DIY

Distilling Frankincense with a home made still-a workshop in the Apothecary’s Garden

This rather lengthy video demonstrates how one can make a simple and effective distillation apparatus with easily found parts. With an understanding of the underlying principles of distillation, many common household vessels can be used to distill essential oils from aromatic plant material. The Moroccan “Couscousierre” is likely my favourite kitchen pot to work with and serves many different functions in my Apothecary work.

Though the phone battery died before distillate began dripping, all the information needed to create your own homemade still is covered and attendees went home with the hydrosol and essential oil of Frankincense Serrata. I hope to post more videos in the future. If you have any questions or requests, please let me know in the comment section below.

 

 

 

Boswellia Sacra/Carterii resin extract beneath B. Papyrifera resin extrac

Extracting the resin and Boswellic acids from Frankincense. A visual walkthrough.

 

Many of you have asked for clearer instructions on the method I use for separating the resin with its Boswellic acids from Frankincense in the post “Tapping into Frankincense and its Boswellic acids. An easy extraction method”.  I realize written descriptions leave a lot of room for interpretation and a video would be the best method of demonstration.

Since shooting some videos is still on my todo list, here is a photo progression of the process.  I hope it offers the needed clarity until I get around to making a video.

I also want to add here, though I name it “An easy extraction method”, easy is relative. It is also a messy and time consuming process. Be prepared to dedicate sieves, pots, pans and wooden spoons to Frankincense before you start, since cleanup is inevitable.

Gird yourself with the knowledge that metal scouring pads and Olive oil followed by warm soap and water will eventually remove both sticky and brittle resins from most kitchen utensils and appliances. (And floors). Is it worth all the work?  You betcha! You will be able to make beautiful and efficacious oils, salves and cremes for medicinal and cosmetic applications. Products that deliver the full range of therapeutic compounds found in Frankincense including AKBA and the rest of the Boswellic acids. Products that deliver much more than the essential oil of Frankincense.

I am sure there will be more questions, so feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Questions are good.

Please note, this product is not meant to be taken internally. When I feel the need to take Frankincense internally, I take 1/2 to 1 level teaspoon 2-5 times a day of powdered fresh, whole Frankincense chased with water. Powdered Frankincense in gel-caps serves a similar purpose. remember everyone is different, what works for me might not work as well for you. If you want to try this, start small and listen to your body. This is a good opportunity to mention that the essential oil of Frankincense contains little to no Boswellic acids and is not suited for internal consumption.

Here is a post showing you how to powder Frankincense-https://apothecarysgarden.com/2013/03/22/how-to-grind-frankincense-myrrh-and-other-oleo-resins/.

Making a resin extract of Frankincense with Boswellic acids

 

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Colander or sieve partially immersed in the water. The boiling water will dissolve the water-soluble gum and melt the resin from the bottom up. The gum will disperse in the water making it cloudy and the resin will float and pool on the water.

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Whole resin chunks of Boswellia Serrata in the sieve. No need to grind the resin or prep it in any way. The resin portion of Boswellia Serrata, B. carterii, B. Sacra and B. Papyrifera is mostly  Boswellic acids. As many of you know, Boswellic acids have proven to be anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer in laboratory studies and are likely the main compounds that led to Frankincense’s long traditional use as medicine. There are no Boswellic acids in the essential oil of frankincense.

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Mid process, resin is floating on the water, Gum is clouding it and the fresh resin is on its way through the sieve.

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Stirring and pressing with a wooden spoon helps move the melted resin through the sieve.

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After processing, the debris in this case is mostly bark which I like to use as an incense material. Fresh Frankincense Serrata on the lower right.

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Resin frothing and floating on the boiling water.

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Set outside to cool, the resin begins to harden.

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The morning after, the resin has hardened. Some has fallen to the bottom since its specific gravity is close to that of water. It will sink in cold water and float in hot water.

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Running it through the oven at 220 degrees C. This releases and evaporates any water that is trapped in the resin as it cooled. Though the moisture will not interfere with the making of oils, salves and cremes, I prefer to remove as much of it as I can before storing it.

 

Raw Frankincense and Resin extract of Frankincense Sacra-Both heated

Raw Frankincense on the left and Resin extract of Frankincense Sacra-Both heated to the same temperature. The lack of water-soluble gum in the extract means it will melt with heat and dissolve easily in warm oils and alcohol, while the raw resin will not.

