One thing leads to another. Last time I wrote about galbanum, and that post leads to other resins, so what I think I’ll do is go through the resins that I use or have in my collection of things I might use.
Elemi comes from a tree called Canarium luzonicum, which is native to the Philippines. It belongs to the family Burseraceae, which includes frankincense, myrrh, and other resin-producing trees, some of which I am trying to grow in my greenhouse.
Apparently a number of different resins have been called “elemi”, over the years, including those from other Burceraceous trees and shrubs such as Boswellia and Icica species, so it is not clear what sort of “elemi” was the one reputedly used for incense, skin care, and embalming in ancient Egypt. It seems unlikely that the Egyptians visited the Philippines to obtain Canarium resin when sources of Boswellia (frankincense) and Commiphora (myrrh) were closer to home.
Canarium trees grow quite tall, and are attractive with their canopy of broad leaves and almond-shaped nuts. The resin is most plentiful during the rainy season, and trees are “tapped” then by making cuts in the trunk. The resin is steam distilled to produce elemi essential oil. Elemi oil has antibacterial and antifungal properties as well as a good smell, so probably functions as one of the tree’s defense mechanisms.
Elemi, although resinous, has a light, clean lemony-green scent with resinous nuances. This is not surprising given that limonene makes up more than half of the constituents of the oil. Alpha-phellandrene is the other major constituent, along with elemol and small amounts of other molecules, including alpha-terpenol, alpha-terpenolene, sabinene, and elemicin. Alpha-phellandrene is also a citrusy odor, so it is the resinous-woody elemol and spicy-floral elemicin that gives it that little extra resinous something that makes it elemi. Incidentally, all of these components are available as pure aroma chemicals, so it should be fairly easy to come full circle and re-design a synthetic version of elemi if one wanted to do so.
Elemi is a good go-to oil if you want fresh, green, slightly resinous top notes in a perfume. I used it in Blackbird and Bat to provide a clean resinous note from the beginning, and will likely use it in many more compositions.
Do you like resinous notes in perfume? Which resinous notes and/or perfumes do you enjoy most? Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing for a 5-ml spray bottle of Olympic Orchids Blackbird along with some other miscellaneous surprise goodies.
[Canarium tree photos are from the University of Southern Illinois Phytoimages pages; resin and Canarium tree-tapping images from retailers' websites; Blackbird bottle photo is mine.]