Unethical Use of Rare and Threatened Plant and Animal Products in the Aroma Industry.

Copyright Tony Burfield May 2003.

(This article first appeard in Endanged Species Update May/June 2003 Vol 20(3), 97-106, and is reproduced here by kind permission of the editor, Saul Alarcon-Adams).

Despite the existence of commodity shortages in the aroma industry, production and marketing strategies that are sustainable in the long-term are driven more by consumers and organizations concerned about conservation than by raw material producers and resellers.  The poverty in which many indigenous peoples are submerged increases the unsustainable use of natural materials.  This phenomenon is exacerbated by the unwillingness of large companies to pay fair and equitable prices to these peoples when searching and later making profit of active ingredients found in places such as the rainforest.  The author argues for a more ethical and responsible use of raw materials in the aroma industry.  He also describes the origin, use and status of important animal and plant aromatic items.

Uso no Etico de Productos Animales y Vegetales Raros y en Peligro de Extinción en la Industria de Aromatizantes.

A pesar de la existencia de problemas de abasto de algunos productos en la industria de compuestos aromáticos, las estrategias de producción y mercado sustentables a largo plazo son impulsadas más por consumidores y organizaciones preocupados en la conservación que por los productores y revendedores de materias primas.  La pobreza en la cual muchos pueblos indígenas están inmersos incrementa el uso insostenible de materiales naturales.  Este fenómeno se empeora por la indisponibilidad de las grandes compañías para pagar precios justos establecidos en términos de equidad a estas comunidades por la búsqueda de ingredientes activos que se encuentran en lugares tales como la selva tropical y por la posterior ganancia económica por el uso de estos mismos productos.  El autor argumenta en favor de un uso mas ético y responsable de materias primas en la industria de compuestos aromáticos.  También describe el origen, uso y estatus de algunos artículos aromáticos de origen animal y vegetal importantes.

Utilisation sans Scrupules des Produits de Plantes et Animaux Rares et Menacés dans l'Industrie Aromatique

Malgré la manque des denrées dans l'industrie aromatique, les stratégies de production et de vente qui sont durables dans le long terme sont conduites plus par des consommateurs et des organisations intéressées par la conservation que par des producteurs et des revendeurs des matériaux primaires.  La pauvreté de beaucoup de peuples indigènes augmente l'utilisation non-durable des matériaux naturels.  Ce phénomène est aggravé par la réticence des grandes compagnies de payer des prix raisonnables et équitables à ces peuples pour la recherche et plus tard pour les bénéfices des substances actives trouvés dans les endroits tels que les forêts humides.  L'auteur plaide pour un usage plus moral et plus responsable des matériaux primaires dans l'industrie aromatique.  Également, il décrit l'origine, l'utilisation et le statut des articles aromatiques des plantes et animaux importants.


The essential oil and aromatic raw materials industry is failing to self-police itself with respect to conserving threatened plant and animal species. Commodity shortages and higher unit prices for certain items signal ever-increasing supply problems.  Green policies and any semblance of ecological awareness with respect to these commodities often seem to originate more from the attitudes of consumers than via the raw materials producer and re-seller, in spite of the existent national and international laws restricting or forbidding trade in certain threatened species.  It seems that some traders will only stop marketing these valuable commodities when prosecuted, legally prevented, shamed or pressurized into adopting more ecologically sound practices.

The World Conservation Union has now classified 11,167 creatures and 5714 plants as facing extinction (IUCN 2002).  It is calculated that loss of species is currently running up to 1000 times its natural rate, thus it seems surely time to examine measures to help conservation strategies for the planet (New Scientist 2002).  With this in mind, the October 2002 meeting of the United Nations Convention on Trade in Endangered Species voted in favor of protection of a further number of species, thus there is hope of tough international legislation to preserve biodiversity  (New Scientist 2002).

There is a "non-human"-centred argument in environmental ethics, which states that an individual species has an absolute right to exist.  Introducing human's interests into the picture complicates the issue, especially where products from threatened species have associated uses as commodities, at which point ideological principles are sometimes overturned.  For example, the 1973 Endangered Species Act in the United States, which is based on the assumption that each life form may prove valuable in non-predictable ways, and that each species is entitled to exist for its own sake, was initially welcomed by a majority of the public, but was later challenged by many people, when the habitat of a single unique species was seen to "get in the way" of major industrial development, affecting jobs and livelihoods, and maybe even affecting the way people might vote (Chadwick 1995).  As another example, Pakenham (2002) devoted a complete chapter to the case of the eucalyptus forests in Australia.  These forests contained enormous Eucalyptus regnans trees 350-400 feet high, a wonder in themselves!  However, the cutting down of state-owned eucalyptus forests in the Yarra range north of Melbourne has monetarily benefited Australian taxpayers.  It is hard to see that conservation can be perceived as effective and ongoing, when local governments adopt such policies of such seemingly negative ecological value.

