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Northern Allure-How to make a high quality tincture of Castoreum

Castoreum, tincture of Castor, dried granules on the right, ground and preserved in alcohol on the left.
English: A European Beaver.
English: A European Beaver. (Photo credit: Wikipedia

Since I field questions about the products I sell in the shop, including Beaver Castor with increasing frequency, here are a few thoughts on the subject, and how to best make your own high-quality perfume tincture with it.

Beavers are a familiar animal especially here in Canada. They not only symbolize productivity and industriousness, as in being “Busy as a Beaver”, they are a national symbol of Canada. They appear on our 5 cent coin, originally made from, and called a “Nickel”, forever associating the Beaver with our mining industry and our Nickel mines.

This pairing makes sense when one considers that Beaver dams are perhaps nature’s main line of defence in filtering, de-toxifying, de-acidifying and rehabilitating our waterways, wetlands and watershed. Cleaning up after us.

Beaver dam, northern California, USA
Beaver dam, northern California, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Contrary to popular belief, Beavers are not trapped for their scent glands, but for their waterproof pelts,  and not every trapper will remove them.

Beavers are an important part of native North American legend and European folklore, where “Castor fiber”  the cousin of our North American Castor Canadense, finds its home.

Castor has been used medicinally in native and European traditions of the past. Most notably by the famous Alchemist/doctor Paracelsus as an antipyretic, to reduce fevers,

In Ontario, the trapping of beavers is regulated in an effort to conserve and protect both wildlife and the ecology of our wetlands.  Cruel leg-hold traps that can leave an animal suffering till the trapper does his rounds are illegal.

Beaver pelts have been part of our northern economy for centuries, and were a trading item for indigenous people since time immemorial and well before written history. They still provide a livelihood for professional and aboriginal trappers.

Though it is difficult to portray this busy bucktooth rodent as sexy in any way, Castoreum is one of the most exotic, sensual and sexy fragrance components there is. In the genre of Ambergris, Deer Musk and Civet , Castoreum brings an alluring animalic sensuousness to perfumery that is not reflective of anything obvious in the Beaver.

In traditional perfumery, Beaver Castor is highly valued as a fine and distinguished fragrance ingredient lending warmth, sensuality and endurance to perfume blends for many centuries. The list of popular, familiar and prestigious perfumes that contain Beaver Castoreum is extensive. A simple Google search will reveal many well-known names.

Aged Canadian Beaver Castors with cross section
Aged Canadian Beaver Castors with cross section

The Castor sacs produce a substance that both male and female Beavers use to mark territory and is thought to contain pheromones that act as sexual attractants. Along with 2 adjacent oil-producing glands that provide a waterproofing material for their fur, the Castors are tucked well away, flanking their pelvic area.

Beaver castor has a deep, rich, persistent, leathery, woody, spicy scent. It can often have smokey undertones and hints of the forest trees and mosses. It is used as fixative, a base to middle note in “Masculine” perfumes, and in leather accords which it can produce almost single-handedly.

In North America it is permitted for use in food, where Castor derivatives have been used as flavouring. It’s presence is most noticeable in chewing tobaccos and snuff.

Castoreum has an aromatic affinity with the essential oils of many Northern trees and plants which make up its environment. Birch, Pine, Spruce, Cedar and Fir, Sasafras, Sarsparilla, mosses, ferns and even Wild Ginger  pair in an easy way with the fragrance of Beaver castor. Add to this list Patchouli, Tobacco, Vetiver, Coffee absolute, Jasmine Sambac and other heavier floral scents and we are likely just scratching the surface of promising  Castoreum compatibilities in perfumery.

While the Castor sacs are fresh, they contain a yellowish mobile fluid. This is the product that used to be termed “Castoreum”, though the term has been expanded to include all liquid products made from this substance. Because this liquid scent is fluid, any damage to the thin outer membrane of the fresh sac can lead to a loss of fragrant material. This most often happens during the delicate process of removing the well-hidden sacs and must be done with precision and an experienced hand. Any nicks, tears and cuts, lead to inferior quality sacs which contain less castoreum and fetch a lower price.

  The dried Castor sacs are divided into 3 grades of quality based on their size and condition.

