Interview by Dimitris Nyktaris in News | Tommi Sooni.

A passion for labdnamun, collecting rare ingredients for perfumery.
by Tommi Sooni

Saturday 7th April 2012

Thank you Dimitris Nyktaris for answering the below questions and for agreeing to share your passion with Tommi Sooni news. Many readers would be unaware that small producers of rare perfume ingredients help to enrich the fine fragrance industry.

You have a love affair with chypre but more importantly with labdanum, namely growing and harvesting Cistus creticus. How did your interest in Cistus creticus begin?

The plant Cistus creticus (with the pink flower) is everywhere in the area of Sises, Crete where I live. It’s the only place in the world where labdanum is collected the ancient and natural way.

I decided to research this plant on the internet and suddenly I found myself collecting information about Cistus creticus and labdanum. I present this researched material on my website.  In my area of Crete labdanum has a strong tradition with the people in the villages and is used here in many different ways, such as traditional therapeutics.

Are there other ways to use parts of the plant, such as in soaps, medicines or tea?

Labdanum is a resin exuded by the plant Cistus creticus. In Crete traditionally its use was for illnesses of the skin and wounds. It has a sweetly balsamic perfume and can be used in perfumes, soaps and skincare. Apart from the perfume it also protects the skin. The plant Cistus creticus is a natural source of most Polyphenols. On the island of Crete the leaves are also used as a herbal tea.

Does this plant have an ancient history in Crete?

Cistus creticus has a very long history. It was recorded as being collected by the ancient cultures in various regions and was known in major ancient western and eastern cultures.  Labdanum is possibly the myrrh referred to in the Bible. Many of the ointments and oils reported in The Bible are attributed to labdanum or contained labdanum as a key ingredient, such as Balm of Gilead, Onycha oil (Exodus 30:34) and according to American botanist Moldenke, labdanum and myrrh were the myrrh refered to as one of the three gifts of the wise men to Christ in Bethlehem.

Historical reports describe two ways of collection:

a. After sending their goats to graze on pastures containing Cistus creticus the shepards would extract the labdanum collected on the hair of the goats chins by combing the hairs.

b. Flailing the plant itself with a ladanistirio, an ancient wooden and leather tool. This was the original harvesting technique used.

These methods are natural and are still used in my region. Both methods were described by Dioskurides and Herodotus.  The false beards of Pharaohs were taken from the hair of the goats!  The image of the ladanistirio was also a religious symbol, seen held up by the kings of Egypt in their hands.

Cyprus (Chypre in French): In Cyprus, the Cistus creticus plant grows naturally and in the summertime the sweet scent of laudanum drifts through the island.  The Romans made a perfume from laudanum and named it, Chypre. The Crusaders when they conquered Cyprus made a perfume from labdanum and they also gave it the name Chypre. The perfume ‘Chypre’ (Coty,1917) contained labdanum.

Crete: Because of the changing climatic conditions, the area around the abbey, including the small villages, in northern Crete is the epicentre for harvesting labdanum.

How is the resin from Cistus creticus collected today? Do you use modern harvesting methods?

The "modern" methods are industrial extraction and they do not have a long history.

They cut the plants of Cistus and they boil them in big cauldrons of water with chemicals.  The resulting product is not as pure and doesn’t have the same scent. By boiling the plants a lot of the volatile components are lost. The laborious method with the ladanistirio is the ancient method and gives pure labdanum (Holy Incense). Labdanum collected with this method is a genuine, natural product and its perfume is unique.

I am impressed by your passion for Cistus creticus. It is people like you who are often forgotten when we think of beautiful perfumes. Your harvesting of one of the raw ingredients required to make rare perfumes continues the relationship between nature and perfume that has continued for thousands of years.

My passion resulted from my family environment. My family has a long history with local products of the region and one of them is labdanum. We insist on allowing the plant Cistus creticus to grow everywhere in the region because it allows us to collect the resin the natural way.

The modern way of manufacturing labdanum is done with chemistry. It is achieved with the use of boiling.  Through this way of extracting all the volatile components are lost and the resin has no relationship with the natural resin extracted by hand!

Do you sell your products to mainly independent perfumers or to larger international companies?

Labdanum, exuded by the plant Cistus Creticus has a rare and unique perfume with no danger to the skin.

It constitutes as a very good stabilizer for perfumes. Whoever wants to discover and use labdanum in their perfumes can find details through my website. Natural products in perfumery are very infrequent materials. Personally I sell to independent perfumers.

Are there other farmers on Crete who also harvest this plant or are you unique?

The collection of labdanum resin from the plant Cistus Creticus is a very difficult and laborious job that is done during the day under the sun and in high temperatures. A lot of farmers go up in the mountains for this work. It is hard work and the farmers can’t gather large quantities in one day. The period of harvesting is only one and one half months, therefore we need a lot of workers.

Do you make your own perfumes?

I have worked only with labdanum from Cistus creticus, creating labdanum concrete and labdanum absolute.

The perfume of labdanum is very warm and rich, giving a very sweet odour that has a strong and sweet scent. It belongs in perfume base notes. It has a typically balsamic odour, rather flowery, herbaceous, amber-like and very tenacious. The absolute derived from the species growing in Crete is the finest, the most amber-like and the least coloured.

I have made perfumes for myself and in cooperation with other perfumers from around the world: with Anne Walsh from Brazil and Pierre Bénard from France. Also perfumers from the USA, Australia, India, Russia, Asia and Europe. I have made labdanum soaps and I would like to make other labdanum cosmetics because they are healthier than other products made with chemicals.

Where can people find out more about what you do and can they buy your products online?

My personal web page is: http://www.labdanum.gr

Nyktaris Dimitris

my Site    :http://www.labdanum.gr  or  http://www.ladanum.gr

my Shop  :Labdanum Shop

Face book profile: Dimitris Nyktaris

Footnote: thanks to Alex for his assistance with editing.

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