 

Boswellia Sacra/Carterii resin extract beneath B. Papyrifera resin extrac

Solid at room temperature, the resin portions of Boswellia Thurifera beneath B. Papyrifera. Each species of Frankincense will yield a resin extract of different colour. Even variations in place  or time of harvest can influence the colour of the finished product. 

 

How to prepare an antifungal nail Lacquer with Somali Myrrh

Commiphora Myrrha, or Myrrh, well known for thousands of years for its value in perfume, incense, and medicine, has a wide range of medicinal applications in healing traditions around the world and throughout history. It is still well used in modern Western medicine, Arabian, African, European and oriental traditions.

One finds Myrrh trees growing mainly in Arabia, India and in Africa. Oddly enough,  not too far from any area that bears Frankincense trees. There is a little known, but very significant relationship between these two cousins of the Burseraceae family.

To clarify some terms from the start, even though I will call both Frankincense and Myrrh-“Oleoresins”,  they are, in reality, oleo gum resins. Myrrh contains a whopping 65% water soluble gum along with its resins and essential oils, while Frankincense species average 20%-30% water soluble gum content.

With a broad range of therapeutic  applications, Myrrh is best known for its astringent, toning, and an anti-fungal properties, and has been used traditionally for many applications where fungi have skirted our body’s natural defenses and taken root.

Though the Arabian and African Myrrh species are biologically identical, they differ from each other visually and to a small degree in their fragrance. To the best of my knowledge, they both serve equally well, and share the same medicinal qualities. Arabian Myrrh is darker and often coarser visually, collected in larger lumps than African material, while African Myrrh has a slightly less pungent, more delicate fragrance than Arabian Myrrh.

Arabian Myrrh-Commiphora Myrrha

Fresh dark Arabian Myrrh. A powerful anti-fungal, astringent and traditional medicine for thousands of years.

Since mushrooms, fungi and most molds require a moist environment to flourish, it is no surprise that Moon-Ruled Myrrh, with its natural affinity with our body’s fluid systems and ability to regulate, balance and tone them, would be an excellent choice to restore the body’s natural balance and eliminate moisture loving Fungi.

Hesiod derives Aphrodite from aphrós

An ancient Roman fresco-Hesiod derives Aphrodite from aphrós “foam,” interpreting the name as “risen from the foam”

The root of the name Myrrh, Mor/Mar/מר, comes to us from ancient Aramaic and means “Bitter. This root word is thought to be the source of the name Mary, in Hebrew and Arabic,  Miryam, Maryam, מרים, which translates into “bitterness” or froth of the sea with strong and ancient associations with the universal feminine principle, ancient Goddesses such as Ashtoreth, Astarte, Aphrodite,and of course the Moon and its influence on the ebb, flow and tide of waters both within and without us.  As a point of interest, Frankincense and all its species are ruled Astrologically by the Sun. These astrological assignments are no coincidence, but an indication of how this healing duo works within our bodies.

When it comes to fungi, Myrrh is used to address a variety of conditions. In a saline mouthwash, the tincture of Myrrh is used  for thrush, (oral candidiasis), in a tea, via infusion or tincture it helps treat candida and other fungi in the digestive tract, as a 1:5-96% alcohol tincture it is a treatment for Tinea type fungal infections such as “Ringworm“, (not a worm, but a colony of Fungi),  Athletes foot and “Jock itch“, caused by various dermatophytes, fungi/molds that feed off dead skin cells on moist areas of the skin. Less known, but equally effective, Myrrh oleoresin is used in the preparation of a nail “Lacquer” which is applied to toe and fingernail fungal infections, or onychomycosis, (which means nail fungus growth, infestation or proliferation in Latin).

Interestingly, but not surprising, in the “Doctrine of  Signatures“, an ancient technology and method of understanding the language of plants, their affinities and uses, one of the identifying visual markers of Commiphora Myrrha is the presence of layers that resemble fingernails when a piece is snapped into two. Though not all pieces of Myrrh respond this way, many larger pieces do.

Fragrant Ethiopian Myrrh. For oral care, perfume and incense.

Fragrant Somali Myrrh. For oral care, perfume and incense.

