Galbanum: Everything You Need to Know

Galbanum is a gum resin that is produced by certain herbaceous plants. It is native to Iran though it can be found in other parts of the middle east. Its use dates back to the B.C era. It continues to find wide applications in the modern world.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about Galbanum.

Galbanum naming

Galbanum is referred to by numerous names. For example, Ferula Gummosa, Galbanum Oleogum Resin, Galbanum Oleoresin, Galbanum Resin. It is also referred to as Barijeh, Résine de Galbanum, Galbano, or Ferula Gommeuse.

You may come across one of these names in various product labels. For example, in essential oils, cosmetic products, perfumes, or medicine. This means that the product contains galbanum as an ingredient.

Galbanum history

Galbanum has been used for physical and metaphysical reasons for thousands of years. Its use dates back to the B.C era with mentions in the Bible.

For instance, in the book of Exodus (30:34) it was used in the making of Ketoret. Ketoret was a consecrated incense that was used at the altar. It was also used by Egyptians to make metopian perfumes.

Galbanum plants

Galbanum is a gum resin secreted by some umbelliferous Persian plants. For example, the Ferula Galbaniflua, Ferula Gummosa, Ferula Ceratophylla, and Ferula Rubricaulis.

Galbanum plants physical features

These herbaceous, umbrella-like plants grow up to 4 meters in height. They have hollow, succulent stems and large flower heads that yield yellow flowers. The gum resins look like small drops or tears on the stems of the plants.

Ferula Galbaniflua and Ferula Gummosa are the most common galbanum plants. They have a lifespan of 5-8 years. In the course of the plant’s lifetime, it produces flowers and fruits. Each year, it bears more and larger fruits and flowers and grows at least 30cm taller. During its last year, it bears inflorescences, which bear seeds, and then it dies.

Galbanum plants produce yellow, umbel flower clusters. Each cluster has 5-6 branches. The plants have long tap roots that are rich in sap. Their thick stems are also rich in sap. When cut or scratched by insects, the roots and stems secrete a sap – the galbanum gum resin. It dries up when exposed to air forming clear, yellow, hard, lump-like drops.

During harvesting, it is cut on the stems and roots. An orange-yellow, brown, or greenish viscous liquid sips out, air dries and hardens into a gum.

The harvesting period is in June. The ideal time for mass sap collection is in the morning when the temperatures are not too high. After mass harvesting, the plant is left for up to 3 years to repair and reproduce sap.

Galbanum gum resin features

The Galbanum gum resin occurs in lumps that might be hard or soft, translucent and shining. Their color ranges between yellowish, light brown, or greenish-yellow. They have a bitter taste and an intense, musky odor.

Galbanum resin contains the following elements:

  • 8% terpenes;
  • 65% sulfur;
  • 20% gum;
  • Small quantities of umbelliferone, α-pinene, β-pinene, limonene, cadinene, 3-carene, and ocimene.

Growing galbanum plants

Galbanum-producing plants mostly grow wildly in certain parts of the world. For example, the mountain ranges of northern Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Mesopotamia. They also grow in Afghanistan, China, India, Israel, and Egypt.

There have been efforts to cultivate the various Galbanum plants across the world. Cultivating these Persian plants is labor-intensive and requires specific conditions. Even so, success rates are low.

According to the USDA, the Ferula Gummosa is a perennial crop hardy to Zone 6. It can be planted in sandy, loam, or clay soils. It performs best in well-drained soils with neutral to basic PH levels. It requires generous exposure to sunlight to flourish. Although it can tolerate temperatures of up to -10C, it does not thrive in colder climates.

This species of plant is hermaphrodite and relies on flies for pollination. It flowers from May to June and the seed ripens in summer. Ferula Gummosa is harvested towards the end of fall and at the beginning of winter.

It is not ideal to plant Umbelliferae as house plants. They have long roots that go deep into the soil. Potting them inhibits root growth. Their height ranges between 1-4 meters. As such they outgrow the average ceiling level fast. Their flowers and the gum resin produce a sharp smell. The small can make your living space inhabitable.

Galbanum extraction methods

Crude galbanum often contains contaminants. For example, sand, insects, wood chips, and other elements from the immediate environment. It is purified by straining the resin before processing it for other uses.

There are various methods of processing galbanum gum resin. It can be steam-distilled to produce galbanum oil, a clear, pale yellow oil. Steam distillation yields 10-15% oil. It can also be solvent-distilled to form a resinoid.

