Castoreum is a traditional and highly valued natural perfume ingredient. It is prepared in alcohol as a tincture of the aged, dried scent glands of the adult Beaver, Castor Canadensis, in North America and Castor Fiber, native to Europe.
This Castoreum is different. This is “Sweet” Castoreum, or “Castorii Dulce” as I call it,. I also call it “Raspberry Castoreum”. It is made from the uncured and still liquid secretion found in the fresh sacs and has a very, very different aromatic profile than traditional Castoreum.
It has notes of tanned leather, Brandy, Raspberry and molasses. It is much brighter, fruitier, livelier and more vivid than the Castoreum we are used to smelling.
Though it still has many of the nuances we associate with cured Castor, it offers the perfumer and compounder an accord that is quite different from the traditional material on their palette.
Initially, the unripe secretion has some harsh notes to it, but it also has some very unusual, light and fruity notes. When aged in alcohol, the harsh edge dissipates and the uplifting fruity notes come forth and stay available through the maturation of the tincture. When used as a perfume ingredient. This compound has surprising fruity/floral and sweet “green” notes.
The glands, or “Castor Sacs”, in both male and female adults, produce a scent that is thought to be both a sexual attractant and a territorial marker.
Traditional Castoreum is a musky, warm, rich animalic scent that lends itself to the creation of leather perfume notes and accords. It is often used as a key component in masculine scents. In conventional perfumery, it is considered a base to middle note.
It contains pheromone-like compounds, monoterpenes, phenols, ketones and other fragrant chemicals.
Trappers work hand in hand with the government to control over-population which is thought to benefit both the Beaver and Human communities.
Castoreum, also called tincture of Castoreum, lends a warm animalic note to perfumes and is considered safe to use in aromatic applications. It is designated GRAS,(Generally recognized as safe), by the FDA for use as a natural aroma and flavouring in the food and tobacco industries.
The Beaver has been trapped for millennia by indigenous peoples around the world, valued for its waterproof pelt, as a food source, and for the odoriferous and medicinal properties of its sacs. The inner “hairs” of the Beaver pelt have tiny hooks on their tips, which make it ideal for felting and the production of hats and clothing.
In the past Beavers were over-hunted, nowadays the trapping of Beavers is regulated, and consideration is given to the Beaver’s impact on wetland ecology and the environment.
Though Castoreum is no longer popular as a medicine, it has been used as an anti-pyretic, ( to lower the temperature), an anodyne similar to Aspirin, ( it contains salysilic acid), an anti-inflammatory and ant-epileptic. It is said to increase blood pressure and cardiac output and has been used for the treatment of hysteria and dysmenorrhea.
The scent of Castoreum is persistent and enduring. It is a fragrance component that can greatly extend the life-span of a perfume. I have experimented with a few drops of Castoreum on blotting paper. After 6 weeks the scent was still strongly present, and it may have persisted longer had I not misplaced the blotting paper.
Castoreum blends well with Clove, Nutmeg, Cardamom and other spices, Jasmine, Oakmoss, Liquorice, Vetiver, Patchouli and Spikenard, and many types of Pine, Spruce, Fir and cedar. It seems to have a natural affinity with other aromatic citizens of our northern forests and woods.
There are man-made chemical compounds that can be used as ethical replacements for naturally sourced Castoreum and other animal scents. Should we use them instead of natural materials? I don’t believe there is one answer that suits us all. We each need to be true to our heart, our personal ideals and philosophy, examine and respond to each situation individually.
As we nurture and deepen our relationship as individuals, with Nature, the Planet and the Divine, the answers to questions of ethics become clearer and more obvious to us. This is our foremost responsibility, as individuals and as a global culture. Some questions in life have simple answers, others are complex and are not “One size fits all”. This is a case of the latter. I believe that only by engaging and embracing Nature in an intimate and meaningful way as individuals, can we be responsive to her needs, and make informed choices individually and globally.