Galbanum : Perfume Vocabulary & Fragrance Notes

Galbanum

Smell Chanel No 19, and the first thing you will notice is the intensely green, somewhat earthy note. That effect is created by galbanum, a natural resin collected from several species of flowering Ferula plants, which are native to Iran and the Middle East. The oil is steam-distilled and has a very powerful, green, woody-resinous odor, reminiscent of sliced green peppers and hyacinth leaves. Its verdant notes are immediately apparent in fragrances, while the balsamic-woody facets come through as the composition dries down. Galbanum is a traditional note to give a natural green effect to floral accords like hyacinth, gardenia, narcissus, iris and violet. While on its own, galbanum has quite a brash, roughewn character, it lends a beautiful, natural green effect.

Green compositions like like Balmain Vent Vert, Chanel No 19, Guerlain Chamade, Estée Lauder Aliage, and dry woods like Robert Piguet Bandit and Aramis are inconceivable without the green vibrancy of galbanum. Also, there is a fair amount of this material in Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist, by Kilian Love & Tears, Atelier Cologne Grand Néroli, and Guerlain La Petite Robe Noire Modèle 2, among the more recent launches.

A side note on galbanum, fragrance and politics. When Chanel No 19 was created in 1971, it was formulated with a superb grade of Iranian galbanum oil, which was sourced especially for it. However, when the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1979, the oil became unavailable. No 19 had to be reformulated, which was accomplished with much difficulty, because the original galbanum oil was of a particularly fine, rare caliber.

From a culinary perspective, the plant producing galbanum is related to the one producing asafoetida, an extremely pungent gum resin used in Indian cooking. These two gums, galbanum and asafoetida, share several similar components, which are responsible for their pungency and unique green character.

Photo of galbanum from anthemis.nl.

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21 Comments

  • rosarita: Green scents are on of my favorite categories. Chanel 19 has been with me since the early 70s and remains the fragrance that feels most *me*, but there are lots of other galbanum heavy favorites: my aunt wore Azuree, my mom wore Aliage; Calandre; Silences, which I think I’ll wear today. Thanks for an informative and interesting read! February 15, 2011 at 4:56am Reply

  • Marie: Marsi, I had never thought of wearing Chanel no. 19 in the summer – but I definitely will try that. As a matter of procrastination I have already been worrying “what to get” for that season – eventhough it seems far away right now.

    Do you wear the Edt or the Edp? February 15, 2011 at 9:15am Reply

  • Victoria: Mine too, I love green florals and green chypre. Jacomo Silences is another fragrance gem. I am glad to see you mention it, because it is quite underrated. February 15, 2011 at 10:05am Reply

  • Victoria: I agree with Marie, No 19 in the summer sounds like a wonderfully refreshing scent. I usually go for Cristalle, but I think that No 19 might be a great alternative. February 15, 2011 at 10:06am Reply

  • gautami: I tend to gravitate towards galbanum based fragrances and greens in general. I have had Chanel #19, Silences for a very long time. Last year I also bought L’ombre dans L’eau from Dyptique for its crunch.

    Also, thanks for the very interesting note on relation between asafoetida and galbanum. February 15, 2011 at 10:29am Reply

  • sweetlife: Just broke out the No. 19 yesterday afternoon, V. Perfect for this winter-bright, almost-spring weather we’re having.

    I have some completely gorgeous galbanum oil from Enflurage that is surprisingly un-brash. That “slap” that I usually associate with galbanum is almost not there. It’s just green, green, green, like the newest leaves on a spring tree. There’s almost a cold water aspect to it, like the smell of a stream. February 15, 2011 at 11:06am Reply

  • Victoria: I love the green notes in L’ombre Dans L’eau, which are mostly blackcurrant buds (a beloved berry of mine and a poignant childhood scent memory.) Thanks to your comment, I put it on right now. :)

    I was also curious to see the link between galbanum and asafoetida, especially since to me galbanum can act almost in the same manner in fragrance as asafoetida does in cooking. It heightens the overall vibrancy! February 15, 2011 at 11:10am Reply

  • Victoria: I’ve smelled galbanum oils that were pure green like what you describe. I love them all, but I recently realized that I miss the brutish slap. It adds just the right kind of jolt for me. February 15, 2011 at 11:16am Reply

  • Mals86: I love the galbanum “slap” too. Silences, No. 19, Chamade, Le Temps d’une Fete (well, that one doesn’t slap, it taps gently), Crown Bouquet… sigh. I’m ready for those, as of this week. February 15, 2011 at 11:32am Reply

  • Victoria: I am ready for the green, green, green… It feels like that kind of week for me too. It looks like spring outside, but the snow is still here.

