Among the many resin-based essential oils is a little-known product called opoponax essential oil. Made from the gum resin of the sweet myrrh tree, Commiphora erythraea, opoponax is one ingredient in the famous Biblical ketoret incense blend, alongside labdanum, benzoin, and frankincense . Although opoponax oil is most famous these days as the essential base note to many famous fragrances such as Coco by Chanel, this musky, almost animalic scent is still used in magical practice today to open the mind to hidden secrets and inner knowledge.
Opoponax can refer to several species of sweet gum-producing myrrh trees, including Commiphora guidotti, C. holtziana, C. pseudopaoli, and C. kataf, or African sweet myrrh . However, most of the opoponax resin and steam-distilled essential oil used in perfumes comes from Commiphora erythraea. The opoponax tree is an evergreen related to the “true” or “bitter” myrrh Commiphora myrrha . Like myrrh and frankincense, opoponax is found in the Mediterranean and North Africa, where it thrives in thin, rocky soil or scree and plentiful sunlight. Somalia is currently considered the biggest exporter of opoponax resin in the world .
Opoponax resin is traditionally harvested by making slashes in the bark, causing the tree to exude a red or brown secretion. This resin is collected once it dries into hard nodules that can be steam distilled to produce an essential oil. These nodules of opoponax resin were also once burned as incense during Hebrew ceremonies, or mixed with other ingredients to create the ceremonial incense blend ketoret, as recorded in the Old Testament . Perhaps reflecting this tradition, modern perfumers use opoponax to add balsamic notes to Oriental or “chypre”-type fragrances.
Opoponax resin has had some occasional use in herbal medicine, mostly as an antispasmodic, deobstruent, remedy for hysteria, and to sharpen the senses . People also used it as an emmenagogue, though there is little evidence to support this particular use today . Despite the fact that its cousin, myrrh oil, is highly antiseptic and also an effective analgesic for sore gums and painful joints , opoponax oil is not commonly used in aromatherapy and is mostly reserved for use in perfumery and incense making.
That said, opoponax essential oil is often considered a very spiritual oil: opoponax is used in divination and magical work to open the mind to occult knowledge, to learn what is hidden, and to effect change in the subconscious as the first step to making a conscious change in one’s personal or professional life . The oil is associated with the planet Pluto in astrology .
You can diffuse opoponax essential oil from an oil diffuser or burner to encourage receptivity to spiritual forces, or wear some as perfume and absorb its centering vibrations all day long. Opoponax oil is generally non-sensitizing and non-irritating, but like all essential oils, it should be patch-tested before use and applied only in dilution . Oil of opoponax provides the base note or undertone to many famous perfumes, including Opium by Yves St Laurent, Coco by Chanel, and Shalimar by Guerlaine ; this resinous oil’s rich tones of black tea, incense and amber lovingly anchor lighter floral and citrus notes such as lavender, rose, bergamot, and lemon, and melt into richer scents such as vanilla and sandalwood for a truly “scentuous” experience!
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