Perfume from the Amazon
The use of leaves and branches increases rosewood oil production by 25%
In Maués, an inland city in the state of Amazonas, which now has a newly elected priest as mayor, the extraction of oil from rosewood trees for use in perfumes has resumed. However, something new has been added: it is not just the trunk of the rosewood tree (Aniba rosaeodora) that is being used as in the past, but also its branches and leaves. This is the result of work done by experts from the research centers and universities of São Paulo, Pará and Amazonas in collaboration with producers. The use of leaves and branches increases production by 25% with no additional expense for raw materials, equipment or adjustments in production techniques, which are exactly the same as those used to extract oil from the trunks of the rosewood trees. Therefore, developing new materials or production techniques was unnecessary. The hard part, which took 10 years, was to make the argument that would convince producers to do something that was simple, but that had never been done before: use a material that was previously discarded.
The possibility of expanded use of the rosewood is encouraging its cultivation and reducing the number of felled trees in the forest, until recently the only source of raw material. For almost a century, the cutting down of native trees was intense enough to cause the species to disappear from the most accessible areas. This led to the passage of strict laws to regulate the felling and exploitation of rosewood, which is used primarily in the production of aromatic oil and because of its soft wood is considered unsuitable for other uses.
The resumption of rosewood oil production may rekindle the interest of major perfume producers, who stopped including this component in their products because of its irregular supply and pressure from consumers, worried about the possibility of the disappearance of this species of tree from the Amazon. “Chanel No. 5 used to contain rosewood, but it has not been included as an ingredient for many years,” says Olivier Paget, a perfume maker from the fragrance company Mane. Since 1990, this oil has not been included in his formulations — nor did he have it on hand. Older colleagues say that the quality of the lots was irregular, as was the supply. Paget is now reconsidering the use of rosewood oil. At the request of Chamma da Amazônia, a Belém company that produces perfumes and bath salts from regional plants, he has developed a men’s cologne that contains 5% oil from rosewood leaves mixed with 37 other components, including thyme, nutmeg and geranium. If it goes ahead, Eau de l’Amazonie will be one of the first Brazilian products to use oil from rosewood leaves.
“We’ve been trying to launch it for three years,” says Fátima Chamma, company director. One of the biggest obstacles is the law, particularly Provisional Measure 2,186, which strictly regulates access to biodiversity and profit sharing. Presented in June at Rio+20, the cologne can begin trial production in 2013, as the supply of raw materials is secured and as legislation permits. “We will observe the limits released by government agencies,” she says. To further complicate matters, in 2010 rosewood joined the list of products controlled by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and, thereafter oil exports began to be monitored and certified according to international standards to ensure the continuity of the species.
Full steam ahead
Now things seem to be on track. In late October 2012, as soon as authorization was received from IBAMA (the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) to start cutting down the rosewood trees grown since 1989, the Magaldis, one of the most traditional families of Maués, started up the plant’s production equipment. The plant is located at the end of the avenue that borders the waterfront, alongside the white sandy beaches, which are only visible at this time of the year when the river is low and just five kilometers wide.
The equipment is simple, old and powerful. Using river water, a boiler, salvaged from a tugboat that sank decades ago, produces steam to power a motor, which was also removed from the tug. The surplus steam output produces a loud and rhythmic sound, like that of a steam locomotive. Through a system of belts, the motor drives a circular saw, which cuts the trunks. A grinder crushes logs and branches in seconds, and conveyors take the crushed material to six distillers connected to condensers and separators.
After a day of steam distillation, the same method used to extract oil from eucalyptus, mint and other aromatic plants (see infographic), the thick light green liquid can now be collected. Work processing the wood and leaves and collecting the oil leave a sweet citrus-like aroma in the air that, to anyone with even a vague sense of smell, is reminiscent of lemon verbena.
“Now we even use the dust from cutting the trunks,” says Carlos Magaldi, one of the production managers. “We don’t let anything go to waste.” His father, Zanoni Magaldi, 77, who inherited the plant from his father, Francis Magaldi, and has overhauled it since the 1960s, installing the current equipment, says: “This is the way to go.” Today they are the only producers in Maués (and one of the few in the state of Amazonas), since the other local rosewood oil extractors closed for lack of wood or because of the increasingly tighter legal restrictions.
Having spent nearly a year without producing, waiting for authorization from IBAMA, Magaldi is now in a hurry. From an inventory of 11,000 trees, which they began planting in 1989, in anticipation of a shortage of the wood in subsequent years, want to use 200 whole trees and the branches and leaves of a thousand others.
They know they could extract only from branches and leaves, thereby contributing even further to the recovery of this species, but they are producing a mixture of oil from the wood of the trunk and from branches and leaves for two reasons. The first is that there is pent-up demand, since until now production has been halted, waiting to receive the green light from IBAMA, which is essential to ensuring certification of the oil’s origin and being able to sell it. The second is that they believe that a blend will be more accepted by customers. “The scent of the oil from just the leaves is not as good,” says Zanoni Magaldi.