Biodiversity Conservation, indigenous peoples and the aroma industry

Slash and burn was practiced for hundreds of years in the tropics in a process of cultivation and fallow rotation (and sometimes management succession) without a great impact in the rainforest (Brookfield and Padoch 1994; Tomich et al. 1998).  However, population growth and pressure from big corporations have decreased the amount of land available, and the fallow period has shortened with the subsequent degradation of the land (Tomich et al. 1998).  The intensification of slash and burn practices lead to desertification, and agriculture and housing needs intrude more and more on former forest areas.   Slash and burn policies of migrating agricultural practices may affect the pH of the soil, change the viable seed count and soil microflora, damage the root matt structure, and may lead to the degradation of forest areas.  Indeed the poverty of the indigenous peoples can make huge demands on the forest reserves, and this effect may be comparable or larger than the effects of logging or other destructive forces.

Another cause of the extinction of species is the gathering of threatened organisms.  One of the arguments for non-interventionist policies relates to a fundamental right of peoples to use plants and herbs for religious, medicinal or ritual use.  In fact, endemic peoples can easily view the imposition of ecologically reasoned restrictions on these practices as a form of Western scientific imperialism.  I am sympathetic to this viewpoint, and would always seek to prevent the more serious threat of commercial exploitation rather than interfere with a more "legitimate" ethnic use, provided that this use does not continue to seriously endanger the species in question, for instance, by the use of sustainable practices to ensure the long-term preservation of natural resources.  Sustainable forest development is defined by the International Tropical Timber Organization as "the process of managing permanent forest land to achieve one or more specific objects of management with regard to the production of a continuous flow of desired forest products and services without undue reduction in its inherent values and future productivity, and without undue desirable effects on the physical and social environment” (Mankin 1998).

But despite the fact that the need for as sustainable management is recognized, indigenous peoples generally gain absolutely nothing from large companies searching for new pharmaceuticals, active ingredients for cosmetics or drugs (e.g., curare and quinine), and agrochemicals in environments such as the rainforest (Prance 1998).  No establishment mechanisms exist to reward local communities for the conservation of diversity, and the growth of forest conservation schemes has historically shown scant regard for the ways of indigenous peoples.

It is not all doom and gloom however. Panaia et al. (2000) report that one single plant of the critically endangered Symonanthus bancroftii plant was discovered in Ardath in Western Australia, and a recovery program using in vitro micropropagation techniques was started via the resources of Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) and the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority of Western Australia.  The plant has now a less precarious outlook, illustrating the role of tissue culture, one of the ex-situ measures proving useful in conserving rare and threatened species.

The trend towards exotic botanical extracts as actives in cosmetic products is also a major development and has spawned some interesting associations, such as those between the French Conservatory of Specialized Botanical Collections and producing companies in Madagascar and Brazil.  Charges of bioethnic plundering in exotic materials for cosmetics generally are offset by the fact that indigenous peoples may gain monetarily from these exploits. But ethno-botany is now such a buzz-word across the cosmetic world, thus it is hard to find out if there is any effective monitoring for the majority of these raw materials, and from personal experience, complete ignorance of the conservation status of these commodities items would seem to be the norm amongst the majority of technical staff of many leading cosmetic companies.  Further, it is possible that extensive usage of these exotic ingredients may further damage the fragile ecosystems from whence they came.

What action can we in the aroma world take to contribute to conserving biological diversity? One possible way is not to formulate with, or trade in commodities which origin is a threatened species, until we are far surer that truly sustainable production methods are in place.  Dialogue to discuss how this might be done, the drawbacks of imposed monoculture on cleared forest land, and policies which contribute to species succession is welcomed.  Some of these exploited aromatic items are listed below, although the list is far from being comprehensive. 

Animal Products  

1. Civet.  Civet products were used in less enlightened times in perfumery for their animalic notes, finding use in orientals, heavy florals and chypres. Civet paste is obtained from squeezing or scraping the anal glands of the African civet cat Civetticus civetta (sometimes classified as Viverra civetta), the Indian civet Viverra zibetha (from India, Indonesia and Malaysia), the Lesser Indian civet (also known as the Chinese civet) Viverricula indica (East and South China) and other civet species.  Viverra civettina (India), Viverra zibetha (India) and Viverricula indica (India) are listed under Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (CITES 2003).

De-Sheng (1986) wrote a review article of the civet cat and presented detailed GC-Mass Spectrometery data on the composition of steam micro-distillation-extraction volatiles from civet secretions obtained from the Chinese Civet Viverricula indica. Yingkang (1991) described civet paste collection from Hangzou Zoological Garden in China and estimated an annual production of 12 kg of civet paste per year from a one-hectare civet farm operated by the zoo.  Farms also operate in Ethiopia, Kenya, Congo, Guinea, Senegal and India. Petitdidier (1986) glowingly reported on a visit to Addis Abbaba Research Institute, which controlled the civet quality output from 105 Ethiopian farms.  A similar kind of article would be hard to find these days, reflecting how attitudes have changed. 

