Occassionaly sold under the enchanting Chinese name of May chang, this essential oil is more commonly marketed under its botanical name of Litsea cubeba, and this is how we offer it at Quinessence. It is also occasionally referred to as Exotic Verbena or Tropical Verbena, although despite the references to verbena the plant is not related in any way to true verbena (Lippia citriodora). The association to this name would appear to be due to the similarity in fragrance. rom the Lauraceae family, Litsea cubeba is a small deciduous tree that grows to a height of 5 to 8 metres (16-26 feet), with a smooth trunk measuring 6-20 centimetres (2.5 to 8 inches) in diameter. Sometimes known as the Mountain Spice Tree and Chinese Pepper, the tree bears white or pale yellow, lemon-scented flowers, and small fruits which are similar in shape to small peppers, from which the word ‘cubeb’ is derived. Measuring between 4 to 6 millimetres in diameter, the aromatic fruits are almost spherical in shape and green in colour, turning red then dark brown upon ripening. When dried, these small fruits look like large, dried black peppers and provide the source of the essential oil, although oil can be extracted from the flowers, branches, bark, roots and leaves too. The oil derived from these parts of the plant do not have the same odour as the fruits.
The essential oil is extracted by steam distillation of the fresh fruits, and yields a pale yellow liquid with a fresh, intensely lemon fragrance with fruity and spicy undertones. For many people, the aroma brings back happy memories of sherbet-lemon sweets! Its lemon fragrance is similar to, but much sweeter and more refined than lemongrass, which has grassy, fishy and fatty backnotes. Due to this lemon sweetness, essential oil of litsea cubeba is used extensively in the perfumery, cosmetic and flavouring industries.