By February 2013, they plan to produce 10 drums (each drum contains 180 kilograms (kg)); the first production run that used leaves and branches, in late 2011, yielded 14 drums. The oil will be sold at $160 to $200 per kilogram to companies in the United States, Europe and Japan, which in turn will resell it to perfume manufacturers.
“We don’t need any more wood from the forest,” says Carlos Magaldi, based on a cultivated area of 14 hectares, divided into blocks with trees of varying ages, and plan to plant 10,000 saplings, which meanwhile remained in the shade in a nursery beside the shed.
The rhetoric of science
The arguments for such usage now seem obvious, but that was not the case a few years ago.” The leaves and branches contain 1.8% oil, while the wood from the trunk has at most 1%,” says Lauro Barata, a chemist and research associate at the Institute of Chemistry of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and a visiting professor at the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA) in Santarém, Pará. He raised the possibility of using the leaves in 2000 when he was mapping the production and consumer market for Chanel. Using the leaves was one possible scenario he presented as a way to maintain oil production and silence the accusations of environmental organizations that the French perfume company was contributing to the extinction of this species of tree in the Amazon region. At first, his only argument for extracting oil from the leaves was a 1957 article by the Czech chemist and naturalized Brazilian citizen Otto Gottlieb indicating this as a possibility. In subsequent years, Barata was in the field where he picked leaves from experimental plantings in Belém, Santarém and Manaus and gradually saw that his hypothesis made sense.
“It’s not easy, but we have to make a sales pitch,” he says. “I sold the idea at conferences where the audience consisted mostly of entrepreneurs and perfumers, not scientists.” When giving his presentations and during conference breaks, he would open a small bottle with oil from the leaves in front of the businessmen and perfumers, who, after smelling the new scent, told him they believed in the commercial viability of the oil from rosewood leaves.
By 2005 he had already chemically characterized the oil from leaves and wood (see Pesquisa FAPESP nº 111), but the work of persuasion was not yet over. In 2009, Barata went through another test when he had a meeting with Zanoni Magaldi, whom he had met years before while doing research for Chanel. Magaldi was skeptical at first, since this possibility had never been contemplated before, even though it appeared so simple, but then he decided to check it out. As a first step, he asked his suppliers that brought the logs from the forest, to collect and bring branches and leaves as well. Yes, the resulting oil was of good quality oil and better yet, the customers liked it. They also evaluated the regrowth of the trees. “What encouraged us to continue was the rapid regrowth we saw after pruning,” says Carlos Magaldi. “We now strip a tree and it regrows completely.”
Studies conducted at Unicamp, at UFOPA and at the National Institute for Amazonian Research (INPA) in the city of Manaus, indicated that after three years, the rosewood could then be pruned in order to extract the oil. Furthermore, the oil from trees that are 4, 10 and 15 years old was shown to be chemically equivalent. The analyzes performed at Unicamp indicated that the oil is a combination of 53 substances. The predominant substance, which gives it its distinctive scent, is linalool, whose concentration can reach 87% in the wood and 90% in the leaves. Linalool, which is also found in other plants such as croton cajucara, a shrub known in the Amazon region as sacaca, has been used experimentally to combat fungi and the larvae of mosquitoes such as those that cause dengue fever.
Right now rosewood oil comes only from the Brazilian Amazon — in the 1960s, it was the third most exported regional item, followed by rubber and Brazil nuts — but it is said that neighboring countries are already cultivating this tree to compete for a world market estimated at 40 tons per year.
Barata believes that the growing of rosewood can serve as an economical alternative to soybeans and corn, if developed on large land holdings in the Amazon region. “If my calculations are correct, a small area of 20 hectares could produce a ton of oil per year and generate $100,000, or $5,000 per hectare, double the corn and soybeans,” he says. “So 2,000 hectares would be enough to supply the whole consumer market.” His argument is that rosewood will be taken off of the list of endangered plants as it starts to be more cultivated and valued economically. This has already occurred, he recalls, with açaí, previously cut down in order to extract the hearts of palm and subsequently preserved and cultivated for production of the fruit consumed largely in Belém.
“If I had the money, I would invest in rosewood,” says Paulo de Tarso Sampaio, forest engineer and INPA researcher who is a professor at Amazonas State University (UEA) and has been studying the tree for 20 years. “I believe in cultivation, not depletion.” Eight years ago he distributed saplings grown in an INPA nursery to farmers and representatives of non-governmental organizations for planting in degraded areas. The most recent planting, he says, was done in Presidente Figueiredo, a city 125 kilometers from Manaus, together with farmers who used five hectares to plant rosewood and three other species of trees, Copaiba, Andiroba and Cumaru, which also produce essential oils of commercial value.
