Tag Archives: Asia

MAY CHANG

Time for a profile again; this is a wonderful, versatile oil with a lovely scent. It’s attractive to most people and one of those scents that is always appreciated when it comes to scenting spaces.

May Chang, Litsea (Litsea cubeba). Synonyms: tropical verbena, yunnan verveine. These names are a bit misleading, since it is not at all related to Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla). It belongs to the same family as the rosewood and cinnamon tree. Litsea is a small tropical tree with lemony-scented leaves and flowers. It produces little fruits shaped like peppers which gives the name cubeba. The tree is native to Asia, especially China where it is often planted as a wind breaker. China is the main producer, but it is also cultivated  in Taiwan and Japan. The oil was introduced to the West as late as in the mid-fifties.

The oil is steam-distilled from the fruits, the yield is high – the fruits contain 3-5% essential oil. On Java, Indonesia, small quantities of oil is distilled from the leaves, though it is considered inferior since there is less citral in it. (I would love to get my hands on some of that oil, since, in aromatherapy, we are not looking at isolation but rather wholeness, it would have different therapeutic properties ) The main component of the fruit-oil is citral, up to 85%. The scent of Litsea is sweet-lemony, fresh and fruity. It is reminiscent of lemongrass but lighter and sweeter without the sharpness and tenacity of lemongrass.

The major use of the oil is for the isolation of citral which is used for flavor and fragrance. The chemical industry uses it as a raw material for the synthesis of vitamin A and also converts it into a violet-like scent. International standards set the minimum citral-content at 74% for Litsea, the same as for Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) and both these oils are described in trade terms as “75 percent”.

Traditional uses in China are: indigestion, lower back pain, chills, headaches and travel sickness.

Essential oil of Litsea cubeba is anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, carminative, sedative and calming. It is also used as an insect-repellent, though I find Citronella (Cymbogogon nardus) to be more efficient.

USES:

  • SKIN: Its antimicrobial properties make it excellent for oily skin and acne. It is astringent and gently cooling on the skin and makes a good tonic.
  • RESPIRATORY: Tonic. Has been used as a broncho-dilator and may be helpful with bronchitis and asthma. (In the case of asthma, I believe part of its usefulness is the calming and relaxing effect of the oil.)
  • HEART: Tonic to the heart; much research is being done in China on disease-prevention and cure of heart-problems. Recent research has shown Litsea’s ability to reduce arrhythmias in comparison with propranolol, a beta-blocker, antihypertensive and anti-angina drug. (Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 1991 Aug;11(8):509-12.) Personal note: This ability might be of great help in stress-relief, especially when stress causes irregular heart-beat.
  • DIGESTIVE: Flatulence, indigestion and poor appetite.
  • NERVOUS SYSTEM: Calming and antidepressant. Useful for nervousness and depression as the oil is softly uplifting and strengthening (tonic). Use it together with Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) and/or Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) for sleeping disorders. This blend is deeply relaxing.

More: As a sanitary air-freshener when there is disease. Brilliant to use during those months of the year when colds and flu’s set in.

Personal experience: I have found Litsea to be one of the few oils that most everybody likes. I have used it successfully on clients with racing heart-problems from stress and for people suffering from anorexia.

Litsea can cause sensitisation in some individuals. Do not use neat on skin.

 

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THE MYSTICAL SCENT OF OUD

Oud is an oil that has fascinated me for the last 18 years. Its scent is mystical, mythical and magical, this is why I want to present this profile to you.

Oud or Agarwood or Aloeswood (Aquilaria agollocha, A. malaccensis, A. crassna) is an evergreen tree native to the forests of Northeast India, Bhutan and Southeast Asia; Viet Nam, Kambodja, Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea. The tree reaches a height of about 40m with a diameter of about 60cm. It bears sweetly-scented snow-white flowers. For the oil to exist, the tree needs to be infected with a fungi; Phialophora parasitica. The tree produces this oleoresin to protect itself against the fungi by saturating the heartwood. The longer time a tree is infected, the deeper and darker the oleoresin gets. This can take up to a 100 years and inevitably ends with the tree dying. By this time the heartwood is almost black, deeply saturated and scented by the oleoresin. The heartwood of an uninfected tree is light and pale-colored.

Extraction methods:

  • Water extraction: The wood is immersed in water for about 3 months, after which it is put into stills (huge burners) where it is cooked for many hours until the resin dissolves and floats to the top of the water; Indian distillation method.
  • Steam distillation of the wood-chips; Mostly used by East Asian countries.
  • CO2 extraction: When a certain amount of pressure is applied to CO2 (carbon dioxide) this gas turns into liquid. This liquid CO2 can be used as a very inert, safe, “liquid solvent.” CO2 is the gas we all breathe out of our lungs. It is also the gas that plants themselves thrive on.

Because of the immense popularity of this plant-matter for oil, perfume and incense, the trees are now endangered species  protected world-wide under the CITES-convention (http://www.cites.org/) and by laws in the different countries. Even so a large number of trees are illegally cut down to obtain this hugely expensive material.

There are many grades of Oud; First-grade (the highest quality) is one of the most expensive natural products in the world. The pricing lies around 13 000 dollars/pound of oil. (0,453kg) The oils from wild trees (illegal) catch an even higher price, more than 27 000 dollars/pound. The whole-sale price for a decent quality oil is around 1000-1400 dollars/ounce. (30ml)

In Assam, India a few families have started plantations with Aquilaria agollocha, ensuring the survival of this precious tree and its hidden gifts. Most reputed Oud-traders today, trade with plantation-grown oils and wood. Due to the success of the plantations in Assam other countries are following suit; Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam and other areas in Southeast Asia.

History

Oud has a long history of use in the eastern parts of the world; Buddhist monks use ut for meditation, saying it aids in the transmutation of ignorance. Tibetan monks use it to calm the mind and spirit. Sufis use it for esoteric ceremonies and in China it is considered to have psychoactive properties. Oud has been used as incense, aromatic oil and medicine for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Bible (under the name of Aloewood): “Nicodemus used pounded aloewood to embalm the body of Christ”. The Prophet Muhammed of Islam mentions in the Koran 1400 years ago; “Treat with Indian Oud, for it has healing for seven diseases”. In Egypt Oud was used by the Pharaos for embalming. Buddha called it the “Scent of Nirvana“.

The Scent

Complex, balsamic, deep woody fragrance. Tenacious basenote, it lingers longer than any other known scent. The scent is rare and powerful. Blended with other precious oils such as Rose (r.centifolia, r. damascena), Jasmin (jasminus officinalis), Sandalwood (santalum album), it enhances them and creates a blend which is deeply soulful.

Uses

A well-known aphrodisiac; use it as a perfume neat on the skin (I recommend a patch-test for sensitive skin) or diluted in Jojoba-oil or alcohol. The skin will release its scent over the course of 12-15 hours. (It is tested safe to use undiluted on skin.) The oil is viscous and in room-temperature it stays thick. To make it thinner, put the bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes.

It has been used by Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic and Unani physicians in practice to treat various disease and mental illness.The list of ailments that can be helped by Oud oil is vast. I will not document it here, since considering the price and rarity of this oil, it is better used for higher purposes such as meditation and personal growth. During my research I have found that every eastern culture names Oud in treatment of the respiratory and digestive systems. This is interesting because these two systems are both deeply connected to life-force, and the most outstanding feature of Oud is its magical and mystical properties when used in meditation; It connects Heaven and Earth within us, creating balance, inner peace and enlightment.