From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A consumable resin can be extracted from opoponax by cutting the plant at the base of a stem and sun-drying the juice that flows out. Though people often find the taste acrid and bitter, the highly flammable resin can be burned as incense to produce a scent somewhat like balsam or lavender. The resin has been used in treatment of spasms — and, before that, as an emmenagogue in treatment of asthma, chronic visceral infections, hysteria and hypochondria. Opoponax resin is most frequently sold in dried irregular pieces, though tear-shaped gems are not uncommon.
Cultural references to opoponax
- King Solomon allegedly regarded the opoponax as the noblest of incense gums.
- In the penultimate chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses, Leopold Bloom recognizes opoponax as an ingredient in the perfume of his wife, Molly.
- In The Grand Duke, by W. S. Gilbert, the mock-grecian chorus that opens the second Act repeat the words "Opoponax eloia!" many times.
- In the novel Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub, the word opopanax is used repeatedly and constantly in a nonsensical fashion, as both a verb and an adjective (e.i "distant cry of the opoponax", the opoponax this, the opoponax that, etc) eventually becoming a symbol for all the strange and incomprehensible events unfolding in the book.
- In another Stephen King novel, Wolves of the Calla (the fifth book in The Dark Tower series), a character holds an "opopanax feather", thus suggesting that it is the name of a bird. No other explanation is given in the story.
- In the novel Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon, the child mobster "Plug" Loafsley runs a club that smells strongly of opopanax, vervain, and bodily ejecta.