2. Musk.  Musk grains/pods are obtained from the preputial glands of the musk deer (Moschus spp.).  Geist (1999) argues that these timid creatures are really tragulids, the similarity to deer only occurring by convergent evolution.  A principle difference is that tragulids have fewer exocrine glands than "real" deer.  Example of musk deer species include Moschus berezovskii found in Southern China and Northern Vietnam, Moschus chrysoagaster found in India, and Moschus moschiferus found in China, Mongolia, Himalayas and Korea.  Moschus spp. populations of Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan are listed under Appendix I of CITES, while other populations are included in Appendix II (CITES 2003).

Animal musks have had a long history of use in perfumery.  Zhong and Hui (1996) reported that China formerly had 90% of the world "musk deer resources," but that deer populations had reduced from 2.5 million on the 1960's to 100,000 in 1996.  Green (1986, 1989) and Wemmer (1998) noted that the economic viability of musk harvesting from either free-range or captive musk deer has not been evaluated.  Only small amounts of musk are nowadays used in perfumery - the largest consumers of musk products are China (where various musk qualities are used in traditional medicine) and Japan.  Morita (1992) reported that musk is no longer an ingredient of modern Japanese incense.

Traditional musk qualities used in perfumery included: a) musk tonquin from Moschus moschiferus deer in Tibet and China; b) musk cabardine from cabardine deer Moschus sibiricus and Moschus altaicus; c) musk Yunnan of different physical appearance from tonquin; d) musk Bengal (maybe also known Assam musk), usually regarded as inferior; e) musk Siberian from the Shansi mountain regions; and f) musk of Boukharie.

3. Ambergris.  Ambergris is a pathological exudate from the sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus and only occurs in approximately 1% of the population. The disease is caused by exposure to sunlight and seawater producing this formerly used perfumery material. Physeter spp., amongst other whales, are listed under Appendix I of CITES (CITES 2003). Rice DW (2002) of the National Maritime Mammal Laboratory, Seattle, pointed out, that contrary to the widely held belief that ambergris masses may be found floating in the sea or washed up on shores, harvesting therefore posing no threat to whale viability, ambergris is hardly ever found on beaches but is mainly recovered from whale carcasses

4. Castoreum.  Castoreum qualities are ethylic extracts of the accumulated dried material collected via secretory glands in the abdominal pouch of the Siberian beaver Castor fiber and the Canadian beaver C. canadensis living in Alaska, Canada and Siberia.  Russian and Canadian commercial products were available in former times (e.g., from the Hudson Bay Company), and at the present time castoreum products are still available from Internet traders and certain perfumery companies (e.g., some in France).  Castoreum was once used in perfumery to give leathery animal notes to chypres and to other perfumes.  In spite of progress in understanding the chemical composition of castoreum, no synthetic replacement or reconstitution comes close to reproducing the in-perfume effects produced by the authentic material. 

5. Muskrat.  Although the species is not threatened, products such as musk zibata were formerly produced from the muskrat Ondatra zibethicus, which lives on the Louisiana marshlands. Hall (1981) reported that in North America muskrat pelts are the most valuable fur pelts in the trapping trade.  The perfumery use of muskrat products would nowadays also be regarded as non-ethical.

There are other "animal" products that are not similarly universally regarded as unethical commodities (e.g., beeswax absolute obtained via alcoholic extract of beeswax).  The official line is that respectable international perfumery companies do not trade in animal raw materials, as the trade is regarded as unethical, if not actually illegal under CITES agreements. It does not take the trainee in perfumery too long to realize that certain identifiable perfumery companies do not adhere to these criteria, although they risk the attentions of environmentalists and animal welfare groups who might vigorously pursue these miscreants.

An interesting development is the reported banning of the import by the Chinese government on March 2002 of products from Europe (that includes members and non-members of the European Union), Japan and Oman, containing or suspected of containing animal derivatives  (Parfums Cosmétiques Actualités 2002).  It will be interesting to see if the ban just applies to some cosmetic materials - including fragrance ingredients - or also applies to musk and other ingredients imported for use in traditional Chinese medicines.

