Publication details

Castoreum and its uses through times: From perfumes to medicine



Year of publication 2023
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Language Centre

Description Castoreum is a yellowish substance taken from the castor sacks of mature beavers and it is used to this day mainly in the perfume industry and as a food additive. Beavers use castoreum together with urine to mark their territory. The gland that produces the substance is about 5 to 17 cm long and 2.5-5 cm wide and in order to collect it, the animal has to be killed. In antiquity, castoreum is mentioned by multiple authors, most notably by Pliny the Elder, who describes its use and potential healing properties in his opus magnum – Historia Naturalis. Important mentions of castoreum and beavers can be found in the works of Herodotos, Varro, Claudian, Aristotle, Juvenalis, Isidorus and Aelian. This paper will analyse the author´s claims and misconceptions, including the long-standing belief that castoreum originates from the beaver´s testicles and also the fact that it was so valuable and sought after that it was often the object of falsification. The use of castoreum is also supported by archaeological evidence, the oldest instance found recently on a 6000 years old throwing dart from Southern Yukon, which confirms its use on ancient weaponry. Besides the various uses of castoreum, the most commonly known is that in ancient (and modern) perfumes. It provides animalistic, leathery notes. Currently it can be found in numerous modern perfumes, for example Antaeus for men (Chanel), Oud Wood Intense (Tom Ford), Man I (Jil Sander), Gala (Loewe) or Portos (Balenciaga). To use it in perfumes, however, requires a certain manipulation – the beaver sacks need to be dried or put in alcohol in a specific way, in order to achieve the desired smell. The exact scent of castoreum also depends on beaver´s diet. Overall, this paper aims to research castoreum and its origins and compare the various uses of this substance in antiquity and through history up until today.

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