 Grade #1 Beaver Castoreum-Castor sacs-Canada
Grade #1 Beaver Castoreum-Castor sacs-Canada.  After about 6 months and not thoroughly dried.
  • Grade 1 are the largest and plumpest sacs, with no nicks, cuts or loss of contents.
  • Grade 2 are smaller specimens and are flatter with some nicks, cuts and holes.
  • Grade 3 are the smallest sacs made up mostly of undulating layers of tissue that produce the castor and little actual scent material. Most often they have serious cuts through the sac where the liquid scent escaped over time.
    While fresh, the contents or Castoreum is a yellowish goo of a pungent, acrid odor. The process of drying changes the colour and transforms the scent.
Castor sacs Grade1 aged 1year+
Castor sacs Grade1 aged about a year and a half.

In general, Beaver Castors need to dry for one year before they are ready to be used for perfumery. After a year they will continue to age and their scent will soften further with time, both when dry and as a tincture.
If after a year of drying, the plump #1 Castors are not completely dried, they may, at that point, be sliced and exposed to the air to dry further.  Only when completely dry and free of moisture should they be processed for a tincture or absolute.

Instructions for making a tincture of Castoreum.

    • Take-1 part dried and minced Beaver Castors. It can be processed in a blender with a measured amount of alcohol which will be deducted from the total amount of alcohol in the tincture, or simply finely diced with a knife.
    • 10 parts 95% alcohol.    (Some prefer a more dilute tincture and opt for a 1:20 ratio of mark to menstruum, and this is an option. 1:20 will yield a less concentrated and lighter coloured product. If for your own perfume use, this is fine as long as you know the ratio and exactly how much of the original material is in the perfume. Keeping clear notes allows us to duplicate a formula precisely.)
    • Combine the 2 in a wide mouthed airtight jar. Leave headroom in the jar, at least 1/3 of the space above the liquid should stay empty for circulation. (Evaporation and condensation). 1/2 is closer to ideal.
    • Store in a relatively warm place.
    • Shake at least once daily.
    • After 4 to 6 moon cycles, When the menstruum is no longer darkening and the material no longer lightens in colour-
    • Filter your tincture through a fine filtering medium. This could be as simple as pouring it through an unbleached paper coffee filter and the funnel-shaped holder these filters are invariably built for.
    • When all the material, including solids have departed the maceration vessel and the last drips have exited the fiter-
    • Fold over the sides of the paper filter to cover the wet material and press down upon them with the back of a clean spoon or utensil till no more liquid drips down. Take care to press gently but firmly and avoid tearing the wet paper which could allow solids into your already filtered tincture.
    • Leave your jar to sit undisturbed for a few days so fine particles can settle to the bottom.
    •  You can either-Syphon or Pour off the clear liquid and store it in an airtight bottle.
    • Keep in a cool dark place. This will keep for many years and even age and develop in subtleties of scent as time goes by. As it does..
    •   On your vessel of finished tincture, or in your workbook/formulary, (or both), mark down the date your tincture was made and any other particulars pertinent to the tincture, Moon phase,  planetary associations and considerations, how long it sat macerating, ratio of alcohol to castor, where the castors were from, etc.. Don’t leave anything to memory. Take clear notes!!
Castoreum. Tincture of Castor sacs
Castoreum. Tincture of Castor sacs

I personally often skip the filtering process and when the tincture is ready simply let the solids sink to the bottom. When I need some tincture, I gently draw it off the top of the menstruum without disturbing the sediment. This method gives me a clear tincture and allows the material to continue maturing with the menstruum. This may make no difference at all to the finished product, but I enjoy the thought of it continuing to age, develop, and impart itself to the liquid over the years. If I have no pressing need to separate the mark from the menstruum, I usually won’t. Perhaps I suffer from a bit of laziness, or maybe it reflects a subliminal hope that I too will continue to age, mature and develop gracefully with time…

Castor sacs Grade1 aged 1year+, coarsley diced for tincture
Castor sacs Grade #1 aged 1 year+, coarsley diced for further drying and a tincture

Dried Beaver Castor lends itself well to oil based perfumes, and will infuse Jojoba oil with its scent for use in a non-alcoholic perfume. Instructions are identical to those above, just replace the alcohol with an enduring oil such as Jojoba which has a very long shelf life and little odor of its own.

