Bicol-grown ‘pili’ has the fragrance world over a barrel


WHAT DO Chanel, Gucci, Dior, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs have in common? The answer is closer than most Filipinos realize.

In fact, Filipinos don’t need to look far for an exotic perfume or organic beauty product. It may be in the resinous gum of “pili,” a local tree that has become a symbol of Bicolandia.

No less than international luxury brand Chanel now carries pili, internationally known as the Manila elemi tree (Canarium ovatum) in its newest product, the Ultra Correction Lift for facial skin rejuvenation.

The product advertisement reads: “At the heart of the Pacific Ocean, the island of Luzon holds the secrets of a tree with moisturizing properties: the Manila elemi.”

It sounds exotic, especially for those not familiar with the tree. But it grows naturally and is cultivated in most provinces of Bicol.

The pili tree is a sturdy tropical tree that grows abundantly in the region, whose climate is characterized by no distinct dry season with rainfall throughout the year. A cousin of frankincense, the pili tree also belongs to the Burseraceae family of oleoresin-producing trees.

Manila elemi is the trade name for the soft, fragrant exudates obtained from the trunk of the Canarium tree species which includes pili. It is mainly used by the fragrance industry after distillation of its essential oils, the Philippine Council for Agriculture Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development says.

In Gubat town in Sorsogon, anyone can buy from the market rolls of “pulot,” as the resin are locally called, wrapped in leaves that resemble “suman,” for only P10 to P20. These are used by the locals to fire up their rural kitchen stoves.

Only in the Philippines

The Food and Agriculture Organization, in its Corporate Document Repository titled “Gums Resins, and Latexes of Plant Origin,” lists the Philippines as the only source of internationally traded elemi.

In the essential oil world map adapted by the International Federation of Essential Oils and Aroma Trades, the Philippines is also listed as the sole source of the resin.

The country exports Manila elemi resin in raw form in cases with inner plastic bags graded depending on the quality of the gum resin. Generally, the softer, whiter and cleaner, the more premium is the grade.

In the world’s perfume industry, the pale yellow Manila elemi oil is often used as middle note because of its medium aroma strength that blends well with lavender, rosemary, frankincense, sage, myrrh, patchouli, vetiver and other international fragrances.

Its aromatic scent can be described as fennel and dill-like with citrus and woody notes.

“It is surprisingly fresh and clean though, and not as tart as one would expect,” as described by Aroma-Pure, an international elemi oil supplier.

“The low volatility of Manila elemi oil distillate and its high tenacity in water make it a suitable component of water-based air fresheners and related products,” says Irma Palanginan, senior researcher of the Department of Science and Technology’s Forest Products Research and Development Institute (DOST-FPRDI).

According to Steven D. Garcia, agribusiness section chief of the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist in Sorsogon, a representative of Chanel has already inquired about the capacity of Bicol to continuously supply the resin.

Unfortunately, the regional office cannot quote a volume. The present state of the Manila elemi resin production is not yet as developed as compared to the pili nut confectionery industry where more than 256 entrepreneurs are involved in the region.

Garcia emphasizes that all pili trees in Sorsogon are organic. In fact, there are only three private pili orchards in the province; the rest are wild pili plantations dispersed by animals which feed on the pili fruits.

Sorsogon has the largest land area planted to pili (669 hectares).

Only one barangay has a long-running enterprise on Manila elemi resin production and trading with the backing of a private company, Philippine Gum Resources Inc., the leading exporter of Manila elemi resin to France, Garcia says.


Barangay Manapao in Gubat produces 900-1,000 kilograms per month, but the company needs around 10 tons of pili resin a month.

The experience of Manapao of more than a decade of strong pili resin enterprise will teach neighboring villages that pili resin is a sustainable and dependable source of livelihood, according to spouses Nelson and Elvie Hubilla, producer and consolidator, respectively, of pili resin in Manapao.

The couple proudly says they are able to send their children to college from income derived from the pulot.

As the worldwide trend for natural products intensifies, demand for the Manila elemi resin is expected to pick up in the global market.

In 2003, 361,386 kg of the resin valued at $528,336 was exported to France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the United States, the Philippine Forestry Statistics showed.

Manila elemi is evident as fragrance component in other luxury perfumes, such as Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme, Dior Homme Sport for Men, Marc Jacobs Bang for Men, Donna Karan DKNY Women, Revlon Pink Happiness for Women, Ralph Lauren Extreme Polo for Men and dozens more.

It also has cosmetic and therapeutic qualities and is used in aromatherapy treatment and skin care products, such as the new Chanel product.

The scent from Manila elemi oil evokes a feeling of peace and lifts the spirit, according to some online reviews.

Not surprising, the name elemi originated from a name of an African tribal god which means “keeper of the spirit.”


One group of farmers from Sorsogon, realizing the potential of the local raw materials as source of perfumery essential oils, is currently applying for a cooperative venture, the Nature Fragrance Source Producers Cooperative.

They want to produce and utilize indigenous aromatic plants resources, such as pili, “kadlum” (patchouli), “moras” (vetiver) and “kasmir” (citronella), says Joeriz P. Olbes, enterprise specialist of Sorsogon City and the coordinator of the project.

Even without tapping, the pili tree naturally exudes its resin from its bark and roots and is often wasted and unutilized. By proper collection of resin, growers can earn around P14,000 from tapping 76 trees in only two tappings per tree, as recorded by the technology generation project of Sorsogon conducted by wood anatomist Dr. Arsenio Ella of the FPRDI in 2007.

