Frankincense

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 use Pine, Spruce and Fir saps for incense and perfume

beautiful-spruce-spring-renewal-may-2013

beautiful-spruce-spring-renewal-may-2013

Collecting the last of this seasons Spruce and Pine saps while the weather is cold,

reminds me that there are some perennial questions that come through this blog from the search engines, inquiring how to use local saps for perfume and incense.  Now is a perfect time to address these questions before the weather warms up and the busyness begins.

  • Many of our local North America evergreen saps can be used as incense in exactly the same way as Frankincense and Myrrh, Mastic and Copal oleoresins.
  •  They provide high quality aromatic material for perfume, incense and medicine.
  •  For perfume applications, These oleoresins are distilled via steam or water to extract their essential oils. They yield a high percent of good quality essential oils, and a much greater proportion of essential oil to raw material than when distilling essential oils from the tree’s needles.  I will get a post and a video up on this blog in the next couple of weeks showing  how to distill your own essential oils from these wonderfully fragrant local tree saps. Promise.
  • An alcohol tincture can also easily be produced for use as a  perfume ingredient. Unlike Frankincense Myrrh and some other traditional fragrant incense resins, these oleoresins contain little or no water-soluble gum. This means a tincture must be made with pure alcohol, without water, as is required in many other tinctures.
  • This tincture can also be used to impregnate “incense papers”, an ancient and cool type of incense one does not often see.
  • Alcohol is used as a solvent for our resinous tree saps, then evaporated, to create a resinoid or an absolute for the making of perfumes and incense
  • As ready to use incense materials, these fragrant saps are burned from fresh or in their aged and crystalized form, they keep for years if stored properly.
  • These tree saps can be used as incense in all the traditional ways-on a hot coal, an electric incense burner, or used as ingredients when making stick, powder and cone incense, as a stand alone fragrance, or combined with other fragrant materials..
  • The sawdust from the trees can be used as a base for making cone, stick or powder incense. A material to give the incense form without detracting too much from the fragrance of its smoke.

    Fresh White Pine sap winter harvest 2014

    Fresh White Pine sap winter harvest 2014

Most cultures around the world and over the many millennia of man’s existence have burned fragrant materials as offerings to gods, spirit entities and deities. Smoke is widely associated with the element of air and considered an agent of communication, in particular communication between realms such as the physical and spirit realms. Traditionally the smoke of burning incense carries one’s prayers to the spirit realm, cleanse homes physically and energetically, to purify and prepare sacred places and participants in religious ceremonies. This seems a universal and genetically hardwired imperative of human cultures as a whole, regardless of time, space and cultural differences.  The use of fragrance and burnt offerings in both our mundane , and our sacred lives, is rooted deeply in our collective consciousness, and is a common thread that binds us all since the beginning of time. Here, in the Americas,  our native cultures traditionally use combinations of White Cedar leaf,  Sage, Tobacco and Sweet grass among other ingredients, as “Smudging” materials, burned in a variety of ceremonies, and their smoke used to purify, prepare and cleanse the ritual space.  Sometimes they are cut, loosely mixed and burnt in a seashell, while a feather is used to fan the smouldering incense and energetically cleanse those attending.

Make your own incense from Spruce, Pine or Fir sap

  •    While all these materials can be burned on their own, they can also be combined as ingredients in different types of solid incense. This is a variation of a recipe I make with children during “Oceans of Potions” both at Under the Willows and in my studio.  These incense balls can be pressed into different shapes, such as pea sized balls, sticks, discs, cubes or cones. When dried, and if stored in tightly closed tins, they will keep for decades. With the addition of “Punk” wood, and/or Saltpeter to the recipe, they could be made to burn on their own, without needing an electric incense burner or charcoal, but for now I will share this simple and easy to make recipe for incense pellets.

    Studio Oceans of Potions and a child making incense

    In the Studio, during  “Oceans of Potions” ,a child makes their own incense

A RECIPE for “SMUDGE BALLS” and INCENSE PELLETS

A simple compound incense recipe using local tree saps and other fragrant materials.