Plant Products

1. Orchid oils.  The three commercially cultivated species of the vanilla plant, Vanilla planifolia (Bourbon or Indonesian vanilla), V. tahitensis (Tahitian vanilla), and V. pompona (Guadeloupe vanilla; vanillons; W. Indian vanilla) are not included in this category.  Orchids are already sufficiently rare in many European countries to have protected status, and the family Orchidaceae is listed under Appendix II of CITES and Annex B of Regulation (EC) 338/97 (CITES 2003).   Some examples of threatened species still use are the ladies slipper Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens, which is used in herbal medicine and is listed in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia 1983, and Ophyris insectifera used in "salep", an ingredient in Turkish delight and ice cream. McGriffin (2000) proposed self-regulatory initiatives to refrain from trading in wild-harvested ladies slipper.  He suggested that these initiatives should be put into practice by the herbal industry, all American Herbal Products Association members, and all other individuals and businesses in the horticultural and herb trade.

Many natural perfumes produced by many orchid species are currently being researched by leading perfumery companies (Kaiser 1993).  Pain (2001) described the plant hunting for new perfumes including orchid perfumes in rain forest areas (e.g., Madagascar) by experts from one of the world’s largest fragrance companies.  Current interest by the media is further reflected in S. O'Connell's article (2001) reporting on the work of Josef Limacher, a perfume hunter working on orchid scents in locations in Brazil.  Kaiser (1993) presented an impressive academic account of the chemistry of natural orchid scents from many parts of the world in his fabulously illustrated book.  Although the threat of mass exploitation of orchid species is unlikely, close monitoring to protect individual habitats of these beautiful and irreplaceable plants is desirable.

2. Mountain tobacco.  Extracts, concretes, essential oils, the dried roots, dried whole plant and dried flowers of Arnica montana are commercially offered, in spite of declining plant populations. Due to over-exploitation, A. montana is listed under Annex D of the CoE Regulations (EC) No. 338/97 and under Annex V of the EU Habitats, Fauna and Flora Directive (EUROPA 2003).  A rare drug, the tincture of arnica flower oil from the capitulum's of A.montana, has previously achieved pharmaceutical status in the British Pharmaceutical Codex of 1949. The herb and its products has similarly been official in many National Pharmacopoeias (e.g., Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and it is mentioned in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia of 1983). The market for the dried flowers is believed to be 50 tons per annum and this product is almost totally derived from wild harvesting from Spain and Romania.  An excellent review of the status of A. montana, including the position with respect both to legal and illegal harvesting in Spain, is described by Lange (1998).

3. Costus.  Products such as extracts, concretes, and essential oils are obtained from Saussurea lappa  (also known as Saussurea costus).  This species is sometimes mistaken with the herbal plant Costus speciosus. Saussurea lappa plants, known as kuth in Hindi and in the herb trade, are grown in Kashmir, Sikkim and other areas of the Himalayas, and in Southwestern China.  The plant has become endangered and export is banned, the species being included in Appendix I of CITES (CITES 2003).  S. lappa's qualities are better known in perfumery as costus absolute, costus oil etc.  The plant grows wild, mainly in Jammu and Kashmir (specifically in the Kishenganga and Chenab valleys), but is also cultivated in Kashmir and Lahul.  Roots of the plant are used in Ayurvedic, Unani, Siddha and Tibetan medicinal systems.  The oil was formerly used in high-class perfumery in small quantities to impart animalic and sebaceous notes, and some would say coupled with orris-like effects. Up to 12 tons of raw material per year are exported from northwest districts of India, in spite of their threatened status, and not being permitted in perfumes because of problems of dermal sensitization associated with sesquiterpene lactones and other sensitizers in costus products.  Incorporation into perfumes is against the International Fragrance Research Association Standards, unless specific commercial grades offered can be shown to be non-sensitizing.

Additional List of Rare and Threatened Species

The following are aroma materials from species that I believe to be rare, very rare or threatened in their natural habitats.  Some aromatic raw material users may be anxious that the conservation ideal should ensure that not only the morphologically distinct forms are preserved, but also the conservation of chemotypes is given equal weighting.

1. Rosewood oil.  Oil from the wood of Aniba rosaedora, A. amazonica, A. parviflora and other Aniba species and varieties, is distilled to produce "bois de rose" or Rosewood oil.  The present production is mainly from Brazil (the pure oil is only shipped out from Manaus), although formerly was produced also in French Guiana, Surinam and Peru.  Time is running out for this important raw material.  Replanting deals (i.e. guaranteeing tree replantation with trade purchases) are commendable in some respects, but will make little impact in the short term due to the long maturation period of the trees.  Loss of germ plasm diversity and narrowing of the genetic base is believed to have already occurred through tree over-exploitation to satisfy the demand for essential oil, although efforts to create a germ plasm collection are now afoot.  Some encouraging trials for young trees indicate better growth characteristics in cleared areas compared to the relative failure of poly-tunnel trials.  The Faculdade de Ciensias  Agrarias do Para at Belem, Brazil recently identified specific evaluation needs for formal cultivation, including the selection of superior germ plasm, economic studies for production of wood and leaf oils, and optimization management regimes for short-rotation harvesting of trunk wood and leaves.  Major purchasers of Rosewood oil to date are believed to have been local outposts of fragrance sector multinationals, who have taken up to 100 tons per annum of oil since the eighties (the present output is believed to be closer to 30 tons). This is in contrast to the Brazilian situation of the nineteen sixties, where fifty or so Brazilian distilleries provided 500 tons per year of oil (Ohashi 1997).  A review article by S. Sheppard-Hanger and the author, on possible substitutes for Rosewood oil in Aromatherapy, has just been published (Burfield & Sheppard-Hanger 2003). 

