Distillation

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.
  • Rosin
    Rosin, Make your own high quality Rosin from the saps of trees that grow around you
  • Rosin, Make your own high quality Rosin from the saps of trees that grow around you
  • By far the simplest and gentlest method for distilling essential oils from local conifers, especially if one lives in the city, is from the sap already present from the trimming of lower branches. This requires no further damage to the trees, while giving us the opportunity to produce our own exquisite essential oils and rosins for perfume, medicine and many other products.

Even in the middle of the city, you will find a connection to the trees that grow in your sphere.  I would say you already have a relationship with them whether you recognize it or not. To notice a tree, acknowledges the existence of a relationship between you. Life is full of subtle truths. The quality of that relationship is mostly in your hands. The quality of the products you make with the trees in your sphere is completely in your hands. A little piece of the planet’s well-being is yours to watch over and nurture. These are the seeds of stewardship. 

American Turpentine workers circa 1912

American Turpentine workers circa 1912. (I know, this photo makes me cringe, for a couple of reasons)

Today some large-scale operations distill essential oils from pulp, sawdust and foliage left over from milling and processing trees for lumber and paper industries. The quality of the essential oils produced by these large industries can not compare to those you can distill in small quantities on your own. The chemical and  fragrance industry is vast, and many of these factory produced essential oils, especially those distilled from coniferous trees are used as starting materials for other  chemicals and essential oils utilized in our everyday products.

distillation column-I don't know what they are distilling, but it gives us an idea of the scale of these industrial operations.

distillation column-I don’t know what they are distilling, but it gives us an idea of the huge scale of these industrial operations.

On the bright side, Small scale “Artisan” Distillers of essential oils, made from hand collected plant materials, by craftspeople that have personal and intimate relationships with their local flora, people who practice ethical and sustainable methods due to their philosophies and convictions, are becoming recognized in commerce. They are increasingly in demand  by  “bespoke” and small-scale perfumers, naturopaths and alternative healers around the world. This, I believe, is how change on a global scale is slowly unfolding.

We need these small-scale producers and artisans in as many fields as possible, and we need to support them whenever, wherever and however possible. They represent a new paradigm and model of how we can live in harmony and balance with the planet instead of our current destructive model of impersonal mass production which is taking a growing toll on our health and wellbeing , and that of the planet.

Small scale farmers, conscientious and ethical animal husbandry operations, local dairy and artisan cheese producers, private-label vineyards and cottage industries, ethical wildcrafting homesteads and collectives, and small-scale distillers, all allow this type of rich, intimate, respectful relationship with nature to flourish. Supporting them enriches our communities, nurtures an ethical and sustainable relationship with the planet and provides us with high quality products that help reintegrate us on an individual and societal level with nature. They are the vanguard of change and evolution.

In the production of essential oils, I believe this is the only practical way to keep the integrity of the fresh plant, the nuances and depth, their healing potential, and the metaphorical “heartbeat” of the plant intact through the process. Something not achievable on an “Industrial scale”. Though each batch may differ slightly in complexities of fragrance, I believe these small distillations using planet friendly and non destructive practices, built on intimate personal  relationships with nature, from the tapped or exposed saps of the trees, yield perfume and therapeutic ingredients of the highest quality

Distilling essential oils from tree sap. An opportunity for Stewardship.

As mentioned above there are 3 materials we can extract essential oils from in a non destructive and responsible way.

  • Needles and twigs,
  • Sap from tapping the trunks
  • Sap collected from the exterior of the trees.

I am going to focus on the external sap we can collect. If there is interest, leave a comment below, I will write about the other methods in future posts.

One obvious difference is that we are working with a very specific product the tree has produced in response to an injury.  One can safely assume this is not the regular sap that flows within the tree due to the unique role of these self-produced “Bandages”. These oleoresins are exuded by the tree as a barrier against opportunistic organisms and microorganisms, and to heal an injury to itself. Their composition differs from the essential oils distilled from the tapped tree and from the needles.  They are higher in resins, and in my opinion, the essential oils they yield, are richer and more complex in fragrance.

For this reason, it is thought, that these saps and their essential oils have a greater healing potential, and are especially suited to managing skin ailments, aging skin, wrinkles and scarring. Healing our own “bark”. The affinity is obvious.  The Pinenes in these saps are considered anti inflammatory and broad spectrum antibiotics. They open bronchial passages, stimulate surface blood flow, stimulate brain function and  memory. These are only a few of the therapeutic properties and beneficial traits they offer us.

