Frankincense

DIY Distillation-Boswellia Dalzielii

Another home-made still

(Since WordPress has been acting up lately I can’t repost the following article from Apothecary’s Garden. Instead, I have copied and pasted it with fingers crossed that Google won’t penalize me for duplicating my own content.)

Continuing with the theme of DIY and home distillation, this is my latest easy-to-make distillation unit showcasing today’s distillation of Frankincense Dalzielii from Nigeria. A gorgeous looking resin that yielded a superb essential oil.

It is important to note that this distillation yields 3 valuable products.

  • The essential oil.
  • A hydrosol that can be used on its own or incorporated in the water phase of cosmetic cremes.
  • A pure resin extract which is a perfect base for medicated oils salves, (moustache waxes), and the oil phase of cremes. This part contains all the resin acids of Frankincense including the Boswellic acids which studies show are anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer in the laboratory.

If you don’t have a distillation unit and want to utilize the medicinal properties of Frankincense in cremes, oils and salves, you will find easy instructions for working with the fresh resin here.

And here are instructions for making your own resin extract without the need for distillation.

Easy to find materials

 

Frankincense dalzielii, DIY distillation, Frankincense essential oil

A distillation of Frankincense Dalzielii from Nigeria.
A home-made pot still with an air-cooled condenser.

The distillation is performed with a 70-litre high-end kitchen pot, 40-litres of water, 4 Kilograms of fresh Frankincense Dalzielii and an air-cooled condenser.

Thick high-quality stainless steel, a particularly thick bottom and a snug fitting lid are what differentiate it from a low-quality pot and make it worth the extra couple of hundred dollars.

The gasket I used is taken from a much smaller diameter pressure cooker. I trimmed 1/8 ” off the spine which allowed it to easily stretch around a much larger circumference.

The pipes leading from the lid to the condenser are 1 1/2 inch copper plumbing pipes. The nut used to affix the copper pipe to the lid is from a standard North American bathtub drain assembly. Only the first 2 sections are soldered, the rest are hand fitted.

Frankincense dalzielii, DIY distillation, Frankincense essential oil

A distillation of Frankincense Dalzielii from Nigeria.
A home-made pot still with an air-cooled condenser.

Atmospheric pressure only

The beauty of using a wide gauge pipe is that it creates no back pressure or pressure in the pot. This is important because

  • Pressure=higher temperatures and I believe the quality of the essential oil is degraded when the temperature goes above 100 degrees Centigrade. I think it is a magical number in nature and more important in Apothecary/distillation work than we realize.
  • No pressure means there was no need for a clamping system to seal the lid to the pot. The weight of the condenser assembly was more than enough to keep all the vapours in the system.
  • Most of the external copper joints were sufficiently sealed with only a twist and a push. Without pressure, steam and volatiles were gently conducted to the condenser. Not forced.

Frankincense Dalzielii-Nigeria

I have been very fortunate to find spectacular materials like this Boswellia Dalzielii to work with. There is no doubt that the high quality of the material contributes directly to the brilliance of the essential oil.

 Frankincense dalzielii, Boswellia Dalzielii Nigeria

Boswellia Dalzielii Nigeria

Boswellia Dalzielii is known as Janawhi and Cricognimun and in Nigeria, the Hausa speaking people refer to it as Hano or Harrabi. (Reminiscent of the Haramy of Madagascar, Canarium madagascariensis/Madagascar elemi.)

The locals use it as chewing gum and as incense. Though I can’t find much on traditional uses of the resin, there is extensive research on the medicinal value of the tree’s bark and roots.

Frankincense Dalzielii has the expected Frankincense oleo-gum-resin composition and likely contains the Boswellic and other resin acids in proportions similar to B. Sacra and B. Carterii. Both the fresh and the spent resin are perfect for use in incense, oils, salves, tinctures and cremes.

It bears an eerie resemblance to the Royal Hojari Frankincense of Oman but distinguishes itself from the Hojari with a trademark fragrance of Orange/Citrus and Mint with earthy undertones.

The essential oil and hydrosol are gorgeous.

Field distillation in resource-poor and remote areas.

A decade or so ago I found 4-foot long 1-inch aluminum finned copper pipes in a surplus shop. I could only afford 2 at the time and have gotten a lot of use out of them. They have taken a beating over the years but still work like a charm.

Though the condenser is unique and requires a bit of scrounging or googling to find, anyone can acquire one or two of these air-cooled units which create an elegant and economical solution, especially in cooler climates.

Frankincense dalzielii, DIY distillation, Frankincense essential oil

A distillation of Frankincense Dalzielii from Nigeria.
A home-made pot still with an air-cooled condenser.