Somali and Ethiopian varieties of Commiphora Myrrha lend themselves well to this type of product since they are of a lighter and less obtrusive colour which will transfer to the nails with this treatment. Feeling self-conscious about the state and appearance of one’s nails can add stress when dealing with nail fungi and the accompanying infection that is usually present. These lighter coloured species will not compound the look of damage as a darker Myrrh does. Once applied the lacquer will harden as the solvent, in this case alcohol, which also acts as an antibacterial and drying agent, evaporates and leaves the Myrrh behind to address the fungi.

A similar remedy for nail Fungi is used traditionally in Northern Europe where Spruce sap is the active anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent,  Though the resins are a key component, the essential oils of both Spruce and Myrrh are proven to have antibacterial and anti-microbial properties which make them ideal for addressing the infections that are often associated with the fungus as it develops and intrenches deeper into surrounding tissue.

Here are intructions for a “Lacquer” to address and help eliminate nail fungus. It needs to be applied at least once daily for as long as it takes to completely free the area of fungus. Steps should be taken to correct the contributing factors that ushered in the fungus and made the area susceptible to it.  These contributing factors can include, boosting the immune system through proper diet and nourishment, keeping the affected areas well-ventilated and dry. Results will take time so give it a couple of weeks at least to see if the treatment is working for you. Before and after photos can help discern improvement when the results may often be slow to manifest in a well established fungal infection.

Myrrh has been used as a liquid application to address ringworm and”Jock itch”. For these applications, one would make a thinner and less concentrated tincture, such as 1 part Myrrh to 5 parts 96% alcohol. To make a product that would address these skin related fungi, follow the instructions below and change the ratio of Myrrh to alcohol to 50 grams Myrrh, and 250 grams 96% alcohol.

Myrrh oleo-gum-resin

Myrrh oleo-gum-resin

How to make a Myrrh Lacquer for fungal infections of the toe or fingernails and a treatment for Ringworm and other Tinea.

  •  Take 50 Grams of Fresh Somali or Ethiopian Myrrh, (darker Arabian Myrrh will work just as well, but will leave a darker stain on the nails and cuticles).
  • 150 grams of 96% grain alcohol.
  •  Grind the Myrrh as fine as you can using a mortar and pestle, a coffee/herb grinder or a combination of both. See the post How to grind Frankincense and Myrrh for instructions and tips.
  • Put the finely ground Myrrh in a resealable 1/2 to1-liter, wide-mouthed jar and add to it all the alcohol.
  •  Oleoresin tinctures such as this tend to get a thin layer of alcohol/oleoresin mix in the thread of the jar. When the alcohol evaporates it leaves behind a tenacious glue and can make opening the jar a challenge for the strongest of us. Even a drop of tincture will quickly spread along the thread through capillary action and form a permanent bond. Applying a very small amount of vegetable oil with one’s finger, to the thread of the glass jar while avoiding the lip, counters this problem elegantly.
  • Stir, shake, (when jar is closed and well sealed!), till the alcohol and the oleoresin powder are completely and evenly mixed and none of the Myrrh is floating on top of the alcohol.
  •  Place in a relatively warm place such as on top of a fridge, water heater or furnace.
  •  Leave to macerate for 6 to 10 weeks stirring or shaking daily in such a way that all the resin breaks up and there are no clumps, and no sediment accumulating or sticking to the bottom of the jar.
  •  I most often start my tinctures at the New Moon and filter them 6 or 10 weeks later at the full Moon if they seem done. I find working with the natural cycles, the ebb and flow of Nature and its rhythms improves the quality of my products. Since Myrrh is “Ruled” by the Moon and the sign of Cancer in traditional astrology, initiating the  tincturing process at a time when the Moon or Sun are in the sign of Cancer or in a water sign, harmonizes, compounds and potentises the tincture with its own inherent characteristic energies….  Though this Astrological approach is not absolutely necessary, and your lacquer will likely work quite well without it, it is an ideal opportunity to explore the energetic and esoteric side of plants and herbalism and expand your plant wisdom, which is gained through personal study,  experience, and exploration.  If you would like to learn more about the Astrological approach to plant medicine, you will find some information on Medical Astrology and working with the rhythms of the stars and planets here in my section on Astrodynamics).
  • When the colour of this tincture is no longer changing, (6 weeks or so), pour it through a fine filter such as the corner of a pillowcase, a piece of cotton sheet or a paper filter. Paper coffee filters can often work well for alcohol tinctures. You can do this through a funnel into a clean and resealable jar.
  • Your product will likely sediment a bit while it is standing undisturbed. The clear liquid can be poured or siphoned off and separated if you like. This will eliminate any grittiness to your lacquer when it is dry.
  •  Mark your final jar with the date and any other information pertinent to this product..
  • If you like, you can pour your lacquer into a smaller closable bottle that is easy to access and has a neck wide enough to insert a paintbrush. Remember the trick of applying a little oil, (or vaseline), to the thread of your bottle to avoid future frustration and difficulties. A clean, empty nail-polish bottle with brush in cap can offer a functional and pleasing container for your lacquer.
  •   Otherwise, take a small clean and dry paintbrush, 1/2 to 1 centimeter in width or so, dip it into the liquid and proceed to apply it liberally to the nails and any area that is affected by the fungus or infection. Overpainting the area a bit is OK. Disposable cotton swabs can be used if they do not catch on rough spots and leave fibers behind, the same goes for using the corner of a sponge, you can improvise with disposable applicators.
  • If you choose to reuse a paint brush, dip it in clean alcohol afterward and dry it well with a piece of paper towel to avoid your brush solidifying with dry lacquer.
  • Keep the bottle closed tight and apply the lacquer at least once a day if not twice a day.
  • If no results are evident after 2 weeks, seek another course of action.
Assorted tinctures, digesting