Each and every species of Pine, Spruce and Fir has its own unique chemical compounds, characteristics and fragrance 

Learn to differentiate between the different species and types of trees. Always collect and distill Pine, Spruce and Fir sap separately. If you like, you can start by collecting unidentified Pine, Spruce and Fir saps, and distill a more generic essential oil from each tree type, until you can discern between them. For most medicinal purposes this works well. If you invest some time in study, you will learn to tell the difference between the various species in each of these families. Your relationships with the trees will grow and deepen, leading you to consistent and higher quality essential oils. This is a craft and an art that calls for mastery.

A simple way to tell the difference between the three families, is that pine needles are “almost always” multiple, and are joined at the base in a sheath. Spruce and Fir needles are attached to the branch individually, a Spruce needle will roll easily between thumb and forefinger, while a Fir needle is flat and will not roll.  Spruce needles are often more rigid and have sharp skin penetrating tips, Fir needles are softer. Spruce cones grow downward while Fir, as far as I know has upward growing cones that do not last the whole season. Someone once said “Loving someone is knowing them”. It is so with Nature, you will find that love and knowledge will grow hand in hand.

We raise our children detached from Nature. Shamans, elders, Priests and priestesses, medicine men and women, those who have traditionally kept the spirit and connection with nature alive in our communities, have lost their roles in modern society. It is up to us to address this void. There is no one else. Our natural “resources” are much more than just chemical compounds we can take and process into useful products, there is a unique life force within each plant, animal and mineral woven through the universe.  Can we keep  this energetic vitality alive from harvest to finished product?

Sustainable and Ethical Harvesting or Wildcrafting

The laws of Nature, Physics and Karma work flawlessly, whether we can see them or not. For every action there is a reaction, no energy invested ever disappears, and we reap what we sow. There is an intelligence of Nature that exists everywhere around us. Just because we have not yet invented the instruments to measure it, does not mean it does not exist or does not react to every action we impose upon it. More than this, we are innately and intimately involved in this dance, as individuals and societies. The intelligence of trees, and those intelligences that take care of our trees and woods and every other individual species in plant, animal and mineral world exist to my satisfaction. We too are part of this living tapestry, regardless of all attempts to intellectualize our superiority, and see ourselves as separate from the rest of life on the planet.

   Do no harm, should be in the forefront of our minds whatever we occupy ourselves with. Especially with Nature. And if you can help out natures citizens while you are out in the woods, it is important you do so. There is no better use or service for our so-called “superior intellects”.

Harvesting

 The beginning of all endeavours starts with our intent. What is your vision?

The laws of nature and physics dictate you will receive as you give.

As in many aboriginal traditions we communicate our intent, listen carefully, and give before we take.

Nature isn’t picky about what you give. Lucky for us She is not hung up on material things.

Learn to listen to Nature and to yourself. Just as in any important relationship.

There are no coincidences. Nurture your relationships.

Secrets are never shouted. They are whispered.

Be quiet and still, and Nature can teach you everything you need to know.

Let it be a devotion.

  Deepen your relationships with the  plants you engage, develop your own personal ethics, and methods of sustainable and mutually beneficial harvesting in the wild. Engage with the spirit of your harvest, respond to their needs there is much more to be reaped than meets the eye.

On to the harvest

  • Our Northern American evergreens have been suffering from an infestation of Borers that have decimated huge tracts of our forests. I always carry a long wire with me when I harvest sap. Whenever I see a hole under a patch of sap, I insert the wire to the depth of the hole, and destroy the grub therein. Not a planet saving move on its own, but if we all held the well being of the trees and all nature’s citizens in mind while we were taking what we wanted from them, it would, I believe, make a difference. Not only in the world, but in the products we create from nature.
  • In the winter the tree is dormant, the cold weather inhibits the growth of organisms and micro organisms that could attack an exposed area of the tree. This is when it is ideal to harvest our sap.
  • Try not to scrape the sap down to the bare wood. There is plenty for you and the tree.
  • If you get ahead of me, and try to distill these saps before the next post, please be very careful! They are extremely volatile! Keep vapours away from open flames and perform a hydro or steam distillation. Don’t heat the saps directly!

This is all for now. Part 2 will address a bit more of how to harvest and the distillation process.

I could not in good conscience, write a post about distilling from the wild, without first laying down some clear directions for ethical and sustainable wildcrafting. I apologize for the length and any excess meandering. It is obvious where my passion lies. I would feel terrible if I found  that someone was hacking at trees after reading this post. Especially with that disturbing photo of turpentine collection….

If you do not have these trees in your area, or if you would like to buy ethically and sustainably harvested saps from someone who is passionately involved with the ethics and sustainability of wildcrafting, I have some beautiful fresh White Pine and Spruce saps for sale in my Etsy store. Click on the photo below or any of the Etsy badges in the sidebar to find out more.

