Myrrh

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

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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, 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

Bitter Myrrh, Libra Moon, a Tincture

FULL MOON IN LIBRA

Ruled astrologically by the Moon, as some other bitter plants, it is time to tincture Myrrh. Today’s full moon in Libra, is closest to the spring equinox and appropriately, represents equilibrium and balance. The symbol for Libra are the scales. Its keyword is Balance. Balance between male and female energies. Winter and Summer. inner and outer, self and other.  As the sun and the seasons progress with Aries passion towards another Solstice, new beginnings, renewed direction, goals and ambitions are in the air, with a timely reminder to temper our actions and reactions, with balance. Sometimes easy to forget when swept up in Spring projects and passions.

Anatomical Man in the Duke Berry's Très Riches...

Anatomical Man in the Duke Berry’s Très Riches Heures (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love the way the full moons are always poised against, and illuminated by their opposite Sun sign. A perfect balance of friction and attraction. A choreographed dance of opposites made in heaven.    Aries Sun and its opposite, Libra Moon. The Moon’s feminine and watery reflective ebb and flow, contrasting the direct intensity of the Sun, especially when in  fiery Aries, makes them a  dynamic match of opposites.

.”The spark is Netzach, the friction of life.   In a motor, this generates the engine.   Netzach is Nature, the Tree of Life’s power base.   The friction of lightning and rain in Earth’s aeons, generated life.  The friction of male and female re-kindles the soul, a lamp in the womb for the soul.” http://janeaquariel.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/solomon/

Now is the time. It has built up for weeks. Thinking, pondering, planning, waiting, distilling water, preparing. Waiting… Writing …..  In the fridge it waited as per my earlier post of how to grind resins. It is appropriate that it come out of the cold of the fridge (Frig, Frigga) /winter to spin around, be ground to nondescript powder. Then, in the bright of the full Libra Moon and the waxing warm Sun, dissolves into the waters of life, (Aqua Vitae), like the salt of the sea, becoming one with the liquid, and turned into a tincture. Losing itself into the menstruum. Transformation. This is the time, for the Alchemical “Solve’ “, the first step in the process.

Beautifully formed Myrrh resin chunk

Beautifully formed Myrrh resin chunk

Myrrh,( Mor, Hebrew), Mar,(Hebrew, bitter), , Mar Yam, (Mariam, Miriam, Mary, Maria),                               Mar Yam-(,Hebrew Bitter of the sea), or froth of the sea, salt of the sea, perhaps also known as Ashtoreth, Astarte, Ostara. Shechinah. The Holy Consort and feminine counterpart to YHWH. Feminine principles of the Moon and element of water.

English: Astarte with horned (moon crescent) crown

English: Astarte with horned (moon crescent) crown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seems today is my , Ostara ,Easter and Passover. At 05:27 AM this morning, I covered the finely ground, powdered brown bitterness of Myrrh with the menstruum.  Pondering while nibbling on the Myrrh as I work, it is SO bitter! Grinding and thinking about the Passover Seder. It always felt like a bit of a sham with no one around that could give an answer that “rang” with Truth of deeper meanings for the traditional symbols. Mostly receiving information that no one has actually understood, or personally stood under in decades.  The representative “bitter” element or “Maror”, on the Seder platter now days is Horseradish, and not bitter in any way. Pungent? Yes. Bitter? No. In fact the “Maror” (the “bitter herb), may well have been and more likely was,” Mar”(, Hebrew-Bitter), and “Mor” ,(Hebrew-Myrrh), so (MARMOR?), Maror? My feeling is that Myrrh is likely the original basis of the original Passover Maror.

I can think of nothing that represents palatable bitterness as perfectly as Myrrh, which was readily available for thousands of years in ancient Israel.  Also Interesting is the inclusion in the Seder platter of salt water as “the tears we shed as slaves”, (The above mentioned froth of the sea/Moon reference). The lambs shank bone, a symbol of a tender young Aries Ram Sun?  The “Karpas” or greens, a symbol of spring growth. The egg on the platter at the Seder, fertility and Spring, but also representative of the duality and union of Yin and Yang, Equinox/Balance, Yolk as Sun, White as moon, (“Ha Levanah”, or the “White one”, is the Hebrew word for “The Moon”). Moon Feminine and Yin embracing and receiving  the Sun and Yang principal, the yolk.

Deutsch: Yin Yang

Deutsch: Yin Yang (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a time for new beginnings, rebirth, regardless of one’s faith. A time when we might have more impetus to try, and succeed. To emancipate ourselves from forms of slavery we laboured under till now. Whether self-created and self-defeating patterns and habits, or unhealthy dynamics we have perpetuated with others. Patterns we have accepted and tolerated to our detriment for too long for all the wrong reasons. Libra seems to imply the dynamics between ourselves and others. Relationships.  Our Easter, Ostara, Passover ,Equinox passage is an opportunity  for both reflection and action. Self-examination, new choices, new beginnings. A time we might see our light reflected back to us, and a time for us, like the Sun, to wax bright.  With any luck we can hope to ride this wave of seasonal growth, and work with the natural cycles around and within us to carry ourselves closer to our goals..

And all the while, try to remember, balance.

Moses, Exodus, Liberation of the bondservants,...

Moses, Exodus, Liberation of the bondservants, the Jews in Egypt go free, Holy Bible Etching, 1885 (Photo credit: Wonderlane)

The Myrrh Tincture:   Created at 05:27 EST. During the Pisces Lunation cycle, Full Moon in Libra, Sun in Aries. Ascendant in Taurus?   A solvent mix of 55% distilled water to 45% pure alcohol, (mirroring the assumed ratio of gum to oleo-resin in the Myrrh), was poured  and covered the powdered Myrrh. It basked in the predawn moonlight symbolically, and was put away to gestate and circulate. Left in the care of natures rhythms till it is time for me to step in and give Nature a little help. Take the tincture to the next level. Likely on the path to becoming a Spagyric tincture.