Month: March 2014

Frankincense tree

Co-ops-Do we support ethical Frankincense Harvesting?

I don’t believe in coincidences, which sometimes leaves my mental gears spinning, making sense of the odd things that often unfold in life. I know without a doubt there is something I’m missing when a bizarre  series of events, unusual and random seeming patterns and algorithms are thrown my way. For this reason a parcel is not always just a parcel, and Frankincense is not always just Frankincense, as you will see below.

2 hours before leaving for Israel, I received an email from the manager of a Frankincense cooperative in Somaliland, inquiring if I had received the package of Frankincense Carterii he had sent. After numerous emails back and forth, it was clear there was no chance I would receive the package in the few minutes before I left. Oh well, it would come when it was meant to come I thought to myself. Nothing I could do about it.

15 minutes before leaving for the airport, the doorbell rang to reveal a postman with THE package. I had just enough time to grab the essential oil samples, and a portion of the oleoresin for proper examination and feedback in Israel. I have to admit the timing of it all was extremely odd, rank with hidden meaning. The resin was wildcrafted, and marked 2013 harvest. If you have read any two of posts on this blog, then you are probably familiar with my passion for sustainability and ethics in wildcrafting, and as you can imagine, my interest was piqued. A cooperative you say?…

Though some of my Ethiopian Frankincense is sourced from farmer/collector collectives and co-ops. This kind of local, sustainable community approach to managing our global resources is still in its infancy. There are only so many odoriferous and medicinal materials that are conscientiously gathered in the wild. Likely very few. Because they are in demand, difficult to cultivate en-masse and often represent only a fraction of a meager yearly subsistence outside of mainstream economics, many wild growing plants and trees are vulnerable to harvesting practices that are detrimental to the plants, and the local ecological balance.

Except for rare occasions, wildcrafting in any culture or country is not a well paying job. The harvest and the monetary return fluctuate from year to year, there is often a chain of middlemen who manipulate prices and absorb much of the profit, changing weather and seasonal fluctuations make income unpredictable, and unreliable. There are no benefits, medical or dental, fringe or other, no pension or workers compensation. If you injure yourself, get too sick to harvest, too bad. One tries to make the most of it, when the opportunity presents itself, and nature accommodates the best she can.

Cooperative models, on the other hand, can provide landowners, nomadic shepherds, wildcrafters and farmers, individuals and families, incentive and guidance to take responsibility for the plant’s well-being, protect, propagate and nurture them, attend to increasing the population of healthy plants and trees, while preserving the supporting environments in which they grow. Managers eliminate middlemen and represent the interests of the co-op from harvest to consumer. Co-operatives can educate growers and collectors to harvest in ways that maintain healthy plants, long-term growth and optimum yield.

The need for this sustainable approach to harvesting from the wild is not limited to Africa, Asia or developing countries, it is an approach that is needed and can work beneficially in developed countries as well. There are very few standards for wildcrafting anywhere in the world. Not even in North America where we see ever-growing lists of plants that are threatened, protected, in decline and near extinction such as Goldenseal, Lady’s Slipper and many other medicinal and aromatic plants.

St. John's Wort. Many thousands of tons are collected yearly for herbal medicne.

St. John’s Wort. Many thousands of tons are collected from the wild yearly for herbal medicine.

Elderberry wine's secret synergy with Wild Ginger, Spice, fragrance and medicine - Hidden Ontario treasure - Ontario

Wild Ginger,Spice, fragrance and medicine An endangered species in Maine

Improper and shortsighted harvesting methods have had a great impact on our environment the past 100 years or so, as has the encroachment of roads and cities, invasive species, overuse of herbicides, pesticides, pollution, industrialisation and changes in weather patterns. The saving grace of current wildcrafting practices in North America, is the growing trend of independent, conscientious wildcrafters who have taken it upon themselves to educate and inform themselves and the consumer, while treating nature with reverence and respect. An approach that is slowly spreading in the western world.

The increased interest in Herbalism, Naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, plant Alchemy, alternative medicine  and earth based religions, has given rise to this new kind of self managed ethical wildcrafter whose focus is on quality, sustainability, and the long-term well-being of Nature and the local ecology. I think this is commendable, and a trend that should be encouraged and supported whenever possible.

