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The many benefits of Frankincense tea

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, www.apothecarysgarden.shop

Frankincense tea, also known as a Frankincense infusion, is a time-honoured remedy in many cultures and medical systems. Some of its traditional medicinal uses have been researched in recent years and I am surprised to see that many of the classic therapeutic properties associated with Frankincense tea are substantiated in the laboratory. I have listed a few here, but trust you to do your own research as well.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
A Frankincense infusion is a traditional and time-honoured remedy in many cultures. It has broad therapeutic applications, is easy to make at home and puts less stress on trees that are already burdened by our demand for Frankincense essential oil.

Not the essential oil

Our recent obsession with Frankincense essential oil can easily blind us to the plethora of therapeutic compounds found in the whole oleo gum resin and is no doubt increasing the pressure we are putting on trees that are already over-harvested and over-burdened with our growing demand for Frankincense essential oil.

Frankincense tea, Frankincense infusion, resin extract, spent resin www.apothecarysgarden.com
After distilling a small amount of essential oil of Frankincense, the resin which contains the Boswellic acids and other valuable therapeutic compounds is usually discarded as waste. Increasingly, pharmaceutical companies are buying up the spent Frankincense resin and processing it into Boswellic acid supplements. A rapidly growing and very profitable market.

A Holistic approach

The following gem is borrowed from one of the linked studies below. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

“However, exclusive focus on individual biochemical targets neglects the fact that strong synergy of multiple constituents in a crude drug may prove more potent and effective than any single purified compound, or that interactions of co-occurring phytochemicals may help nullify the toxic effects of individual constituents. So while it is important to understand the active agents within medicinal plants, it should also be with caution that we extract and use constituents in isolation.”

Kurt Schnaubelt,

Traditional therapeutic benefits of Frankincense

Frankincense tea has a broad range of traditional therapeutic applications..

  • As a sexual tonic and aphrodisiac
  • To increase fertility in men and women.
  • To stimulate brain function, memory and intelligence
  • As a home remedy for coughs, colds and congestion
  • To reduce the pain and inflammation associated with Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • As a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Alleviating respiratory complaints such as Asthma and Bronchitis.
  • To treat diabetes.
  • To ease the irritation of urinary tract inflammations

A teaspoon of Frankincense tears steeped overnight in water is a traditional healing formula that has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years

Frankincense tea, Frankincense Carterii. www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Frankincense Carterii harvest Ufeyn Eastern Bari district Somalia. An oleo gum resin, Boswellia Carterii tears form on the tree as a homogenous white emulsion of oil and water soluble compounds which lend it its name of Luban and Olibanum. An infusion of the whole tears mimics this emulsion and delivers both the gum and the oil soluble resins which contain the Boswellic acids and other non-water-soluble therapeutic compounds.

An aqueous solution and emulsion

I found no research that enumerated all the chemical constituents delivered through an aqueous solution of Frankincense. However, it is safe to assume that the emulsion created by an infusion of Frankincense in water is similar in composition to the fresh tears and delivers both the water-soluble gum and the oil-soluble resin acids, (including the Boswellic acids), which are today considered the most sought after therapeutic compounds in Frankincense.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, frankincense as medicine, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
An infusion of Frankincense tears steeped overnight in water is a traditional remedy for many ailments and an effective anti-inflammatory.

How to prepare Frankincense tea

The traditional ratio of Frankincense granules to water is about a teaspoon of tears  to 1 or 2 cups of water.

  • Place a teaspoon of Frankincense tears in a cup, mug or bowl. large tears can be pulverized or crushed with a mortar or pestle, or by putting the tears in a ziplock bag and bruising them with a hammer.
  • Add 1-2 cups, (250-500 Milliliters) of room-temperature water. Some people use boiling water though I can’t say if one method is better than the other. Both seem to yield the same results.
  • Cover the container with a saucer or plastic wrap and let it sit overnight.
  • Sip the tea/infusion throughout the next day.
  • If you prepare too much you can keep it in the fridge for a day or two.
  • If you want to prepare a larger amount for future use, freeze it in ice cube trays, then store the frozen cubes in Ziploc bags in the freezer. Thaw them as needed. they should keep well for up to 6 months.
  • Remember, traditional use suggests consuming small amounts throughout the day. It is likely more beneficial to consistently drink a cup or two slowly throughout the day than to consume large quantities over a short period.
  • Listen to your body, and don’t overdo it.
  • Often, the tears can be infused in water once more and still colour the water.
  • When they are spent they can be consumed, (washed down with water or taken with food), and a new batch prepared.
  • Though there are no major side effects to consuming too much Frankincense, if you experience digestive discomfort in any way, take a break and moderate your intake.

Which types of Frankincense are best suited to making a tea?

Not all Frankincense types are suited to this type of preparation. Some Frankincense resins have no water-soluble gum and will not create an emulsion when steeped in water. If the solution does not turn white or cloudy overnight, know that the resin acids are not included in the “Tea”.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Some types of Frankincense are suited to preparing Frankincense tea, and others are not.

The following species of Frankincense are the best suited and most popular types for this application and contain water soluble gum. Click on the links for a detailed description of each type.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, royal green hojari frankincense, boswellia sacra, oman www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Frankincense Sacra-Royal green Hojari, Oman. Some types of Frankincense are suited to preparing Frankincense tea, and others are not. Royal Green Hojari Frankincense is traditionally reserved for medicine and tea in Oman.

Not suitable for teas

Though Frankincense Rivae, Neglecta and Frereana contain many therapeutic compounds, their lack of water-soluble gum means their resin acids will not be delivered through an emulsion.

Boswellia/Frankincense Frereana-Somalia. Known as Maydi, Frankincense Frereana has no water-soluble gum which makes it ideal for its traditional use as a long-lasting and healthy chewing gum, but ineffective in a tea. Though Maydi contains little to no Boswellic acids, it has its own set of therapeutic compounds

Scientific research

Laboratory studies of the tea, infusion or aqueous extract/solution of Frankincense support many of the traditional uses. Below, are a few of the studies I came across. I urge you to do your own research. An online query such as “Frankincense tea” or”Frankincense infusion” won’t yield many results. However, if you phrase your search, “Aqueous solution of Boswellia”, or something similarly scientific,  you will be well rewarded. I have by no means collated everything there is, and can’t judge the veracity of all the studies, but a few hours searching proved fruitful and educational. The potential benefits of a simple tea of Frankincense are extensive and yet to be fully explored. Here are a few.