Dan

Fresh Spruce and Pine saps Ethical and sustainably collected

Fresh Spruce and Pine saps Ethically  and sustainably collected

Disclaimer- This post does in no way imply one should harvest from city or private property, or if in the Hamilton/Burlington area, stray from the marked trails on RBG property.Enhanced by Zemanta

Frankincense, Opoponax & Myrrh, Gifts from the land of Punt

Frankincense and Myrrh. This is a fine relief of members of Hatshepsut's trading expedition to the mysterious 'Land of Punt' from this pharaoh's elegant mortuary temple at Deir El-Bahri. In this scene, Egyptian soldiers bear tree branches and axes.

This is a relief of members of Hatshepsut’s trading expedition to the mysterious ‘Land of Punt’ from this pharaoh’s elegant mortuary temple at Deir El-Bahri. In this scene, Egyptian soldiers bear tree branches and axes.

Today I received my much-anticipated package from Addis Ababa Ethiopia. What a treat for the senses!!! This first shipment of two, contains unique essential oils distilled from fresh harvested local oleo-resins. Boswellia and Commiphora. Rare Ethiopian Frankincense and Myrrh essential oils, Palmarosa, Lemongrass, and fresh pressed Black Cumin, and Neem oils to stock the store and use for perfume and herbal products. The second, forthcoming shipment will deliver the equivalent Ethiopian oleo-resins from which these oils were distilled, more of the unique bounty of the fertile and fragrant land of Ethiopia, the ancient land known as Punt.

These precious oils were created by a wonderful operation based in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. Ariti Herbal is a small-scale manufacturer of herbal products, pressed and essential oils made from local medicinal plants. Run by a husband-wife team, Professor Ermias Dagne, is a well-known and respected teacher and researcher of African medicinal and aromatic plants, creator of the Natural Products Database for Africa (NAPDA) available on CDRO and on the internet at the following site ALNAP. Professor Dagne is a warm, intelligent and enthusiastic individual, passionately committed to his students and his country. He has a vision of building a strong local economy through education and the development of unique products from the bountiful Ethiopian resources. His passion and vision are contagious, making it easy to feel inspired to support them anyway one can.

Frankincense, Opoponax and Myrrh. Treasures from the land of Punt. Coveted and traded for thousands of years Frankincense, Opoponax and Myrrh. Priceless treasures from the land of Punt. Coveted and traded for thousands of years

Treasures from Ethiopia, the land of Punt, sought after and coveted for thousands of years. Essential oils of Opoponax, Frankincense Rivae, Frankincense Neglecta. Palmarosa, and Lemongrass.

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

Opoponax and Myrrh. It makes sense that I would speak of them both first. The same family, Commiphora. Also called Sweet Myrrh, Commiphora Guidotti, Opoponax is probably one of my favourite essential oils. Both the Myrrh and the essential oil of Opoponax are the best I have smelled. The Opoponax could be described as fresh, uplifting, crisp, balsamic, airy and sweet, a classic in mens products where it lends a light citrus crispness to aftershaves, balms and colognes. The Myrrh, cool and soft with a bitter aromatic edge. Both ground a perfume while adding an exotic touch of mystery.

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

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

Finally, a true essential oil of Myrrh. So much more complex and refined in its fragrance “profile” than the usual solvent extraction.

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

Myrrh is a difficult and finicky oleo-resin to distill. Essential oil of Myrrh wants to stick to things, the sides of the still, the sides of the receiver the condenser It can never decide if it is lighter than water or heavier , so it poses challenges for the distiller. For large-scale industrial distillers there is often too much work and fuel involved to produce a true essential oil of Myrrh at a competitive price. Lucky for me there is someone who is willing to do the work, and people like me who appreciate it.

The fragrance is rich, deep, lightly bitter like its oleo-resin, but much more refined, with a well rounded, cool, (It suggests to me, sitting in the shade of the Myrrh tree on a hot Ethiopian afternoon), woody, with a spicy sweetness that is delicious. Its complexities suggest it is halfway to being a perfume. It lingers and persists for a long long time, the sign of a good Base Note..

 Commiphora Myrrha-Myrrh tree

Commiphora Myrrha-Myrrh tree. Maybe better to wait till it is in leaf before enjoying its aromatic shade and protection from the Ethiopian sun!

This Myrrh essential oil is reddish amber in colour and mobile, moving like a thin liquid not like Molasses, or tar, which is how the usual solvent extracts of Myrrh look and behave. It blends with pure alcohol like milk in water, literally on contact, what a joy! I used to get very frustrated trying to blend Myrrh in perfumes or cremes with little success, until I learned, that what I had, was actually a solvent extraction, a resinoid, and not an essential oil at all. This knowledge didn’t make my life any easier, but it at least allowed me to resign myself to its limitations instead of fighting them, while I searched for a true essential oil.

