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Soumya Ranjan Swaro*, Simanchal Panda, Dr. P.K. Kar


In India, ambara or amber as a perfume or an aromatic ingredient is found mentioned in the Sanskrit Lexicons. Among the animal products, ambergris is supposed to be a secretion from the sperm whale, used in perfumery as a fixative or as a tincture in deluxe perfumes, possibly brought to India by the Arabs. The Travels of Marco Polo (c. 1300 AD) provides interesting account about the hunting of whales for ambergris and oil and also the methods adopted by the whale hunters. A narrative on ambergris and its connection to India is well known. In India, Ambergis is used in perfumes and drugs in Ayurveda and Unani system of medicine. Pure ambergris is a waxlike substance insoluble in water, but soluble in alcohol, chloroform, ether and certain volatile and fixed oils. The light grades of ambergris, white in colour, are usually the best and it is these grades that go to make tincture or the concentrated (absolute). Among the several components isolated from ambergris, the main three are: triterpene alcohol ambrein, epicoprostanol and coprostanone, the first being the principal active ingredient. Ambergris has been mostly known for its use in creating perfume and fragrance much like musk. Perfumes can still be found with ambergris around the world. It is collected from remains found at sea and on beaches, although its precursor originates from the sperm whale, which is a vulnerable species. Ancient Egyptians burned ambergris as incense, while in modern Egypt ambergris is used for scenting cigarettes. The ancient Chinese called the substance "dragon's spittle fragrance". During the Black Death in Europe, people believed that carrying a ball of ambergris could help prevent them from getting the plague. This was because the fragrance covered the smell of the air which was believed to be a cause of plague. This substance has also been used historically as a flavoring for food and is considered an aphrodisiac in some cultures. During the Middle Ages, Europeans used ambergris as a medication for headaches, colds, epilepsy, and other ailments.

Keywords: Ambergris, Chemical constituents, Composition of Ambergris, Different names, Formation of ambergris, Myth and reality, Odour, Physical properties, Sperm whale, Substitutes, Travelers‘ account (Arab and European), Uses.

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