 INGREDIENTS

  • A glob of fresh, sticky Spruce, Fir or Pine sap, as fresh, liquid or pliable as you can find, and cleaned as best you can from bark, twigs and needles. Let’s say 100 grams, as in the packages of fresh sap I sell in the store here.
  • Dry fragrant materials.  to make “Smudge Balls” one would use the same materials found in native North American smudge mixes such as, dried Prairie Sage, Tobacco, White Cedar leaves, Sweet grass, etc. This will smell and function like  a traditional native smudge.
  • To make a more “Oriental style of incense, one would forgo the above 4 dry materials, and incorporate materials such as the resins of  different types of Frankincense, Myrrh, Copal, Dragon’s Blood and Mastic, shavings or  powders of Sandalwood, Oud, (Aloes wood), any other traditional incense ingredient one desires. I am fond of Saffron for instance.
  •  If you like you can keep it local and add some dried, finely chopped or powdered Lavender flowers, Rosemary or Thyme, or any other fragrant herb that inspires you.  You can make an incense that smells quite different by simply using different ingredients. It is up to you.
  • Powdered natural resin incense such as Frankincense, Myrrh, Copal, or Mastic, or any other material that can be powdered and will burn fragrant.   They should be ground at least to the consistency of fine sand in a mortar and pestle. Or if first frozen, a coffee grinder could speed up the process a bit. (See-How to grind Frankincense and Myrrh). If you roll your sticky incense ball in the powder of these resins, it will seal them, keep them from sticking to everything, and will help them harden and cure.
  • Essential oils of your choice. I find Benzoin a classic fragrance addition to any incense blend and helps hold all your ingredients together, especially  if you have inadvertently added too many dry materials for the sap to keep it all together. Essential oils can add great depth and endless fragrance possibilities to your incense blend! You can easily make this same type of incense without the local saps if you like, and replace the Pine, Spruce or Fir saps in the recipe with thick, sticky Benzoin essential oil for a very different fragrance.
Wild Ginger 2012

Wild Ginger-Ontario- 2012. For Perfume, Incense and culinary applications.

Angelica seed head for medicinal, fragrance and culinary purposes

Angelica seed head for medicinal, fragrance and culinary purposes-Apothecary’s Garden Hamilton 2013

Lavender flowers for medicine, incense and essential oils-Apothecary's Garden Hamilton

Lavender flowers for medicine, incense and essential oils-Apothecary’s Garden Hamilton

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Essential oils can be added at the beginning of the process to the semi liquid saps, or worked in to the semi-firm product after the chopped dry material has been added. Note that not all fragrant materials smell good when they are burned! Experiment first, and if you are happy with how an ingredient smells when it is “smoking”, good chance it will add to your mix, not detract from it.

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A selection of various natural fragrant materials for incense making, and a few traditional incense products.

A selection of various natural fragrant materials for incense making, and a few traditional incense products.

INSTRUCTIONS

You will need a bowl large enough to easily mix all your ingredients. A cookie sheet to lay out your incense balls to dry, and a mortar and pestle to powder your resins or dry plant materials if needed..