At the current price at P70 per kg of pili resin, earnings could be more than doubled should his technique be utilized.

In an e-mail, Ella says, “I love pili very much, a typical Bicolano. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I dislike to cease working on Canarium species.”

Original article.

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21 Responses to Bicol-grown ‘pili’ has the fragrance world over a barrel

  1. mila says:

    Gusto ko pong makontak si Mr. Steven D. Garcia kasi interesado po ako na magproduce ng pulot ng Pili nakatira po ako sa Albay. Gusto ko po malaman kung kanino po ako makikipagcoordinate sa kanila ba or sa Albay Agriculture office. Gusto ko po malaman mga details kung paano namin ibebenta ang makukuhang pulot. Salamat po

    • sorsogoncity says:

      Ang suggestion ko po, kontakun tabi nindo an sorsogon prov’l office (they must have a number on DILG regional office or from the phone directory. Aram ko tabi an Digitel nan Bayantel na directory, kaibahan su buong bicol coverage ninda sa phone directory. I checked the internet, dai akong mahanap na contact information.

      Thanks for the interest, by the way. Good luck na lang tabi sa indo.

  2. iane orillosa says:

    interested din po ako mg produce ng pulot ng pili. me mga puno din po kame ng pili sa bicol. so pano po kaya ang processo? sino po bang maari kung kontakin dito sa manila. or sa bicol. this is my email add. tnx po,

    • sorsogoncity says:

      Hi Iane,

      Sorry, pero hindi ako familiar sa process. Siguro, you can get in touch with the Dep’t of Agriculture sa regional office or provincial office.

      Sorsogon City

  3. sorsogoncity says:

    Naghapot na tabi ako sa mga kairiba naton na Sorsoganon kun sin-o talaga dapat an makaisturya unong sadi na Pili product.

  4. Peace and Equity Foundation is interested to know more about the cooperative and the cooperative venture. Pls email us at attention Ricardo Torres Jr, Program Manager Peace and Equity Foundation, 69 Esteban Abada Loyola Heights Quezon CIty

    • sorsogoncity says:

      Hi Mr. Torres,

      I am still waiting for feedback from my fellow Bicolanos. I will keep you posted since i have your email address.

      Sorsogon City

      • sorsogoncity says:

        Hi Mr. Torres,

        Unfortunately, I never got any reply. But I will continue to follow up any information related to this article.

        Thanks for your support!

        Sorsogon City

      • Alma P. Gamil says:

        Good morning Mr Torres. This is Alma P. Gamil. The group of farmers from Sorsogon province can be contacted at the farm site of Dante Deyto, Km 12 Cabiguhan Road, Abuyog, Sorsogon City.
        Thank you for your interest. These farmers are now producing citronella and patchouli oils. They are looking for a more competitive price to their products.
        Manila elemi resin is still traded raw. It has already a very stable market link. You may visit Barangay Manapao of Gubat for a closer look on the trade.

        Alma P. Gamil

      • sorsogoncity says:

        Hi Ma’am,

        Salamat tabi sa information. This is the most commented article so far in this site.

        Sorsogon City

  5. Nonalyn Pangantihon says:

    interested po kami bumuli ng manila elemi resins of supplies for our production.. sino po ba makokontak na pedeng makapaginquire sa kanila?

    • sorsogoncity says:

      Hi Ma’am,

      Sorry, di ko rin alam kung sino dapat. Wala akong contact information ng prov’l argicultural office. Pero once I get the info, I will reply to this thread. Hindi lang kayo ang naghahanap.

      Salamat sa interes ninyo.

      Sorsogon City

  6. thess reonal-hallig says:

    Good morning. My husband is from Bulan, Sorsogon. They have at least 30 trees of Pili in their hometown and they are interested in becoming a supplier for the pili sap. What are the requirements and who shall we coordinate with? Hope to receive your reply soon. Thank you so much…

    • sorsogoncity says:

      Hi Thess,

      Feel free to check with the local agricultural office in Bulan, I am sure they are familiar with this or they can get in touch with the provincial agriculturist.

      I haven’t received any feedback from my friends in Sorsogon. But I will let you know, I got your email address.

      Thanks for the interest again.

      Sorsogon City

    • Junji Alvia says:

      Hi Ms. Thess, can you give us a call or text regarding your pili sap supply. We need at least 2000 kilos of pili sap (sahing) every week for our production of adhesives. Please contact me at 0939-9107650 or 0908-7800474. Thank you.
      Junji Alvia (

      • sorsogoncity says:

        Hi Junji,

        I will publish your needs on a separate article to reach more readers. Also, I will get in touch with the author of the article. She might be able to connect you to the subject.

        Hope that helps.


      • sorsogoncity says:

        Hi Junji,

        Sorry it took me a while but I posted a separate article about your requirement. Hopefully somebody replies.


    • sorsogoncity says:

      For those interested in Pili trees and its own products, you can visit the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist along Alegre Street, near the corner of Burgos Street. Or you can get in touch with them at +63(917)893-4485.

  7. thess reonal-hallig says:

    Thank you so much Mr. Junji for your reply. I’ve already talked to my husband regarding the pili sap supply needed for the production of your adhesives and he will be getting in touch with you anytime soon…

    thess reonal-hallig

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