Essential Cistus Oil

  • Cistus essential oil is one of the most interesting and valuable products that can be obtained from the Cistus Ladanifer plant. There are several methods to obtain this oil but all the producers in Portugal that we know get their Cistus essential oil by using steam distillation; to be more precise, this process uses the fresh plants and twigs of Cistus Ladanifer. This distinction is important, as Cistus Ladanifer resins obtained through other methods (for examle, chemical solvents) can also be steam distilled to produce oils.

    As mentioned in the article on harvesting Cistus Ladanifer, the yield of this plant is very low and to obtain 1 liter of essential oil through steam distillation, anywhere between 1000 and 2000 Kilogram of fresh plant material have to be harvested and distilled. The stills used may vary in size, shape and materials used (copper or stainless steel) but the principle of steam distillation is basically always the same:

    Using a source of energy (usually firewood) water is heated in a boiler until its hot enough to produce steam. The steam is then released into a separate part of the still that holds the plant material. The steam opens the plant cells, releasing the aromatic components contained in the plant; in the case of Cistus Ladanifer, its the leafs and twigs which are used. Tiny amounts of essential oil are transported by the steam particles and now enter the third step in steam distillation: condensation. The steam – now containing essential oil – is transferred into a condenser; usually this is a spiral shaped tube which is surrounded by a coolant (usually water). The steam enters the condensor as a vapor and exits it as a liquid. In the last stage, a device called essencier (also known as essential oil separator or florentine vase) is used to collect the liquid exiting the condenser. At 20 degrees Celsius, water has a density of very close to 1; Cistus Ladanifer Essential oil has a density of about 0.95. The differenc e in density may appear to be minimal, but it is this difference that makes the essential oil float on top of the water. The essencier uses this principle and this allows distillers to separate essential oil from water. With very few exceptions, almost all essential oils have a lower density than water; those oils that have a higher density will stay on the bottom (the water will float on top).

    Cistus Ladanifer Oil has a clear to pale yellow color. As many other oils, it is insoluble in water . Cistus oil is soluble in ethanol and in other oils. In her book 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols Jeanne Rose (http://www.jeannerose.net) describes the scent of Cistus Ladanifer Essential oil as “Fragrant and unforgettable balsamic odor of musk and smoke”.

    A typical Cistus Ladanifer essential oil from Portugal has the following composition:

    α (Alpha)- Pinene: 53 %
    Camphene: 14,7 %
    Tricyclene: 2,7 %
    p-Cymene: 2,5%
    Limonene: 1,3%
    β (Beta) – Pinene 0.8%

    There are many more ingredients in Cistus oil but these are some of the more relevants.
    Cistus Ladanifer essential oils produced in Portugal have been analyzed and compared to other essential oils (Spain and Morroco). The following quotes are retrieved form this study:

    “The cistus oil herein obtained was richer in amber-like compounds and had a low content of
    monoterpenes when compared to the usual values found in the literature. Moreover, it presented a relatively high content of ambrox (amber odor), which usually is only reported in labdanum oil.”

    “Portuguese cistus oil herein characterized is richer in amber-like compounds and has a low content of hydrocarbon monoterpenes, which is desirable from the organoleptic point of view. (…) The fact that our oil already had low levels of monoterpenes constitutes an advantage for using the Portuguese plants for the production of good quality cistus oil.“(1)

    The composition of Cistus Ladanifer essential oil contributes to its antiviral, antibacterial and antiarthritic properties. The antifungal properties of Cistus Ladanifer extracts have also been studied: “Overall, the phenolic extract of C. ladanifer affected the growth of different Candida sp[ecies], suggesting that the compounds present in the extract could play an active role in the protection against fungi related to several diseases.” (2)

    With regards to antioxidant properties, portuguese scientists have compared extracts from two cistus species, cypress and Eucalyptus:

    “Radical scavenging effects of phenolic and essential oils extracts of the aromatic plants Cistus ladanifer, Citrus latifolia, Cupressus lusitanica and Eucalyptus gunnii were examined and compared (…) In the essential oils extracts, the best contribution to the antioxidant activity was achieved by Cistus ladanifer.”(3)

    As we’ve mentioned, Cistus Ladanifer essential oil is one of the oils that demands a lot of effort to produce and generally commands a high price. However, due to its very interesting properties, all the work that goes ito producing Cistus Oil is definetely worth it!

    (1) Characterization of the Portuguese-grown Cistus ladanifer Essential Oil; Paula B. Gomes, Vera G. Mata* and A.E. Rodrigues; University of Porto, in: Journal of Essential Oil Research., Vol.17, (March/April 2005)

    (2) Antifungal activity and detailed chemical characterization of Cistus ladanifer phenolic extracts; Lillian
    Barros, Montserrat Due˜nas, Carlos Tiago Alves, Sónia Silva,Mariana Henriques, Celestino Santos-Buelga, Isabel C.F.R. Ferreira; Instituto Politécnico de Braganca, Universidad de Salamanca, University of Minho

    (3) Contribution of Essential Oils and Phenolics to the Antioxidant Properties of Aromatic Plants;