Peruvian Rosewood oil from "sustainably grown" Ocotea caudata is also being sold into the essential oils market.  The history of exploitation of Ocotea species has not been good up to now.  The over-exploitation of Brazilian Sassafras O. pretosia and the valuable South African timber tree O. bullata  has been such that the latter is a protected species.  So much felling of O. pretosia in Santa Caterina forests of Brazil has occurred in the last few decades in order to produce Brazilian Sassafras oil that now the transport distances to the distillery are relatively great, and the oil is starting to be uneconomic to produce. Since O. cymbarum is often confused with O. pretosia has also suffered reduction in numbers from indiscriminate felling.  Many Ocotea species are slow-growing species and may take up to forty years to mature.  If exploitation becomes scaled up the future of O. caudata may be uncertain, although some oil customers dislike the inferior odour profile (pine-oil disinfectant like) of some batches of the oil, which makes the increase of O. caudata exploitation very unlikely.

2. Amyris oil.  Although there is no study that I am aware of to corroborate this prediction, I believe that Amyris balsamifera is at risk of becoming extinct in its natural habitat, the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, in less than ten years due to over-exploitation.  The oil is not greatly valued in perfumery but rather has found employment as an extender of other oils, or in cheap soap perfumes.

3. Sandalwood oil.  Possibly originally introduced from the Timor islands, the parasitic sandalwood trees (Santalum species) such as S. freycinetianum (Lanal sandalwood) and S. album (East Indian Sandalwood) became endemic to Southwest India, often hiding deep in the Southern forests.  According to Sahni (2000) some species of Santalum were perhaps spread there via birds following their establishment by man on the outskirts of forests or nearby villages.  Sahni (2000) also estimated that sandalwoods have been indigenous to parts of India for 23 centuries.  There is some evidence that essential oil formation in the heartwood is optimal where trees are grown at between 600 to 900 m.  Due to over-exploitation, East Indian and Indonesian oils from S. album are not freely available, although some limited production of East Indian sandalwood is taking place. The market price of East Indian sandalwood at the time of writing is £425 per kilo! The production has partly been in the control of the Madras and Mysore state governments, who have attempted to prevent the unauthorized smuggling of oil.  However, illegal sandalwood oil has been commonly offered in the oil dealing trade, and in recent years, the industry has largely turned its back and pretended not to notice the practice, and now we may be paying the price.  My best guess is that there are possibly less than 130,000 hectares of S. album trees in the whole of India.  In Karataka and Tamil Nadu forests trees grow at elevations of up to 1400 m and there is some evidence that oil formation in the heartwood is optimal where trees are grown at between 600 to 900 m.  It is probable that 75% of India's sandalwood output comes from the forests of Karnataka, where extensive replanting trials have been carried out, although the market sourcing for this commodity may now focus increasingly on Papua New Guinea.  Many replantings in other districts of India have produced viable plants, but with no oil content.  Rai (1999) described the plantation techniques used for raising sandalwood from seeds, and container raised seedlings.  Many attempts have resulted in failure from insufficient knowledge of the host-parasite relationship, or from mismanagement (e.g., deaths by dehydration, animal scavenging, or human-caused destruction). 

Trees are quite susceptible to disease, especially to the mycoplasmal spike disease, which affects the principal forests (see Nayar (1988) for a detailed review of spike disease).  Mineral and hydrational requirements are provided by the hot, thus spike disease is thought to be aided by the selection of inappropriate hosts for the sandalwood tree.  The tree will normally die within 3 years of infection.

There is no national or international genetic germ plasm resource or collection of sandalwoods in existence anywhere.  Further, full maturity for trees may take 60-80 years. All of these factors coupled with over-exploitation are putting pressure on other Santalum species from which replacement sandalwood oils are being produced.  For instance, S. austrocaledonicum (sandalwood oil vanuata) and S. yasi (Fiji, Tonga) have been so exploited, that numbers of these species are down to a few trees.  S. fernandezianum was exploited since 1624 for its valuable sweet-scented wood, and according to Lucas and Synge (1978) the last specimen of this species was last seen alive by Skottsberg in 1908.  The status of tree numbers of S. insulare (French Polynesia), S. macgregorii (Papua New Guinea), and S. ellipticum (Hawaii) also needs monitoring. 

