Essential Oils

On the Frankincense trail in Cal Madow. http://conseverthecalmadow.org

If a Frankincense tree falls, does anyone hear it? A report from the forest.

In a time when we increasingly hear about the loss of rainforests and green space, wildlife habitat and species, and with more of us concerned about purchasing sustainable and fair trade products,  it is difficult for the average consumer of Frankincense essential oil and resin to get a clear answer from anyone about the state of these desert trees in the world.

Are they thriving?  Are they declining in numbers like many other species? Are they properly tended? Are they being sustainably harvested? Are the people and communities that traditionally rely on the harvest adequately compensated, are they also thriving? Will there still be Frankincense trees, resin, and essential oil in another 10 or 100 years? If not, is anyone doing anything about it?

Much of our education about essential oils comes from essential oil companies whose collective profit from selling us Frankincense essential oil is measured in millions of dollars. One might wonder if an unbiased and independent examination of the trade in Frankincense would provide different answers to our questions about ethics and sustainability.

As consumers, we have enormous power to effect change in the world. But we can’t make informed choices unless we have accurate information.

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The bad news about our Frankincense trees.

With a growing demand and poor management on our part, our supply of Frankincense from around the world is shrinking at an alarming rate. Trees are dying much faster than they can reproduce. Little is being done to reverse the trend, address the problems, or remedy the situation. The future of Frankincense is getting bleaker by the moment.

The majority of our world’s supply of Frankincense comes from

  • Ethiopia
  • Somalia/Somaliland.
  • India
  • Oman and the Arabian peninsula
  • Sudan and Kenya

It is safe to say, that beyond minor variations, the Frankincense trees in all these countries are disappearing for the same reasons. Even as, or perhaps because, our world demand for Frankincense is steadily increasing.

Currently, all Frankincense and Myrrh resins are harvested from wild trees. There are no functional agricultural plantations, reforestation, or propagation programs of that can take some of the pressure off the wild stock.

An exception is Guy Erlich’s Balm of Gilead farm, which is home to a thriving plantation of Frankincense Sacra trees by the Dead Sea in Israel. Though his orchard is steadily expanding, it may be decades before his trees produce a meaningful amount of resin.

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The Jericho Valley Balm of Gilead and Frankincense farm

 

The factors contributing to the decline of wild Frankincense and Myrrh trees stem mainly from poor management on our part.

  • Over harvesting
  • Improper harvesting methods
  • Agricultural encroachment
  • Use as fuel, (Charcoal), fencing and lumber
  • Grazing animals
  • Wildfires
  • Diseases and insects
  • Poaching

In 2011, a study done in neighboring Ethiopia projected 90% of Ethiopia’s Frankincense trees would be gone within 50 years. This conclusion was based solely on the impact of insects, wildfires, agricultural encroachment, collection for charcoal, and grazing. It did not factor in the loss of trees from unsustainable harvesting practices.

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Community concern for the trees and the trade is escalating.

 

Displaced communities

The effects of a loss of Frankincense trees run deeper than just scarcity and higher prices for us. Communities throughout the harvesting regions depend on the yearly harvest and in many cases, it provides their sole source of income and livelihood for the year.

These are indigenous cultures that have developed close cultural identities with the trees over centuries.  Frankincense and Myrrh trees often have a special sociocultural status and are woven deeply into local traditions. It is not uncommon sees individual Frankincense trees that have been preserved and left untapped for decades to be given as dowry.

If the Frankincense trees are lost, the communities which depend on them will lose their ancient ties to the land, their cultural identity, history, and heritage. They will become displaced refugees, seeking new lives and livelihoods in the cities and towns.

A spike in our demand for Frankincense essential oil

A recent study done by Dr. Anjanette DeCarlo in Somaliland indicates a sharp increase in our demand for Frankincense essential oil the past decade has compounded the stress on the already declining tree population and accelerated their deterioration. In other words, our supply of Frankincense resin is growing smaller, even as our demand for it grows.

Dr. DeCarlo reports a noticeable increase in dead and dying trees compared to a visit she made 6 years ago. I would assume this trend is felt in all Frankincense harvesting regions since the demand for the essential oil is unilateral. We are rushing blindly towards a collapse of the trade in Frankincense and Myrrh. If we don’t wake up and do something about it soon, it will be too late.

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Dead Frankincense and Myrrh trees. Over-tapped they soon succumb to insects and pathogens.

Other findings that Dr. DeCarlo shares in her reports are an increase in over harvesting, improper tapping methods, harvesting from immature trees, and the decline in quality of resin from stressed trees. Instead of being tapped in the traditional manner, with a tool called a Mingaaf, with 6-8 cuts each summer for two years, then rested for one, many trees are cut continuously with machetes year round, up to 100 cuts, summer and winter, year after year. Not only do they yield less resin and lower quality resin the more they are tapped, but the trees have no time to rest and regain their strength. This makes them vulnerable to attack by the longhorn beetle and pathogens it brings with it.

