Tracing The Origins Of
Back To Antiquity And
Exploring Its Countless Uses.
I decided that I wanted to write about Galbanum oil when I was given the tremendous honour of being asked to write for the Aromatherapy Times. My initial thought was what on earth shall I write about? There are so many oils to choose from but the dilemma was so short lived because the day before I had asked myself why so few people seem to list galbanum oil as one of their favourite oils. To me, it is the most subtle of medicines, with the most romantic of histories, but it seems to be somewhat overlooked .
Even the name of Galbanum oil tantalises me. It has this wonderful exotic feel to the lilt of its sound, but somehow its hard to place from where it could have originated. Some sources say Hebrew, and as we time travel its colourful history you may agree that Hebrew seems very likely.
It is not what you would call one of the most important oils, I don't think. It's not imperative in your box like lavender or geranium but instead lends ”finesse" to therapy that completely takes treatments to another level. Somehow it is insight from a professional that wields this torch.
So, where does Galbanum Oil come from?
Extracted from a resin from the plant Ferula galbaniflua, it is similar in looks to Angelica or perhaps fennel with its height, pretty tiny flowers and long shiny leaflets, and belongs the Umbellifae family group Apiaceae. They are tall and reed-like and are native to Persia, in particular Northern India and Afghanistan. Production though is most predominately in Iran which produces up to 15 tons of galbanum each year.
There are in fact three different subsets of the plant
Ferula galbaniflua - produces the product we know as galbanum, in two different products, Levant or Soft Galbanum, and Persian or Hard Galbanum.
Similar to aromatic plants such as Frankincense, Myrrh and Benzoin, it oozes milky juices as a method of healing cuts and bruises to the plant. A sharp cut to the base of the root releases the resin which quickly air dries. Hard galbanum collects in brittle lumps, and soft galbanum oil oozes into beautiful viscous tears of the palest yellow right through the very darkest red gold colour, which will soften in the warmth of your hand.
The finest of the tears are the palest and when they are broken open contain, translucent clear white tears. The majority though is full of debris of sand, insects or even chips of wood. In summer when the gum is soft these can be strained clearer, and yield obviously depends of the purity of the gum.
A pourable resinoid can be made by adding a perfumery dilutant such as benzyl benzoate but the final extraction of its essential oil is done by distillation. Usually steam distillation, but if you are lucky enough to find galbanum essential oil that has undergone dry distillation, you will see a beautiful blue oil comparable in colour to the lovely chamomile matricaria. The best extraction is carried out in stainless steel vats and so after the straining most of the oils is extracted by the European markets.
Monoterpenes (65-85%), á -pinene (45-50%), camphene, limonene,
Galbanum oil has a sesquiterpene level of 11%.- I'll revisit this because it is an important factor but first I want to look at how galbanum is represented through history because I think it has a vital bearing on how we use it in contemporary therapy today.
It's hard to isolate when it was first discovered or even used, but chromatography analysis of resins found in a XII Dynasty Egyptian tomb found traces of galbanum resin. It is impossible to say for certain how it was used but it seems highly likely to have been used in their embalming of mummies. In fact most scholars conclude that they can trace galbanum uses right back to the famous green incense used by the Egyptians in antiquity and that the oil was used to anoint the forehead of the Osiris of the future, in a bid to ensure a clear passage into the afterlife. I think that the merchant passage from Persia to Egypt would have been a relatively simple one and so could imagine the Galbanum of Commerce having a very high standing and price there.
I’m fascinated to find that galbanum oil is contained in one of the vital components in the story of Moses and his story of the Exodus found in the Torah.
“And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each there shall be a like weight.” (Exodus 30:34)
Throughout the bible this recipe is referred to as the Holy Incense. Used purely for the worship of God it was believed to be free from evil and an essential part of their communication with Him.
The medieval French rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (better known to many as Rashi) remarked in his famous commentary on the Talmud that Galbanum is bitter and was included in the incense as a reminder of deliberate and unrepentant sinners.
To date these for you, XII dynasty is documented to be around 1900BC and the Exodus has evidence that puts it around about 1440BC to 1290BC.
Later in around 70AD, Dioscorides, physician to the Emperor Nero, records the plant as being known by his peer Egyptians as Metopium, and describes galbanum oil as having "antispasmodic, diuretic, and pain-relieving properties"Contemporaneous to him Pliny the Elder wrote in his work Natural History that is had curative powers and declared that "the very touch of it mixed with oil of spondylium [common Hogweed]is sufficient to kill a serpent. Throughout their Empire, the Romans continued to use galbanum as incense, and adopted it as their chosen way to greet the Spring, burning it to cleanse the year and to honour their Goddess Flora,
Now serpents and hogweed aside, there do seem to be direct correlations between our modern day uses and those of antiquity.
Galbanum oil in Perfumery
A natural fixative, and is a magical component in perfumery because scents will last up to four times as long with Galbanum oil blended into them. Better though is that it is so easy to blend to. There are very few true green notes in perfumery but it has the most wonderful top green note to it and is used often to bring a sultry, expensive note to Chypres perfumes. Most notably, I think would be in Cartier’s fragrance "Must" where galbanum oil is the clear star of the blend. It will blend well with oils such as Elemi, Hyacinth, Lavender, Bergamot, Narcissus, Violet and Geranium, bringing a feeling of leafy out-doors-iness to a blend.
Physical properties of galbanum oil
Analgesic, antiflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, digestive, emmenagogue, expectorative, restorative, tonic.
I like to think that the thickness of galbanum oil makes it fantastic for cutting through congestion of bronchitis. In fact somehow the very viscosity dictates that it should be used for thick and oozing problems.
In every event I find galbanum oil to be the most healing and effective treatment for abscesses. Similarly for ulcers, a warm compress with the oil will draw out the toxins and heal it with antiseptic vigour.
From another dimension, galbanum oil helps suffers of asthma in that it releases the air passages.
For digestive problems we can revisit all that advice that Dioscorides gave us, certainly it is anti-spasmodic as he said, calming and soothing for the pain that comes from stomach problems.
There is a feminine gentleness to galbanum oil that surges forward through many dimensions. Most decidedly it has an affinity with the womb and is so important in the treatment of menstrual problems. It has a wonderful way of gently regulating the cycle, balancing the hormones, but also releasing the pain from the womb.
In her book The Garden Of Eden, Jill Bruce describes how the gentleness of galbanum oil and its affinity with the womb makes her believe that it would be a wonderful tool for meditation in pregnancy for a mother to connect with her unborn child.
Skincare though, I think is what most people would think of using the oil for. Madame Marguerite Maury describes galbanum oil as superb for mature skin especially when blended with violet oil, but warns that is not suited to younger skin.
That being said I think it is a beautiful natural treatment for both acne and scar tissue. Remember the effects of the sesquiterpenes from your chemistry lectures? How they can encourage cell memory and re-growth? This seems to me to be an astounding way to treat skin blemishes.
Considering the effects on rejuvenating and literally preserving skin, could it be that we have struck an important relationship with the past and embalming?
To my mind it has a very different effect on the skin to it its counterpart Frankincense, somehow it gives the skin a warmer softer appearance. I wonder if that may have something to do with its affinity to Vata.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Vata, it is one of the Doshas in Ayervedic medicine. There are three doshas and each set is described by personality and type of constitution. and Galbanum is cited as a direct correlation to healing Vata types.
Vata is the most powerful of the doshas and translated means Motion. It describes the relationship between space and air. It governs, as you would expect, systems of the body related to motion, respiration, circulation, the expulsion of the foetus from the woman, nervous thinking and most clearly digestive systm. A vata constitution is likely to be a creative and independent thinker, small build and dark eyes, indecisive, having brittle nails, struggles to gain weight, enjoys movement and has variable thirst.
To me that physical outlook of the dark eyes, seems to resonate with the warmer complexion. I think it’s fascinating, though, that there are such clear correlations between the systems. Indeed what an intriguing sub layer to add to your treatment of a patient. Incidentally one of the activities that is described as encouraging an imbalance of Vata is overeating whilst depressed. That sounds completely like PMT to me!
What I have found enticing is how many sources have declared Galbanum oil as being able to encourage healing of internal injury, due again to its ability to encourage cell regeneration, unfortunately I am not able to offer evidence on this point but wouldn't it be magical to find that it were true?
By far the most impressive are the
MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF GALBANUM OIL
To me galbanum oil feels like a warm blanket being pulled up to your neck. The emotional effects are amazing and terrifying in their strength.
