Opoponax or sweet myrrh is a cousin of the healing Myrrh—Commiphora Myrrha—with a warm-balsamic and sweet, honey-like aroma. It is a natural oleo-gum-resin like myrrh and frankincense. The color of its resin is brown; however, good quality crude botanical resin is dark red. Opoponax has been a component of incense and perfumes since Biblical times.
Talking of perfumery in particular, Opoponax qualities from several Commiphora are widely used, especially in oriental fragrances, to impart sweet balsamic notes..Opopanax (also: Opoponax) refers to a number of gum resins with medicinal properties.In perfumery, opopanax refers to the resin obtained from Commiphora erythraea Engl. var. glabrescens Engl., a tree growing in Somalia.
A resinoid is prepared from the resin by solvent extraction. Steam distillation of the resin gives the essential oil, which has a warm, sweet, balsamic odor. Opopanax oil and resinoid are used in perfumes with oriental characteristics.African opopanax is the resin of Commiphora kataf .Opopanax, a major export article from Somalia since ancient times, is also known as bisabol - bissa bol (Hindi) and as hebbakhade - habak hadi (Somali). "bissa bol" (Hindi) is scented myrrh, in contrast to "heera bol", bitter myrrh.
However, the botanical origin of bisabol is Commiphora guidottii (Burseraceae) and not Commiphora erythraea, as generally has been presumed.Opopanax is also known as "perfumed bdellium". Talking further of Commiphora guidottii Chiov., it is also known as scented myrrh. It is a yellowish-red sweet-smelling resin. And of its use from Ancient Romans, they used it as incense in temples. It is fairly widespread in Somalia and in adjacent parts of the Ogaden in Ethiopia, and speaking of its export, Somalia is considered the major exporter of scented myrrh at present.
Its shrub or tree grows up to 5 m tall and has greenish or brownish peeling bark. The leaves are composed of 3 or 5-7 leaflets, 2.5 x 10 cm long when fully mature and oval to broadly oval in shape. The flowers are cream in color and very small, being only a few mm wide at most. The fruit is rounded, about 1 cm in diameter and contains a single stone.Extraction of the opoponax is done through the tapping of trees just as that of frankincense and myrrh by making incisions in the bark and also by breaking of the twigs.
A gum seeps out of these incisions which then solidifies to brown lumps. Opoponax extract is obtained by solvent extraction or steam distillation from the gum exudate of the barks, which includes all types of extracts, tinctures, concretes, resinoids, pomades, absolutes, rectified extracts etc.While the oil is distilled by dry-distillation or steam-distillation, flash pasteurization etc., it includes all types of essential oils obtained by the these methods. Opoponax oil is a useful material in perfumery which is sweet, balsamic and almost effervescent in character. It is mainly used in oriental accords and also gives a sweet lift to chypre fragrances as a top note. Whereas, its absolute is used as base note.
The olfactory difference between myrrh oil and opopanax oil is the vegetable-soup-like, slightly animalic-sweet odor of opopanax oil compared with the medicinal-sharp freshness of myrrh oil. But still the odours are quite comparable and the usage also is quite similar.