Galbanum is mentioned in the medicinal works of Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder. Galbanum was one of at least 36 ingredients used by Mithridates (c. 132–163 BC) as medicine. Mithridates VI was a Roman who ruled over Pontus, now in the Anatolian region of Turkey. His father, Mithridates V, was said to have been poisoned and killed. Mithridates VI administered herb-based poisons to himself in small quantities to render himself immune from poisoning. This antidote, which contained galbanum, became known as Antidotum Mithridaticum, or Theriac.
Dioscorides prescribed the milky juice of galbanum for ulcers, coughs, convulsions, ruptures, headaches, stomach pains, menstrual cramps, toothaches, snakebites, and labor pain. Rubbed on the eyes as an ointment, it improved eyesight. Taken with honey, galbanum was regarded as a remedy for indigestion and flatulence.
The Assyrians used it as a fumigant. Galbanum essential oil, usually blended with other oils, was used to treat wounds, scars, inflammations, and skin disorders. Athletes used it to relieve pulled and sore muscles, cramps, and aching feet. It can relax the nerves and muscles while ridding the body of toxic substances. In a tincture with alcohol, it has been shown to be effective in getting rid of head lice.
In modern aromatherapy, the essential oil of galbanum is used in bath and massage oils. It is believed to impact the body, mind, and spirit. It relieves muscular ache and swollen lymph glands. The oil has analgesic properties and helps to treat cuts, wounds, abscesses, and wrinkles. It is useful in providing relief for cough, bronchitis, asthma, and lung infection.
Galbanum was actively traded in pre– and post–Biblical times. It was sourced largely from Mesopotamia and Turkey. Today, these countries continue to be major producers. Galbanum is not known to grow in Israel, and the Israeli plants database does not mention it. This supports the theory that galbanum, like many spices referred in the Old and the New Testaments, were imported into the region. Galbanum was exported from the galbanum production regions of Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, India, China, Israel, the Mediterranean, and Egypt.
Galbanum resin comes from the root and lower part of the stem of Ferula species that grow in Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, and neighboring areas. Three species, F. gummosa, Ferula rubricaulis, and F. ceratophylla, are known to yield galbanum resin. The first two grow in Iran, and F. ceratophylla is native to Turkestan.
Resin is harvested from trees in the wild. The collected gum is sold in village markets, where traders sell it to wholesalers who in turn export it to processing units, mostly in Europe and the United States. The largest producer of gum resin is Iran, at about 15 metric tons (FAO 2006). Turkey also produces substantial quantities of galbanum, but accurate estimate are difficult to obtain as most data are aggregates of multiple commodities.
There are two varieties of resin. Persian galbanum is soft. Its yellowish tears are honey-like, viscous, translucent, and yellow to red in color. It is used in incense and fragrance making. Levant galbanum is hard. The exudate lumps can be broken readily. The crude gum contains “foots,” which is the trade name for gum with impurities of sand, water, insects, and wood chips.
The product is purified by straining during the summer. Steam distillation yields 15–25 percent oil. A 40–50 percent extract can be obtained by solvent extraction that produces a resinoid. Pourable grades of the resinoid are obtained by extracting the crude gum with a perfume diluent, such as diethyl phthalate or benzyl benzoate. The yields vary, depending on the quantity of “foots” in the gum. Levant galbanum is mostly used in pharmaceuticals and industrials.
Although galbanum resin and oil are used to flavor food including baked goods, candy, ice creams, its main use is in perfume. Perfumers use galbanum as a strong top note in “green” fragrances and as a base note in combination with musk and chypre elements, such as oakmoss and pine.
On its own, galbanum has a brash and rough character, but it provides a traditional green note to florals like hyacinth, gardenia, narcissus, iris, and violet. The following fragrances contain galbanum: Chanel No. 19, Guerlain Vol De Nuit, Cartier Must, Balmain Vent Vert, Fresh Galbanum Patchouli, Prince Matchabelli Cachet, Il Profumo Chocolat, Bill Blass Nude, Les Parfums de Rosine Rose d’Amour, Molinard Les Fleurs, Fleur de Figuier, Issey Miyake A Scent, Prada Infusion d’Iris, Chloe Eau de Fleurs Capucine, and Azzaro Couture. For men’s fragrances, galbanum is included in Etienne Aigner Private Number, Serge Lutens Borneo 1834, Aramis