    So wonderful to see yet another Silences fan! :) February 15, 2011 at 11:39am Reply

  • Marsi: I love learning more about notes. Chamade is one of my favorite spring fragrances (say I, with a pot of blooming pink hyacinths on the desk right next to me — a note also appearing in Chamade), and Chanel No. 19 has long been my “dog days of summer” go-to scent. It always makes me feel crisp, cool, and stylish when I’m wilting and melting in the heat. February 15, 2011 at 8:47am Reply

  • Perfumaniac: One of my favorite notes in perfumery. Thanks for this, and for the fascinating historical bit about Iran/Chanel 19 and galbanum! February 15, 2011 at 5:15pm Reply

  • Victoria: Mine too! I realized that I mention it all the time, but it is hardly a household term (unless it is my household!) :) I am glad that you enjoyed the bit about Iranian revolution and Chanel No 19. I found it fascinating too. February 15, 2011 at 6:22pm Reply

  • Mimi: I, too, thank you for a great and informative read. I always wondered what happened to Chanel 19. I still wear it and love it, but it isn’t the fabulous scent it was in the 70s. My own aside about the Iranian Revolution is that I was dating a man whose father was a hostage. I always blamed the Revolution for the loss of that relationship. Now I find it caused an even greater loss with Chanel 19.

    I also love Silences. There are so many wonderful green fragrances. I love to wear them at Christmas and in January as well as spring and summer. February 15, 2011 at 6:34pm Reply

  • Victoria: Chanel No 19 has been reformulated many times since then, and the person who shared the story of No 19 and Iranian revolution said that after 1979 it has not been the same anymore. I still love No 19, but it makes me wonder what I have missed.
    Now, whenever I see images of Ayatollah Khomeini, Chanel No 19 comes to my mind (well, among other things, of course!) Odd ways in which my brain works. :) February 15, 2011 at 6:56pm Reply

  • Judith, London: When I first started smelling perfumes I got green peppers a lot, for instance in Bandit. We used to have a tomato and green pepper salad at home, it was salty and slightly acidic, and that’s exactly what I got.
    I also got leather as two different smells: sweat and coriander. My nose picks up notes much better now but I rather miss that stage when I found odd things and gradually put them together to make a single accord..

    Will definitely have a look for Silences. I own Metal by Paco Rabanne and Y by YSL, the latter is reminiscent of Chanel 19. I love galbanum as much as I disliked that salad! I think that’s why it is exciting – it’s not a safe smell like amber, vanilla, fruit and flowers. February 16, 2011 at 9:00pm Reply

  • Victoria: I also love when I smell something completely unexpected–berries in amber fragrances or green peppers in Bandit. I also eventually realize that it must be the play of different notes, but it is fun nevertheless. Apricots in fragrance often smell as peach + orange to me. February 17, 2011 at 10:47am Reply

  • Mary ( I Love Perfume ): I enjoyed your intriguing comment on the Iranian Revolution causing the modification of this perfume. I have worn it off and on for the last thirty years and have always considered Chanel No. 19 fragrance to be exhilarating. February 19, 2011 at 8:18am Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, No 19 is quite an exhilarating fragrance, quite unique. February 19, 2011 at 8:26am Reply

  • Divya: Just missed the chance to get my hands on Chanel No 19! I can’t believe I haven’t got a whiff of this juice and now I made myself sad. October 6, 2012 at 2:54pm Reply

  • Molly: There is no scent quite as exhilarating as Chanel No.19. Crisp and jolting,immediately making you feel like the day holds more promise than seconds before you smelled those green notes. Wearing it since 1983.Wear other scents,too,but this will forever be my favorite. January 31, 2013 at 2:37am Reply

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