This approach is just as effective as co-ops and other forms of wild harvesting management. This new breed of Wildcrafters embraces an ethical/sustainable harvesting model that leaves a very small footprint on the environment, but unfortunately also often generates a smaller profit margin for the collector’s extra care. Let’s not allow their efforts, care and dedication go unrecognized or unsupported. Educate yourself and seek them out. They do this work on our behalf.

It is my hope to generate a list of these small-scale, ethical North American, European and Mediterranean wildcrafters who practice sustainable harvesting methods, on this site for future reference. If you know someone you would like to see on this list, please let me know. The demand for wild medicinal, culinary and aromatic materials is growing steadily, as is the impact of wild harvesting on our global environment. Cooperatives and other managed wildcrafting systems, could, in theory slow down and even reverse the large-scale global ecological mess we are creating. One harvester at a time.

Myrrh tree oleo-resin Ethiopia. Ermias Dagne

Myrrh tree  Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of  Ermias Dagne

The old model of opportunistic harvesting was focused on extracting the greatest amount of plant material, or  oleoresin from trees at any cost. In the case of medicinal and aromatic plants, collecting as many as possible in the shortest possible time, so as to increase the ratio of payment to hours of labour. (The profit margin). Care in harvesting is often not high on the list in these scenarios. Collateral damage can only be imagined, especially when mechanized methods such as bulldozers and backhoes are an option. Large tracts of valuable plants can be eliminated from the landscape, leaving nothing behind, and no chance for the landscape to recover for many years if ever. Yes, this does unfortunately still happen!  

  We, as consumers, are largely unaware of what goes on to bring us our wild medicinal and aromatic materials, and are ignorant of the extent of damage our purchases can cost the environment. For this reason we have not yet demanded a change.  At this time, in our western democracies, we are able to address and limit wholesale environmental destruction perpetrated by huge corporations and governments, when we are aware of it. These scenarios are blatant, and difficult to ignore.

  We have our champions of industrial and governmental reform, but few in this “grey zone”. Due to the underground and hidden nature of small wildcrafting operations, the vast territory that is spread over the whole of the world, the lack of sourcing information from large companies, we are simply not aware of the local and cumulative global impact the many tens or hundreds of thousands of wildcrafters collectively have. Without education or direction, they too contribute to the slow decline of the worlds ecology.

In the case of Frankincense trees, in some areas they are often already stressed by uncontrolled grazing, drought and long-term neglect and over harvesting.  They are sometimes cut for lumber, cleared to make way for agriculture,  used as a source of firewood in barren terrains, and when over or improperly harvested,  decline in yield and often suffer from low seed viability which further adds to their decline in the landscape. I believe a study done on Boswellia Papyrifera showed a drop from 80% seed viability to 18%  in trees that were stressed due to these factors, making it almost impossible for the trees to propagate themselves.

Frankincense Tree

Frankincense Tree

Cooperatives on the other hand, encourage ownership and responsibility through reliable financial incentive, education, and when possible provide saplings and seedlings to restore the supply and increase the population. (As in the case of the Ethiopian government’s efforts to reduce the decline of Boswellia Papyrifera). Another benefit of managed wildcrafting, is that when present, middlemen, each profiting from reselling and sometimes adulterating the collected material are replaced by a “manager” who offers fair and consistent prices to the harvesters, sets standards of quality and purity, deals directly with the wholesaler/consumer.

  Purchasing through a co-op or other managed system of wild harvest and collection, the consumer benefits from the knowledge they will receive a product of consistent quality, they are not contributing to the extinction or over harvesting of natural resources, and they are supporting the small shareholders and collectors and their local economy.  The consumer is assured that their financial choices are supporting ethics and methods that benefit nature, the ecology, local economies, and fair wages. It truly is s win win arrangement.

Cooperatives and other informed management solutions can be part of governmental initiatives, local or international conservation organizations, local communities, groups, families or individuals. There are as many options for sustaining ecology and economy as there are ways to destroy them.

Somaliland is in an odd position. Not yet acknowledged as an independent country by the UN, it strives for international recognition as a completely separate entity from war torn Somalia, to rule itself and build a stable, thriving economy. The collection and export of its oleoresins is a staple of the economy and the main source of income for generations of its citizens, one of many things that differentiate Somaliland from its neighbor Somalia. This is, in my opinion, also a cause worth supporting with our choices and dollars.