Over-harvesting also drastically reduces the germination rate of their seeds, making it unlikely they will be able to reproduce. When they can no longer yield resin, their bark is stripped and sold as low-grade incense material which is a death sentence for the tree. Though this is likely the work of poachers, it is transforming the landscape in many areas.

 

Dr. Decarlo recently visited 10 out of 40 major harvesting centers in Somaliland, traveling great distances inland up the mountains to revisit the trees and the harvesters. She discovered that in some areas, traditional harvesting methods were still implemented and in others, large tracts of both Myrrh and Frankincense trees had been over-harvested to the point of death to meet the increased market demand.

If not addressed and corrected, these trends indicate we will soon see the end of our Frankincense supply. Considering it takes 30-50 years for the trees to reach harvesting age in the wild, we are already in the middle of a serious supply crisis. We just don’t feel it yet. In an ideal world, we would have started replanting and reforestation programs in all resin harvesting regions a long time ago. 

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A tagged tree that was thriving 6 years ago will soon be dead, decades prematurely.

The good news about our Frankincense trees

We live in a garden world of medicinal and aromatic plants, and regardless of boundaries, borders, politics, languages, religions and cultures, we all share it, for better or worse. These problems belong to all of us. As do their solutions. Since we in the West have most of the financial resources in the world, it is we who have the power and responsibility to change things for the better. Especially in poorer and less developed countries.

 

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Dr. DeCarlo revisits harvesters in Somaliland.

 

 

A glimmer of hope for Frankincense and Myrrh-An interview with Dr. Anjanette DeCarlo

The good news about Frankincense is Dr. Anjanette DeCarlo. She is not just a trained researcher, but a seasoned activist. At this point, it is clear that only carefully planned and executed action can save our Frankincense and Myrrh trees from the brink of extinction.

Funded in part by socially responsible companies concerned with issues of sustainability and fair trade in the products they sell, Dr. DeCarlo is conducting in-depth, open-source studies of the Frankincense trade in Somaliland. She has identified problems, graphed the trends and is developing solutions that could work to not only save the existing Frankincense trees but regenerate this precious resource over time.

Open source, in this case, means the results of her studies are public. Open and accessible to all. I strongly urge you to watch the video below and follow her future work closely. Especially if you want to become an educated consumer and make informed decisions that will contribute to the health and well-being of the world’s Frankincense and Myrrh trees. With the right information and guidance, we can all make a difference.

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Cal Madow.  A mountain oasis

Somalia and Somaliland are home to the world’s largest Frankincense “forest” and have been supplying the Western world with its Frankincense and Myrrh since before we learned to write the words Frankincense and Myrrh in our ancient texts and tomes. Most of these Frankincense and Myrrh forests are found in the Sanaag region which stretches between Somalia and Somaliland. Cal Madow is a very special part of this area.

The Cal Madow mountain range catches and precipitates the mists and clouds from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, making it the lushest area in the region. It is home to cliff hanging forests of Frankincense and valley groves of Myrrh trees, rare species of animals, birds, and plants found nowhere else in the world.

 

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Desertification is spreading steadily throughout the region and Cal Madow.

Cal Madow is quickly succumbing to loss and degradation from the same human encroachment and poor management that we see in other resource-rich and unprotected areas of the world. It needs to be conserved before it is lost along with its Frankincense forests and groves of Myrrh.

The deteriorating state of this beautiful green zone makes it a symbol of everything that is wrong with the current trade in Frankincense and an ideal place to start rectifying the loss of Frankincense trees and their natural environment before it is too late.

Cal Madow needs to be designated a UNESCO world heritage site, but since Somaliland has not received UN recognition as an independent country, this type of global assistance and protection is not yet available.  So what can we do in the meantime?

Dr. DeCarlo has established the “Conserve the CalMadow”  website where you will find more information on her work. She has also set up Conserve the Cal Madow Facebook page which is a place where everyone, including local residents, can involve themselves in the conservation efforts.

If solutions developed through her research are successful in Cal Madow and Somaliland, they can be implemented in other Frankincense growing regions. Then, we might have a chance to stop the loss of our Frankincense and Myrrh trees before it is too late, while preserving this unique natural resource.

What can we, as concerned consumers, do about the demise of our Frankincense trees?

Many of us, as Western consumers, don’t realize the power we hold in our hands as a group. Our opinion, public opinion, can make or break businesses, corporations, and even governments. Every individual “Like”, “Share”, and purchase we make online shapes the world around us, and collectively, our power is immeasurable.

So, now that you are a little more educated about the condition of our world’s Frankincense trees and have a clearer idea of what their future looks like, you might ask yourself, what can I do as an informed consumer to help reverse the damage and create a sustainable source of Frankincense for everyone before it is too late?