Assorted tinctures, digesting

A cheat and shortcut to making your own lacquer is to dissolve essential oil of Myrrh in alcohol and use this on your nails. I don’t recommend this approach unless you absolutely can’t make the whole tincture. Though it may contribute and help eliminate the fungus, it does not contain Myrrh’s full spectrum of therapeutic compounds without including the resin portion which is absent in the essential oil. It is this resin of the Myrrh that forms the harder and less permeable “Lacquer” on the nails. Using the essential oil without the resin will leave a stickier and less resilient layer, though it will no doubt bring some of the healing and antifungal properties of Myrrh to the area.

For those who choose to not use alcohol in their practices, the following recipe may be effective. I have not tried it personally, but it should work equally well when alcohol is not an option.

Use the following instructions for extracting the resin and essential oils of Frankincense using water.“Tapping into Frankincense and its Boswellic acids, an easy extraction method” . Replace Frankincense in the instructions with Myrrh. Keep in mind that since Myrrh contains 65% water soluble gum, you will be left with only 30% to 35% of the material you started with after removing the gum and extraneous material such as bark and stones.

Once the water soluble gum is removed, the resulting pure oleoresin can be dissolved easily in a vegetable oil of your choice at a ratio of 1:3 resin to oil, it can then be applied to the nails as described above.

For instructions and important tips to dissolve your pure oleoresin in oil, please see the post-“Make a Frankincense resin oil with Boswellic acids”. Again, simply replace Frankincense with Myrrh in the instructions.

Any feedback in the comments section would be greatly appreciated and add to the knowledge base of all those who will read this post and try this recipe for their own issues with nail fungus.

And,,,,remember to always take clear notes of your work.

Your future self will thank you!

Dan

Frankincense tree in the wild

Tapping into Frankincense and its Boswellic acids- an easy extraction method

How to isolate the resin and Boswellic acids from select Frankincense oleoresins with water

Boswellia Papyrifera-Pure Resin-Medicine, Perfume & Incense.

Boswellia Papyrifera-Isolated Resin-Boswellic acids-

Lately, we have been hearing a lot about the anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer compounds found in the frankincense family. The most publicized recently are the Boswellic acids and AKBA, or acetyl-keto-beta-boswellic acid,  pentacyclic triterpenes found in some species of Frankincense which make up a significant part of the resin in these oleo-gum-resins. The motivation for the increase in research, and much of the funding, from what I can see, is largely due the projected profit perceived by pharmaceutical companies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it provides the impetus for discovery, progress and knowledge, but good to keep in mind nonetheless.

With a rapidly growing aging population in the west, an increase in chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, rheumatism, inflammatory bowel disease, and various cancers, the market is receptive. There are theories that most if not all age-related degenerative conditions are directly associated with inflammation. Frankincense’s history of use in traditional eastern medical systems as an anti-inflammatory makes it an excellent candidate for modern applications..