Studies like these remind me how much we don’t yet know about nature, our bodies and diseases. There is so much more for us all to learn. It also tells me that our obsession with taking things apart and consuming individual active compounds, ( such as essential oils), is likely to our detriment, that of the land and the plant species that give us our medicine.

This is an updated version of a popular post. originally published in 2017.

Dan

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Ambergris-How to prepare an oil, Attar and tincture

Also known as “Floating Gold” and Whale vomit, Ambergris is one of the rarest & most precious gifts of Nature. Coveted since ancient times for it’s value in perfumery, incense making and traditional medicine. Considered an aphrodisiac since time immemorial, it fetches Astronomical prices for those lucky enough to find it washed up on beaches around the world.

Ambergris is a waxy material similar in chemical structure to cholesterol that collects in the stomach of the Sperm Whale, (Physeter macrocephalus). Produced in its bile duct, it coats irritants and indigestible objects and prepares them for safe evacuation. Theories vary as to which end of the whale they find egress.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Gold Ambergris found in the South Pacific

Till recently these indigestables were limited to Squid beaks and other natural inclusions of an oceanic diet. Now, however, one finds a variety of foreign objects collected in whale digestive tracts and wrapped up in Ambergris.

Ocean Gold in the age of plastic

A recent purchase of 2 lumps disclosed layers of plastic bags tightly wrapped in Ambergris pointing a finger at the deteriorating state of our oceans. A reminder for us to forgo the use of plastic whenever possible.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Ambergris laden with partially decomposed pieces of plastic bags. Indonesia

A unique perfume ingredient

In perfume, Ambergris is used as a fragrance material and a fixative, lending marine, animalic and Musk notes to perfumes while slowing down the evaporation of more fleeting fragrances. Like other animal sourced perfume ingredients, it adds a dimension that is difficult for synthetic and botanical aromatics to deliver on their own.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
www.apothecarysgarden.shop

Oddly, the magic and transformative power of Ambergris in perfume lies not in the strength of its aroma or olfactory contribution. Liminal, as if anchored in the intangible interstices of scent and senses, it rounds out and pulls together a bouquet from underneath while adding depth, tenacity and a unique dimension to compositions by means of a mechanism that is not well understood.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Brown or black Ambergris with a deep, “dark”, animalic scent.

As an incense material

Ambergris is traditionally burned as incense though the odor is not to everyone’s taste. Conversely, it can be blended into a compound incense directly or in the form of a tincture which will disperse through the material prior to the alcohol evaporating.

Ambergris, Burning-Ambergris-John-Parker-Sargent
Burning-Ambergris-John-Parker-Sargent

In Gourmand food

Historically, Ambergris has been used to flavour egg dishes, wild game, ice cream, tea, coffee and liquers. In Morocco, a small piece of is adhered to the inside of the tea pot lid where it imbues the infusion for a lengthy period with it’s unique fragrance. In Turkey, it is boiled in the traditional Turkish coffee as an aphrodisiac, to bolster the libido and male constitution.

As medicine

Used for centuries in Unani and Ayurveda systems of medicine, Ambergris has a traditional role as an Aphrodisiac and is used in formulas that treat sexual debility, premature ejaculation and in tonic formulas for the heart, liver, brain and kidneys.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Gold Ambergris carefully separated from the layers of plastic bags.

Different types of Ambergris

Though Ambergris is found in many shades, sizes and shapes, it can be generally divided into 3 types, grey, gold and brown/black.

The lighter coloured material often has a dry marine odour, with hints of Tobacco and ocean breeze. It has a light, clean and crisp fragrance.
The gold can have a soft, dry, Amber scent with Oak and Tobacco couched in Petrichor, (the scent of earth when it rains). It has a brisk marine note and a pleasant, soft animalic musk. It often has a gold colour with black striations.
The Brown material borders on black, and is a bit softer/stickier than the other types. It has a strong, dark, earthy scent and a musk-like animalic note layered over wet-cured tobacco and the scent of the ocean.

Aromatically, the 3 types range in intensity of scent with Grey being the lightest and Brown/Black having the most intense, or strongest fragrance, The Gold material sits between them in intensity of aroma.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Brown/Black and Grey Ambergris in the shop

Tinctures for perfume

They are all suited to tincturing in alcohol and extracting in oil, though I find the Gold and the Brown material really shine as oils.

An alcoholic tincture brings out different notes than an oil infusion and highlights the Tobacco and marine notes present in the material.
An oil infusion creates a product with more of the animalic and musk notes. Smelling it makes my heart skip every time.

In perfume, Ambergris is used at very low proportions, often dissolved at 1% in high proof alcohol. Only a small amount of this tincture is needed to lend a perfume blend a unique edge.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
www.apothecarysgarden.shop

To prepare a tincture of Ambergris

Usually made in concentration of 1% to 5%, a 1% tincture of Ambergris is prepared in the ratio of 1 gram of Ambergris crushed or powdered in 99 parts 94%-96% ethanol. It can be initially warmed in the water-bath to speed up dissolution of the material in the alcohol. When powdered, heating to 40 degrees Centigrade for 15 minutes is usually enough. Kept in a sealed glass jar in a warm place, the scent of this liquid will evolve for 6 or more months. A 3% tincture is made with 3 grams Ambergris and 97 parts alcohol, a 10% tincture with 10 parts ambergris and 90 parts alcohol etc. 6 months is the standard maceration time for Ambergris tincture. Once the liquid is ready, it can be filtered through paper, bottled and kept in a cool dark place until needed. The tincture can be gently evaporated in a shallow cloth-covered dish at room temperature to create an absolute/resinoid. This product is a clean and concentrated form of the material and blends easily with essential oils and alcohol. When used, there is no need to filter the product.

To prepare an oil of Ambergris

An oil of Ambergris is prepared in much the same way as an alcohol tincture. Fractionated Coconut or Jojoba oil are used since they are stable and have an indefinite shelf life. Gently warming in a water-bath facilitates breakdown of the material in the oil and a 6 month maceration yields good results.

When the infusion is ready to be decanted it is allowed to sediment then vacuum filtered through paper and bottled for use.  Though it can be gravity filtered through a paper coffee filter, it is time consuming.