  •  Clean your fresh sap from twigs and other foreign materials, place saps,(s), in a bowl, if it is too thick to work with, you can warm it up a bit and this should make it more liquid and pliable. If you can place the bowl with the sap in a larger bowl filled halfway with hot water, (or use a double boiler as shown in this recipe for solid mustache wax), this is the safest way to make your sap more pliable.
  • DO NOT heat your sap in a microwave oven! Though it is possible, with great care to do this, these saps are EXTREMELY flammable, and if left unsupervised even briefly in a working microwave, could cause a serious fire or explosion! Best to do things safe and slow.
  • Coarsely grind, or finely chop the fragrant materials you plan to use. Use scissors to finely chop fibrous stems and grasses. Keep them separate in piles or their own containers.
  •  You will need a least one fragrant material that is ground to a fine powder to serve as your final coating and drying material. Make sure you have kept enough of it till the very end of the process, enough of it to coat all your incense  pellets. If you want to stick to local materials and reproduce the fragrance of “Smudging” as closely as possible,Tobacco leaf powders very easily and will work well, but anything else will do just fine.
  • Start adding your dry fragrant incense materials to the sap. You can knead it all together with the back of a spoon or some other tool to keep your hands clean.
  • If you pre-mix all your dry powdered ingredients, you will spend less time kneading your incense to achieve a homogenous distribution of aromatic materiels within it.
  • You can clean everything at the end of the process with olive oil, then warm soapy water, but try to wait till you are finished, DO NOT get olive oil mixed into your incense. It does not smell good at all when burned!
  • If it starts getting too thick and difficult to mix before you have added all the materials you have chosen, you can either put it back on the water bath to warm and soften it, or add some of your essential oils.
  • If you would like to test your ball incense as you go along to better judge proportions of ingredients, you can set up a censer close by, or simply a lit incense charcoal sitting on a safe non flammable material in a non flammable container,(Glass or ceramic for instance). See “How to burn Frankincense as an incense” for instructions on making a censer).
  • When you have added all your incense ingredients and are happy with your formula and consistency,  it is time to shape your incense.
  •  Now take your reserved, powdered incense ingredient, and make a pile of it on your cookie sheet. Powdered frankincense or any other oleoresin work well for this, or Tobacco as mentioned above.You can also use any other incense ingredient you have, as long as it is finely powdered.
  • Pinch off small uniform amounts and form them into whatever shape you like. It could be little balls, (The size of a pea seems to be the ideal quantity for burning in one session, much more than this can often be too much smoke for a small space. Having smaller units of incense allows you to pace the burning and better control the amount of smoke you are generating.
  •  You can shape them into pea sized balls, roll them into sticks no thicker than 1/4″, you could make longer sticks and indent them deeply every 1/4 inch, so when they are dry and hard, small sections can be broken off easily. You can use your imagination, press them out into very thin wafers and press the back of a knife into them to create pie shaped wedges, or roll it thin and slice narrow strips.There are many possibilities.
  •  Lay the shaped incense pieces in the pile of powdered incense material and cover it evenly with the powder so each unit is completely and evenly coated.
  •  As you work the powdered fragrant material into them on he cookie sheet, they will lose their stickiness, get harder and less pliable till they no longer stick to each other or pick up any more powder.
  •  Put them to the side of your cookie sheet and keep your loose powder in one area for rolling and coating the rest of the pieces.
  •  When they are all shaped and coated, check if they have absorbed all the powdered coating already. If so, feel free to sprinkle the rest of the powder on them and let them sit another 1/2 hour to absorb as much as they can.
  • Spread them out evenly and set the cookie sheet on top of the fridge, or in a warm place with good circulation. I find if you can set them in the sun for a few hours it does the trick quite well.
  • Within a couple or few hours, they should be firm and dry to the touch and ready to be packaged.
  •  If they are not yet dry and firm, either leave them longer, or set the cookie tray in an oven on the lowest temperature setting with the door cracked open until they are ready. If you have a food dehydrator it might also be an option. I have not tried this method, but it might be ideal for slow even drying with no risk of burning them. (Please leave me a comment below if you have tried this method successfully!).
  •  Only when they have cooled to room temperature can you test their consistency accurately.
  •  At this point you can put them in a container. Store in a relatively cool place. Your incense will keep for many years.

They can be packaged in attractive tins or some other attractive container, and make unique gifts.

 If you are harvesting your own saps, please, please be considerate of the trees and of Nature!! For the sake of not wanting to write too long a post, I cut out a section on ethical and sustainable harvesting from nature. I may just add it as a separate post. Until then, please  feel free to click on the tag “Wildcrafting” in the sidebar and check out some posts that talk about how to properly harvest from nature. Ethical and sustainable harvesting methods are critical!

Thank you.

Dan

 

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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, 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

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