Boswellia Frereana

Frankincense tree

Co-ops-Do we support ethical Frankincense Harvesting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myrrh tree oleo-resin Ethiopia. Ermias Dagne

Myrrh tree  Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of  Ermias Dagne

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

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

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

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

Frankincense Tree

Frankincense Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooperative collected Somaliland B. Carterii 2013 Harvest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Dan

Enhanced by Zemanta

Frankincense-Boswellia Papyrifera

 

Until recently, in our North American market, there was little choice as far as the type of Frankincense resin or essential oil one could buy. Religious, occult, and “new age” stores, aromatherapy and natural perfume shops offered only Frankincense Sacra or Carterii. (These 2 types are often synonymous with each other and whether they are the same or different species is still a popular topic for researchers and other experts in the field). As recent as the last decade or so there has there been an increase in the types of Frankincense one could easily acquire here. I assume this is in part to the increase in interest in aromatherapy and natural perfumes, the “Global Village” phenomenon and the integration and growth of African, Asian and Mediterranean communities in North America.

Frankincense

Frankincense (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Likely Boswellia Sacra/Carterii.

Though the Boswellia family contains over 20 different species of Frankincense, there are only 6 or 7 types that are readily available commercially.

 

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

Frankincense has been a valuable commodity and a very important part of our global cultures, religions and trade for thousands of years, highly valued for its medicinal ceremonial and esthetic uses, it is only recently that the different types of Frankincense have been examined closely and their unique chemical compositions studied. Until a short time ago there had been much confusion as to which chemical compounds were attributed to the individual species of Frankincense. Samples purchased from merchants for study were not directly taken from identified trees, and some research results were associated with the wrong species. This has been corrected and now one can look back on earlier valuable research and with an understanding of the proper chemical markers associated with each species, identify the correct oleo-resin on which the studies were based.

 

” Although the gum resin of B. Papyrifera coming from Ethiopia, Sudan and E. Africa is believed to be the main source of frankincense of antiquity (Tucker, 1986), there was until recently a great deal of confusion in the literature regarding the chemical analysis of its resin as well as of the essential oil derived from it by steam or hydro distillation. This was mainly due to the fact that analyses were done on commercial samples without establishing the proper botanical identity of the true source of the resin.”, on Boswellia Papyrifera, Aritiherbal.com.

 

Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type

Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type
Ethiopia 2013

Some sound and exiting research studies conducted over the past few decades had reached the right conclusions, but for the wrong trees and oleo-resins, which compounded the confusion. Now that correct chemical markers are assigned to the different species of Frankincense, we find among other critical identifying markers, that Boswellia Papyrifera has the unique chemical markers Incensole and Incensole Acetate that distinguish it from the other types of Frankincense.

Frankincense Boswellia Serrata is well known in India for its healing medicinal properties in Ayurvedic medicine. Boswellia Serrata resin extract shows great promise in the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and asthma. Among other characteristic chemicals it contains Boswellic acid which has been linked to anti-tumour and anti-cancer activity. I hope to elaborate on the chemical composition and medicinal applications of Boswellia Serrata in a future post.

 

 Indian frankincense  Boswellia Serrata

 

Boswellia Frereana is another unique type of Frankincense now more readily available commercially in North American markets. It grows mostly in Somalia, Yemen and Kenya and is widely used locally for ritual and medicine. In Somalia it is called “Meydi” and is burned daily in the home after meals and used to odorize ones clothing. It is sometimes called “Yemenite Chewing Gum”. Boswellia Frereana is composed mostly of resins and essential oils and contains very little water-soluble gum, this makes it especially suited to the purpose of chewing gum, because the resin and oils are not water soluble it does not dissolve or break down in the mouth, it softens when chewed, and can be masticated for long periods of time, cleaning teeth, massaging gums and freshening the breath with its essential oils. Its unusually low gum content, relative to other types of Frankincense can be seen in this chart of solubility courtesy of Ariti Herbal in Addis Ababa. Another way this high ratio of oleo-resins to gums can be verified is noting the way Frankincense Frereana melts and is absorbed into a hot incense charcoal, leaving nearly no carbon residue and emitting very little of the traditional burnt odor other types of Frankincense do. This charred remnant is a result of the water soluble gums burning and some historic references cite this charred portion of Frankincense as an ingredient in traditional middle eastern Kohl, eye liner, along with Antimony and other ingredients.