Preparing an Ambergris “Attar”

What is sometimes called an “Attar” is produced by macerating Ambergris in an essential oil such as Sandalwood, Rose, Oud, Frankincense or another stable aromatic liquid. Amyris, Copaiba, Gurjun, and other essential oils that age well can be experimented with. These can be used as standalone concentrated perfumes or as ingredients and fixatives in perfume blends. The process is identical to preparing an oil infusion and up to 10% Ambergris is a good general guideline depending on the essential oil and type of Ambergris used. The term Attar is used loosely here, and traditionally refers to the product created by distilling one aromatic plant material into the essential oil of another. Here we take aromatic license to include infusions of animalic aromatics in essential oil since the animalics cannot be distilled. Theoretically it is possible to distil an essential oil such as Sandalwood into an oil infusion/extract of Ambergris but it too would be stretching the term.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
www.apothecarysgarden.shop

Finding so much plastic in Ambergris has prompted me to rethink my shop packaging choices. We are now transitioning from plastic Bubble bags to recycled corrugated cardboard packaging and hope to shift to recycled paper mailers later this year.

If you decide to prepare any of these products yourself, remember-Always keep clear notes! Your future self will thank you. Dan

References- https://juniperpublishers.com/jcmah/pdf/JCMAH.MS.ID.555705.pdf https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8540767

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Bushman’s Balm- Extracts and Formulas

Bushman’s  Balm. Made with Sarcocaulon Mossemedes wax, with no added colours, fragrances or preservatives.
Simple is often best and with only 3 ingredients, this Bushman’s Candle-Lip Balm really shines. The Amber scent of the wax blends beautifully with the sweet notes of the unrefined Ontario Beeswax creating a smooth texture and a sensuous natural accord.

 

Sarcocaulon Mossemedense is a flowering shrub of the Geranium family that thrives in the hot, harsh and bone-dry Namib desert of Western Africa. The succulent interior of the plant is preserved and protected by a thick waxy, resinous bark which endures on the parched desert floor for many years after the plant’s demise and can be utilized in a wide range of skin-care products

Sarcocaulon-mossamedense-3-Cape-Cross.-Credit-Matija-Strlic.

The fallen bark is collected by members of the Himba tribe and often processed into a resin extract for the perfume industry. Collecting the bark provides an extra income to members of the tribe.
However, besides the aromatic resinous material, there is a natural wax present in the bark which is discarded as waste after removing the resin portion for perfume use.

https://i.etsystatic.com/8430022/r/il/1cc473/1934701503/il_fullxfull.1934701503_fzfw.jpg
Bushman’s Candle-Sarcocaulon Mossemedense-Namibia. provides both a resin extract for Perfumery and Wax for cosmetics, candles and therapeutic formulas.

Utilizing this fragrant wax is a simple process and if a market can be created for it, this value-added product could generate extra income for the tribe.

This amber-scented wax is perfect for cosmetics, candles, moustache waxes, and therapeutic skin-healing formulas.
Both the wax and the resin extract can be prepared from the same material, doubling its usefulness and value as a sustainably collected harvest.
Bushman’s candle resin extract and wax share a beautiful Amber scent that is rich, sweet, warm, woody and tenacious.

It is easy to extract 2 separate products from the raw bark, the alcohol extract for perfume and incense and a wax which can be used in candles and cosmetic/therapeutic preparations.

www.apothecarysgarden.shop Bushman's Candle-Sarcocaulon Mossemedense
Bushman’s Candle wax separated from the spent material using hot Fractionated Coconut oil. the wax can be collected by either pressing it out of the solids or hot filtering.

 

HOW TO PREPARE A 25% EXTRACT OF BUSHMAN’S CANDLE

  • Coarsely grind 100 grams of Bushman’s Candle bark.
  • In a sealed glass vessel, cover with 300 grams 94% to 96% Ethanol.
  • Let sit in a warmish, (30 degrees Centigrade), place for 6 weeks, stirring or shaking periodically.
  • Filter through a paper coffee filter and bottle in glass.
  • A 50% extract can be made in the same manner but with 100 grams alcohol instead of 300 grams.
  • A resin extract or absolute can be prepared by evaporating the alcohol from the extract at room temperature.

HOW TO EXTRACT THE WAX FROM BUSHMAN’S CANDLE

 

  • Collect the spent material left over after the resin extract of Bushman’s Candle.
  • Dry thoroughly.
  • When the material is bone dry place in a glass vessel and cover with an equal weight of Fractionated Coconut oil or a carrier oil of your choice.
  • Place in a water-bath and bring the bath to a boil.
  • Maintain the temperature of the bath for 2-4 hours.
  • Press the liquid wax, (carefully), from the solid material, or-
  • Filter the material hot, through a metal mesh coffee filter or –
  • paper in a vacuum filter.

If you would like to make your own resinoid and wax extractions of Sarcocaulon mossemedense, you can find the unprocessed bark in the shop here-https://www.etsy.com/listing/671100242/bushmans-candle-a-unique-aromatic-from

You can find Bushman’s Balm in the shop here-https://www.etsy.com/listing/692128510/bushmans-candle-lip-balm-from-the-harsh

 
Dan

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The Frankincense collectors. Somali Region-Ethiopia

Commiphora Myrrha http://apothecarysgarden.com
Visiting the collectors of Frankincense and Myrrh in the Somali Region of Ethiopia February 2019
Visiting the collectors of Frankincense and Myrrh in the Somali Region of Ethiopia February 2019

February 2019 brought a visit with the Camel and Goat herders of the Somali region of Ethiopia. What was once called the “Ogaden”. They are the collectors of Frankincense and Myrrh. While grazing their animals among the abundant Boswellia and Commiphora trees of the Savannah, they gently and sustainably collect the aromatic resins from the trees and ground.

Herders Somali Region Ethiopia FairtradeFrankincense.com
One of the Last water holes left in the dry season. The wildlife relies on it just as much as the herders. It is not unusual to see pissed off Warthogs trotting away, muttering about the lack of privacy and quiet.

Life as a pastoralist in Eastern Africa has become increasingly difficult as droughts regularly plague the land leaving animals and herders with little water or food in the dry season. There are no guarantees anyone will have enough to barter or buy basic nourishment for their families from season to season.

