Month: March 2015

Queen Hatsheput's expedition to the Land of Punt. Returning with living Frankincense and Myrrh trees.

Letters from the land of Punt

I did not expect this blog to receive much attention except from those who might want to work with oleoresins or buy some Frankincense from my shop.

However, within a year of publishing it, it has grown into a homing beacon for Somali and Somaliland Frankincense harvesters who have found a voice that echos their frustration at the disparities and inequalities of the trade.

Over the past year I have received many messages and emails from Somali harvesters, often deeply moving and sincere expressions of the desperation felt by a culture with their back against a wall.

The traditional Frankincense harvesters tend their hereditary trees and sell their precious resins within a status quo that leaves them locked in poverty while others reap the profits and sell as their own, what has been their unique heritage for thousands of years.

Now, with the voices of the harvesters contributing, my monologue is becoming a dialogue. And with dialogue between people anything is possible. The question is, what needs to happen?

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Queen Hatsheput’s expedition to the Land of Punt. Returning with living Frankincense and Myrrh trees.

Somalia is considered by most, the ancient land of Punt. Referred to thousands of years ago by the Egyptians, and other civilizations as the home of Frankincense and Myrrh. Somalia is the only place in the world where the rare and valuable Frankincense Frereana, know as Maydi, can be found in abundance.

All Somali Frankincense is bought invariably by middlemen, often from desperate harvesters who are willing to barter for bags of rice at heavily inflated prices just to guarantee their family’s sustenance for the year. Poor harvesters have been known to borrow money from middlemen ahead of the harvest to make ends meet, only to return the loan twofold in precious resins. These are only a couple of representative stories I have heard from different sources that reflect the current state of the harvesters in the country. There are many more to share.

Queen Hatsheput's expedition to the Land of Punt. Returning with living Frankincense and Myrrh trees.

Queen Hatsheput’s expedition to the Land of Punt.

From west of the Somali Puntland through the independent state of Somaliland we find much of our world’s Frankincense and Myrrh trees. Often other, more developed countries across the gulf who can not grow enough for their own market demand, purchase these resins at rock bottom prices from harvesters who have no one else to sell to. They make excellent profits and market the resins and essential oils as their own.

Decades of conflict have isolated all but the boldest western buyers from the area leading to a long chain of middlemen and money-making exchanges before we see any of these precious resins or essential oils in the western world.  The harvesters see a disproportionately small amount of this profit.

These are the traditional stewards of some of our world’s rarest aromatics and medicinals. There is no one in the world better positioned, trained, or with the proper incentive to preserve these precious resources. This is an ideal opportunity to move to a different paradigm of sustainable world ecology and commerce, but first we must recognize that the most elegant and effective way to sustain our world’s natural resources is to support those that already do so. The livelihood of these traditional resin harvesters rests entirely on the well-being of these trees and the time proven methods of harvesting.

The harvesters need an open and “Fair trade” market, where they can sell directly to buyers, dispense with middlemen and reclaim the ancient and revered name of  Frankincense from the Land of Punt.

Queen Hatsheput's expedition to the Land of Punt. Returning with living Frankincense and Myrrh trees.

Queen Hatsheput’s expedition to the Land of Punt. Returning with living Frankincense and Myrrh trees.

The sought after and esteemed “King of Frankincense”,  Maydi, or Frankincense Frereana, also known as Coptic Frankincense, is much rarer than B. Sacra/Carterii and only grows abundantly in Somalia and neighboring Somaliland with a smattering of trees east to Kenya and perhaps west to Yemen. (See Maydi the king of Frankincense”). It is coveted in Arabian countries as a high-end natural chewing gum, special occasion incense and medicine. We in the west are the last to see it due to its extraordinary value in the East. It gets no credit as being the pride of Puntland or exclusive to Somalia. Nor do the harvesters reap the rewards they should for one of the world’s rarest resources.

Frankincense Frereana oleoresin, a rare and sought after commodity.

Frankincense Frereana oleoresin, a rare and precious commodity.

This Blog has taken a direction of its own and I don’t know where this dialogue will lead. There is obvious room for improvement in the trade of fragrant and medicinal oleoresins both in ethics and sustainability. There are likely  more voices to come, and who knows, there might even be some change in the wind.

I’ll keep you posted.

Dan

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A visual comparison of 5 types of Frankincense-Boswellia- Papyrifera, Neglecta, Frereana, Rivae, Carterii/Sacra Apothecarysgarden.com

A Chart of Frankincense solubility

Here is an often referred to, unique and useful chart my friend in Addis Ababa, Professor Ermias Dagne, compiled and posted on his website Aritiherbal.com a few years ago. Due to various issues it has rarely been accessible on his website.