Frankincense tree in the wild

Frankincense Sacra/Carterii tree in the wild

Besides hearing about Boswellic acids in groundbreaking studies, some essential oil companies advertise that their distilled essential oils of Frankincense contain a high percent of Boswellic acids. This is misleading. Some essential oils of Frankincense may have a higher percent of Boswellic acids than other essential oils of Frankincense, but the Boswellic acids are not found in the essential oils except in trace amounts. They are found in the heavy resin portion and cannot be distilled into the essential oils except in minute quantities. Like politics, statistics in advertising can be misleading.

The Boswellic acids are heavy molecules called triterpenes, and while many beneficial compounds are light enough to separate themselves from the frankincense oleo-gum-resin when heated during the distillation process, the Boswellic acids are not. They make up the heavier resin portion. This is not to say that the essential oil of Frankincense is not a wonderful therapeutic oil with many valuable compounds and health benefits, but that when it comes to Boswellic acid content, it can only have trace amounts unless Boswellic acids were added to it manually and then it would no longer be an essential oil, but an oleoresin..

Boswellia Sacra/Carterii resin extract beneath B. Papyrifera resin extrac

Made up mainly of Boswellic acids, and solid at room temperature, the  pure resins of Boswellia Sacra/Carterii beneath B. Papyrifera do not distill over with the essential oils.

The only products that can claim with verity to contain significant amounts of Boswellic acids are either the whole raw oleo-gum-resin of certain Frankincense types, or extracts that have been processed with solvents to isolate the resins that contain the Boswellic acids.  Boswellic acids are not found in the water-soluble gum portion of Frankincense or the distilled essential oils except as mentioned, in trace amounts.

Claims that the essential oil of Frankincense from any company, contains a high percent of Boswellic acids, that you should ingest their essential oils, or that their oils are “Therapeutic quality”, were developed to market their products and are not put forth in the interest of your edification or wellbeing.

Simply put-

  • There is no significant amount of Boswellic acids in any Frankincense essential oil when compared to the quantities naturally present in the unprocessed oleo-gum-resin, the pure resin or the extract.
  • You should never ingest essential oils without consulting with a qualified healthcare professional.

We have come to associate the essential oil of any given plant as the quintessence of its healing properties. While this may be true for some plants, it is far from the truth for oleoresins which hold many healing compounds in their undistillable resin portion.

If you would like to extract or isolate the Boswellic acids and the resin portion of Frankincense yourself, there is a simple way you can do this with the right type of Frankincense. Once you have the pure resin it is relatively easy to make a variety of products that utilize and deliver the Boswellic acids. The whole oleo gum resin of Frankincense will not dissolve easily in oil based products due to its water soluble gum content. It will also not dissolve well in water based products due to its oleo and resin components. The solution is to separate the water soluble part from the oil soluble part which is the point of this post and the following method.

Boswellia separated into 3 components

Frankincense Papyrifera gum dissolved in water on the right, resin in alcohol on the left ,and distilled essential oils center. Not in their naturally occurring proportions

Recent research has identified Boswellic acids in the resin of 3 types of Frankincense. The number may increase as more research is done on other species. ( See pages 125-127) http://scidok.sulb.uni-saarland.de/volltexte/2012/4999/pdf/Dissertation_Fertig_211112.pdf

They are-

  • Boswellia Papyrifera from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Sudan.
  • Boswellia Seratta from India.
  • Boswellia Sacra/Carterii, (one and the same tree), from Somalia, Kenya, Oman and Yemen.
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

 A simple and safe method to isolate the resin and Boswellic acids in Frankincense

While different solvents can be used to isolate the resin and Boswellic acid portion of Frankincense, The simplest and safest method is to do so is with water.

 30/November/2015-Since writing this post, I have developed an easier/better method for separating the resin portion and the Boswellic acids from the whole oleo gum resin. If you are revisiting this page, I hope you find the following process simpler and more satisfying.