There needs to be conscientious, responsible, sustainable and ethical wildcrafting in the world, and as this approach of managed wildcrafting spreads, I believe it could make a significant difference in our world, but only if we prove to the harvesters and co-ops it is worth their while financially, that we support what they are trying to accomplish by the simple act of choosing to purchase their products. We have to put our money where our ideology is. That’s where we come in. You and I.

The choice of setting standards for ethical and sustainable harvesting of our worlds natural resources, is on our shoulders as the end users and consumers. Though we are thousands of miles away, and there seem to be cultural chasms between our worlds, the illusion of distance is evaporating through the rapid growth of the internet, global communication, commerce, immigration and travel. Our neighborhoods have expanded enormously. Frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood and other fragrant/medicinal trees and plants are actually in our backyards and every choice we make, or don’t make here, with our digital or physical “coin”, has a direct impact on the environment and inhabitants of every corner of our world. Human, animal, plant and mineral alike. Silence can be as damaging as action.

The wellbeing of all the world and the nations around us, how other governments treat their citizens, each other, their women and children, their plants, animals, minerals, and ecologies, are all well within the influence of the ripples we make with our choices here in north America. Financial and other. Our choices are our voices. We underestimate the power we truly have. Poor as we may see ourselves in relation to our local societal and economical standards, you and I are the rich kids in the world, we live on the good side of the global “tracks”, and all it takes is 5 minutes on the streets of Cairo, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Delhi or any of a thousand other cities to see this clearly. We are privileged and powerful in this world. We can make a real difference.

Every single one of us, bar none, has the power to change the world for the better, one small choice and purchase at a time by using the collective purchasing power we have as consumers. Even those of us on welfare, disability and pensions are rich compared to the average citizen of most developing countries.We can make a difference in the world by directing our individual, informed, conscientious voices, and collective individual purchases towards a powerful cause and a clear statement. What kind of world do we want to see? Let’s choose. Let’s make it so. Through us, our governments have the clout to nonviolently, pressure foreign government bullies, to humanize their laws, end wars, protect women, children and the innocent.

We have seen that using the power of the internet, a cohesive collection of individual voices can create powerful petitions that often change the tide of political, environmental, and economical decisions in “distant” countries.  Our collective purchasing power is enormous, though while it remains unrecognized by us, it is latent and ineffective. Using our collective, individual small purchases to voice our noncompliance with unethical and unsustainable collection practices from the wild, we have the clout and power of a substantially large democracy. Perhaps more so than our governments which have many political considerations and toes to not step on. We really do, collectively have enormous, world changing power in our hands, just waiting to coalesce.

Cooperative collected Somaliland B. Carterii 2013 Harvest.

Bringing this cooperative harvested Boswellia Carterii oleoresin with me on my trip, I have had over a week to judge its quality. I am very very impressed. Not only is it fresh as stated and richly fragrant, even through the thick plastic bag, this Frankincense showed its true freshness by immediately softening and sticking between my fingers with the warmth of my body releasing its essential oils. This usually indicates a high ratio of fragrant oleoresins to water soluble gums. Often, as frankincense ages, it slowly loses its essential oils, becomes more brittle, powders more easily and oxidizes a bit. This batch is exactly as promised, freshly harvested, strongly fragrant and a versatile product for the consumer. Its fragrance, fresh, and burned is comparable to the best B. Sacra/Carterii I have so far examined.

   Having this opportunity to purchase directly from a Frankincense co-op, is a unique and exiting opportunity. Our purchases contribute directly to the well-being of the plants and the local environment, assure a fair price and wage to the collectors, support families and communities that live in remote inaccessible areas, and eliminate excess profiteering by middlemen. In this case, working through a co-op also supports the economy of a country struggling for recognition and independence. When we have figured out pricing and other details, I will post these wonderful Somaliland products in the store and let everyone know.

 The package I received also included samples of B. Carterii essential oil, and a beautiful perfume/medicinal grade essential oil of the local Myrrh. The Myrrh essential oil especially impressed me, and outshone even the Myrrh essential oil I found in Ethiopia last year. (Sorry Ermias!). Its colour is lighter than other essential oils of Myrrh, which adds to its usefulness in perfumery, and its aroma is heavenly. Softly penetrating with rich deep notes of balsam, vanilla, and a hints of wood and bitter green. However the loveliest characteristic of this Myrrh essential oil, is a subtle and unexpected floral note delicately woven through it. Purchase and import details of  this high quality Myrrh and Frankincense essential oils is being negotiated as I write. As soon as these oleoresins and essential oils become available for purchase, I will let you all know.