Collecting and selling these resins could add financial security to their lives. However, more often than not, they lack a market for their resins. Someone to sell them to, which is where we come in.

Our goal is to work with the collector families directly. To train them in best practices for collecting, sorting, grading and storing their resins and to establish cooperatives that will help support their communities and ensure a market with fair and stable prices for their resins. As much as they can collect.

Local and regional governments are with us on this project and with fingers crossed, we will see a container of ethically, sustainably and fairly traded resins in North America before the end of the year.

Dan

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Ammoniacum. Incense of the Oracle-medicine of the people.

Ammoniacum, Ferula Tingitana, Apothecarysgarden.com

During a trip to the Mediterranean and Africa, I purchased two kilos of the aromatic resin known as Ammoniacum. They were beautiful, fragrant, fresh specimens and of rare quality.

Ammoniacum, Ferula Tingitana, Incense of the Oracle
Fresh Gum Ammoniacum from North Africa. Ferula tingitana

They were still as the harvesters had gathered them, many resinous tears pressed into as big a ball as each could manage comfortably. Though steeply priced, they were recently collected and bright with personality, fragrance and colour. There is no doubt I would have spent my last few shekels on them if I had to.

Also known as Giant Tangiers Fennel, Ferula Tingitana is a perennial plant of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. Similar in structure to wild carrot, Angelica, Anise and Lovage, (but not Fennel!)

In late spring/early summer beetles puncture the outer membrane of its hollow stalks, triggering the plant’s defence system to exude a sticky, fragrant oleo gum resin that both repels insect attackers and acts as a bandage to the wound. Commercially, the plant is wounded by harvesters who then collect the droplets when they solidify.

Ammoniacum through the ages

Ammoniacum or Gum Ammoniacum is named for its long association with the Oracle of the Temple of Ammon in Siwa. Originally located in Libya, the temple was an important religious center for the Egyptians and the ancient Greeks,

Famous throughout antiquity, the Temple of Ammon was established by the ancient desert tribes of Libya. The remains of the temple are located 500 Kilometers north of the Kebira Crater, (The source of the mysterious Libyan Desert Glass), and 500 Kilometers West of the Temple of Amun in Karnak.

Temple of Amun, Siwa, Egypt.

Once the site was absorbed by the Egyptians, it was renamed the temple of Amun Ra. Also named Amun, Amun-Re, Amon and Amen, this deity was considered King of the Gods and the God of the wind. In many ancient and modern traditions, the wind is associated with communication, ruled by the element of air, and represented on this plane by burnt offerings, the censer, and the smoke of incense.

When the ancient Greeks settled the coast of Libya around 600 BC, they named their domain Cyrene and operated the Temple and the Oracle under the auspices of their own gods, Jupiter-Ammon and Zeus-Ammon.

In Greek mythology, the Oracle of the temple of Jupiter Ammon is reputed to have instructed that Andromeda should be tied to a rock and devoured by a sea-serpent. Perseus dropped by to visit the Oracle prior to beheading Medusa, (Saving Andromeda on the way back), and Hercules visited the oracle of the temple before he fought.

Also known as Oshek or Veshek, Ammoniacum is burned till this day in the Moroccan Jewish tradition before the holy scrolls are removed from the Synagogue ark.

Horns of the Gods

Since ancient times Ammon, or Baal Hammon, was associated with ram’s horns. An association seen in Egyptian renditions of Amun Ra and through Greek and Roman times where stylized Ram’s horns are found on coins depicting the governors of Cyrene, and on the reverse a plant suspiciously reminiscent of Ammoniacum.

The temple kept its singular purpose and prominence as a divine oracle till the decline of the Roman empire. Even Alexander the Great took a detour and trekked 500 Kilometres through the deadly desert sea to consult the oracle at the Temple of Ammon. (After which he declared himself a God and had coins minted depicting himself with the Horns of Ammon).)

Ammoniacum-Dorema Ammoniacum, Apothecarysgarden.com
Dorema ammoniacum-Iran

Ferula or Dorema?

There is another aromatic resin named Ammoniacum, but it is Dorema ammoniacum and found in Iran and further north. Due to its distance both culturally and physically from the temple of Ammon, my feeling is that Ferula Tingitana was originally associated with the oracle of Ammon and not its eastern cousin Dorema.

Adding to the confusion between these 2 plants is the common name of Oshek or Veshek in Southern Mediterranean and North African communities and its modern-day reference to the resin of both species which are sometimes found in Mediterranean markets and speciality shops.

By Yan Wong from Oxford - Inflorescence,
Ferula tingitana-Ammoniacum, Gum Ammoniacum, Oshek, Veshek. Photo by Yan Wong from Oxford – Inflorescence

Medicine, Perfume and Incense

Ammoniacum has a lovely “green” fragrance, similar to, but sweeter than that of its cousin Galbanum, F. galbaniflua, which is used in perfumery. Where Galbanum has a green and very dry scent, Ammoniacum has a fragrance that could be described as golden green, fresh, penetrating, moist and nourishing.

To my nose, Ammoniacum is closest in scent to Helba, crushed Fenugreek seed. In flavour, it tastes bitter and pungent though this might be due to its high essential oil content.

Ammoniacum has been used since antiquity to treat respiratory issues, excess phlegm, Asthma, chronic coughs and bronchitis and is said to soften hard tumours when applied as a poultice. It is considered a carminative, stimulating appetite and peristalsis which could be useful for the elderly. It may have a stimulating effect on the uterus and likely should not be taken during pregnancy. I found chewing on a small piece of the resin was pleasant and had the effect of stimulating the expectoration of phlegm, easing my breathing and soothing a stubborn cough.

The infused oil of Ammoniacum may be of help in a chest rub for respiratory issues and lends a beautiful crisp golden green fragrance to oil-based perfumes. An alcohol tincture brings out more of its bright notes and burned as incense, the fragrant smoke is true to the aroma of the fresh resin with no charring or unpleasant burnt scent.

Ammoniacum can be used in similar ways to its cousin, the fetid smelling Ferula Asafoetida known as “Devil’s dung”, Stinking gum and Hing.  Cats find the fragrance of both resins repulsive and avoid them at any cost. Ammoniacum, unlike its cousin Ferula assafoetida, does not seem to reduce flatulence.

