Amber and Ambergris
INTRODUCTION TO A MYTH
The vegetal fossil Amber that is polished for being used in jewellery and the purified Ambergris of the Sperm-whale used by the perfumer are two very different substances but they share the same name, the same light and the same destiny under many aspects; for instance both are found on the beaches, they are both lighter than seawater, and both of them, before human work transforms them, look without value, unattractive and rough.
Tincture of Ambergris
Both ambers are among the most ancient substances that man traded between Europe and China. Both belong to all the ancient pharmacopoeia and both were eaten and burnt as incense. I had a big surprise burning the Ambergris when I felt it’s typical fragrance unchanged from the heat of coals despite its animal origin. This explains somehow the large degree of confusion to which is confronted the researcher in the literature about Amber, and the investigator can easily be disoriented because informations about Amber are hidden more than revealed in the ancient books, rather like a secret of alchemy.
The Sperm whale
The Ambergris is produced by the Sperm whale and is present in of all the ancient pharmacopoeias. Ambergris has a very typical scent, animally but of great sweetness that seduces particularly feminine noses, who instinctively recognize the odour that will attract males. In fact, Ambergris, like all aromatic substances of animal origin, is a pheromone and acts directly on the hormonal system through the sense of smell, without physical contact.
The Sperm whale that producesĀ Ambergris is so-called for the large amount of fine and valuable oil that is found behind its head. It is a marine mammal of the whales family that feeds of fish and squids, and a hunter who dives to extreme depths (3000 m according to some) where live the mysterious giant squids that Sperm whale caches with its frightening teeth. This animal was an enormous source of raw materials before the advent of chemical industry at the beginning of the century (oil, meat, fat, bones etc…) but was not hunted for the Ambergris, because that substance that grows like a football in its stomach is naturally regurgitated by the animal and floats on the oceanic streams to reach the beaches of Mauritania, Somalia and India where it is found.
Few are theĀ animalsĀ that produce concentrated aromatic substances. A special organ is necessary for their synthesis. It is the case of the skunk but also of the mythical Musk deer, of the civet, of the beaver and few others. In all cases the aromatic substances produced are pheromones. These have the function of olfactory communication in rapports with the opposite sex and with rivals of the species.
In the reproduction process, the olfactory message offers to the partner the very “fragrance” of the animal’s genetic patrimony and stimulates its endocrine system inviting it to mate. In some species, the smell is so important that the fecundation does not occur in the absence of a determinate odour produced by the male during mating. Therefore the Ambergris floating on the oceanic currents probably bring to other members of the species important information about the state of health of the individual, its age, its diet and its identity.
In the past Ambergris was eaten and burnt like incense and strangely, being of origin animal, Ambergris burns making a pleasant smell. Through inhalation, the body absorbs the aromatic molecule of Ambergris carried by the smoke, and they penetrate in the blood circuit reaching all the organs. In fumigations as well as by ingestion, the medical effect of these Ambergris pheromones is comparable to a modern estrogen cure.
Fumigation with ambergris
Ambergris is still sold in the city of Mecca. I have seen many Iranians asking for it to perfume sellers. Men eat Ambergris to stimulate their sexual power and women to cure infertility. The famous chronicler Ibn battuta, known as “the Traveler of Islam” narrates in his diaries to have observed with astonishment in a city of Persia that people ate hashish and Ambergris without a sense of guilt, alluding possibly to a narcotic effect of Ambergris.
In Morocco, it is traditional to use Ambergris with tea and it is amazing to observe how a very small piece of Ambergris stuck inside the teapot’s cover flavours the tea by mere contact with the vapour for years along.
The Sperm whale strangely it is not on the way towards extinction, but the natural rarity of Ambergris and its precious properties have rendered it mythical just likeĀ Musk. Because of its very high price, Ambergris is nearly not used anymore in perfumery where it has been replaced by the synthetic pitiful imitations.
We do care to the safeguard of the planet and all the forms of life that it shelters. Ambergris is the only scent of animal origin obtained without killing, imprisoning or torturing the animal that produces it.
Ambergris is a substance that the wild sperm whale regurgitates naturally. When it is fresh it has nearly no value because its smell is extremely faecal and it has no value for perfumery.
Ambergris must mature floating sometimes for tens of years on the sea. The sun and the water of the oceans “wash” it until it assumes the sweet and inimitable scent of sea and leather that fascinated man since his origin.
We remind that the Ambergris we use is certified āflotteā, that is āfrom floatingā. This guarantees the safety of the sperm whale.
We remind also that there is no international restrictions on the import and export of Ambergris except for New Zealand. The CITES has listed sperm-whale (Physeter Catodon) in the appendix number one (most protected) but has not listed Ambergris as “product from” and has not imposed any restriction on its trade nor obligation of accompanying documentation.