Ambrette is an Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) relative that originates from India and is cultivated for its seed which yields a valuable essential oil. The main centres of cultivation are its native India, the Seychelles islands, Nosy Be island in Madagascar, El Salvador in Central America, Martinique in the Caribbean and Ecuador and Colombia in South America.
An annual undershrub, it is commonly 1 to 1.5 m (3 to 5 ft) tall with an erect, semi-woody main stem and slim stems branching off all around, all of which have a covering of fine hairs.
Leaves deep green, large, up to 20 cm (8 in) long and even wider, varying in shape but usually palmate with shallow or deep lobes, toothed margins and coated with fine hairs.
The flowers are hibiscus-like with yellow petals and purple centres. They are followed by five-ridged seedpods, similar in appearance to okra but are shorter and wider and like other parts of the plant are finely haired. When mature, they contain many small, greyish-red, sometimes greenish, flat kidney-shaped seed.
An essential oil traded as 'Musk oil' or 'Ambrette Seed Oil' is extracted from the seed. The oil is traditionally extracted by steam distilling the whole or crushed seed. Distillation, however, is slowly being replaced by new supercritical carbon dioxide extraction technology, which allows extraction at low temperatures with a less damaging effect on the oil.
The oil is highly valued in perfumery as well as being sought after as a flavouring agent for a variety of products, including branded chewing tobacco, alcoholic beverages such as liqueurs, vermouth and bitters and some baked goods and sweets. It is a clear, light to dark yellow liquid with a distinctive, long-lasting floral-musky, wine- or brandy-like aroma and flavour. In perfumery, it is used in high quality men's fragrances such as 'L' Egoistie by Chanel and 'Heaven' by Chopard.
Tinctures, or water-based liquid extracts, are also prepared from the seed and are used in combination with the oil as a flavouring component in the manufacture of branded vermouth and bitters products.
Seed production in commercial operation averages around 900 kgs per hectare per season and with an oil content of 0.2 to 0.6% yields 1.8 to 5.4 kgs of oil, the equivalent of 1.6 to 4.8 lbs of oil per acre.
The seed has value in traditional Indian or Ayurveda medicine for use in preparations to treat stomach and urinary ailments as well as nervous debility. In Chinese medicine, they are used in the treatment of headache.
Grows naturally in humid subtropical and tropical lowland to mid-elevation climates, generally areas with annual lows of 13 to 25 °C, annual highs of 23 to 35 °C and annual rainfall of 800 to 2500 mm.
Ambrette is grown from seed sown in prepared soil at the start of the rainy season, after which the plants are tended until they flower and form fruit, which is about four to five months after the seed are sown.
Growth performance and disease resistance is best on free-draining loam, sandy-loam and loamy-sand soils of a mildly acid to slightly alkaline nature, generally with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5, and on sites with full sun exposure.
The seedpods are harvested when they are mature and have begun to turn from green to brown. Then they are strewn on a flat, hard surface in the shade where they are left to dry until they split open and release their seed. Afterwards, the seed are collected for processing or are bagged for shipping to a processing facility.
Each plant bears many seedpods, each of which contains many small viable seed that are easily dispersed when the seedpod matures and splits open. It is recorded as an invasive species in at least one reference publication, a term reserved for the most serious weeds of the environment and agriculture.
The fine hairs on the plant and seedpods are an irritant to the skin in some people.
Adams, C. D. 1972, Flowering plants of Jamaica, University of the West Indies, Mona, Greater Kingston
Dastur, J. F. 1964, Useful plants of India and Pakistan : a popular handbook of trees and plants of industrial, economic, and commercial utility, 2nd ed., D. B. Taraporevala Sons, Bombay
Farooqi, A. A. & Sreeramu, B. S. 2004, Cultivation of medicinal and aromatic crops, Hyderabad University Press, Hyderabad
Fawcett, W. 1891, Economic plants, An index to economic products of the vegetable kingdom in Jamaica, Jamaica Government Printing Establishment, Kingston
Groom, N. 1997, The new perfume handbook, 2nd ed., Blackie Academic & Professional, London
Guenther, E. & Althausen, D. 1948 to 1952, The essential oils (6 volumes), Van Nostrand Publishing, New York
Khan, I. A. & Abourashed, E. A. 2010, Leung's encyclopedia of common natural ingredients : used in food, drugs and cosmetics, 3rd edition, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken, New Jersey
National Research Council (Board on Science and Technology for International Development) 2006, Lost Crops of Africa: Volume II: Vegetables, The National Academies Press, Washington D.C.
Oyen, L. P. A. & Nguyen X. D. 1999, Plant Resources of South-East Asia (PROSEA) 19 : Essential-oil plants, Backhuys Publishers, Leiden
Parrotta, J. A. 2001, Healing plants of peninsular India, CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Randall, R. P. 2002, A global compendium of weeds, R.G. and F.J. Richardson Press, Melbourne
Roecklein, J. C & Leung, P.S. 1987, A Profile of economic plants, Transaction Books, New Brunswick, New Jersey
Seidemann, J. 2005, World spice plants: economic usage botany taxonomy, Springer-Verlag, Berlin
This website is provided for general information only. Iplantz makes no statements, representations or warranties as to the accuracy or completeness of the content of this website and does not accept any liability to you or any other person for the information which is provided or referred to on this website.
In particular, Iplantz does not represent or warrant that any dataset or the data it contains is accurate, authentic or complete, or suitable for your needs. Changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact the accuracy of datasets and their contents.
To the maximum extent permitted by law, Iplantz accepts no liability whatsoever to any person arising from or connected with the use of or reliance on any information or advice provided on this website or incorporated into it by reference, including any dataset or data it contains. No responsibility is taken for any information or services that may appear on any linked websites.