Silphium and Cyrene

There is a theory that this species of Ammoniacum may be the ancient, mysterious and sought-after Silphium which was highly esteemed for centuries, and found itself minted on many a coin. Silphium was said to grow only in the area of Cyrene, in Libya,  a hop, skip and short camel ride away from the Oracle of the Temple of Ammon.

Silphium was used as a culinary spice, a popular medicine and as an incense material. (An offering to the oracles?) Silphium was so sought after in ancient Mediterranean cultures, it may have become extinct from over-harvesting. A cautionary tale.

Sylhiumcoin1
Roman coin with a depiction of Silphium. Note the stylised ram’s horns on the left. A Ram-horned God has been consistently associated with the temple of Ammon since the time of the nomadic Libyan tribes.

Ammoniacum, according to the Silphium entry in Wikipedia-”This species has been considered to have abortive and menstruation-inducing properties.[7] The species has been suggested as a possible identity for the controversial silphium, a plant used as a spice and for various medical purposes in classical antiquity in the Mediterranean region.[8] Among the many uses of silphium was promoting menstruation, and possibly contraceptive or abortifacient properties, which has been suggested to link it to Ferula.Wikipedia.

For those who have an interest in the spiritual/esoteric aspects of this plant, I will mention that in my experience this resin can serve the same oracular functions today that it offered our ancestors. A piece the size of a lentil is all that is needed. From an Astrological point of view, I would associate it with Mercury.

You won’t find Ammoniacum in the shop. I couldn’t put a monetary value on it so I gave it away to those I thought would appreciate it the most.

 

Dan

 

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DIY Distillation-Frankincense Dalzielii

Another home-made still

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

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

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

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

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

Easy to find materials

 

Frankincense dalzielii, DIY distillation, Frankincense essential oil
A distillation of Frankincense Dalzielii from Nigeria.
A home-made pot still with an air-cooled condenser.

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

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

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

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

Frankincense dalzielii, DIY distillation, Frankincense essential oil
A distillation of Frankincense Dalzielii from Nigeria.
A home-made pot still with an air-cooled condenser.

Atmospheric pressure only

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

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

Frankincense Dalzielii-Nigeria

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

 Frankincense dalzielii, Boswellia Dalzielii Nigeria
Boswellia Dalzielii Nigeria

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

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

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

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

The essential oil and hydrosol are gorgeous.

Field distillation in resource-poor and remote areas.

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

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

Frankincense dalzielii, DIY distillation, Frankincense essential oil
A distillation of Frankincense Dalzielii from Nigeria.
A home-made pot still with an air-cooled condenser.

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

Passive cooling systems

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

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

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

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

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

A growing demand for Frankincense essential oil

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

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

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

For more information on building your own essential oil still see my posts in the Distillation drop-down menu at the top of the page or in the links below.

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

Dan

 

Posted on 37 Comments

Frankincense as Medicine-Truth, Myth, and Misinformation

This is an updated and revised version of my “Medicinal Frankincense FAQ” from 2 years ago. You can find the original here.  Since I have spent the past few years studying and working with Frankincense resin, essential oils, extracts, trees and harvesters, my knowledge on the subject is a little more than average. If I am considered an expert in this area it is a relative thing. I continue to learn and grow daily, as do you, as do the recognized “experts” in any field.

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

Frankincense and Cancer-What you need to know

Just in case you don’t have the patience to read all the way through, let me tell you now that the anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory Boswellic acids are not present in the essential oil of Frankincense.

In fact, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the resin of Frankincense is “cooked” to remove the essential oil before it is added to a formula or taken internally.

It looks like the popular belief that Frankincense essential oil cures Cancer is a myth started by one of the large essential oil companies. Whether intentionally or unwittingly,  this bit of misinformation is perpetuated by companies and individuals who sell Frankincense essential oil. If you don’t take the time to drill a little deeper into their claims, links and references you can easily purchase the wrong product for your needs which will only benefit the vendors.

There are 2 types of misleading studies that are referenced by those who sell Frankincense essential oil.

  1. One set describes how “Frankincense oil”  kills cancer cells and many people assume they mean Frankincense essential oil, which is not the case. The Frankincense oil in the studies they refer to in many online shops is either a solvent extraction of whole Frankincense oleoresin that includes the Boswellic acids, or an essential oil to which the resin and Boswellic acids have been added. The essential oil of Frankincense contains no anti-cancer Boswellic acids. The only way to benefit from the Boswellic acids is to utilize the resin of Frankincense, not the essential oil.
  2. The other set of contradictory studies that claim Frankincense essential oil kills cancer are authored by a core group of people at the head of a large essential oil company.  These “studies” directly contradict the hundreds of other research papers that indicate only the resin of Frankincense contains cancer killing Boswellic acids.  Not the essential oils.  I urge you to look more closely at these studies and their authors.

 Medicine for the masses and a lucrative market for Frankincense products

With a growing, ageing western population, a worldwide increase in chronic inflammatory diseases and cancer, the need for “natural”  anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer remedies has skyrocketed the past few decades.

Big Pharma, corporations and companies that market herbs, supplements and essential oils, online advisors and private health authorities are all on board making the most of this trend. It is important to keep in mind that their primary function is to sell us products, not educate us.

Frankincense essential oil is no more anti-cancer than many other essential oils. Frankincense resin however, contains Boswellic acids which show broad anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory activity in the laboratory and have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years.

To benefit from these healing compounds one must use the resin of Frankincense. Not the essential oils. There are no Boswellic acids in the essential oil of Frankincense. In fact, powdered whole Frankincense resin has many times more Boswellic acids by weight than any essential oil of Frankincense. 

Frankincense Papyrifera ground in a steel mortar in preparation for extraction.
Finely ground Frankincense Papyrifera from Ethiopia. Used as is or a base for tinctures, oils, salves and cremes.

 

 

What is Frankincense?

A short answer is- Frankincense and Myrrh are the oleo gum resins exuded by the Boswellia and Commiphora trees respectively, 2 members of the Burseraceae plant family which is sometimes dubbed “The incense tree family”. They all have a network of resin-bearing ducts that produce and distribute fragrant oleo gum resin. When these trees are damaged the oleo gum resin rises to the surface of the tree where it dries and is collected.

Frankincense and Myrrh have been used for medicine, perfume and incense for thousands of years.  Where they grow is what I like to call the Boswellia Belt which reaches from the West coast of Africa, through the horn of Africa and southern Arabia up through India to Pakistan. There are 17-18 types of Frankincense trees at last count but only 8 or 9 of them provide us with a marketable resin.

What are the traditional uses of Frankincense?

  • Off the top of my head, a short list of traditional therapeutic applications associated with Frankincense would include- treating arthritis, rheumatism, ulcers, asthma, bronchitis, gastrointestinal disorders, tumours, cancers, infertility, moods, anxiety/depression and memory loss, improving brain function, addressing ageing skin and flagging libido.
  • Frankincense Serrata is used traditionally, whole, in powder, pill, poultice and oil,  for arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, asthma, ulcerative colitis, bronchial issues, various cancers and as an ingredient in skincare and beauty products. It can be made into an oil, lotion or creme for external applications.
  •  In Arabia Frankincense has been chewed for millennia for oral care, ulcers and general physical/mental well-being.  It has been used as an aphrodisiac and to treat infertility in both men and women. It is taken sometimes as a tea steeped in boiling water overnight and sipped during the day for inflammations, coughs, congestion, and colds.
  •  In traditional Iranian medicine, Frankincense is still consumed by pregnant women to increase the intelligence, (and bravery), of their offspring, and is generally considered to contribute to one’s mental acuity, emotional stability and spiritual clarity. It is sometimes used as a general tonic and restorative.
  • Boswellia Sacra, B. Carterii and B. Frereana from Somalia have also been used to address issues of fertility in men and considered aphrodisiacs. Arabian lore indicates that large testicle shaped Frankincense tears, (sometimes called Dakkar, from the Arabic word for masculine), are sexual tonics and aphrodisiacs for men, while pieces more vulvic in shape are believed to have similar effects on women.
  •  Though Boswellia Frereana from Somalia does not contain Boswellic acids, it is also a powerful anti-inflammatory used traditionally to treat inflammations of joints, the GI tract and arthritis. Laboratory studies show it can reduce brain inflammation due to tumours, head injuries and stroke. It kills the H.pylorii bacteria which causes stomach ulcers. It is valued as a traditional high-end chewing gum for oral and gastrointestinal health and is one of the most expensive Frankincense types available.
  •  Boswellia Papyrifera from Ethiopia/Eritrea/Kenya and Sudan, which is a source of Boswellic acids, also contains Incensole acetate which is considered a psychoactive compound that crosses the blood-brain barrier, reducing anxiety and eliciting feelings of heightened spirituality and well-being. The incensole and Incensole acetate are delivered to us when using the whole oleoresin internally, through pyrolysis, (burning as an incense as is done in many churches), and when using the diluted essential oil externally.
  •  Boswellia Thurifera from the shores of the Red Sea has been shown in the laboratory,  to increase the size of rat testicles and raise their sperm count.
  • Whole Frankincense, not the essential oil of Frankincense, has been used in the Traditional Medicine systems of Asia, Europe, Arabia and Africa for thousands of years.

What are Boswellic acids?

One group of compounds in Frankincense has shown powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity in laboratory studies. They are the Frankincense resin acids which are pentacyclic triterpenes and formally named Boswellic acids since they are found in the Boswellia, or Frankincense family. Though there are other therapeutic compounds and acid resins in Frankincense, the Boswellic acids have caught the eye of big Pharmaceutical companies who are investing in the research.

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Pure resin acids of Frankincense Papyrifera, (bottom), and Frankincense Carterii. Left behind after distilling their essential oils. This is where the good stuff is!!

 

  • All types of Frankincense are composed of varying proportions of water-soluble gum,  resin, and essential or volatile oils. These resins and volatile oils are lipophilic, (Fat soluble), and mostly dissolve in vegetable oils, alcohol and petroleum distillates.
  •  Resin acids make up most of the resin portion of these oleo gum resins and Boswellic acids are the main type of resin acids found in Frankincense. These resin acids make up the non-volatile portion of Frankincense, which means they cannot be distilled or found in the essential oil of Frankincense.
  •  Boswellic acids have been found to inhibit leukotriene synthesis and act as anti-inflammatories. They modulate/regulate the behaviour of Leucocytes which are one of the body’s responses to trauma which create inflammation and subsequent pain.(http://bme.virginia.edu/ley/). This makes them valuable in the management of pain.
  •  Boswellic acids have been shown in studies to be anti-prolific and may also cause apoptosis, (death), in a wide variety of cancer cells in the laboratory. There is, however, little “In vivo” research at this point. They need to be tested on people.
  •  Though one resin acid in particular, AKBA or acetyl-keto-beta boswellic acid has been the focus of anti-cancer studies, it is only one of many resin acid compounds in Frankincense that have their role to play and indeed likely play more effectively together than separately.
  • To be clear, if a little repetitive, Boswellic acids are only present in the resin portion of these oleo-gum-resins, not their essential oils. Though all essential oils have therapeutic properties, the essential oil of Frankincense contains only trace amounts of Boswellic acids.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boswellic_acid. You can literally knock yourself out with Frankincense essential oil without getting a meaningful amount of Boswellic acids.

Boswellia-Frankincense-Comparison-1024x7682

 

Which types of Frankincense contain Boswellic Acids?

So far, research has shown the resins of the following species of Frankincense contain Boswellic acids.

  • Boswellia Carterii-Somalia
  • Boswellia Sacra-Arabia
  • Boswellia Serrata-India
  • Boswellia Papyrifera-Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda.

It is more than likely that most other types of Frankincense contain Boswellic acids. Many have not yet been studied or analysed.

In my opinion, there is no one type of Frankincense listed above that is therapeutically “better” than the other. They mainly differ in their volatile oil composition which contributes to their different aromatic profiles and has nothing to do with their content of resin acids. 

How can we best use Frankincense and the Boswellic acids for their therapeutic properties?

To benefit from the therapeutic actions of the Boswellic acids, we must work with the oil/alcohol soluble resin portion of Frankincense. Here is a list of products that will deliver the Boswellic acids with instructions for preparing your own.

  • An oil infusion/extract of Frankincense, since the resin is lipophilic and dissolves in warm oils. a 1;3 infusion of Frankincense in warm oil is an excellent topical application and can be taken internally if it is prepared with good quality vegetable oils.  This makes an excellent base for a Frankincense rejuvenating “Serum” or creme and salves for arthritis and painful joints, See how to make your own here-
  • A resin extract of Frankincense. This is a Frankincense product created by washing away all the water-soluble gum and evaporating some of the essential oil. This is also the product that is left over after steam and hydrodistillation of Frankincense. This pure resin is often thrown away because everyone is so obsessed with the essential oil of Frankincense. It can be powdered and taken internally or dissolved in oil for topical use. It has a higher concentration of Boswellic acids but also delivers the rest of the therapeutic resin compounds which haven’t gotten into the spotlight yet. See instructions for preparing a resin extract here-
  • Powdered whole Frankincense, can be taken internally to deliver the Boswellic acids in their natural form. Studies show that the Boswellic acids are absorbed to a much greater degree in the blood when they are consumed with fatty or oily foods.  Remember, as mentioned above, the resin acids are lipophilic and dissolve in oils. The presence of oily food in the stomach facilitates the breakdown and absorption of these resins in the body. I personally take 1/2 to 1 level teaspoon of finely powdered Frankincense with food 3-5 times a day when needed. See instructions for making your own powder here-
  • A Boswellic acid extract.  There are a growing number of extract brands on the market. I can’t recommend one over the other.
  • An alcohol tincture of Frankincense. A tincture can be taken directly, or added to food or beverages. A tincture of Frankincense made with 96% alcohol will deliver the resin and essential oils of Frankincense while a tincture that has a lower alcohol content will contain a relative proportion of water-soluble gum. Each has its benefits. Be aware that Glycerin does not act as a solvent for the resin and only an alcohol tincture will contain the important bits.  Learn how to make different tinctures from Frankincense here.
  • A tea, or “Aqueous solution” of Frankincense is a traditional home remedy in some parts of Arabia. Though water does not dissolve the resin portion, the grounds left over after infusing Frankincense overnight are often consumed. You can find instructions for making a Frankincense tea/infusion here-

Ethics and sustainability of our medicinal and aromatic plants

  • I’m really glad you asked. We are quickly losing our aromatic and medicinal plants around the world through mismanagement. If we don’t start addressing this, future generations will have no Frankincense or Myrrh.  If we made educated and responsible choices as global consumers, we could have a huge impact on the world, improving the environment, the health of our flora and fauna and the quality of life of those who tend to this big Apothecary’s garden that supplies all our natural medicine. This can happen lightning fast if enough of us care to make a difference.

The demand for Frankincense essential oil is putting an increasing stress on the trees that produce them and on the harvester communities that collect them.

The increased market demand for these medicinal and aromatic oleoresins is already exceeding the amount trees can comfortably supply in some areas.  Over-harvesting, improper harvesting methods, agricultural encroachment, fires and grazing animals, have reduced the number of mature trees in the wild,  the viability of their seeds, and the ability of trees to reproduce. If I recall correctly, seed germination rate has fallen from 81% to 18% in over-tapped trees. This is alarming.

There are areas in Kenya, Somalia and Namibia where Frankincense and Myrrh trees are not tapped and the oleoresins are sustainably collected. These are traditions and practices that need to be encouraged especially through preferring these sources to those where trees are heavily tapped.

Another critical issue that we are ignorant of is the quality of life of the harvesters. These often remote and isolated communities are the true stewards of our medicinal and aromatic resources. In many communities, these trees are an integral component of socioeconomic structures and are treated with reverence and respect. These are the traditions and communities we need to encourage and support.

Frankincense and Myrrh trees are extremely easy to propagate. Large branches will spring into root with barely a word of encouragement. Planting and stewarding new trees in the wild would ensure a sustainable and lucrative future for the harvesters and guarantee the consumer an ethical, fair trade and sustainable product. How perfect is that!

The market for Frankincense and Myrrh resins and essential oils is only going to grow. We need to apply a little forethought and foresight now in establishing conservation and stewardship programs before it is too late.

There are many ways you can contribute to establishing healthier trade in these resins. Foremost by educating yourself, making informed choices and informed purchases.

Ask your supplier whether their Frankincense is sustainably harvested and fairly traded. If we all demand this from our herb and resin providers they will do their best to comply.

Dan

Posted on 19 Comments

Labdanum resin for perfume and beard dressings

Over time I get many of the same questions from customers about the products I sell in the shop.  I love helping people and end up spending quite a bit of time answering them individually which isn’t the most efficient use of my time. So, I’m going to get better organized and post some of the answers to the most asked questions here. A link that can be shared and answers that are easily Googled. So here we go.   Dan…How do I process this lump of Labdanum resin into a perfume ingredient or a grooming product?

wpid-babylonian-sun-god-shamash.jpg.jpeg

Well. Labdanum resin has been used for perfume, incense, medicine and beard grooming for literally thousands of years. The recipe for the Temple incense, “Ketoret”, of the ancient Jews is thought to incorporate Labdanum under the name “Balm of Gilead”. The tightly coiffed and curled beards depicted on Gods and noblemen in ancient Mesopotamian stone art are believed to be based on the use of Labdanum resin.

BabylonianBeard Wax
Babylonian Gods

It is thought that in the distant past sheep and goats were driven through the sticky bushes to accumulate fragrant Labdanum resin which could be collected from their coats.

The depictions of these beards are so stylized, it led us to theorise our ancestors stuck pieces of this aromatic animal hair on their faces.  In my opinion, they were much more sophisticated than we assume and easily processed the pure Labdanum resin out of the leaves or the animal’s fur with warmth, hot water or warm oils to create products that were not only sensuously aromatic but allowed them to create intricate and artistic designs with their facial hair.

Labdanum,  like many other resins, acts as a perming agent and when applied to hair will set it and keep it in the desired style long after the resin is gone.

In royal tombs of  ancient Babylon, Sumer, Assyria and Akkad were found combs, bits of ribbon and wire that are believed to have been both decorative elements and tools for shaping the beards.  Sleeping with a beard braided with a bit of Labdanum at night will give one beautiful tight ripples for days after the braid is opened. Even after washing and combing. The danger is, of course, one will accidentally sleep with the beard tucked up behind one’s ear and spend those next days trying to straighten it out.