This type of heat dispersion unit is used in HVAC heating and cooling systems and could be an important element in the design of distillation units for remote, hot, and resource-poor areas where many of our aromatic resins grow. Places where water, electricity and gas are difficult to come by.

Passive cooling systems

Designing a passive field distillation unit has been on my mind for over a decade. The distillation/condensing systems we use in the West are not only resource hungry, needing huge amounts of electricity/gas and water which are not available in the bushland and mountains of Africa and Arabia, but they are technologically sophisticated and require specialized parts and repairs that make them impractical in these remote areas.

What we need is a hardy, simple still design that utilizes the resources that are abundant in these areas. heat, sunshine and air. Something that can be operated independently by anyone with some basic training, easily repaired with a minimum of tools and technical know-how, will produce essential oils of a consistent quality and ultimately benefit the communities that steward these trees and collect their resin for us.

Boswellia Carterii trees in the mountains of Somalia. Water and fuel are scarce.

If, (as is the case), all the processing of these natural resources takes place in other and richer countries, little of the monetary benefits reach these communities and countries.

Easy to build, easy to repair, easy to operate and clean, sturdy and durable. With a little basic training, remote communities could operate these stills and raise the bar on ethics, quality, sustainability and fair trade in the industry.

A growing demand for Frankincense essential oil

The demand for Frankincense essential oil is growing by the day while in many areas the Frankincense trees are in sharp decline and estimates indicate we will lose them within the next 50 years. Now is the time to address these issues,  to acknowledge and empower those who are best positioned to steward these precious resources.

We have developed a nasty self-serving approach to the resources of the world and those of poorer countries. Not only do the communities in these countries not share in our Western abundance, the resources we take from them are dwindling due to our shortsightedness and unwillingness to think beyond the immediate profit margin.

I think its time for a change. Before it’s too late.

For more information on building your own essential oil still see my posts in the Distillation drop-down menu on http://apothecarysgarden.com or use the following links.

If you have any information on the traditional uses of Boswellia Dalzielii resin in Western Africa or want to contribute in some way to the design/creation of a novel new field still for Frankincense harvesters, leave me a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Dan

Frankincense as Medicine-Truth, Myth, and Misinformation

Reblogged from sister site Apothecary’s Garden where you will find all the recipes for making products from Frankincense.

Apothecary's Garden

This is an updated and revised version of my “Medicinal Frankincense FAQ” from 2 years ago. You can find the original here.

Since I have spent the past few years studying and working with Frankincense resin, essential oils, extracts, trees and harvesters, my knowledge on the subject is a little more than average. If I am considered an expert in this area it is a relative thing. I continue to learn and grow daily, as do you, as do the recognized “experts” in any field.

I mention this because as a group, we tend to be complacent, seeking and accepting authority and “expert” opinions online without question. This is one way we give away our power and effectiveness in the world.  I urge you to research and study all topics independently and reach your own conclusions. Take the time and do it right. Read the fine print. Don’t blindly trust anything…

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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

Boswellia neglecta Thurimel. Somalia Co-op harvested

From sister blog Apothecary’s Garden

Apothecary's Garden

I usually don’t post shop listings on the blog and make an effort to keep the sales pitch to a bare minimum here. However,  there is a lot of important information in this particular shop listing and I don’t want to write it all again for the blog. Not so much lazy as I seem to have less and less time for some reason.

Many blog readers still ask me if I have a shop where they can buy the Frankincense products I write about, so I will take this as an opportunity to be more overt about it.

Here is a link to my Etsy shop-https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/ApothecarysGarden. It is full of beautiful, sustainably sourced, high quality fragrant and healing stuff. Buy something :-)!

Boswellia neglecta thurimellis- Somalia, Co-op harvested.

(The shop listing)

Thurimella- Boswellia neglecta, "light" Boswellia neglecta, “light”. A thurimel

This shipment of “Light” Boswellia neglecta from the Barako co-op in…

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Civet perfume & Coffee. A call for community involvement.

Apothecary's Garden

Civet paste is a rare, ancient and highly esteemed perfume ingredient as well as a traditional medicine in the East.  Collected bi-monthly from the perineal gland of the adult Ethiopian Civet, it is still used in mainstream perfumery but mostly via black market back doors hidden from public sight and in a manner that contributes nothing to the well-being of the animals, the farmers, industry standards or the local economy.

Civet coffee, or Kopi Luwak, is a colonial tradition that has grown steadily in popularity the past few decades. Neither industry meets our Western standards for animal welfare and thus hover more in the shadows than the limelight.

Due to unacceptable animal welfare standards, we in the West, have boycotted the use of Civet in perfumes for over 50 years, yet this has done nothing to improve the lives of Civets or Civet farmers in Ethiopia and has likely caused more…

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