Although East Indian sandalwood from S. album reached protected species status in 1995, most of the aroma industry trade press has virtually ignored the topic.  Soap, Perfumery and Cosmetics (2002) highlighted the research on the Australian sandalwood S. spicatum extract by the Institute of the Pharmaceutical Chemistry in Vienna, in conjunction with an Australian Sandalwood producer (Mt. Romance).  The article is largely devoted to extol the virtues of S. spicatum "oil”, apparently via felled trees from a 1.6 km2 area.  Unfortunately the article fails to distinguish the differences in compositional and odor properties between East Indian sandalwood oil and the Australian Sandalwood extract. Webb (2000) described the solvent extract procedure details, which is followed by co-distillation as utilized by Mt. Romance in the preparation of Australian Sandalwood extract.

4. Jatamansi oil.  Jatamansi oil is extracted from Nardostachys jatamansi, which is found in the Eastern Himalayas, Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim.  The once abundant herbal plants described by early botanists (: Gammie A. 1894) have been virtually stripped from the hillsides by herb gatherers in many places now, so the plant is becoming extremely scarce and the perennial only occurs in a few Himalayan valleys, typically at heights of between 3600-4800 m, or even at the higher elevations.   Amatya and Sthapit (1994) expressed concern about over-exploitation of the species, calling for increased levels of cultivation.  The authors also remarked that although export of the herb itself was not allowed, there is no restriction on exporting oleoresin and essential oil, and the export volumes of these products are often inaccurately reported, to avoid payment of government tax.  The trading of N. jatamansi only reflects the high levels of commercial exploitation that still occurs with other Himalayan herbs like Aconitum ferox, Picrorhiza kurrooa and Swertia chirata.  Apart from S. chirata, these species are disappearing fast.  The rhizome from N. jatamansi is used in Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of hysteria and other nervous illnesses.  The larger plant N. grandiflora which occurs in the same regions that N. jatamansi does, achieved CITES Appendix II listing in July 2000, together with Picrorhiza kurrooa.  P. kurrooa  is a tonic herb and possibly the most well-recognized Himalayan medicinal herb.  It is interesting to note that N. grandiflora is said to be often co-gathered with Valeriana wallichi according to Traffic International (1999) and that published chemical compositions of essential oils from these species are similar.

5. Chaulmoogra oils.  Chaulmoogra oils are extracted from Hydnocarpus species from some regions in India (especially the Western Ghats and Karnataka).  Interestingly, chaulmoogra oils are fixed oils, often being solid in temperate European climates, but with a history of being traded by the essential oil industry.  Their traditional indigenous medicinal use against leprosy has been largely superseded by modern pharmaceutical drugs.  Biswas (1956) noted that species of chaulmoogra were ruthlessly and crudely collected and sold outside Nepal, in addition to other species such as chirata (Swertia chirata), and kuth (Saussurea lappa).  Since then exploitation has further the abundance of the species. Shankar and Majundar (1997) quoted the Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions Research Department, which published a first Red Data List of threatened South Indian medicinal plants, in which the status of H. macrocarpa was listed as vulnerable. CIMAP (1997) reported that H. pentadra is facing genetic errosion and that in general Hydnocarpus species are in decline due to habitat destruction. 

6. Gentian.  Many of the 300 or so Gentiana species remain very rare or threatened (IUCN 2002). Gentiana extracts have traditionally been used in medicines and flavorings, but species such as G. tibetica was formerly used in Tibetan medicinal systems may be so rare that substitutions may have to be made.  Kletter and Kriechbaum (2001) note that G. tibetica is often confused with G. crassicaulis and G. robusta, and it may be that plant gatherers are simply looking in the wrong area for the species.  The species may occur in Nepal but is confined to southeast Xizang, Bhutan, Sikkim at heights between 2100 to 4200 m. Kletter and Kriechbaum (2001) further recommended that gathering of all three species should never exceed 50% of the total local population of plants, and should only occur during two years in a row followed by one year without harvest. 

G. lutea is listed in the Red Book Data listings for Bosnia, Romania, Portugal, Bulgaria, Albania, Germany, Czech Republic, Ukraine and Poland.  It is commonly used as a source material in the preparation of gentian absolute for the perfumery trade, and as a bittering agent in alcoholic beverages, but the more economically important use for the dried roots and rhizome of the plant is to produce bitters to stimulate the digestive system.  Lange (1998) estimated the demand for dried roots as being 1500 tons per annum, mainly derived from gathering from the wild in France, Spain, Turkey, Bavaria, Albania and Romania.  He also noted that wild harvesting of G. lutea in Spain proceeds in contravention of existing legislation.