Solvent distillation extracts 40-50% resinoid from the crude galbanum. Perfume makers are keen to extract pourable resinoid. They use perfumery diluents as solvents e.g. benzyl benzoate and diethyl phthalate.

The quality of the extract depends on the cleanliness of the crude galbanum gum. Both galbanum oil and resinoid are highly stable. They blend well with other ingredients. For example, when manufacturing perfumes, essential oils, medicine, and cosmetic products.

Galbanum uses

Galbanum has a wide range of applications. It is used to make incense, essential oils, perfumes, jewelry, and cosmetic products. It is also used for medicinal purposes.

Medical use

Galbanum has medicinal characteristics such as being anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, and expectorant. It was used to alleviate digestive issues such as diarrhea and flatulence. It was also used to treat coughing, seizures, or heal wounds.

Hard galbanum resins would be ground and administered orally or added to food. Also, galbanum sap would be applied to wounds to disinfect and help in the healing process. It was believed to have bacteria-fighting properties.

Some studies indicate that galbanum offers medical benefits in treating various diseases. It alleviates pain and stiffness in arthritis patients. According to the research findings, galbanum might be a better option than diclofenac. Unlike diclofenac, it does not have side effects.

A 2010 research ranked various herbal plants according to their tumor-fighting properties. Galbanum was ranked third in effectiveness out of 264 herbal medicines.

There is not enough research on the safety of ingesting or topical use of galbanum in the modern world. WebMD recommends that to be on the safe side, do not use galbanum if you are pregnant and breastfeeding.

Perfumery

The terpene component in the resin gum gives it a distinctive smell. Due to its distinctive and intense smell, resin gum is used for making perfumes.

Galbanum is most popular for making Chanel No.19. It is also an ingredient in other high-end perfumes.  For example, “Must” by Cartier, Vol De Nuit” by Guerlain, and “Vent Vert” by Balmain among others.

It is used either as a top or base note when making perfumes. It is also used as a fixative. Fixatives stabilize the perfume’s formula to ensure it lasts longer when applied.

Galbanum has a greenish, fresh, balsamic, sweet scent. It comes in handy when creating perfumes with floral, earthy, or woody scents. It also blends well with other tones. For example, hyacinth, narcissus, iris, gardenia, and many more.

Making essential oils

Galbanum essential oils resinify easily when exposed to air. Its potent, sharp, and powerful fragrant fill the air. You can pour Galbanum sap can into hot water to serve as an essential oil.

Keep in mind that when using it as a natural product, there are no specific guidelines for dosage. Use it in small quantities as it has a strong smell, and can easily overwhelm your space.

Ensure to dilute galbanum essential oils for aromatherapy or bathing. You may also mix it with other skin care oils e.g. coconut oil. Some people attest that it reduces excess oil secretion on your skin. There is no research to prove its efficacy.

Cosmetic products

Galbanum is an ingredient in some cosmetic products. For example, facial cleansers, body wash, moisturizers, shampoos, masks, and sunscreens. Usually, extracted essential oils are infused into the product’s ingredients during manufacturing.

Keep in mind that it could cause skin irritation or a burning sensation.  This happens if it interacts with other ingredients or the amounts are too high.

Jewelry and textile making

Galbanum is also used as glue. It has a high bond that holds the glued parts together. It is used to glue together precious stones and gems in jewelry making or fabrics in textile making.

Availability and accessibility of galbanum

Iran is the largest producer of galbanum, with an annual production capacity of about 15 tons. Also, Iranian galbanum is believed to have the most superior quality. As a result, Iranian galbanum is highly sought after.

Iran has strict trading embargos which limit its accessibility. Moreover, production capacity in other parts of the world is quite low. Although it is not impossible to get galbanum, it comes at a hefty price.

Galbanum substitutes

The most common galbanum substitutes in perfumery are Dynascone and Spirogalbanone. These are synthetic molecules used to make galbanum notes such as galbanum decatriene.

There are some differences between synthetic galbanum and natural galbanum. The natural galbanum is highly potent. Thus, you only need a small amount when making perfume.

But, you need larger amounts of synthetic concentrates. The synthetic galbanum concentrate has a fruity smell. It smells like a pineapple smell while organic galbanum has a green, earthy smell.

Conclusion

Galbanum gum resin has unique characteristics that provide a wide range of applications. It is used in medicine, perfumery, and cosmetics. There is a need for extensive research for its use, particularly in medicine.

Jason
At The Animascorp, we offer practical, real-life tips and inspiration to help you live better. From decorating and gardening advice, to entertaining and home repair how-tos.

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