Frankincense tree in the wild

Frankincense tree in the wild

Many have asked for such a comparative tool for the various types of Frankincense, so, here it is. Much more study and research needs to be done on these precious aromatic and medicinal oleoresins. Not only to accurately discern the many compounds they share and distinguish themselves by, how these compounds affect our physiology, or interact with other compounds and medication, but to deepen our understanding of the trees that bear them as important cultural, economic and ecological entities.

Seeing to the prosperity and well-being of the harvesters and clans that care for these trees in the wild, still seems the most direct and efficient method to preserve and tend to them. For this reason, “fair trade” products and practices shine for their effectiveness in balancing the resources of the world, and carry with them a clear message of benefit through conservation.

Young Frankincense harvester bringing his daily harvest down from dangerous rocky terrain where the Frankincense Frereana  trees grow.

Young Frankincense harvester in the remote mountains of Somaliland brings his daily harvest down from dangerous rocky terrain where the Frankincense Frereana trees grow. Photo courtesy of Asli Maydi

Fair trade practices establish direct relationships with the harvesters, assure us of the freshest and best quality products, support conservation in ways large organizations cannot, and ensure fair value on all sides.

Though world demand for these healing natural products is growing, I think the first step is to preserve what we have in nature. From there we can devise methods to expand the harvest in ways that maintain both cultural and ecological balance.

The lives of the harvester families and clans often centers around the production, harvest and sale of these aromatic oleoresins, and must be accounted for. They are the only stewards of these trees and have been for centuries. If trees are damaged or lost, that loss is personal and beyond mere financial inconvenience. These trees grow wild in the most remote regions as do these families and clans. They are dependent on each other, and these trees are integrated deeply in their social and cultural lives.

Onward to the chart. Courtesy of Prof. Ermias Dagne, Addis Ababa and Aritiherbal.com

A Visual comparison of Boswellia Species-Frankincense

A Visual comparison of Boswellia Species-Frankincense

There are six common Boswellia species whose resins are traded and these are:-

Extractability of resin: Table 1 shows extractability data using 500 grams of gum-resins of 4 frankincense species with four solvents

Species name Common name

Water

Ethanol

Acetone

Hexane

B. papyrifera Tigray-Type 90 mg/ 18% 360mg/70% 240mg/48% 275mg/54%
B. rivae Ogaden Type 195 mg/ 39% 307mg/60% 287mg/57% 390mg/80%
B. sacra Beyo
(56 -178N)
93 mg/ 19% 370mg/74% 470mg/95% 220mg/45%
B. sacra Beyo Hilary 88 mg/ 18% 315 mg/63% 325mg/65% 249mg/50%
B. frereana Meydi Hilary 2 mg/ >0.5% 395mg/80% 386mg/77% 450mg/90%
B. frereana Meydi 56-178P 0.5 mg >0.5% 495mg/99% 220mg/44% 490 mg/98%

Frankincense Neglecta. Don't let appearances fool you.

Boswellia Neglecta- The surprising effects of an oleo infusion

I have not written anything specific for this blog in a long time, but focused my efforts on writing for Apothecarysgarden.com and re-posting here when the topic is oleoresins.

However, I am collating all the research I have collected over the years on Boswellia, Commiphora and other resin bearing trees, and hope to set up reference pages here in the very near future.

A visual comparison of 5 types of Frankincense-Boswellia- Papyrifera, Neglecta, Frereana, Rivae, Carterii/Sacra Apothecarysgarden.com

A visual comparison of 5 types of Frankincense-Boswellia

In the meantime, the copy I wrote for my Frankincense Neglecta infused oil or extract in the shop has some good content and should have more exposure, so I will share it here for those who’s interest lies in all facets of Frankincense.

Frankincense Neglecta oil for anxiety and stress.

Frankincense Neglecta heart and chest balm.

I originally made this oil over two years ago as a cough/cold and decongestant chest rub, but experience has taught me it has other unexpected and powerful effects on our bodies and minds. Though Frankincense Neglecta oil does work as a decongestant when rubbed on the chest, it has shown consistent and striking results when used to address the symptoms of anxiety, panic, heaviness and tightness of the chest due to stress. All this through external application of the oil.
   Like the Frankincense Sacra/Carterii we are accustomed to, Frankincense Neglecta from Ethiopia is historically used as incense, medicine and a source of fragrant essential oil for perfume and aromatherapy.
In common with the rest of the Frankincense family, Frankincense, or Boswellia Neglecta is ruled astrologically by the Sun and has a strong affinity with the heart and chest, physically, emotionally and on an energetic level. Like the Sun, all types of frankincense are warming, anti-inflammatory, expand and brighten the perspective, and promote heightened feelings of spirituality and wellbeing.