As he recounts what he did, Sampaio places on one of his laboratory tables a carafe of wine almost filled with light green oil, gathered from rosewood leaves and branches that grew for five years in Maués, which Patrícia Sayuri Takeda, a member of his team, extracted and analyzed. Through field studies conducted on commercial crops like those of the Magaldis in a 10,000 hectares (100 square kilometers) forest reserve near Manaus, Sampaio observed that the rosewood tree is very sensitive to light and to competition from other plants during the first year of life. Later however, it is shown to be generous and after 3 years, able to supply 16 kilograms of branches and leaves. According to him, one of the major limitations of growing rosewood is the production of seeds, much eaten by toucans while in the trees and, after harvest, much attacked by insects.
The INPA group is examining the geographic distribution of genetic diversity in the native populations, methods to identify the origin of seeds and saplings, and the best form of pest control, fertilization and cultivation of rosewood. In Maués, the Magaldis tested various possibilities and concluded that optimal spacing is 2.5 meters between each tree and 3 meters between each row of trees.
The acquired knowledge is being disseminated not only in scientific articles, but also in wide-ranging publications such as the Manual de sementes da Amazônia – Pau-rosa (Handbook of Amazonian Seeds – Rosewood) (Publisher INPA, 2011), of which Sampaio is one of the authors, and the Guia de propágulos e plantas da Amazônia (Guide to Propagules and Plants of the Amazon) (Publisher INPA, 2008, 2009 Jabuti Award ), coordinated by INPA ecologist and researcher José Luis Camargo.
The Belém herb vendors
The relationships between researchers, entrepreneurs, consumers and government officials may help expand the traditional use of plants for the production of perfumes, bath salts, teas, ointments and remedies, evident in the Ver-o-Peso market in the historic center of Belém. There, in dozens of stalls, the herb vendors — usually women — sell tree bark, leaves, roots and bottles of perfume with curious names — Call Customer, Attracts Women, Cry for My Feet, Lots of Money — the classic Aroma of Pará, Love Bath and ointments such as Andiroba, indicated for arthritis, joint problems and muscle aches. One of the highlights, which the vendors almost always advertise is Natural Viagra, a mixture of marapuama, arranca-toco, embiriba tree bark, ginseng, guarana, moleque-seco and ironwood tree bark; the label, in addition to the compound, comes with the recommendation to: “Take three times a day.” The overlapping layers of pleasant and unpleasant odors and voices create a heady atmosphere.
“Do you know anyone prettier than me?” a short, cheerful, brunette asks as she enters one of the herb and perfume stalls. She is Clotilde Melo de Souza, Coló’s owner, wearing twigs of rue stuck in her earrings in the shape of red peppers. She is 58 years old and has been here for 33 years, with a stall that displays St. George in front of perfume bottles, ointments and bath salts. Two sons and a daughter have stalls along the same corridor, almost in front of her. “This is my house, this is my work,” she boasts. “I’ll leave here when I die.”
Another vendor is also helpful, but suspicious: “You’re not going to hurt people, are you?” In 2005 the vendors felt aggrieved and took to court a national cosmetics company that produced perfumes from the information they provided, without offering them any compensation. The introduction and dissemination of new techniques to extract rosewood will perhaps show how to use a native plant without driving it to extinction and with shared benefits for all involved .
Barata is 70 years old and knows there is still much to do. As is the case with the rosewood, progress will require much research and rhetoric. He says that he persuaded a soybean planter from Santarém to cede an area of two hectares for an experimental planting of a grass native to the Amazon region, priprioca (Cyperus articulatus), whose rhizome, sold in the Ver-o-Peso for R$5 each, is used in the production of perfumes and can provide a return in just one year, much less than the five years for soybeans. Another plan for 2013 is to start tests on the oil from the macacaporanga tree (Aniba parviflora) whose leaves also produce aromatic oil.
At INPA, Adriana Manhães, a researcher from the Sampaio team, conducted a study that indicated the difference in oil composition from the leaves and branches of the preciosa (Aniba canelilla), which was also cut down for oil extraction. There are an estimated total of 350 species of herbs from the Amazon, but only 10 are used commercially in perfumes, medicines, cosmetics or products able to leave a pleasant scent on the body, clothes or in houses.
MANHÃES, A. P. et al. Biomass production and essential oil yield from leaves, fine stems and regrowth pruned from the crown of Aniba canelilla (H.B.K) (Lauraceae) in the Central Amazon. Acta Amazonica, v. 42, no. 3, September 2012, pp. 355-62.
FIDELIS, C. H. V. et al. Correlation between maturity of tree and GC x GC – qMS chemical profiles of essential oil from leaves of Aniba rosaeodora Ducke. Microchemical Journal, v.1, pp. 1-5. 2012.
FIDELIS, C. H. V. et al. Chemical characterization of rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora Ducke) leaf essential oil by comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography coupled with quadrupole mass spectrometry. Journal of Essential Oil Research, v. 24, pp. 245-51, 2012.