CI Fragrance Diaries: Perennial Cedarwood
Cedarwood is one of those ingredients that has stood the test of time. This evergreen coniferous tree from the pine and juniper family has been used by human beings for thousands of years for its fragrant wood and oil. Cedar trees are native to the mountains of the western Himalayas and the Mediterranean region, growing at high altitudes, and with their shape that points to the sky it isn’t hard to imagine why the majestic, aromatic tree was reserved for the construction of palaces and temples in ancient times. The earliest known great work of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh (2100 BCE), tells the story of a hero’s journey to a legendary mountaintop cedar forest and a quest for eternal life.
Let’s start at the very beginning and look at the significant role cedar has played in human history, until it was nearly eradicated after centuries of deforestation. From ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian times to the Phoenician, Ottoman & Roman empires – cedar has held significance to all these civilizations, amongst many others. Its oil was used in making early paints and in Egyptian embalming practices, while the timber has been used to make early forms of paper, to build ships, temples and railway lines.
A series of 12 ancient tablets tells the story of the Sumerian king Gilgamesh (typically regarded as a historical figure) and his good friend, Enkidu through various adventures and quests. The cedar forest is a central theme in the epic piece of literature as the hero searches for immortality. In the end Gilgamesh fails, but he accepts the fact that he is eventually going to die and returns to his city a wiser king. There is also abundant mention of cedar in the old testament of the Bible. Among the many narratives is the tale of Solomon who procured cedar timber to build the Temple in Jerusalem.
Its application may have evolved somewhat over the ages, but cedarwood remains as popular today as it was in ancient times. In perfumery today cedarwood is one of the most frequently used base notes and is valued for its deep, woody tonality which rounds out the sharpness of top notes such as citrus. If used in moderation, cedar is also able to ground sentimental florals and add interest to more subtle notes, without compromising their clarity. Perhaps one of the best-known cedar perfumes is Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue pour femme create by legendary perfumer, Oliver Cresp.
The true Cedar of Lebanon is the species native to the mountains of the Eastern Mediterranean basin which was used by the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians, but the once mighty Cedar of Lebanon forests have been almost entirely eradicated and today no commercial oil extraction is based on this species.
Although the national flag of Lebanon features a stylized image of a cedar tree, the most famous cedar forest in this country now includes only 375 trees. The Roman emperor, Hadrian was the first person to protect the famous “Cedars of God” forest on Bsharri mountain in modern day Lebanon by naming it an imperial forest, temporarily halting its destruction. The “Cedars of God” forest (now a world heritage site) is one of the last vestiges of the legendary Lebanon cedar forests that once thrived across the region in ancient times.
The perennial note of cedarwood features in our woody Safari Days fragrance, along with patchouli and wild sage.
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