 Somaliland is also home to the famous, rare and hard to getMaidi”, or Frankincense Frereana. It has been transplanted and cultivated to some degree in Yemen, but its true home is in the mountains of northern Somaliland. This is the famous “Yemenite chewing gum” I often refer to here. It is still imported by Yemen and Oman from Somaliland, though often marketed as a local product. It was not included in this shipment, but my fingers are crossed that this cooperative will be able to share some with us, or at least direct me to a co-op that does. I will keep you all updated as this unfolds. The possibility of importing fresh, ethically and sustainably harvested Myrrh, Frankincense and Boswellia Frereana directly from the co-ops, is a very exiting project!

 Take some time to research Somaliland. Next time you consider purchasing raw oleoresins, essential oils or herbs, find out where they come from, when and how they were harvested. We demanded “Organic” from our suppliers, and now we have organic options. We have organic produce only because we asked for it and were willing to pay for it. This is only a first step, now we know that just because something is designated organic may mean it is better for us, but does not mean it is better for the planet. In fact the term “Organic” does not and never will be a standard we can apply to wild harvested plant material. We need to demand ethics and sustainability of harvesting wild material. This is the standard we need to establish and demand from our suppliers. Organic is simply not a qualification that can in any way be awarded to, or associated with, wild harvested products. We need to establish a new model, standard and qualification “Ethically and sustainably Harvested”.

Look for cooperatives, outstanding individuals, people that care deeply or have a strong connection to the land. Look for ethical and sustainable collection methods, managed harvesting in some form. The more we ask for ethical and sustainable wildcrafted products, communicate this with our money, the more the market will recognize them as important to sales and profit margin, and will adapt to accommodate our needs around ethics and sustainability. Money does indeed talk, and when directed properly, it can cause a lot of good in the world.

I don’t think we should wait for this to just happen on its own. I’m serious about creating a list on this blog of verified ethical wildcrafters and wild harvested suppliers,  managers, and cooperatives with standards that are both ethical and sustainable. Please do post your suggestions in the comment section or email me directly at-dnriegler@gmail.com. If you know of any individual, group or company that fits the above criteria in your opinion, please let me know. Any suggestions, comments and opinions are welcome.

 Dan

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The Traveling Apothecary

My apologies for the long delay posting here.
My intent was to deliver part 2 of “How to distill essential oils from spruce and pine sap” a long time ago.
But life doesn’t always unfold the way we plan it. Instead, I find myself in Israel with no pine sap and without my distilling equipment.
I am improvising with this unexpected scenario, and trying to catch up on many of the plans I had made for March and April.
It is the spring equinox, and a time for new beginnings. Sometimes chaos is the ideal material from which new endeavors rise. I hope this is the case.

I feel I haven’t caught my breath or found my ground in over 2 weeks.

Thanks to everyone for the great response to the last post. Especially the “Preppers” and “Doing The Stuff Network”. I would love to do a followup on the many practical uses for our native saps. Things everyone should know how to do.                                                                  If indeed we find ourselves at the end of the world, apocalypse upon us, I still expect everyone to treat nature with due reverence. We may not get a second chance to do things right. If we do, and we blow off Nature again, well, we probably deserve extinction. Of course we could change how we are doing things now, and avoid post apocalyptic anarchy completely,,, Time will tell.

I imagine I could write a “how to” on distilling Frankincense essential oil, a popular topic on search engines, and an oleoresin readily available here. The distillation process for both saps is close to identical,  so I could kill two birds with one stone. Of course barring the above mentioned apocalypse, thankfully,  I won’t have to physically bash in any bird skulls. Another reason to change our attitude towards Nature asap.
Let me ponder the idea of a post covering the distillation of both Frankincense and Pine oleoresins, and I will get back to you.
In the meantime, I will entertain you with photos of wild flowers blooming on desert mountains, in arid Wadi beds, and on beaches of southern Israel, eye candy from the Negev.

So. With the intent of finding a way to finish my post on distilling essential oils from tree saps, I will leave you, and promise to post again soon.

Wishing a happy and productive Spring to all.
Dan

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How to distill essential oils from Pine and Spruce sap-Part 1

White Pine Sap-2014

White Pine Sap-2014

It is very easy to distill the essential oils from our local North American Pine, Spruce and Fir tree saps ourselves, but, to fully capture the exquisite qualities this type of small-scale distillation can offer us, a different approach and perspective is called for. Everything leading up to the distillation is as important to the quality of our oils as the physical process of distillation. The approach is simple.

