Tincture of Civet, Spruce essential oil, a fire in the lab

Civet Perfume Tincture 2014

Though I hate to open on a negative note.  I’m going to anyway :-).

Fire in the lab
Fire in the lab

I’m still shaken up by the small fire in my lab the other day. Small being a relative term. It is a small space and could have been much worse given all the high-proof alcohol tinctures and essential oils crowded in the small work area. With good reason they call them volatile oils.

Luckily I caught it before too much damage was done. And one of my lessons is to always have a working fire extinguisher handy. Luckily I didn’t leave things completely unattended. The consequences would have been much more serious had I not been in hearing range.
That being said and out of the way. I had quite a productive time leading up to the fire.

Artisan distilled White Spruce essential oil
Small batch distilled White Spruce essential oil

White Spruce essential oil

While demonstrating how to make a pot-still from a pressure cooker for my last post, I distilled a lovely essential oil from the oleoresins of White Spruce. It has a wonderful fragrance and is different from the needle distilled essential oil.  I attribute this in part to the function of the oleoresins as healers of the trees, while the oils found in the needles perhaps have more of a nourishing anti-freeze in nature.  A hypothesis. In reality, I just enjoy working with the saps. I believe they provide a more holistic and broader therapeutic spectrum in healing balms and salves. A better, or perhaps different representation of the spirit of the tree.

Artisan distilled essential oil of Eastern White Spruce
Artisan distilled essential oil of Eastern White Spruce

While the needle and twig essential oils definitely have proven therapeutic properties, the essential oils from the oleoresins bring a different character to perfume and aromatherapy blends as well.
There is also a great affinity between the oleoresins of trees and our skin. Whether Pine, Spruce or Fir, Frankincense or Myrrh, all are produced by the trees in response to injury and designed to heal their “skin” and protect it from external damage.

Harvesting Spruce sap
Harvesting Spruce sap

The soft smooth feeling of my skin after washing off sticky sap with olive oil and dish soap, is much more than the oil alone produces. There is nothing I have personally experienced that leaves my skin feeling as healthy and supple as tree saps do. Over the years I have had a couple of clients who noticed a reduction of  wrinkles, neck wrinkles in particular, from applying my spruce cough and chest rub. On some level this makes sense.

The fragrance of this essential oil is sweet and woody with a light fruity note.  I have just posted it in the store and here is a link.

The tincture of Civet

I started on the 24th of April, only a few days after returning from Ethiopia with the fresh Civet paste, did nothing for 2 months. No matter how I plied it, agitated and warmed it, filtered, fussed and poured it, it would not transform into the fragrant tincture I was aiming for. After giving up and setting it aside for over 4 months, I put it on the heated stirrer for a few days. Lo and behold after cold filtering I found a lovely strong tincture with beautiful colour and fragrance.

Civet Perfume Tincture 2014
Mmmmm  Civet Perfume Tincture 2014

Though one can still smell the slightly fecal note of Civet,  the floral notes are already present and will continue to grow as it ages. From experience I have found even a small amount of tincture will age and within months one will notice a change in its subtleties. You don’t need much in a perfume, so even a 10 ml. Bottle should leave more than enough to experience this cool transformation for yourself. You can find a link to it  in the photo above or in the drop down menu at the top of the page.

I should mention, the instigator of the fire was a flask of new Civet tincture with 96% alcohol. Apparently I turned the heater knob to “high” and the magnetic stirrer knob to low, instead of the reverse. Luckily I was around to hear the pop of the exploding flask and the whoosh/thump of the alcohol igniting. Things are so tightly packed in the lab that flaming alcohol pouring over and under the table and cabinets was impossible to smother or put out. A housemate who was quick with his own fire extinguisher saved the day.

I’m a very lucky guy.



  1. Hi Dan,
    I’ve just read your post about the fire … how scary! yet a classic example of how extraordinarily fortunate you were to have been there and had company, to help sort it out. Wow. Big lesson learned so thank you for posting.
    I’ve just placed an order for civet and some of your other treasures and really looking forward to them arriving.
    Regarding the civet paste, for the purpose of making a tincture, are you saying to warm the ethanol in a ‘water bath’ then add the civet, or are you meaning to immerse civet in alcohol and warm together?

    1. Hi Virginia. Thank you.
      Yes..:-). I put the Civet and the alcohol in one vessel in the water-bath. This helps break down the paste and speeds up its diffusion in the alcohol. I leave it warm while stirring occasionally for at least a couple of hours.

    1. Thank you Joanna. So nice to hear from you. Still some scorched items and fire extinguisher dust to deal with yet, but for the most part the fire is behind me and for that I am grateful..

  2. Wow Dan,

    We are so grateful that the fire was not worse! Thank your housemate for us all for quick action. Thanks for posting this experience and its caution to us that we are dealing with powerful forces in these natural substances and they rightly demand our respect. And you recently acquired such great new equipment too. How bad is the damage? How long will it take you to be back up and distilling again? There are many of our wonderful native Boreal saps waiting for you to distill and many of us waiting to avail ourselves of the benefit of them and your dedicated enterprise in making them available to us. We hope a rebuild will be able to happen soon.

    On another note, after travelling a bit in Southern Ontario in September, I am distressed to see so many beautiful Pine trees in trouble – brown needles, withered limbs, denuded branches. The trunks close up are pockmarked with deep burr holes, often in extensive vertical patterns. Could you post what you know about what the problem is and what might be done about it? The concern of course is that any sap they might produce and be harvested for distillation may be “sick” like the parent trees are now, and thus unusable. And the country needs good native Pine-sap distilled essential oil, even though it may not know it yet.

    It may sound “sappy” but I am very worried about the Pine trees. Comments?


    Carry on strongly,

    Terry in Toronto.

    1. what a fear that is.. I am currently experimenting with civet paste in perfumers alcohol, vs in jajoba oil in 2 small container’s. within one hour the jajoba clouded up and it is infusing. The sample in alcohol is doing nothing at all, despite shaking the crud out of it. I see by your article I need to add heat. is there a reason you do not use jajoba? I have 2 ounces of civet paste left to figure it out with. my thought is to break it down with Jajoba then add perfumers alcohol after a month. Does that sound right?

      1. Hi Donna.
        Thanks for visiting. I have used Jojoba as a carrier for Civet paste and Beaver Castor. They both lend themselves easily to these oil infusions and their readiness to dissolve in Jojoba opens up some exciting possibilities for oil based perfumes. I usually keep both an alcohol tincture and an oil infusion of each for my work.
        I find the warmth of a water bath is sufficient to dissolve the Civet paste in the alcohol, even if I have to repeat the process a few times, it works quite well directly in alcohol, and once well dissolved, the tincture will mature at room temperature.
        Civet requires patience. From start to finish it takes longer, often 5-6 months of maceration before its fragrance is soft and sweet enough to blend in a perfume, and it has been known to continue developing and maturing for decades after it has been tinctured. Civet requires more babying and attending than many other aromatic materials. I have never used alcohol to break down Jojoba and transfer a fragrance from it. I think if you take your time with the Civet paste and stick to an alcohol tincture or an oil infusion, you will find the rewards outweigh the extra efforts you might have to invest at the beginning.
        I hope that was of some small help and please let me know if you have any other questions.

Leave a Reply