In classic perfumery, they're known as the four ‘exalting fixatives.’ And they're all animal aromatics: deer musk from the Himalayan muskdeer, ambergris from the sperm whale, castoreum from the male beaver, and civet from the civet cat.
Foul and strange in high concentrations, these are the most heavenly aromatic substances on the perfumer’s palette – without which there would be no perfume.
Each of these has a unique appeal. For example, deer musk is at heart a sensual fragrance. In the wild, the musk gland of the deer is responsible for rousing a mating partner. Once extracted and distilled, the aroma of musk acts as an aphrodisiac. Its reality is one of attraction.
The world of perfume is a strange and wonderful place. And in this world, nothing quite compares to Oud oil; in its complexity, its variety, its sheer other-worldliness.
As a fragrance, Oud is a landscape in which you'll find something of everything – from civet cats to rose petals, from patchouli to violets, farmlands to lilies, from figs to forest leaves, from raspberries and honey to leather to lavender. Oud is a microcosm of everything fragrant.
Whereas all essential oils are derived from an inherent quality present in a particular leaf or flower, Oud is something even more wondrous.
Oud oil is only given life by the event of dying. The agarwood tree is infected by a fungal disease, in reaction to which the tree produces a self-generated cure – the resin we know as Oud oil. The reality of Oud, then, is a struggle for life.
With an understanding of this almost sacrificial ceremony through which Oud oil is brought into existence, we should carefully consider how we conduct ourselves when harvesting this sacred tree. We believe that the spirit of the oil can only be captured when the tree is treated with due respect. In practice, this in part means not to harvest any of the last wild trees that remain standing in the jungles; to harvest cultivated trees only when fully infected and already moribund; grown in a natural habitat, safe from hands that spray the earth.
Compare the sight of a three, five, seven, or ten year old agarwood sapling to that of the majesty you see in a forty, fifty, seventy year old tree. What a difference!
Follow our video updates and help play a part in preserving Oud by supporting organic agarwood cultivation.
Part 1: Is organic Oud really organic?
Part 2: Finding a tree fit for harvest.
Part 3: Finding a tree fit for harvest, continued.
Part 4: Why the future of Oud depends on what we do now.