We have to shift our perspective from being product oriented to relationship oriented. From getting to giving, and change our role of consumers to that of stewards. We each exist in a relationship with nature, the planet, and much more than is visible to the eye. We are part of a vast dynamic living matrix linking and coordinating all life in its many forms, from beyond the planets and stars to the very atoms within all things. Severed from it but for a moment we would cease to exist. Literally. I know, it’s a big statement to open with, but for now, keep an open mind, and I will I will try to keep this to one post of readable length, and address these concepts in upcoming posts.

We have put a lot of stress on the planet’s systems the past few hundred years. We have excelled at taking and making, and most  definitely gained a lot.  We have progressed and evolved as a civilization. As we see the negative impact on the health of the planet and our bodies, we struggle to understand what we are doing wrong.  Skyrocketing cancers and other diseases. What are we missing? How can we do this differently so nature thrives along with us? Lucky for us Nature sees us as part of her, not the enemy, or we would have been disposed of and reabsorbed into the planet a long time ago.  Dominant species or not, our behaviour has been abhorrent towards each other and the planet. Dominant Shmominant. We have intellectualized our role here, separating ourselves from nature as beings superior to all others. Crowned ourselves kings of the planet without assuming the responsibilities of rulership.

Simple homemade multipurpose  pot still with air-cooled condenser.

Simple homemade multipurpose pot still with air-cooled condenser. Th metal sleeve on left, is added to the top of the still for steam distillation of suspended material. Also makes a mean Grappa if it is legal where you live….

Here are some simple methods of extracting essential oils from conifers

Though more sophisticated methods areinvented daily, let’s hope, ethics and sustainability are an important part of them.

  • Needles, smaller branches and twigs can be mindfully trimmed, sent through a “mulcher”, then hydro/steam distilled. This is done easily in a home-made pot still. (See the post on distilling Frankincense). The chopped material will float on the water in the pot, avoiding the danger of material burning on the bottom. This allows us to distill the essential oils of evergreens that do not exude their saps such as White Cedar and the Junipers. They can also be set atop the boiling still pot and steam distilled.
  • The trees can be tapped, and the essential oils distilled from their sap in a process similar to the preparation of Maple syrup. (Tapping spiles can be purchased, (Stainless steel), or made from Elder branches as these shown below). If I had a choice between a cold metal tube, or a body temperature tube made of the same material as my body,  inserted into me, I know which I would choose.

    Handmade Elder Spiles for tapping the saps of Maple, Spruce and other trees

    Handmade Elder Spiles for tapping the saps of Maple, Spruce and other trees. (Maple Syrup, Spruce Beer etc.)

  •  In the turpentine industry, Pine bark is cut, stripped or slashed, using methods similar to the extraction methods of  Frankincense and Myrrh trees. The ensuing exudate of oleoresin, (essential oils and resins), collected and  processed in copper stills. The vapours from the heated oleoresins are condensed for turpentine and essential oils, while the leftover resin is drained and filtered to make the rosin we use on the bows of violins and other stringed instruments, and other applications where increased friction and contact is needed. With a little love and ingenuity, you can make your own beautiful crystal clear amber Rosin  from Pine, Spruce or Fir saps. You can get creative and cast this rosin in any shape you can envision. It makes a lovely incense even after separation from its essential oils.
  • Rosin
    Rosin, Make your own high quality Rosin from the saps of trees that grow around you
  • Rosin, Make your own high quality Rosin from the saps of trees that grow around you
  • By far the simplest and gentlest method for distilling essential oils from local conifers, especially if one lives in the city, is from the sap already present from the trimming of lower branches. This requires no further damage to the trees, while giving us the opportunity to produce our own exquisite essential oils and rosins for perfume, medicine and many other products.

Even in the middle of the city, you will find a connection to the trees that grow in your sphere.  I would say you already have a relationship with them whether you recognize it or not. To notice a tree, acknowledges the existence of a relationship between you. Life is full of subtle truths. The quality of that relationship is mostly in your hands. The quality of the products you make with the trees in your sphere is completely in your hands. A little piece of the planet’s well-being is yours to watch over and nurture. These are the seeds of stewardship. 