 

Boswellia, Frankincense Frereana. Called Yeminite chewing gum.

Containing almost no water-soluble gum, Frankincense Frereana does not dissolve when masticated, for this reason is used as an all natural chewing gum. It is composed mainly of resin and essential oils.

Ethiopia is home to three commercially important types of Frankincense, none of which had been easily available in North America till recently. Boswellia Papyrifera, or Tigray type from the north, Boswellia Rivae also called the Ogaden type from the south east Ogaden area and Boswellia Neglecta from the Borena area of Ethiopia. All are used locally and are commercially important resources. Their wood is used for fuel, construction and furniture, the bark for incense and medicine and the oleo-resins are used among other things, to produce bases for varnishes and adhesives, essential oils, absolutes for perfume, and as incense and medicine. Boswellia Papyrifera is by far the most extensively used oleo-resin locally and abroad. It is used in Ethiopian households daily as incense and in their traditional coffee ceremonies, it is the choice incense of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and is also used locally as an insect repellent and for medicine. It has been the Frankincense of choice by Churches and religious institutions all over the world for hundreds if not thousands of years. Both Boswellia Rivae and Boswellia Neglecta deserve their own segment here, so I will leave their detailed descriptions for another day and focus on Boswellia Papyrifera .

 

Boswellia Papyrifera is distinguished from other types of Frankincense by the presence of large amounts of Octyl Acetate and Octanol and two other unusual and unique chemical markers, Incensole and Incensole Acetate. Studies have shown that Incensole Acetate affects our central nervous system and posesses psychoactive properties. According to studies, Incensole Acetate can generate heightened feelings of well being and spirituality, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and improve memory function. Other research has indicated that Incensole Acetate shows neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties and indicates it may be of use in cases of stroke and head trauma. It is presumed that Incensole and Incensole Acetate are absorbed by the body through the smoke released during the burning of Frankincense as an incense. One can see how this might be an ideal incense for spiritual/religious purposes in churches and temples.

 

The discovery of Incensole and Incensole Acetate as identifying chemical markers of Boswellia Papyrifera goes a long way to bolster the theory that Frankincense Papyrifera is indeed the true Olibanum and “Frank”(True) Incense of ancient times and scripture. Employing an incense that has psychoactive properties and elicits altered states of mind during ritual and ceremony, would make this incense a very valuable commodity to churches and other religious establishments, and would require a special knowledge to discern between regular non psychoactive incense and the true, or Frank-incense. This would be a valuable skill when one purchased such an exotic and expensive imported item for church use. Oleo resins such as Frankincense and Myrrh were at times worth their weight in gold, they were hard to come by, growing only in Ethiopia they would travel by caravan, ship, boat, donkey, horse or camel, or all the above often for many months. They would exchange hands many times before they reached their final destination which could often be thousands of miles away. One can safely assume, because of their value and scarcity in most parts of the world, they would run a real risk of being adulterated or replaced along the way with other less expensive materials for the profit of those that traded in such items. This would lend even more weight to the need to be able to identify the “true” incense from other types. The Frank-incense.

 

Boswellia Rivae, has a distinct haunting, rich and deep fragrance. The resin stands out in its aroma, fresh, as well as when burned as incense. The essential oil is a sweet, compelling, mysterious and complex mix that brings to mind mystery, magic and ancient sacred places. It has a surprising sweet note reminiscent of Palo Santo, unexpected in a Frankincense essential oil.
Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae
Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae
Boswellia Neglecta; Is another unusual Frankincense from Ethiopia. It is a delight burned as an incense, grounding and elevating. It has a pine like component which nicely rounds out an incense or Bakhoor mix. The essential oil of Frankincense Neglecta is also grounding, earthy & sweet. More stimulating than relaxing. The essential oil and oleo-resin have a boldness that makes them quite a different experience than the Boswellia Sacra/Carterii we have gotten used too.
Dan

 

 

 

Frankincense & Myrrh, a Theory on Holistic Tinctures

A Thought on the holistic tincturing of oleo-resins.

