Synthetic linalool does not substitute natural linalool since the fragrance is of an inferior quality. However, it serves as a base for soaps and other hygiene and beauty products. The facility to produce the essential oil was so huge that when the soap called Phebo was launched in 1930, in Brazil, is had in its formula rosewood oil, something unthinkable today because of the high price of the raw material. “Linalool is also found in other vegetable sources such as basil, but no other source shows a quality better than that of the rosewood. Whilst in the rosewood the linalool represent 80% of the composition of the essential oil, in basil this percentage remains at 30%”, explains Barata.
In order to extract the essential oil it is necessary to walk a lot in the forest because the trees are well scattered in nature. For every six hectares, one finds only a single tree. In order to locate them, each woodsman penetrates into the woods on his own. When a rosewood is spotted, the tree is marked with a large knife with the initials of the producer. Those that should not be cut down are also identified, one of IBAMA’s demands, in order to preserve the matrixes that are producing seeds.
Measuring up for cutting
In summer, another team again penetrate into the forest to cut down the marked trees. “Only trees that measure more than four hand lengths in circumference are cut down”, says Barata. The measure of the hand is done by extending the hands open, but with the thumbs touching. The four-hand measure corresponds to around 30 centimeters in diameter. After the tree has been felled, the trunk and branches are cut up with a saw and carried on the back, tied to a bag made of vines, to the river’s edge. There they remain until there are enough of them to be transported by boat to the mill for the extraction of the oil, which only happens in the winter, when the narrow waterways are navigable. The extraction is done by a method of steam boiling, using equipment similar to that of a huge pressure cooker of 1,500 liters capacity. In this process the steam passes through the aromatic plant, extracting, condensing and separating out its essences.
All of the process, which has its beginning with the tree marking and ends with the wood inside the mill, takes on average a year. And it has a high cost, which the mill owners, who in truth are riverside woodsmen who have always lived there, do not have the money to cover. For this reason they have to sell their production in anticipation to intermediaries, who resell it to Europe and the United States. Close to 90% of the production is exported. They sell the extract in drums of 200 liters to the perfume houses at a price of US$ 300 per liter. Before the producer sold his product to the intermediary for US$ 20 per liter. Few manage to export directly to the industry without intermediaries. When this happens, the producer receives US$ 60 per liter of oil. The perfume houses in Brazil buy direct from the companies’ headquarters, since their purchases are centralized. “it’s an enormous and complex chain, and who loses out is the producer”, adds Barata.
The partnership between the researcher and the producers resulted in a management and extraction plan of the oil from the leaves, which begins with the growing of rosewoods in a consortium with other growers. As the plant needs to be protected from the sun during its initial life cycle, one of the solutions is to grow one tree every five meters interspersed with banana plants. When the banana plants are ready for cutting, after some two years, the rosewood is at the phase in which is needs to receive direct sunlight. The bananas can then be sold and other banana plants can be planted and removed again after two years. Then in the fifth year the rosewood then begins to be profitable with the extraction of the essential oil from its leaves. The project is also testing the cooperative planting of the rosewood with aromatic plants of the Amazon, such as the root of the vetiver, the cumaru (Dipteryx odorata), the copaiba and others such as the crabwood (andiroba). At the start, before the seedlings of the rosewood are transplanted into the soil, they are acclimatized in nurseries protected by a covering of the leaves of the assai palm tree. When the straw of this tree decomposes, the plants are more structured and ready to receive sunlight.
In order for the project to be profitable, it is necessary to plant at least 10,000 seedlings of rosewood over thirty hectares. The same number of seedlings that was planted in the growing area in the municipality of Nova Aripuanã. Another 10,000 seedlings are in the nursery, awaiting the moment when they will be transferred to the field. This quantity is almost thirty times more than would be necessary to plant according to the IBAMA decree. For each drum of 200 liters exported the producer is obliged to plant eighty) units of rosewood. As Raul Alencar exports, on average, ten drums per year, he would have to plant only eight hundred (800) seedlings.