I only have a small amount of this oil to share through the shop, so if you consider purchasing some, check it out in the shop or contact me in the comments section here. I would be delighted if more people appreciated this gem, and the finesse it takes to create it. A gift from the Land of Punt.

Dan

Distilling Frankincense essential oil

Continuing to work on a Frankincense anti aging/wrinkle crème and a Frankincense rejuvenating mask from the (post distillation) gum and resin residue of different types of Frankincense. Here I am distilling the essential oils from Frankincense, Boswellia species.

Successful formulation of a Frankincense Anti-Aging creme, utilizing the healing properties of the Frankincense gum and resin.

Successful formulation of a Frankincense Anti-Aging creme, utilizing the healing properties of the Frankincense gum and resin. Much more than just an essential oil.

By “post distillation” I mean that after distilling off the essential oils, what I am left with are the water-soluble gum and alcohol-soluble resin.
Since essential oils can irritate the skin, especially of the face, post distillation allows me to add a controlled amount of essential oils of my choice, isolate the water-soluble gums from the alcohol-soluble resins and remove all extraneous materials from them.

The method for distillation is steam/hydro distillation using a simple home-made pot still.

Home made pot still charged with fresh Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera from Ethiopia.

Home made pot still charged with fresh Frankincense from Ethiopia.

  The oleo-gum-resin for this distillation is Frankincense from Ethiopia. Because this is an experiment I only used 2 kg. of resin. Much less than this still can process.
The ratio of essential oils in each type of Frankincense varies greatly. One can collect  anywhere from 10 ml. up to 60 ml. or more from 2 kg. of raw oleo-gum-resin.

The sieve keeps the resin from sitting on the bottom of the pot where it could burn. If the resin did get burned, even slightly, the fragrance of all the components would be affected, making resin, gum, oil and residue in the still, unusable for any purpose whatsoever and no way to reclaim them or separate the burnt odor from them. In fact, on top of the loss of the material, the whole still, including over 8 feet of air-cooled copper condenser would have to be scrubbed and practically sterilized to make sure there was not the slightest remnant of burnt residue or odor in the whole distillation train. I shudder at the thought!!! I had already done this twice prior to distilling the Frankincense just the day before. First removing traces of the last essential I had distilled, then had to do it all over again because I could smell hints of cleaning products in the condenser when I turned up the heat and started the distillation process.

       The lesson here, I believe, is that there are benefits to using standard glass water cooled condensers. I love the fact that this one utilizes air and consumes no resources to function. But it has its drawbacks.

This is a photo of the resin after distilling. Note the change in colour and texture. A pool of gum has settled at the bottom of the sieve, trying to drip into the pot through resin clogged sieve holes. Also note the milky white colour of the water after it has dissolved some of the the water soluble gums.

Home made pot Still. Frankincense resin suspended in sieve to avoid burning.

Home made pot Still. Frankincense resin suspended in sieve to avoid burning.

Frankincense water soluble gum mixed with distillation water in the still

Frankincense water soluble gum mixed with distillation water in the still has coloured the water a milky white.

Now that the essential oil is distilled from the oleo-gum-resin, most of the resin is in the basket. Except for some that dripped through the sieve and formed the tastiest looking layer of caramel coloured resin on the bottom of the pot.The water in the pot is white from dissolved gum. What remains is to separate the rest of the gum from the resin, (using water as the solvent), then remove all extraneous materials, pieces of bark, stone, sand etc., and purify the components.

Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera resin from bottom of still

Frankincense, Boswellia resin from bottom of still. Looks good enough to eat!!

 

When gum and resin are separated and purified they will be recombined in an emulsion with the addition of  emollient and skin nourishing oils, antioxidants, and a small amount of broad spectrum preservative.

Even though the prototypes and first formulas seem to have kept well for months without obvious spoilage or mold.  And even though i have a deep respect for the preserving qualities of tree oleo resins. I can’t take the chance of bacteria or other organisms growing after making an oil/water emulsion.

Frankincense, Boswellia Rivae, post distillation of essential oils. Only gum and resins remain to be separated and cleaned. Then recombined and reformulated for skin care and healing products.

A different type of Frankincense, post distillation of essential oils. Only gum and resins remain to be separated and cleaned. Then recombined and reformulated for skin care and healing products.

Home made pot Still. Used to distill essential oils, wines and much more. Note it is made of everything including parts of the kitchen sink.

Home made pot Still. Used to distill essential oils, wines and much more. Note it is made of everything including parts of the kitchen sink, with a salvaged copper/Aluminum heat exchange as an air cooled condenser..

Distilled Frankincense essential oil. Boswellia Rivea. 2013, Home made still.

Distilled Frankincense essential oil. Boswellia Rivea. 2013.