Each type of Oleo-Gum-Resin such as Myrrh, Opoponax, Mastic, the many types of Frankincense etc., contain different proportions of water-soluble gum and alcohol soluble oleo-resins, (resins and volatile oils).

I propose that when one of these Oleo-gum-resins is tinctured to extract its medicinal constituents and properties, that the 2 solvents used for tincturing, be in the same ratio to each other, as the ratio of gum to oleo-resins in the material being tinctured.

Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera 60 grams. An oleo-gum-resin

Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera 60 grams. An oleo-gum-resin. Has a different percentage of gum to resin than Boswellia Rivae.

In a traditional medicinal, water/alcohol tincture, the gums are dissolved by the water, the oleo resins by the ethanol,(alcohol). What is left over after this extraction is mainly bark and other insoluble extraneous organic material. (Spagyric tinctures often put this to good use). The point of tincturing is to extract as much of the soluble active medicinal components as possible. Ideally exhausting the material by transferring all its chemical constituents to the medicine, while preserving any preexisting synergistic effects between them.

Considering that all parts of these natural Oleo-Gum-Resin exudates, (saps), contain valuable chemical constituents and compounds, and if there is no reason to isolate or change the natural composition of the material, it would  be a more efficacious  medicine if preserved as close to its natural state as possible

Myrrh tree, Myrrh Oleo-Resin, Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Ermias Dagne

Myrrh tree, Myrrh Oleo-Resin, Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Ermias Dagne

I propose that the best way to create a water/alcohol tincture that is true to its source material, is by using the same ratio of water to ethanol as the plant material exhibits in its ratio of gum to oleo-resin. That this is the only way to accurately migrate  the whole material authentically, with its inherent medicinal potency, and any “synergy” that is naturally present in the original material.

Boswellia, Frankincense Papyrifera. Gum, Resin and volatile oils.

“Solve'” applied to Boswellia Papyrifera. The triad is separated into its 3 components. Gum(on right), Resin, (on left), in solution, and essential oil. (Not in  their naturally occurring proportions ).

Thus, if a sample of Myrrh oleo-gum-resin contains 60% gum and 40% oleo-resins, and a Tincture was made using 100% ethanol, it would only extract the resins and volatile oils. It would have a negligible amount of water-soluble gum. Certainly nothing close to the gum to oleo-resin proportions found in the original material. One would assume this extraction would not offer the same medicinal effects as the whole oleo-gum-resin. 1- Because the water-soluble gum contains   chemical constituents that have medicinal value on their own. And 2- because whatever effects the synergy of the whole material had in its natural form, would be lost.

Myrrh is a common resin in the Horn of Africa.

Myrrh is a common resin in the Horn of Africa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this method, a solvent mix composed of 20% alcohol and 80% water would not extract a tincture that was representative of the original material either. Rather it would contain more gum than oleo-resins than the original Myrrh. The same could be said of any other combination of these two solvents other than a combination of water to alcohol that reflected as closely as possible the actual proportions of gum to oleo-resin found in the material tinctured.

Some types of Frankincense contain very little gum, such as Boswellia Frereana.  As low as 0. 5%-0.1%, see AritiHerbal table of Extractability of Boswellia Resin. Other types of Frankincense have greater proportions of gum to oleo-resin. According to this theory of holistic tincturing,  the unique qualities inherent in each oleo-gum-resin, can only be  reproduced in a tincture if the natural ratio of gum to oleo resin in the source material is reflected accurately in the ratio of water to alcohol in the tincturing solvent. One could assume it would keep the same natural synergy in the original material intact by keeping all the chemical constituents in the same relative proportion to each other in the finished product or tincture.

Boswellia, Frankincense Frereana. Called Yeminite chewing gum.

Containing almost no water-soluble gum, Frankincense Frereana does not dissolve when masticated, for this reason it is used as a chewing gum and can be purchased under the name “Yemenite chewing gum”. It is composed mainly of resin and essential oils.