The project of sustainable development of the rosewood has already been presented at various international congresses and has awoken the interest of Brazilian entrepreneurs who, for now, do not wish their names to be revealed. Many of them, who plant other crops, could also profit from the production of the essential oil of the rosewood. And, if the native trees were to become extinct, the consumer market itself would be affected. Before this happens, producers who have always lived off the forest’s resources are looking for new ways to extract what they need. Sustainable development was the path chosen by the Amazon communities who live off the income from the extraction of the crabwood tree and the assai palm tree, for example, which prior to that decision ran the risk of becoming extinct. Today the assai is important for its fruit, and not for its palm. And the oil from the crabwood is the base of insect repellent candles and of many cosmetic products. This is the same pathway that can be followed for the production of the essential oil from the leaves of the rosewood.
A classic in perfumes
Launched on the 5th of May 1921, Chanel No.5 is successful until today. A symbol of sophistication and elegance, the perfume was created by Ernest Beaux, considered to be one of the best perfumers of all time, at the request of Gabrielle Chanel, better known as Coco. The stylist wanted a woman’s perfume, but different from the others on sale at that time and to be based on floral aromas. The formula, as well as the essential oil of the rosewood, included jasmine from Grasse – a town in the region of Provence in France –, ylang-ylang, neroli oil (oil extracted from the orange tree flowers), sandalwood and vetiver. The composition was the first of the genre that mixed essences of flowers with aldehydes, substances obtained through chemical synthesis. Eight decades after its launch, Chanel No. 5 continues being a classical perfume and at the same time contemporary. There are controversies over the choice of the number 5 for the fragrance. Some say that it was the lucky number of Mademoiselle Chanel, others that it was the fifth formula presented by the perfumer was chosen by her. In 1959, the design of the bottle, created by the glass manufacturer Brosse, entered into the Modern Art Museum of New York as a vanguard symbol.
The legendary phrase spoke by the actress Marilyn Monroe in which she said she goes to sleep wearing only a few drops of Chanel No.5 hides behind, who would believe it, a very Brazilian touch. The main ingredient of the famous French perfume launched by the company of Mademoiselle Coco Chanel in 1921 is the essential oil extracted from the wood of the rosewood, a tree native to the Amazon. Estimates indicate that around 500,000 trees of this species have been chopped down since the start of the exploration of the rosewood, which led the Brazilian Environmental and Natural Renewable Resources Institute (IBAMA) including it on their list of endangered species in April of 1992. In order to preserve the precious wood and to guarantee the provision of the raw material for the perfume industry, professor Lauro Barata, from the Natural Chemical Products Laboratory of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), began, in 1998, to develop a project for the extraction of the essential oil from the leaves, which resulted in yield and quality similar to that obtained from the wood. “I learned that the oil could be removed from the leaves in work published by professor Otto Gottlieb”, says Barata. He was referring to a study published at the end of the 1960’s by the chemist who was born in the Czech Republic and who was a naturalized Brazilian, a retired professor at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) and remembered still by the Brazilian scientific community as having competed for the Nobel Prize. “I also learned from the experience of Raul Alencar, a riverside woodsman aged eighty who always lived off the products of the forest and is a traditional producer of rosewood oil”, adds Barata. These two references served as the basis for his project, funded by the Banco da Amazônia (Basa), to the value of R$ 25,000.00.