7. Kenyan cedarwood oil.  Known as the East Africa pencil cedar tree, Juniperus procea reaches up to 30 m and is found in parts of Ethiopia and central Kenya at 1000 to 3000 m.  An oil traded as Kenyan cedarwood oil was formerly produced from distillation of the chipped wood, and was commercially available as a common perfumery raw material up to the mid-eighties.  By 1986, J. procera was included in the FAO listing of endangered tree and shrub species and provenances (FAO 1986). Ciesla (2002) discussed reasons for the decline of the species, which include the effect of possible pathogens, drying out of forests and human factors such as heavy overgrazing.  The decline lead to the oil production cessation in Africa, and the oil has disappeared from the raw material inventories of perfumery companies.  The tree has been introduced into parts of India (the Nilgiris), and waste wood from trees cut down for furniture making may be distilled on a very limited scale to produce oil for local use.

8. Agarwood.  Agarwood (also known as aloeswood) is extracted from Aquilaria & Gonystylus  spp., and  A. malaccensis and other Aquilaria species grow in Malaysia and Indonesia and are becoming rare because of the great demand for infected sections of fragrant wood (agaru), which fetch a great price. A. crassna is listed as endangered by the Vietnamese government and A. malaccensis is protected under CITES.  Agarwood trees are felled indiscriminately by roving teams of agaru hunters who search Southeast Asian territories for this very valuable material, in places in which the species are not known to occur.  Exploitation from incense makers and other commercial users threaten the continued future sustainability of A. agallocha trees (which some workers regard as  synonymous with A. malaccensis) from Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand (Barden et. al. 2003; and CITES Newsletter 2000).  A. malaccensis is mentioned amongst 65 listed Indian medicinal and aromatic plants facing genetic erosion by CIMAP (1997), a list that also includes Gentiana kurroo, Sausaurea costus, Hedychium spicatum, Nardostaschys grandiflora, Gaultheria procumbens and Jurinea dolomiaea.  Agarwood formation is maximal in trees older than 25 years old, peaking in trees older than 50 years, thus even though the Department of Forests in Arunachal Pradesh has developed large Aquilaria plantations, these measures may not affect the cutting and illegal exporting of this product.  Attempts and trials for artificial resin inducement and biotechnological processes for agaru production are planned to be covered at a First International Agarwood Conference which will take place in Vietnam on November 2003.  The objective of this conference is to lay the groundwork for collaborative efforts towards preventing Aquilaria trees becoming extinct in the wild.

Momberg et al. (2000) provide an insight into the social and ethical issues surrounding the bioprospecting “rush” for agaru in the Kayan Mentarang National Park in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. The authors report for example that the ‘nineties boom in agaru collecting featured non-indigenous teams flying agaru out by aircraft. Eventually government restrictions stopped this activity, but only at the point when the agaru forest reserves were exhausted; inexperienced outside collectors felling every Aquilaria tree (instead of just infected trees) have added to a worsening situation.

9. Greater wormwood oil. This product is derived from Artemisia gracilis, a now rare European alpine plant growing at elevations of 2400-3500 m. The oil was formerly used as a flavoring ingredient in alcoholic beverages and to produce the alpine liqueur Genipy.

10. Anise scented myrtle oil.  This oil is traditionally associated with Australia (North East part of New South Wales, specifically the Bellinger and Nambucca valleys).  Anise scented myrtle oil is obtained from Backhousia anisata, a rare tree rare that grows up to 25 m, although plants are always smaller in cultivation. Briggs and Leigh (1995) list B. anisata as a rare or threatened plant, with a geographic range in Australia of less than 100 km.  More than 1000 trees of the species exist in natural reserves and Briggs and Leigh (1995) consider the species' status as adequate inside the reserves.  Annual production of leaf or branch or bark oil production is not known, although is believed to be minute. Some anecdotal reports state that leaf oils produced from the cultivated plants are inferior in odor profile to wild harvested leaves. The spicy leaves have been used in the Australian bush tucker industry. 

11. Hinoki wood oil. Since 1982 the Japanese government has protected Chamaecyparis obtusa where the oil is extracted from, and has only allowed the use of trees that have died naturally, or which have been recycled from the re-building of temples.  Therefore the oil is produced from the steam distillation of the chipped wood and sawing wastes of the Hinoki tree legally obtained, and buyers should seek documented proof of legality if buying from a Japanese source.  There may now also be some limited Chinese production of this oil also.

12. Havozo tree oil.  The practice of bark distillation, which produces an oil that smells strongly of aniseed and contains 80-97% methyl chavicol as well as limonene, anethole, and linalol, is threatening the survival of Ravensara anisata, the Madagascan tree from which the oil is extracted.  There are some signs that this practice is being discouraged and better forestry management is being put into practice (Medicinal Plant Conservation 1997).

13. Siam Wood oil.  Fokiena hodginsi, first reported in 1908 and now becoming very rare, is used to produce this oil.  The oil is rarely encountered commercially.