Frankincense Neglecta. Don't let appearances fool you.

Frankincense Neglecta. Don’t let appearances fool you.

Aromatically, B. Neglecta has the warm, sweet amber notes of Frankincense, and the uplifting bronchia dilating freshness of sweet Balsam Fir trees.

As the other Frankincense types, it helps calm the mind and is conducive to meditation, clarity of thought and spiritual pursuits. After more than a year of using an oil extract of this oleoresin and sharing it with friends and customers, I can say with certainty that for those who have used it as a chest rub, it has the following effects.

  • It dramatically reduces the feelings of anxiety and panic, the emotional distress, mental anguish and confusion and the physical knife-sharp pangs in the heart area one can experience with anxiety.
  • It eases the breath physically and emotionally, lifting feelings of heaviness and tightness from the chest.
  • Some, who suffer from Asthma, have found it alleviates the tightness, shortness of breath and the sense of panic that accompanies an asthma attack.
  • I find it brings a feeling of deep calm, to mind, body and heart, and supports a deep and restful sleep.

Will it have the same effect on everyone? So far the results are consistent, but further input is needed.

Fresh Frankincense oil extracted from Boswellia Neglecta.

Fresh Frankincense oil extracted from Boswellia Neglecta.

All these effects are experienced through rubbing this oil on the chest. A good half minute spent in this type of self-massage seems most effective. Whether this is due to a conscious act of self-care, or because the rubbing motion stimulates blood flow and carries the active phytochemicals more quickly through the body, or both, I can’t say. What I can say with certainty is that it works for me and those who have tried it. In my experience, within 5-20 minutes, it dramatically reduces the sharp chest pain that anxiety and emotional trauma can cause. I call it my heartbreak medicine.

I hypothesize the effect is caused by the action of Incensole and Incensole acetate carried through the bloodstream and crossing the blood-brain barrier. Research to date on the chemical composition of Boswellia Neglecta is conflicted. Some studies show it has no Incensole content, other studies show it has a very high content of these compounds. Further research and testing is needed. If it really does work consistently for the issues above, then it could be a very valuable medicine to many of us.

Since the chemical compounds in this oil seem to have such a direct effect on our physiology, we need to assume these chemicals may also interact with medication and other chemical compounds present in our bodies. There is a dearth of research on the Frankincense compounds, their effects on us and their interaction with other chemicals, I suggest using it with caution. Start small and see how you body feels about it. Ideally, if you are on medication, I suggest you work with a qualified alternative health care provider. Do not take it internally, there is no need since it works just fine applied externally.

This extract/infusion is produced using extra virgin cold pressed olive oil, whole fresh Frankincense Neglecta oleoresin from Ethiopia and Vitamin E. as a preservative. 1% distilled essential oil of Boswellia Neglecta is added after extraction to compensate for volatile oil evaporation during the process and nothing else.
It is an “Astrodynamic” preparation, processed in accordance with traditions and tenets of medical astrology and traditional Plant Alchemy. Ancient wisdom and methods of preparation that we are just starting to reclaim from our common cultural pasts.

I believe that each herb, if properly processed, should be expected to perform and excel on its own. These ancient techniques help each herb shine its brightest.

This is an extract of the whole oleoresin and not only the essential oil. The resin of these saps contain their own set of therapeutic phytochemicals which are lost during the distillation of their essential oils. I believe using the resin and essential oil in their naturally occurring proportions maintains a synergy, wholeness and efficacy we lose when we use only the isolated essential oils.

We have become shortsighted, assuming the essential oils of all plant products offer us the complete therapeutic spectrum of each plant. This is especially obvious when we  find the whole sap contains only a minute percent of volatile, or essential oils and a much greater proportion of phytochemicals and healing compounds in the resin portion. Even the water-soluble gum portion of many oleoresins has traditional healing applications, but has had much less investigative research directed to it.

If you would like to make your own extract/infusion of Frankincense Neglecta you will find a simple and easy recipe on my blog at http://apothecarysgarden.com/2013/10/09/frankincense-oil-cough-cold-chest-rub-recipe/

You will also find a supply of fresh, fair trade, co-op harvested Frankincense Neglecta and other Boswellia types for sale in the shop.

Whether you make your own or buy my special preparation, I believe Frankincense Neglecta is something many of us could benefit from.
.
Dan