American Turpentine workers circa 1912

American Turpentine workers circa 1912. (I know, this photo makes me cringe, for a couple of reasons)

Today some large-scale operations distill essential oils from pulp, sawdust and foliage left over from milling and processing trees for lumber and paper industries. The quality of the essential oils produced by these large industries can not compare to those you can distill in small quantities on your own. The chemical and  fragrance industry is vast, and many of these factory produced essential oils, especially those distilled from coniferous trees are used as starting materials for other  chemicals and essential oils utilized in our everyday products.

distillation column-I don't know what they are distilling, but it gives us an idea of the scale of these industrial operations.

distillation column-I don’t know what they are distilling, but it gives us an idea of the huge scale of these industrial operations.

On the bright side, Small scale “Artisan” Distillers of essential oils, made from hand collected plant materials, by craftspeople that have personal and intimate relationships with their local flora, people who practice ethical and sustainable methods due to their philosophies and convictions, are becoming recognized in commerce. They are increasingly in demand  by  “bespoke” and small-scale perfumers, naturopaths and alternative healers around the world. This, I believe, is how change on a global scale is slowly unfolding.

We need these small-scale producers and artisans in as many fields as possible, and we need to support them whenever, wherever and however possible. They represent a new paradigm and model of how we can live in harmony and balance with the planet instead of our current destructive model of impersonal mass production which is taking a growing toll on our health and wellbeing , and that of the planet.

Small scale farmers, conscientious and ethical animal husbandry operations, local dairy and artisan cheese producers, private-label vineyards and cottage industries, ethical wildcrafting homesteads and collectives, and small-scale distillers, all allow this type of rich, intimate, respectful relationship with nature to flourish. Supporting them enriches our communities, nurtures an ethical and sustainable relationship with the planet and provides us with high quality products that help reintegrate us on an individual and societal level with nature. They are the vanguard of change and evolution.

In the production of essential oils, I believe this is the only practical way to keep the integrity of the fresh plant, the nuances and depth, their healing potential, and the metaphorical “heartbeat” of the plant intact through the process. Something not achievable on an “Industrial scale”. Though each batch may differ slightly in complexities of fragrance, I believe these small distillations using planet friendly and non destructive practices, built on intimate personal  relationships with nature, from the tapped or exposed saps of the trees, yield perfume and therapeutic ingredients of the highest quality

Distilling essential oils from tree sap. An opportunity for Stewardship.

As mentioned above there are 3 materials we can extract essential oils from in a non destructive and responsible way.

  • Needles and twigs,
  • Sap from tapping the trunks
  • Sap collected from the exterior of the trees.

I am going to focus on the external sap we can collect. If there is interest, leave a comment below, I will write about the other methods in future posts.

One obvious difference is that we are working with a very specific product the tree has produced in response to an injury.  One can safely assume this is not the regular sap that flows within the tree due to the unique role of these self-produced “Bandages”. These oleoresins are exuded by the tree as a barrier against opportunistic organisms and microorganisms, and to heal an injury to itself. Their composition differs from the essential oils distilled from the tapped tree and from the needles.  They are higher in resins, and in my opinion, the essential oils they yield, are richer and more complex in fragrance.

For this reason, it is thought, that these saps and their essential oils have a greater healing potential, and are especially suited to managing skin ailments, aging skin, wrinkles and scarring. Healing our own “bark”. The affinity is obvious.  The Pinenes in these saps are considered anti inflammatory and broad spectrum antibiotics. They open bronchial passages, stimulate surface blood flow, stimulate brain function and  memory. These are only a few of the therapeutic properties and beneficial traits they offer us.

Each and every species of Pine, Spruce and Fir has its own unique chemical compounds, characteristics and fragrance 

Learn to differentiate between the different species and types of trees. Always collect and distill Pine, Spruce and Fir sap separately. If you like, you can start by collecting unidentified Pine, Spruce and Fir saps, and distill a more generic essential oil from each tree type, until you can discern between them. For most medicinal purposes this works well. If you invest some time in study, you will learn to tell the difference between the various species in each of these families. Your relationships with the trees will grow and deepen, leading you to consistent and higher quality essential oils. This is a craft and an art that calls for mastery.