The Unicamp professor’s interest in studying the Amazonian tree came about in 1997, when French ecologists started a campaign to boycott Chanel products because of the extraction of the rosewood, which has the scientific name of Aniba rosaeodora, and the consequent devastation of the forest. In reply, the French company hired the NGO named Pro-Natura, of French-Brazilian origin, which works in partnership with companies to develop programs of sustainable development. The objective was to find a solution that would calm down the environmentalists. Barata was then called in by the NGO to make a diagnosis of the situation on the oil extraction from the Amazonian tree. In his final report, he had set out how to work with sustainable production of the rosewood, which had begun with the rearing and managing of the tree and then passed to oil extraction from its leaves. “We carried out a survey producing an inventory of the situation and the company promised to adopt the sustainable development proposal in our report”, says Barata. “The appointed solution managed to stop the planned manifestations.” But until today they continue buying the extract obtained from the trees cut down in their entirety in the middle of the forest. International pressure brought about a return of the possibility of sustainable management of the rosewood and, after a series of discussions, with the participation of the producers, in 1998 IBAMA launched an edict with directives that regulated the extraction of the tree.
Starting from the study recommended by Chanel and with the project financed by Basa, Barata made various trips to the Amazonian region, which resulted in the work of growing rosewood trees in partnership with the producer Raul Alencar. An area of scrub growth – the vegetation that arises after the deforestation of the original forest – in the municipality of Nova Aripuanã, in the state of Amazonas, was chosen to house the seedlings of the plant. Today the area has 10,000 three and a half year old trees that are now ready to be pruned to start the experimental extraction of the oil. For commercial exploration, the pruning could be started after five years for the extraction of linalool and after twenty-five years the tree could be cut down and the oil extracted from its wood, in this case in a sustainable manner.
The pure oil has a golden yellow coloration. At the start it has a strong aroma, slightly citric, which dominates over the other aromas. With the passing of time, other smells group themselves to the first, making up a harmonic mixture, sweet and mature. The oil obtained from the leaves is a little yellow, with a smell that is clearly suave, without many gradations. In order to test the quality of the oil, leaves of different ages, between five and thirty-five years, were collected both in the forest and in the cultivated fields during a six month period. The first experimental plantation evaluated was established in 1990 by researchers from the Federal Rural University of Amazonia (Ufra), in the municipality of Benfica, some twenty seven kilometers from the city of Belém, in the state of Pará , in collaboration with the researchers Selma Ohashi and Leonilde Rosa. Another plantation used for study is in Curuá Una, in Pará, where three hundred trees that were planted in 1973 exist. The oil extracted from the leaves showed a yield and quality similar to that from the wood. On the item of quantity of oil obtained from the leaves, the variation was from 0.9% to 1.1%, on average, or that is, around ten kilograms of oil per ton of leaves, a yield similar to that extracted from the wood. In relation to aroma, the oil from the leaves lost a little in its maturity. This can be corrected in the laboratory. “All that is needed is a physical-chemical treatment for one not to notice any difference between them” Barata explains.
Without revealing the actual steps of this treatment done in the laboratory, and which can be reproduced industrially, he sent samples of the oils from the leaves and the trees to be evaluated by two representatives in Brazil of international perfume houses. Their evaluation was that the differences between the two samples were minimal, and one of them assured that the fragrance of the oil from the leaves was better than that of the wood.
Today the extraction is done using only trees that are found in the forest, not in cultivated fields, which are few and experimental. For the forest tree to reach the time for cutting down takes on average thirty to thirty-five years. And to obtain a ton of linalool it is necessary to cut down between twenty-five and fifty trees. If the managing and the cultivation were to be done properly, with the choosing of the best matrixes, this time could fall to twenty-five years. Currently the annual production of rosewood oil runs at around forty tons, which represents a small fraction of the four hundred and fifty tons produced during the 1950’s. The decline in demand is due principally to the introduction of synthetic linalool onto the market in the 1980’s. But even if this had not occurred, the producers, today reduced to only six, would not have been able to keep up with the demand because the tree, which previously had been found throughout the Amazon, is now concentrated in the municipalities of Parintins, Maués, Presidente Figueiredo and Nova Aripuanã, all in the state of Amazonas, within a circle of 500 kilometers. The species is already extinct in French Guiana, from where it began to be extracted at the start of the 1920’s, and shortly afterwards in the States of Amapá and Pará.Republish