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

6 Comments

  1. Hello I realize this post is somewhat old but I would like to point out that that scented myrrh (Commiphora Guidottii) is an entirely different species from opoponax (Opopanax chironium). While scented myrrh (Commiphora guidottii) is indeed related to common myrrh (Commiphora myrrha), true opoponax (Opopanax chironium) also known as ‘sweet myrrh’, is an herb of a different genus.

    Although scented myrrh (Commiphora guidottii) has erroneously been sold as ‘opoponax’ by the European perfume industry for some time now, the confusion between different plant oleo-resins has since been cleared and there is no reason to continue using this outdated misnomer . Further confusion arises with Commiphora holtziana, a species of commiphora native to Kenya, which is also erroneously sold as ‘opoponax/sweet myrrh’.

    Thus we have three varieties of oleo-resin all being sold as ‘opoponax’. ‘Opoponax’ should not be used unless it is referring to the herb Opopanax chironium. The proper english name of Commiphora guidottii is simply ‘scented myrrh’.

    Like

    1. Ahhh, I have to let you know , my late response to your comment has not been due to its lack of importance, but the opposite. I have likely thought about and wrangled with it at least once a day since you posted it.
      It is an important discernment you make, I immediately knew I would have to find the time to research and address it. At least leave no room for misunderstandings. It has been a struggle on other levels as well. Perfume convention, common perception and market associations with the name Opoponax. But, oh well. I can’t ignore it. I am travelling now, and in fact will be picking up some Commiphora Guidotti, or Commiphora erythraea/holtziana shortly in Ethiopia. This may be the best time to find out exactly what it is I am selling first of all. Then I will have to decide what to call it…Likely educating the public as I educate myself, which will lead to making some necessary changes to the blog and store. All in all, everyone will benefit from the experience.
      So, please accept a belated, but I hope acceptable, thank you, my sincere gratitude for your input, an apology for my delay and procrastination.
      Dan

      Like

  2. Wow, it’s lovely to read how passionate you are about these beautiful gifts from the Earth. I have just ordered a blend of Jasmine with Oppopanax and am very much looking forward to trying it! I already have one blend from the same place with:
    Black Storax
    Rose
    Sandarac
    Yellow Sandalwood
    Oh my goodness, pure heaven! I doubt that the quality will be the same as what you are writing about here, but it does give me some understanding of their intoxicating scents. If I hadn’t already bankrupted myself buying a small mountain of resins, herbs and essential oils, I might indeed ask about yours. Alas, I would not be able to afford it now. I shall, however, definitely see what you have available after I have paid off my massive credit card bill. 🙂

    Like

    1. Once you start with resins and essential oils there is no stopping!! No worries about purchasing anything, i have a feeling you will still be buying fragrant plant materials for many years yet! I’ll be around. Thank you so much for your likes and taking the time to read my posts.
      Cheers
      Dan

      Like

  3. What an incredibly interesting post Dan! Everyone has heard about these amazing resins but most of us don’t think of them much more than the biblical story of birth and gifting. Isn’t it amazing that we (humanity) are still producing these wonderful unguents from our past history? 🙂

    Like

What do You think? Leave a comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s