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Frankincense Frereana and Carterii trees have a love of sheer rock faces making resin collection perilous for harvesters. Every year harvesters are injured or killed from falls and snakebites. 

  • First of all, Dr. DeCarlo is organizing first aid kits for harvesters. Frankincense Frereana and Carterii prefer to grow right out of the rock often on vertical cliff faces. The work of tapping and collecting the resin is extremely dangerous. Every year harvesters are injured and killed from falls and poisonous snake bites. They have no medical facilities and lack even basic first aid products. We can’t help the trees without helping their harvesters. Providing the harvesters with first aid kits and minimal medical care is something any one of us can do.  From March to the end of April, Dr. Decarlo will collect donations of first aid kits that she can distribute to the harvesters when she returns to Somaliland in May. Kits can be sent to the project’s talented research assistant, Stephen Johnson at-Conserve CalMadow C/O Stephen Johnson 4670 144th PL SE, Bellevue, WA 98006.   This is the first in a series of projects that are geared to improve conditions for both the harvesters and the Frankincense trees.  If you would like to help make changes in this industry, this is a good place to start. Providing rudimentary climbing and safety gear, snake proof shin guards and access to anti-venom are a few of the future projects on her list.
  • Ask your suppliers of Frankincense resin and essential oil whether their products are ethically and sustainably sourced. If not, invest your world-changing purchasing power with a company that actively supports sustainability and fair trade. As individual consumers, it is up to us to put pressure on our suppliers to be part of the solution and not the problem.
  • Like and follow Dr. DeCarlos “Conserve Cal Madow” Facebook page. In our world where each click, share and like, translates into trends of public opinion, these small actions are accumulative and send ripples of potential change through the world. Add your voice to the call for action.
  • Keep your eye on Dr. DeCarlo’s Conserve the CalMadow Facebook page so you can keep abreast of developments and further tangible actions you can take to help the Frankincense trees and the harvester communities who depend on them. She will need your support to make real changes in the industry.
  • Educate yourself then pass it on. The more of us that “hear the trees falling” and are aware of the current state of affairs in the world of resins and essential oils, medicinal and aromatic plants, the more power we have as a community that can create positive change. Educate others.
  • If you want to help this project in a more direct way and can volunteer your time, you can contact Dr. DeCarlo at-somalilandconservation@gmail.com.

 

 

Dan

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.

 

 

 

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.
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    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

Labdanum- Beard grooming Babylonian Style

Labdanum-Beard Grooming Babylonian style

 

Labdanum and Babylonian Beards

Babylonian Beard

 

Labdanum. Also called LadanumCistus or Rockrose, is a fragrant mediterranean shrub, rich in history, oleo-resin, and tradition, both medicinally and aromatically.

Cistus ladanifer #1

Cistus ladanifer #1 (Photo credit: J.G. in S.F.)

 

The use of Labdanum, Cistus Ladanifera, Cistus Incanus or Cistus Creticus from Crete, has been traced back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, the civilizations of Akkad, Sumeria, Babylon. It is believed to be one of the ingredients in the ancient Hebrews sacred temple incense, “K’toret”. Thus keeping privileged company with such esteemed fragrant oleo-resins as Frankincense, Myrrh and Balm of Gilead

Labdanum is the starting material for most, if not all “Amber” type scents. Since there is no naturally occurring material with this name and fragrance. If you come across anything purported to be “True Amber”, be aware it is a composite material.

Cistis creticus (Cistus) source of traditional Cretan Labdanum

 

The fragrance of Labdanum is musky, warm, masculine, mysterious, balsamic, woody, slightly spicy and sweet. It is a heady odour, rich, complex and long-lasting. To me it speaks of mystery and masculinity. Not aggressive or self-serving masculinity, as Mars’ energy can be at times, but the powerful and gentle, nourishing strength of  the Sun. The kind of warm masculinity I associate with wisdom, compassion, love and healing. Labdanum speaks to me of the mystery and magic that we, the not so fair sex, are bestowed with. The receptive side that most men often do not discover till later in life.

 

English: Adam and Eve

English: Adam and Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia

 

Yes, men have a mystery too, an intuitive and sensitive side, a perspective and insight that only men can have. One of equal weight, but less obvious as the better known womanly mysteries. For in this reality of duality, there could not be one without the other. Nor can we respect and honour one without accepting the other as its equal and counterpoint . It can work no other way. Yin and Yang. It is a gift that all men can draw upon.

 

 

 

One symbol of masculinity that cannot be refuted is A beard.  They say a man’s beard covers his throat area, the seat of his emotions and vulnerability, hiding and protecting them. I can’t disagree. It certainly feels necessary at times. Believe it or not, it’s not easy being a man in our society.  But we also embrace and  care for our masculine nature by growing and grooming our facial hair.