I am not a trained scientist, nor do I have access to the instruments that would put this theory of holistic tincturing to the test.  I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone besides myself, or if there is any corroborating research out there to support this theory, but I would Love to hear any opinions, conflicting or supporting.

Dan

As an addendum ,( written a month or two after this post), I need to add that after thought, contemplation, examination and the occasional dream, I realize there may be one other way to extract all of the essential oils, resin and gum from these oleo-gum resins. The one way they could be extracted in their entirety and with their naturally occurring proportions intact, without a knowledge of their inherent gum-resin-oil ratios is, If  a “disproportionately large” amount of alcohol/water is used for the extraction. So instead of making a 1:5 or 1:6 tincture with 1 being the oleo-gum-resin, something like a 1:10 tincture could be prepared. using much more water than the quantity of gum required, and much more alcohol than the oleo-resin required. In this way all the components could be extracted. However…the obvious drawback, is that there would be a much higher quantity of liquid and a lower proportion of oleo-gum-resin. So it can be done, but with a price. In a way, cheating a bit. This 1:10 ratio tincture, though containing all the soluble and desired parts of the material, would be very weak, which is not ideal and I see no finesse, or advantage to it. It would be very very difficult, if even possible, to remove the excess solvents without losing some of the volatile oils.

Since I am on the topic I will take this opportunity to raise a point that I will address in greater detail  in a future post. Lately there has been a lot of talk about the healing properties of Boswellic acid found in Boswellia Sacra. Though much important research has been done on the different types of Frankincense, and Boswellic acid does show great promise as an anti-inflammatory and antitumor, among other important applications,  it is not a volatile  or essential oil . Which means little, if any Boswellic acid is found in the essential oil of Boswellia Sacra/Carterii.  Whatever Boswellic acid is present in the oleo-gum-resins of some of the members of the Boswellia family, resides  in the resin part, not in the “Oil”, and is not normally extracted with the essential oils. If a  company claims that its essential oil of Frankincense Sacra has a “high percentage  of Boswellic acid, then one should ask, how did it get there??

Food for thought.

Dan

Grinding Frankincense, Myrrh and other oleoresins

How to Grind Frankincense & Myrrh

First of all a happy and productive Spring to all!

I think I lost a week somewhere, but I am back now, and that’s really all that matters.

A few people have inquired lately on the best way to grind Frankincense and other resins.

This is a great question with a great answer!

As anyone who has tried to grind a resin in preparation for a making a tincture, incense blend, Bakhoor, or for filling capsules knows, grinding them by hand in a mortar & Pestle, is a traditional, though time-consuming process. Messy too, as it usually involves pieces of resin flying out like shrapnel from a grenade for quite a distance. Pieces, that if left unattended on a carpet will get ground in and attach themselves permanently and will be a pain to remove any way you look at it.

Grinding with Mortar & Pestle

Grinding with Mortar & Pestle

When one gets smart, and decides to use an electric coffee or herb grinder, a different issue and technical difficulty arises. A bit of the resin will break down in the grinder, just a bit, before the resin starts heating up from friction, gets soft and gummy, sticks to the blades, creates a mess of un ground semi-soft gum around the inside of the grinder chamber, and before you realize what’s happened, the blades are spinning freely as if there is nothing in the grinder.. And that’s about as far as you are going to get with it! You can try scraping the mess out and grinding it again before it cools and solidifies again.But you will just get more of the same. Mind you, there are herb grinders on the market now that run at a slower speed to keep heat to a minimum and keep the volatile oils/Medicinal constituents in herbs. However, they still do not grind resins without melting them.

How to Grind Frankincense & Oleo-Resins

How to Grind Frankincense & Oleo-Resins

So what is the solution?….

Ahh I’m glad you asked. The solution is, Freezing the resin before grinding it. Depending on the quantity you are freezing, how evenly exposed it is to the cold temperatures, and how cold your freezer is, it could take anywhere from a half hour to a whole day to get it all cold enough to grind. With this method you can grind a whole load of Frankincense to a fine light powder in an electric grinder . Preferably in short spurts that raise the heat of the resin slowly. If you want to take it a step further, detach the chamber, blades, cap, and all, and put them in the freezer as well. This will give you plenty of grinding time at optimal temperatures, which is especially handy when a larger quantity of resin needs grinding. So you could freeze let’s say 1/2 Kg. resin, with chamber and cap, and grind a few consecutive batches without overheating or sticking.