14. Mulanje cedarwood.  Whyte (1892) reported that forest fires were threatening the mulanje cedarwood Widdringtonia whyte.  However, this African species survived in a ten-mile area until it was replanted from Mulanje Mountains Forest Reserve in the 1960’s to former Nyasaland, Tanganyika and Kenya.  Now over-used as timber, sawdust is collected from timber-yards and distilled to obtain oil for local use.

15. Origanum oils.  Several individual species of Origanum such as O. barygyli from Syria and O. dictamus and O. vetter from Greece are rare or threatened.  Several institutions have collected the genetic resources of the genus, which reside in a number of gene banks, and private collections across the world. 

16. Himalayan cedarwood oil.  Cedrus deodara grows on the Himalayan slopes of northern India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, at elevations between 1650 and 2400 m, and has extensively been used in India for building, furniture and railway sleepers.  Felled trees are floated down the rivers in the Himalayas to the plains.  Oil production is down from former levels of 20 tons, to approx 1 ton per year.  The species is listed as threatened (Farjon et al. 1993), and according to Sahni (2000) the tree is the remaining habitat for the threatened and spectacular Western Tragopan (Tragopan melanocephalus) in parts of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Pakistan.  The oil is widely used in aromatherapy, but little used in Western perfumery where Virginian cedarwood oil Virginia from Juniperus virginiana L. is often preferred.

 17. Cedrus atlantica commodities.  The tree is found at an elevation of 1400-2500 m growing on several types of soil in 133,653 hectares of cedar forest in the Moroccan Middle Atlas, Rif Central and Grand Atlas Oriental and Middle Atlas Oriental mountains (Mardaga 1999). While cedarwood Atlas trees are well conserved in specific protected areas, the ecosystem is very fragile, and often the margins are subject to degradation by erosion, demineralization, dehydration, and desertification, occasionally resulting in areas of complete desolation, in spite of heroic attempts by the Moroccan authorities to maintain them.  Lawrence (1985) reported that the production of cedarwood Atlas oil was 7 tons, but the availability in recent years has been more limited, probably now to around 1 ton per annum. 

18. Thymus oil.  Of the 350 distinguishable species of Thymus, the threatened species include T. moroderi, T. baeticus and T. zygis subsp. gracilis (Blanco and Breaux 1997; Lange 1998).  Although licensed collection may put the brake on international trade on certain Thymus traded items, the use of Thymus species for essential oil distillation within Spain is not monitored, and so the true situation is not clearly known (Lange 1998).

19. Buchu oils.   Agathosma betulina and A. crenulata leaves are steam-distilled to produce the oil.  The plants have long been used in traditional South American ethnic medicine, but a major use for the powerful smelling steam-distilled oil is in flavorings and perfumery to produce a fruity berry (especially blackberry) note.  Its diminishing presence in the wild has been the subject of several recent articles.  For instance Hoegler (2000) mentioned the poor gathering practices in the face of increased demand that has partially been responsible for the demise of the species, and mentioned the work of Agribusiness in Sustainable African plant Products (A-SNAPP) which has targeted the plant for sustainable development initiatives.  African farmers demanded price rises of 30% for buchu oil, a move known as "holding the market to ransom" (Parfums Cosmétiques Actualités 2003).

20. Cinnamomum oils.  At the time of writing, the Chinese authorities have seemingly introducing a ban on tree felling of certain species including Cinnamomum because of concerns related to climate change.  Ho leaf & wood oils from species such as C. camphora L. var. linaloolifera and C. camphora Sieb var. glavescens Hayata, are subject to considerable price rises and supply problems.  Zhu et al. (1994) had previously warned of potential problems of exhaustion of Cinnamomum species reserves in China, as no policy of tree replanting currently existed.  The future sustainability of this commodity is unforeseeable at present. Another Cinnamomum species, Cinnamomum tamala, is listed by CIMAP 1997 as suffering from over exploitation and habitat destruction in India, such that plant populations are considerably reduced so that it is “nearly threatened”.

Just because some aromatic materials are no longer offered, it does not necessarily mean that they are threatened.  Unavailable products could be divided into various groups: a) materials no longer available in former quantity due to lack of demand (e.g., Backhousia citriodora oil for many years, after the advent of cheap commercially available synthetic citral, and now enjoying modest comeback due to interest in natural perfumery); b) materials which have slipped from fashionable use, but can be
obtained with difficulty (e.g., reseda absolute from Reseda odorata, woodruff absolute from Galium odorata); c) materials which go short because of huge demand (e.g., vanilla oleoresin from Vanilla spp.); d) materials which become temporarily short due to climatic or political difficulties (e.g., geranium oil Chinese from Pelargonium graveolens in 2002).


The author would like to thank Saul Alarcon-Adams for his direction and input to this article.

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