A simple way to tell the difference between the three families, is that pine needles are “almost always” multiple, and are joined at the base in a sheath. Spruce and Fir needles are attached to the branch individually, a Spruce needle will roll easily between thumb and forefinger, while a Fir needle is flat and will not roll.  Spruce needles are often more rigid and have sharp skin penetrating tips, Fir needles are softer. Spruce cones grow downward while Fir, as far as I know has upward growing cones that do not last the whole season. Someone once said “Loving someone is knowing them”. It is so with Nature, you will find that love and knowledge will grow hand in hand.

We raise our children detached from Nature. Shamans, elders, Priests and priestesses, medicine men and women, those who have traditionally kept the spirit and connection with nature alive in our communities, have lost their roles in modern society. It is up to us to address this void. There is no one else. Our natural “resources” are much more than just chemical compounds we can take and process into useful products, there is a unique life force within each plant, animal and mineral woven through the universe.  Can we keep  this energetic vitality alive from harvest to finished product?

Sustainable and Ethical Harvesting or Wildcrafting

The laws of Nature, Physics and Karma work flawlessly, whether we can see them or not. For every action there is a reaction, no energy invested ever disappears, and we reap what we sow. There is an intelligence of Nature that exists everywhere around us. Just because we have not yet invented the instruments to measure it, does not mean it does not exist or does not react to every action we impose upon it. More than this, we are innately and intimately involved in this dance, as individuals and societies. The intelligence of trees, and those intelligences that take care of our trees and woods and every other individual species in plant, animal and mineral world exist to my satisfaction. We too are part of this living tapestry, regardless of all attempts to intellectualize our superiority, and see ourselves as separate from the rest of life on the planet.

   Do no harm, should be in the forefront of our minds whatever we occupy ourselves with. Especially with Nature. And if you can help out natures citizens while you are out in the woods, it is important you do so. There is no better use or service for our so-called “superior intellects”.

Harvesting

 The beginning of all endeavours starts with our intent. What is your vision?

The laws of nature and physics dictate you will receive as you give.

As in many aboriginal traditions we communicate our intent, listen carefully, and give before we take.

Nature isn’t picky about what you give. Lucky for us She is not hung up on material things.

Learn to listen to Nature and to yourself. Just as in any important relationship.

There are no coincidences. Nurture your relationships.

Secrets are never shouted. They are whispered.

Be quiet and still, and Nature can teach you everything you need to know.

Let it be a devotion.

  Deepen your relationships with the  plants you engage, develop your own personal ethics, and methods of sustainable and mutually beneficial harvesting in the wild. Engage with the spirit of your harvest, respond to their needs there is much more to be reaped than meets the eye.

On to the harvest

  • Our Northern American evergreens have been suffering from an infestation of Borers that have decimated huge tracts of our forests. I always carry a long wire with me when I harvest sap. Whenever I see a hole under a patch of sap, I insert the wire to the depth of the hole, and destroy the grub therein. Not a planet saving move on its own, but if we all held the well being of the trees and all nature’s citizens in mind while we were taking what we wanted from them, it would, I believe, make a difference. Not only in the world, but in the products we create from nature.
  • In the winter the tree is dormant, the cold weather inhibits the growth of organisms and micro organisms that could attack an exposed area of the tree. This is when it is ideal to harvest our sap.
  • Try not to scrape the sap down to the bare wood. There is plenty for you and the tree.
  • If you get ahead of me, and try to distill these saps before the next post, please be very careful! They are extremely volatile! Keep vapours away from open flames and perform a hydro or steam distillation. Don’t heat the saps directly!

This is all for now. Part 2 will address a bit more of how to harvest and the distillation process.

I could not in good conscience, write a post about distilling from the wild, without first laying down some clear directions for ethical and sustainable wildcrafting. I apologize for the length and any excess meandering. It is obvious where my passion lies. I would feel terrible if I found  that someone was hacking at trees after reading this post. Especially with that disturbing photo of turpentine collection….

If you do not have these trees in your area, or if you would like to buy ethically and sustainably harvested saps from someone who is passionately involved with the ethics and sustainability of wildcrafting, I have some beautiful fresh White Pine and Spruce saps for sale in my Etsy store. Click on the photo below or any of the Etsy badges in the sidebar to find out more.

Dan

Fresh Spruce and Pine saps Ethical and sustainably collected

Fresh Spruce and Pine saps Ethically  and sustainably collected

Disclaimer- This post does in no way imply one should harvest from city or private property, or if in the Hamilton/Burlington area, stray from the marked trails on RBG property.Enhanced by Zemanta