It works perfectly!

Frankincense. Boswellia Papyrifera, Ethiopia

Frankincense. Boswellia Papyrifera, Ethiopia

Keep in mind that all Frankincense types, ( and Myrrh), are composed of Gum, Resin and volatile oils in different ratios. One thing this means , is that due to the water-soluble gum content, your fluffy beautifully powdered Frankincense is hydrophilic, and loves water. So if not kept in a very dry environment, or if left open to any level of humidity in the air, it will quickly, and secretly coalesce into a solid mass that still looks like fluffy powder, but will need some chipping, hammering, swearing and possibly re-grinding before it regains that perfect texture you worked so hard to achieve. So either use your freshly ground oleo-gum-resin A.S.A.P., or make sure to keep it in a very dry, airtight container till you are ready to work with it further.

Frankincense Powder,Solidified

Frankincense Powder,Solidified

Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae Ethiopia

Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae Ethiopia

Another trick when working with Oleo-Resins, is that the clean up of sticky resin residue, (on hands, tools and surfaces), can usually be accomplished with oil, (I prefer olive oil), that dissolves the Oleo-resin part. That solution is then dissolved with dish soap & warm water and and finally rinsed with warm water and dried. This is a perfect solution ,(ha ha), for cleaning up most Oleo-Resins. (And leaves hands feeling beautifully moisturized!). Alcohol can also be used for cleanup, and does work well, but is a more expensive option, needs to be worked with quickly, before it evaporates. It is harsh on the hands and it’s a shame to use good, rectified, or perfumers alcohol for a simple clean up when oil could do the job just as well.

So, that’s it! Happy grinding

A bit of a glossary and some extra information

Most resins commonly used for incense, tinctures and medicine are composite materials made up of gum, which is water-soluble, resin which is soluble in alcohol, and volatile oils, also called “Essential Oils”.

This is why we call Frankincense, Myrrh and other resins “Oleo-Resins”, because they are more than just resins, they contain important volatile oils.(Oleo=Oil). When we distill Oleo-Resins with water or steam, to collect the volatile, or Essential oils, we are left with resins or Gum-Resins. There are a few “Resins” that have no, or no perceptible quantities of water-soluble gums, (such as Pine, Spruce and Fir species), these are considered Oleo-resins, but for the most part, all have some measurable percentage of water-soluble gum.

When we burn these oleo-gum-resin on a charcoal as incense, note that the first release of fragrance is clear, “bright” and closer in fragrance to the fresh material you are burning. These are the essential oils which evaporate at the lower temperatures. After this first note from the essential oils ,and probably overlapping it, the resins and their slightly less volatile compounds will melt into the charcoal & burn. Then, if there is a prominent percentage of gum in the material as in most representatives of Myrrh and Frankincense, the water-soluble gum will yield itself to the heat. It may bubble a bit, but will not dissolve into the charcoal, it will char and burn giving off a crude smell of burnt material and form a black lump on the coal, which will eventually turn into white or grey ash..

This burnt gum is regarded as the basis for the ancient Egyptian’s “Kohl” eye liner w hith the addition of Sulfide of Antimony or Lead and other ingredients.

  • Of the Frankincense family, only Boswellia Frereana, locally called “Maydi”, and found mainly in Somalia, has almost no gum content, it completely liquefies from the heat and melts into the charcoal without releasing this “burnt” smell and without leaving a residue on the charcoal.

