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Ambergris is among the few materials of animal origin used in perfumery. Because of a late 1970s US law prohibiting the importing of ambergris or any whale products into the US, natural ambergris is no longer used in US perfumey. Ambergris isolates, derivatives and substitutes are used.

Ambergris derives its name from the Arabian term ambar, from Old French ambre gris (amber + gris, gray).

Ambergris was already used in ancient times, primarily as a medicine and in incense, and only later in fragrances.

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The Chinese valued ambergris as medicine and used it chiefly as an aphrodisiac. They called ambergris lung-yen (dragon saliva). Medieval Arab medicine held ambergris as a valuable heart stimulant. It was also used as flavor in medieval Arab cuisine, Arabs of the African coast mixed ambergris in their coffee.