 

Sumerian-Babylonian-Beard

 

My personal favourite beard dressing ingredient is, you guessed it, Labdanum. It has a warm comforting and familiar scent to it, as if carried through lifetimes and centuries, adhered to our spirits.  It does have an ancient and timeless quality to it, and as mentioned, it is persistent!             Persistent enough to stick to our memory and genes 2000, 3000 or 5000 years later?  Apparently.

Assyrian composite man/horse/bird with beard

Assyrian composite man/horse/bird with beard

Labdanum, as other oleo-resins, has an affinity with facial hair. If anyone has read my earlier post about mustaches, Waxing warmly over mustaches, or a recipe for solid mustache wax, you will know I find oleo-resins a great aid in training facial hair. I have not researched the chemistry of this effect, but the resin part seems to have chemical compounds that affect hair behaviour. Labdanum works just as well as Pine, Spruce and Fir saps in this regard. It helps shape my beard, training it to hold a form long after the Labdanum has gone from my face. It helps with stray hairs, cowlicks and in general keeps things in place without the use of extra waxes and gels. And of course, the warm Amber like scent that Labdanum imparts to my facial hair is reason enough to slather it on regularly.

 

Mesoporamian relief

Mesopotamian relief

Traditionally Labdanum was collected from the beards and thighs of sheep and goats. The animals would accumulate sticky gobs of resin on their wool as they rubbed against the plants while grazing. If anyone is familiar with the musky fragrance of goats, or the gentler odor of raw Lanolin, (from sheep’s wool), they may have an idea what a good match these animal essences can be to Labdanum.There is a wonderful muskiness to these smells that compliments the sweet woody balsamic notes of Labdanum. For this reason I often use Lanolin as a conditioning agent in my Labdanum based beard grooming products. When fragrance and function of materials work together naturally, it is always a joy.

 cretan goats, collect Labdanum as they brush against against Cistus while grazing

 

Nowadays Labdanum is either collected by thrashing the plants with an ancient tool called a Ladanesterion, (There are records of its use in the first century A.D.), or by harvesting the shrub and boiling it in water, often a water and alkaloid mixture. The separated residue is then processed with solvents to create resinoids, an absolute and eventually an essential oil. There are different grades of quality depending on which type of Cistus is used, where, when and how it is harvested, the methods of separation and extraction used. Gentler solvents and lower temperatures are of course preferred when a high quality perfume ingredient is required.

When one comes upon photographs of sculptures of ancient Mesopotamian kings and gods, or Akkadian, Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian men, we gaze upon some very ornate and stylized beards carved in stone reliefs and sculptures, steles and rock walls thousands of years ago. Sadly, very few of these magnificent representations of Mesopotamic masculinity remain intact. If they haven’t been defaced by conquering armies, then  religious zealots finished the job in their attempts to eradicate idolatry and any competition with their own gods and dogma. Maybe they were pissed off that someone else’s god had a more magnificent beard than their god.

..Stylized Babylonian beard

When I come across references that ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian figures may have pasted Labdanum soaked, sheep’s, (or goat’s), wool on their faces as part of their facial hair grooming methods, I always feel it is too tempting to underestimate  the sophistication of our ancestors and misinterpret the visual references carved in the ancient stone. These people were not as primitive as we like to assume. Labdanum, in my experience, is an ideal facial hair styling and grooming gift from nature, on its own or when combined with oils, waxes or resins.  When one learns of the elaborate beard grooming and shaping techniques employed in ancient Mesopotamian cultures, such as tying strings or ribbons, using hot  irons, curling and braiding a beard, weaving in beads and precious metals, dyeing the hair with henna or other coloring agents, and of course applying sweet smelling unguents to it,  it makes me question whether sticking patches of sheep’s wool on ones face would complement any of these techniques or grooming methods, or if it would be completely at odds with it.

Presumed to be a stone relief of a "Genie" performing blessings and sprinkling "Holy", fragrant water, (Labdanum and other odiferous materials??).

Presumed to be a stone relief of a “Genie” performing blessings and sprinkling “Holy”, or fragrant water, (Labdanum and other odiferous materials??).

 

 

 

On the other hand, incorporating fragrant resins and oils, especially those that would help with shaping and setting a beard, does seem a more likely complement to the established grooming practices of the times. In my mind, Labdanum would be a perfect aromatic accompaniment to all that beard training, styling, preening and fussing. Just as effective then as it is today.

 

That’s my take on it.   Whatever methods you use to groom and shape your facial hair, they are part of your own unique path of self-expression. If you want to explore making your own beard or mustache grooming products, have fun, and remember to always take notes! Your future self will thank you.

If you have any questions, comments, insights or suggestions, I would love to hear from you..

Dan

 

 

 

 

 

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http://archaeologistforhire.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/the-archaeology-of-beards/

 

 

 

 

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