    Frankincense. Boswellia Frereana. Yemen

    Frankincense. Boswellia Frereana. Yemen

There are many types of Frankincense trees, though only a few are available on the global market and of commercial value. Often they are mistaken one with the other, though each has its unique chemical composition, fragrance, and medicinal applications. There has been much confusion over the years around proper identification of the different Boswellia species, and their individual chemical compositions, especially since different growing conditions, climates, times and methods of harvest, and division into different “grades”, all create even more variation within the same species. Only recently have the different Frankincense species been accurately studied, researched, compared, defined and their chemical compositions examined with modern instruments. The main Types of Frankincense that are commercially available are:

Boswellia Sacra/Carterii

Frankincense tree

Frankincense tree (Photo credit: Brangdon J)

Boswellia Papyrifera

Boswellia Rivae

Boswellia Serrata

Boswellia Frereana

An excellent chart for determining the type of Frankincense you might have, through noting its solubility in different liquids can be viewed here, Courtesy of Aritiherbal.com

Have a Productive and inspired Spring

Dan

Frankincense Myrrh and Civet

After an extended absence here, I am back. With much to share. Israel and Ethiopia mainly. New and rare types of Frankincense resins, Myrrh, heavenly Opoponax and a Civet adventure in the Ethiopian hills that has yet to unfold. It will take some time to catch up, but here’s a start.

Orange orchard Rehovot Israel

Orange orchard Rehovot Israel. The high cost of water makes growing and selling citrus unprofitable, leaving hundreds of thousands of tons of fruit to fall unharvested each year, free for the picking.

Israel and Ethiopia both gave us perfect weather. Cool bright mornings, with the first rays of sunlight gently warming. Bright sunny days that would be sweltering if not so perfectly moderated by a cooling breeze. In Israel it came off the Mediterranean, morning and afternoon, In Ethiopia it was like an endless bubbling spring of refreshing air flowing up and over the many mountain ranges that cradle Addis Ababa.

In my home town of Rehovot, in Israel, I stocked up on the hard to get “Yemeni chewing gum”, A.K.A. Boswellia Frereana, or Somali “Maydi” Frankincense. Brought in fresh from Yemen by those of the last Jewish immigration wave from Yemen. From what I hear they carry dual citizenship and freely go back and forth between Israel and Yemen doing business and visiting friends there.

Frankincense I bought in Yemen on 15/Jul/2005.

Boswellia Frereana, Yemeni chewing gum. From Somalia Oman and Yemen

The same spice shop,”Gedasi’s, who has been there since I was a teen, also carries another variety of Frankincense at half the price. They say it also is from Yemen. It looks like Boswellia Sacra/Carterii, but does not compare to the sample I received in Ethiopia which came from Somalia. There are only so many kinds of Frankincense trees. I am still not certain from which this type comes.

We spent two days touring the desert and the Dead Sea. Wow! What dramatic, beautiful, stark vistas!

Masada

View from the ruins of Masada

Desert trees

Desert trees

This was the first time I had gone as a tourist in decades.

I saw it with different eyes and enjoyed it in new ways. We decided we didn’t want to stay in a stuffy mainstream hotel, so we found something that was more like a Bedouin encampment. A true oasis in the middle of the desert. After miles and miles of barren rocky hills and sweeps of sandy desert, a lush stand of 50 date palms stood out green and inviting from the dry desert. Very cool!, literally, and inviting.

Dead Sea Vista

Dead Sea Vista

They offered authentic Bedouin tents in different areas of the encampment, tents that would hold a hundred or so guests, with traditional woven camel-hair covers that were huge! As in the Bedouin tradition you could light fires under the tent for warmth at night, cooking food and of course for making that strong sweet tea they love. Lots of room for sleeping bags and blankets on the ground. Their main occupants and guests were busloads of high school kids out to climb Masada in the morning. I think we were an oddity there, and were given a modest single room that was likely used by counsellors and chaperons.
One with with a real roof and hot water.

Bedouin Style

Bedouin Style accommodations

The decor was local and unusual. Light shades made from big chunks of solid sea salt from the Dead Sea. Date Palm frond stalks for bars on the bunk beds, stools from date palm trunks etc..It was definitely different.

The food was served by local Bedouins in a vast communal dining room. Traditional Bedouin fare with a bit of an Israeli twist.

Breakfast was an Israeli style Kibbutz spread with everything from Shakshuka, (eggs simmered in a tomato sauce, to European pickled herring. French toast to Pita, humus and mediterranean salads. All through the drive desert plants were surprising in their diversity and sheer will to live. Winter rains were bringing the desert back to life. Most photos I took were of specimens I have yet to identify. So, more to come on that subject.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.