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Cistus: Rockrose

The genus Cistus is native to the Mediterranean region, extending west to the Canary Islands, and east to the Caucasus. These evergreen shrubs often flourish in stony soil, giving them the vernacular name rockrose.

The flowers, which often look somewhat wrinkled, are reminiscent of the dogrose. The white or pink petals usually fall off within a day of opening.

Some rockroses exude an aromatic resin that has been used by humans since ancient times. Especially valued are the Spanish rockrose you see here, Cistus ladanifer, and the pink-blossomed hairy rockrose also found in this house, Cistus incanus. Both produce the fragrant, dark brown resin known as labdanum. It’s used in making soap and perfumes as a fixative to bind other aromatic compounds.

People once believed in labdanum as a cure-all. It was used to dress wounds, and applied to the body to cure rheumatism. Taken internally, it was thought to act as an anticonvulsant and help against stomach ulcers. Today, some still take rockrose extract to strengthen their immune systems.

In former times, a very odd method of harvesting the resin was used. A herd of goats would be driven into and out of the dense rockrose thicket. Later, the resin would be combed out of the goats‘ beards. Things are easier today; labdanum is extracted from the plant with chemical solvents, or by boiling young twigs and skimming off the resin that rises to the top.

Audio file download
Cistus: Rockrose (MP3, 665 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Ehrentraud Bayer, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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