plant is used as a top note, instead – and some very famous fragrances (see below) get their character from this VIP perfume ingredient – most notably Chanel’s No. 19. The galbanum used in No. 19 was a very high grade from Iran. When the Iranian revolution broke out in 1979, the oil supply dried up – and Chanel’s perfumer faced the challenge of reworking this iconic scent. These are the types of challenges which perfumers face: the back-stories you can’t imagine, when you un-stopper a bottle…!
The galbanum plant produces the gum resin asafoetida, used in Indian cooking (as well as perfumery), which you can read about here.
Smell galbanum in: