Essential Oil Allies: Cistus ladaniferus
Cistus essential oil is distilled from the dried leaves and twigs of the small, tenacious evergreen shrub of Cistus ladaniferus. Native to the rugged coastal regions of the Mediterranean basin, it is distilled for its hydrosol and essential oil in Spain, Morocco, France, Portugal, and Crete with a bulk of the oil production coming from Spain.
Cistus thrives in the dry, arid and rugged landscape of the Mediterranean Sea—part of its survival strategy is producing the sticky resin it exudes to protect itself. These plants of the Cistaceae family bloom in the warmer months, populating swaths of land with their 5-petalled white, pink or purplish flowers which each last one day. Of note, the seeds of Cistus can withstand wildfires where Cistus may be some of the first plants to come into a landscape after a wildfire to protect and rejuvenate the land.
In personal correspondence with David Jacob, a master harvester and distiller based in Aljezur, Portugal, I learned that Cistus is often harvested for its essential oil in June or July when the sun is in its yearly apex. However, Cistus may be distilled to obtain a beautiful hydrosol in any of the warmer months as long as the sun is shining. He also noted how the flowers, which bloom in April and May, are “of minimal consequence” regarding Cistus’ oleoresin production; though they provide a beautiful sight along the countryside where they grace the rocky landscape.
Let’s get into names. The essential oil is known as “Cistus” though other common names are “Rock Rose” and “Labdanum.” There is a fine line here: the complete essential oil is obtained by distilling the leaves and small twigs while Labdanum is the actual resinous exudate produced by the plant. Labdanum is often obtained by boiling the chopped leaves and branches of Cistus where the crude gum resin floats to the top and is skimmed off to then harden and used as-is or is further subjected to solvent extraction. Cistus’ Latin epithet gives insight as to how special Labdanum was and is: ladaniferus = labdanum (ladan) bearing (fero).
Ancient Cistus, the “rock rose,” is often cited as the “onycha” referenced in the bible (Morris, 1984). Its sticky resin was prized and cited as a core ingredient of the sacred incense which included other resins such as Frankincense, Myrrh and Galbanum. Resins lend themselves to incense use as they are readily flammable and aromatic.
Cistus, a tenacious plant, bears an essential oil with amazing staying power giving it “fixative” qualities sought by perfumers. Resins are often from tenacious plants, yet they are also balsamic and cooling to mitigate the scorching sun and arid air. Cistus gets things done, gently. Like the scarred land it may flourish in after a fire it may help us tap into our ancient scars and process any lingering gunk—be this reparative skin work, stuck emotions and even ancestral scars. Historically used as a disinfectant: it clears the way for new beginnings.
Cistus has an affinity for skin care, notably wound care and more specifically working with blood. Like most essential oils, Cistus is a wonderful anti-microbial. Following are notable therapeutic actions and indications for Cistus essential oil:
|System||Actions & Indications|
|Skin||Its antimicrobial, astringent, hemostatic, styptic and cicatrisant qualities lend it to aiding in general skin care (acne, maturing and couperose skin), general wound care (cuts) and skin ailments related to blood (e.g., bloody nose) and swelling such as rectal fissures and hemorrhoids|
|immune||Supports healthy immunity (tonic and stimulant), wound disinfecting|
|Nervous||Soothing, neuro-tonic and regulating of the parasympathetic nervous system|
|Emotions||Energizing, clarifying yet balancing. Its affinity for the parasympathetic nerves helps with insomnia and agitation. It is grounding and fortifying for the soul.|
Chemistry Highlights: Cistus essential oil has an incredibly complex chemistry with over 250 unique components. Cistus is rich in α-pinene but is supported all around by its other unique components.
Is Cistus Essential Oil Safe? Cistus essential oil may oxidize over time due to its high monoterpene content, specifically α-pinene. Oxidized oils may cause skin sensitization. Follow general best practices to avoid oxidation such as replacing the oil every two years and keeping the oil out of heat, light and using an orifice reducer on the bottle.
Blending with Cistus Essential Oil
This oil is like no other; not smelling like or reminiscent of any other oil. The first encounter is fresh, crisp, clearing, intense, resinous, and earthy along with the word that embodies it: tenacious. A cloying sticky-sickly sweetness is a first impression with wafts of terpenic gasoline that rides alongside a warm peachy glow that unveils an animalic, honeyed tone. The feeling is somber, quieting, centering and comforting yet sexy. The dry down, which takes its time, unfolds into a subtle peach glow, warm-dry sunsets in the Mediterranean. Twenty-four hours later and you’re left with a deeply subtle, sensual bouquet of a dry-dirt-floral mixed with ambrette seed; warm honey merges with musk and powdery amber. Heaven.
Cistus essential oil blends well with several other protective aromatics such as: Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum), Rosemary ct. verbenone (Salvia rosmarinus ct verbenone), Carrot seed (Daucus carota), Frankincense (Boswellia sacra), Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), Rose (Rosa x damascena), Neroli (Citrus aurantium var amara), Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).
Creating Wellness Products with Cistus
The “invisible” sense of smell has linked humanity with greater forces and spirituality since we can remember. This notion is well represented by the sacred use of aromatic oleoresins such as Cistus, Frankincense, Myrrh and Galbanum—botanical materials noted in the Bible and other ancient texts. Resins are protective and healing for plants and offer us the same benefits on the physical (e.g., anti-bacterial and wound care), mental, emotional and spiritual levels. Each breath of the following blend seems to unveil a different aroma and brings forth a deeply calming state.
Suggested Method of Application:
Magic happens when these oils are applied to the skin; the aromas drastically change and seem to merge into each other. Try adding this blend to a roller ball applicator (here’s an example) using your base oil of choice (e.g., jojoba or sunflower) and applying it along your jawline and pulse points before meditation, praying or embarking upon any situation that calls for openness and contemplation.
3 drops Cistus (Cistus ladaniferus)
10 drops Frankincense (Boswellia sacra)
4 drops Myrrh (Commiphora molmol)
1 drop Galbanum (Ferula galbaniflua)
Soothing Eye Gel
Treat your eyes to the cooling benefits of aloe and hydrosols combined with the healing properties of beautiful fixed and essential oils. Below is a modified version of a gel I’ve loved making for clients over the years. It is smooth, penetrates nicely and everyone loves the feeling and aroma of it.
1 drop Cistus (Cistus ladaniferus)
1 drop Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)
2 drops Juniper (Juniperus communis)
3 drops Carrot seed (Daucus carota)
5 drops Rose (Rosa x damascena)
5 drops Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum)
20 ml Aloe jelly
6 ml of a delicate seed oil such as Chia or Pomegranate
1.5 ml Rose (Rosa x damascena) hydrosol
1.5 ml Cistus (Cistus ladaniferus) hydrosol
0.5 ml Vitamin E oil
Additional Supplies Needed:
- 1 ounce jar with a screw cap
- A hand mixer with a whisk attachment or a small whisk
- A bowl to blend the ingredients (I prefer using a glass measuring cup or beaker)
- Measuring spoons or beakers
How to Make:
- Drop the essential oils into the blending bowl and swish to combine
- Measure out each base ingredient and add to the mixing container
- Whip the ingredients together for about 60 seconds using the hand mixer
- Dispense the final aromatic gel into a 1 ounce glass jar using a spatula
- Label the bottle with the ingredients and date
Highlight on Hydrosols: Wound Care Spray
Hydrosols—the unsung heroes of aromatherapy—are so versatile. I’ve incorporated them into skin care products like the aforementioned eye gel, cream bases, mouth rinses and more. Cistus hydrosol is a must for me to have: for beauty care and wound care seeing how it is an excellent ally for cleaning cuts and help stop bleeding.
This past Thanksgiving I cut myself pretty badly. The first thing I did was apply pressure with a tissue to help stop bleeding and collect the blood. The second thing I did was get my cistus and yarrow hydrosols out of the fridge and proceed to spray the wound then soak a cotton pad with both hydrosols to then hold the pad the wound until it stopped bleeding.
Make your own “wound care spray” to help clean scrapes and cuts. Following is a lovely blend of hydrosols. Bonus? It also makes a lovely facial toner.
15 ml Cistus (Cistus ladaniferus) hydrosol*
7.5 ml Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) hydrosol
7.5 ml Frankincense (Boswellia sacra) hydrosol
*Note: You may choose to only use Cistus, which is totally fine!
Additional Supplies Needed:
- 2 ounce glass bottle with a spray top
- Measuring cups or beakers
How to Make:
- Measure out the hydrosols in a beaker
- Transfer the hydrosols to the 2 ounce glass bottle and affix the spray top
- Label the bottle with the ingredients and date
- Note: Keep in the fridge (or out of extreme heat) and use within 1 year
Thank you for spending time with Cistus ladaniferus and me.
Morris, E. (1984). Fragrance The Story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel. Mineola: Charles Scribner’s Sons.