Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cistus albidus--White-Leaved Rockrose

The rockroses are beginning to bloom in the Mediterranean area of the UC Botanical Garden. The flowers on this one are bright pink and do look a bit like roses. The foliage is sticky and strong scented.

For hundreds or maybe even thousands of years the exudate has been used as a perfume fixative, or base. It was collected by running rakes with stringy leather tines through the bushes or by allowing the goats to roam among the shrubs. Then the gluey stuff was removed from the leather or goats' fur and mixed with other scents. Cistus labdanum was an especially well-loved species.

Labdanum should not be confused with laudanum. Just exchanging a "b" for a "u" makes a world of difference. Laudanum is a product of the opium poppy discovered in 1500s and used ever since to control pain. In fact, with a prescription, you can still get it. In Victorian times, when few other effective drugs were available, it was used with abandon. I think people liked it because in addition to killing the pain, it had euphoria as a side effect. Perhaps the opium tincture name is based on the Cistus resin name, but maybe it is based on the latin, laudere, "to praise." Nobody really knows.

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