  • Take 100-500 grams of fresh Frankincense.
  •  In a stainless steel, Teflon coated or glass pot, bring at least 10 liters of water to a boil. More than this is just fine.
  • Place a stainless steel sieve or colander with a fine mesh about 1/2 submerged in the water. Ideally, use a sieve that will rest on the edge of the pot securely, otherwise you will have to hold it at the right height through the process and you will need an extra hand.
  • When it is at a full boil, gently add 100 to 500 grams of one of the 3 aforementioned types of Frankincense into the suspended sieve, careful to not splash boiling water on yourself. It is fine if the resin sits partially above the water, it will soon settle.
  •  With a wooden spoon or some other utensil, gently run the submerged resin granules back and forth through the boiling water allowing the water to wash over them all and dissolve them.
  • The water soluble gum will dissolve and disperse in the water while the pure oleoresin, the resin with the essential oils, will exit and float around the outside of the sieve. The bark and other foreign matter will collect in the sieve and not pass to the water.
  • Once most of the resin is floating on the surface of the water, it will also push its way back into the sieve. To address this, lift the sieve higher and allow the rest of the resin to exit the sieve. At this point you may need help running the utensil back and forth gently forcing the resin through into the water.
  •  When the sieve is empty of gum and water, set it aside.
  • Skim/scoop out all the resin that is floating in the pot into a separate preferably stainless steel bowl. I use a small colander/sieve that captures more resin than water for this purpose. It’s ok if you transfer water into the bowl with the resin since you can easily pour it off after the resin sets.
  •  Set the pot of hot water aside to cool. As most of these oleoresins do, they will mostly settle to the bottom of the pot as the temperature drops.
  •  When the pot has cooled, pour the contents through yet another fine mesh sieve and add the bits of resin you collect in the sieve to your main bowl of collected resin. Pry off as much of the hard resin droplets from your pot.
  • Your resin extract still needs to go through the bath once more to remove traces of water soluble gum. When present, they will interfere with the process of making oil based products such as cremes and salves.
  • So, repeat the above process of boiling your resin with fresh clean water in the pot.
  • Break up the resin into smaller pieces that will melt evenly, and add it to the boiling water.
  • Stir it around and you will likely see the water getting a bit cloudy. This is the residual water-soluble gum we want to get rid of.
  •  It should only take a few minutes of gentle stirring to wash the rest of the gum out of the resin, so after 3-5 minutes of your completely melted resin floating around, you can skim it off as above, and place it in a clean bowl to cool and set.
  •  Again, let the pot cool and collect any resin you missed.
  • Though you could use the resin extract as it is, I put it through one final process to dry it of any residual trapped water. It usually collects water in little pockets and bubbles as it floats around the boiling water.
  •  To do this, I crush the resin coarsely, exposing as much of it to the air as I can. I stop when the largest chunks are about the size of a pea.
  • Place it on a clean Teflon or silicone cookie sheet.
  •  Preheat the oven to about 120 degrees Centigrade and place the pan in the oven.
  •  The resin will melt and flow releasing all the water in the form of vapour to the air. I tilt it this way and that to expose any pockets of water while it is hot and mobile.
  •  It only takes about 2-5 minutes of the resin uniformly melted to dry it and it can be removed from the oven and left to cool.
  •   When solid and cool, lift from the cookie sheet, break it in pieces if you like and store in ziplock bags or  a glass jar. Keep it cool or it may flow a bit and adhere to a glass container.
  • I have also used a heat gun, the kind used for stripping paint to melt the resin and remove any trapped water from it. This is an option if you feel like experimenting. If it sizzles a bit it is OK.

You now have a product with a substantial, therapeutically active proportion of Boswellic acids in a concentration much, much higher than you could ever get from a comparable quantity or weight of essential oil without the risk that concentrated essential oils can represent. At the same time you likely have a healthy percent of Frankincense essential oils in their naturally occurring concentration and matrix.

It is a substance that dissolves readily in warm vegetable oils, waxes and alcohol, and lends itself with ease to cremes, oils, salves and more. You know exactly what went into your product from start to finish. You know it wasn’t adulterated along the way, that no solvents, desiccants or fillers were added, and you know you have a 100% natural product.

Though I state it is an easy process, it is rather messy. Here is a visual walkthrough of the above process including some tips on  cleanup. – https://apothecarysgarden.com/2016/11/20/extracting-the-resin-and-boswellic-acids-from-frankincense-a-visual-walkthrough/

 And remember, always take clear notes.                                                                                                                                            Your future self will thank you.

Dan

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