There are two main types of Labdanum available on the market.

Cistus flower-Labdanum
Cistus flower-Labdanum

Cistus Ladanifer from Spain which comes as a resinoid, a thick liquid resin, and is made by solvent extraction with Benzyl benzoate and Cistus creticus from the island of Crete who’s leaves sweat beads of fragrant oleoresin in the heat of summer that is collected and formed into tarry black slabs that look pretty much like Hashish. (Which is why it is shipped in boxes covered with descriptions of the contents in 4 different languages so there are no misunderstandings with customs or the DEA.)

Fresh Labdanum oleoresin. Wild harvested with traditional tools in the hills of Crete
Fresh Labdanum oleoresin. Wild harvested with traditional tools in the hills of Crete

There are other “Labdanum” products such as Labdanum and Cistus essential oils but these contain no resin and are easy to use as fragrance ingredients I won’t address them here.

The Labdanum resin and resinoid have slightly different fragrance profiles, the resin being a little muskier, bolder, and spicier than the liquid resinoid which is a little  sweeter. Both contain resin and essential oils and both work well for beard grooming and shaping. I have heard Perfumer friends give detailed descriptions of the scent of Labdanum resin, finding in its fragrance the scent of Mediterranean Sea breezes, the aroma of the summer-hot Cretan soil, hints of nearby wildflower essential oils, pollen and stray butterfly wings that are all drawn to the sticky leaves on the hottest of days.

How to process Labdanum

If you have the liquid resinoid of Labdanum, it is simple to dissolve it in alcohol for perfume use and in oil for other applications. Warm oil tends to work best.

If you purchased a lump of Labdanum resin from Crete, it is also simple to process but requires more warmth.

An oil infusion of Labdanum resin

For this I suggest a water bath. A simple Bain Marie could consist of a pot of water and a mason jar clamped to the inside and suspended halfway in the water. Hardware stores offer a variety of suitable spring clamps. It is important to use a water bath and not direct heat or a microwave oven. These offer little control over the temperature. Besides the issue of flammability and flash fires, the smallest amount of burnt material will spoil the whole batch. The water bath is an ancient piece of technology and a reliable thermoregulator that works just as well now as it did a thousand years ago. Again, the ancients were much more sophisticated than we like to think.

 

Weigh your lump of Labdanum, place it in the jar and add an oil of your choice at 3-10 times its weight. A 1-10 ratio will give you a fragrant but less potent oil and a 1-3 a stronger smelling product. You can always start with 1-3 and add oil till you have the strength of fragrance that suits you.

Bring the water to a boil, stir the Labdanum and oil till the Labdanum is completely dissolved. Remove when you are satisfied the Labdanum will break down no further.

Some people let this mix sit 4-6 weeks to extract all the fragrance compounds from the resin, others simply let it sediment well and pour off the liquid. Your choice. You can pass the liquid or the sediment through a pillowcase with a tight weave to rescue any oil left in the spent resin.

This beautifully aromatic oil can be used in oil-based perfumes and skin care products though it can be applied to the hair and skin directly and is one of the most attractive fragrances I know of for facial hair. Literally. It seems to draw people in. Like a people magnet hidden in your beard. If you chose an oil with hair or skin nourishing qualities that is great. If not, your Labdanum oil can be blended with other hair or skin nourishing oils or with a bit of Lanolin or beeswax, (In the water bath), to create a beard balm. Depending on the oil you used this product will keep anywhere from 2 years, (Olive oil) to indefinitely, (Jojoba, Fractionated Coconut Oil).

Water-soluble gum after the hot oil extraction
Metal mesh coffee filter works well for filtering hot resin/oil blends.

 

An alcohol tincture of Labdanum for perfume

To use Labdanum in an alcohol-based perfume use 95%-96% alcohol at the same ratio as above. To make a more concentrated tincture I suggest a twofold tincture rather than trying to tincture the Labdanum with a higher ratio of  Labdanum.

A little warmth speeds up the dissolution of the resin in the oil. A gentle warmth is all that is needed. Again, some perfumers prefer to let this tincture of Labdanum sit for a few weeks before filtering. For an alcohol tincture, I use a paper coffee filter which removes most of the non-aromatic material. You can carefully pour the filtered tincture off the sediment once it has settled. Some perfumers will freeze the tincture before filtering to reduce stickiness in the final perfume product. I haven’t tried it with Labdanum myself

A Labdanum Moustache Wax

If you want to make a moustache wax with Labdanum resin, dissolve the resin in hot wax in the water bath and adjust the product’s hardness and texture by slowly adding small amounts of oil, cocoa butter, lanolin or other oil-soluble materials of your choice till it meets your satisfaction.  Have a plate or other clean room-temperature surface handy to do numerous drop tests to fine-tune the consistency and hardness of your moustache wax. When it is ready, you can pour the liquid wax/resin mix through a metal mesh coffee filter into a measuring cup and either reheat the filtered product in the water bath again for fine-tuning or pour it from the measuring cup into tins or jars for use.

And as always, remember to keep clear notes.

Your future self will thank you.

Dan

 

 

 

Posted on 2 Comments

Make your own kitchen still for essential oils and alcohol-Easy instructions

I have been told on occasion my instructions here could be clearer.  Though I’ve been meaning to rewrite some of them or do video tutorials, I just haven’t found the time.  Luckily, my Aromatherapist friend Robin Schiller-Kessler took the initiative, built my “Magical Couscousiere” still, and recorded the process step by step.

An essential oil distillation with the Magical Couscousiere. Atmospheric pressure and gently sealed with Teflon tape.
A distillation with the Magical Couscousiere. At atmospheric pressure and gently sealed with Teflon tape.

I named it the Magical Couscousiere because it can do so many things.

  • With it you can distill essential oils and alcohol.
  • The bottom pot can be used as a traditional water bath or Bain Marie.
  • Using the insert one can gently warm formulations using the steam from below.
  • You can perform hydro distillation by adding your aromatic material directly to the water.
  • And you can run steam distillations using the basket.
  • It can produce high-quality essential oils and is a great introduction to the art of distillation where one can learn from experience before choosing an appropriate ready-made still.

Here is a link to her PDF in which she explains clearly where to get the materials, how to construct and how to operate this versatile little still.

Easy instructions for Making your own essential oil still.

Thanks, Robin.