Stacte: An Ancient Aroma Rediscovered


Stacte is a biblical incense ingredient, and draws fame from being one of the ingredients in Solomon’s Temple incense, which was supposedly comprised of equal parts Stacte, Onycha, galbanum, and frankincense.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices—gum resin, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, 35 and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred.” – Exodus 30:34

Stacte was also used by ancient Egyptians, both for perfume, as well as incense.

In a similar fashion as Onycha, it’s origins are a bit murky.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy; and you shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you; it shall be for you most holy. And the incense you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves; it shall be for you holy to the Lord. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people.”Exodus 30:34

Although it does mention it, unfortunately this biblical reference doesn’t tell us what stacte actually is. So let’s start with the etymology. Stacte is actually a translation of the Hebrew word “nataph”, which was later revised to “ha’tzori”, both of which mean “to drip”. Later the word evolved into “balsam”, which is a word which gives a direction we can go off of.

Considering the word balsam, as well as the region they were located in during Biblical times, it could be concluded that the most probable meaning would be one of the following:

  • Storax Balsam – A liquid balsam from the liquidambar orientalis tree.
  • Mecca Balsam – A similar balsam, but harvested from trees local to Palestine.
  • Myrrh Balsam – Myrrh balsam is essentially processed/liquidized fresh myrrh resin.

Another clue in history regarding Stacte comes from Theophrastus, an ancient Greek botanist. He referenced Stacte in the following quote:

“From the myrrh, when it is bruised flows an oil; it is in fact called “stakte”  because it comes in drops slowly.”

Obviously this quote from Theophrastus points towards it being processed myrrh. Let’s see what else we we can dig up.

The ancient Roman historian Pliny, the Elder describes stacte in his book “A Natural History” as:

“the liquid which exuded naturally from the myrrh tree before the gum was collected from man-made incisions.”

It seems that most of the evidence points towards Stacte being a form of liquid myrrh.

We hope you found this information beneficial.

Main image is by CWatchman from Wikipedia.

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