It has the ability to unblock memories and remove emotional debris. It will ease psychosomatic problems such as panic or anxiety attacks It encourages your patient to face what has gone before, to recognise and understand exactly what has brought them to this point in their illness.. It can be extremely effective in the treatment of both agoraphobia and claustrauphobia, but success has also been seen treating season affective disorder. Consider especially the patient that is confined to indoors.
Deeper too it will help treat hysteria and paranoia but even just general feelings of what in my family we call the "don't want to's" will see improvement. It will calm irritability and even anger, and dissipates feelings of unrest. Again to me this just adds to the PMT argument ( if you'll excuse the pun)
Reviewing the works of the ancient scholars again we can see that the fact that this is such an effective tonic on the nervous system was exploited to its full potential, promoting the relaxation in order to bring on sensual aphrodisiac effects. For centuries it has continued, the deep sensuous calm that galbanum oil induces is medicine to fuel anyone’s ardour. Some schools of thought feel that it is possible that it could have been used in ointments within Harems.
Looking at it more scientifically though, is this more than just a change in temperament? Remember that sesquiterpenes are one of the very fewest organic substances that cross the blood brain barrier in order to oxygenate the blood. This is not just emotional, it is physical at the most base of levels.
We now know that the oil has a profound effect on the pineal gland. Working in harmony with the hypothalamus, the pineal has many functions but on its own it has just one, the production of melatonin, the hormone vital in the treatment of SAD, and it’s effects on the mental condition of people suffering seasonal affective disorder are considerable. More interestingly though is that many believe that the pineal and the third eye are intrinsically linked.
Now those of you who know my work will by now recognise that the spiritual aspects of an oil are what brings it to life in therapy for me. I love to see the nuances and the inflections that it has passed on to amplify the physical properties of an oil. In fact this is the crux for me having chosen this oil to write about because each part opens a door to deeper healing in the most subtle but obvious ways.
The spirituality of Galbanum Oil.
Considering its origins it seems obvious that it must hold inner truths.
Fundamentally galbanum oil helps someone to recognise their path, to understand their purpose here.
It has a way uncovering sadness and wrong doing. It leads the way, preparing them for the gentlest unfolding of the truth. It encourages the patient to shed outdated behaviours and attitude, surrendering to trust in the universe and its creator.
Galbanum is an oil of grace, perhaps charity is a better word, where someone does not do something for their own glory or ego but simply because it is the right thing to do. This particularly strikes a chord with me. I have seen people claim that Galbanum oil is aligned in energy with the disciple James, for which I have found no explanation or evidence. But when you consider that James was the disciple that was to an extent the glory hunter, whom Jesus rebuked for having ambition for their group, I can see where the parallel may have been drawn.
Finally though, I love the descriptions by Suzanne Bovenzier of how she uses the feminine energy of galbanum oil. She describes it as the yin to the yang of frankincense, and as having the feminine energy of St Germain, the enigmatic soul, an alchemist and Rosicrucian, who is reputed to lead us into the Age of Aquarius.
It is vital to recognise that it will change the vibrations of other oils and lifts frankincense and sandalwood to be very high notes.
She describes how it holds the feminine energy of the womb and grounds a woman’s sacral power connecting her with earth energy. How it brings “I am” to her solar plexus seat of power. It polarises the masculine and feminine energy, bonding male and female together. Again, this is a powerful allusion to the spiritual aspects of the aphrodisiac properties.
We know how the Talmud connects it with communication with God and its pure intentions.. Conversely, though Shamanic ritual uses it to invoke a clear passage to the underworld, and for when the soul needs to go through a time of essential change.
Could this be possibly be another correlation to the Egyptians anointing of Osiris? Indeed, could it be that galbanum was not just part of their remains but also crucial to their passage to the afterlife?
Even the occult writings of Alistair Crowley place an importance on the resin, corresponding it to Air in the Tree of Life. Again, I can't help to reflect on the importance of it on the respiratory system , but also of how vata is air and space.
Strange and enigmatic co-incidences or a splendid display of collective unconscious I wonder? Perhaps something as simple as rules of healing and folk medicine passed from generation to generation , who knows?
What is certain is that Galbanum oil has stayed with us for so many generations because it has such an important part to play. It is a subtle healer with the most incredible amount of knowledge. Almost forgotten and overlooked in the twenty first century, one wonders if the Age of Aquarius will indeed encourage it to bring forth again. If you found this article on galbanum oil, take some time to have a look at essential oil database