There is a growing number of suppliers online that cater to a growing community of natural perfumers, aromatherapists, apothecaries and small independent perfume houses. Most households have a few favourite essential oils in their medicine cabinets.The market for essential oils and natural fragrance materials is booming. With this growth in the industry, one unfortunately also finds an increase in adulterants and sub-standard products.  Fixed oils are the usual adulterants to essential oils and can be exposed by their reluctance to evaporate from blotting paper, leaving behind an oily residue.  Over time, I have also sniffed some appalling absolutes of both Castor and Civet that obviously contain little if any of these precious materials.

That being said, there is also material of excellent quality to be found, and some very conscientious, usually small scale producers of perfume ingredients. One needs to learn, and develop a sense of discernment which will only come with time and experience.  As a general rule, if the price seems too good to be true, it usually is.

More often than not, paying more for a good quality product is immeasurably better than getting the cheapest essential oil we can find and ending up tainting the quality of our own product with an inferior or adulterated essential oil, absolute or tincture. Bearing this in mind, it is equally true that some larger companies that loudly tout their essential oils as “special”, or “Therapeutic Quality”‘, while charging exorbitant above-market prices for them are often equally guilty of robbery and fraud.

Working with artisan distillers and smaller companies allows us to build a sense of trust and a relationship with the supplier/distiller that can only add to our experience, enhance our ability to discern between excellent and poor quality while making the world a slightly better place. We all need to support the little guys if we want to see a change in our world and break away from impersonal and faceless corporations whom we rightly blame for many of the ills and injustices in our world. We must also keep in mind they are there by our own choice, fulfilling our needs and unless we make different choices, seek to fulfill different needs, little in the world will change.

So, when you find a supplier, merchant, artisan or craftsperson you trust, make sure to show your appreciation, and support them any way you can. The world will not change for the better without them.

And remember,

Always take clear notes!!!

Your future self will thank you.


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How to prepare an antifungal nail Lacquer with Somali Myrrh

Source: How to prepare an antifungal nail Lacquer with Somali Myrrh

With friends going through Chemotherapy , the topic of nail fungi has come up in my life more often this past year. Having a non-chemical treatment option for one of the common Chemo side effects is useful and seems timely.

Posted on my alter blog Fairtrade Frankincense, hoping it will offer a slight sense of control and empowerment to those who’s lives are impacted by cancer and the limited mainstream treatments available.

Gut flora is often one of the first defenses toppled by Chemo and a good place to start rebuilding a healthy immune system to keep fungi and other invaders at bay while painting one’s toenails.


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Sunday Workshops in the Apothecary’s Garden

Apothecary's Garden-Teaching Gardens at Churchill Park, Hamilton
Apothecary’s Garden-Teaching Gardens at Churchill Park, Hamilton

Workshops led by garden creator Dan Riegler

On Sunday August 16th there will be 2 workshops followed by a potluck– come to any or all!

In the first workshop, 10 am to 12, come stretch your legs and explore nature, learn to identify medicinal and edible plants with Dan’s expert guidance.

  Starting in The Apothecary’s garden in the Teaching Gardens, explore a variety of medicinal, culinary and aromatic plants cultivated in the garden and those native to field and forest that thrive in our unique biosphere.

  Rich in folklore, myth and magic, this walk will deepen our connection to the land, expand our foraging repertoire, and lend confidence that book learning cannot always offer.

Witch HazelScavenging Sunlight 2013
Witch Hazel Scavenging Sunlight 2013

  How to harvest and prepare wild plants for food, cosmetics, recreation and medicine, the ethics and sustainability of wild harvesting and the need for stewardship on an individual and communal level will be discussed, as will
traditional Plant Alchemy, medical astrology, planetary rulerships, the doctrine of signatures, Shamanic or intuitive herbalism, bioregional Animism, Green Gnosis and other fun subjects.

— The second workshop- 2pm to 4pm, will focus on the practical side of herbalism. How to make medicine from plants. Dan will share techniques and best practices for making tinctures, salves, cremes, oils, infusions, decoctions and herbal wines and discuss distillation techniques for rectifying alcohol, (illegal in Ontario), producing herbal liqueurs and essential oils.

Great Northern Cough & Chest Balm-Spruce-Pine & Fir sap salve
Great Northern Cough & Chest Balm-Spruce-Pine & Fir sap salve.

Since observation and first-hand experience are likely the most effective methods of learning, there will be a small field laboratory set up in the Apothecary’s Garden demonstrating the preparation of Dan’s, (Great Northern), cough and chest rub using fresh locally harvested Spruce sap.

Things to bring for the morning workshop A notebook and walking shoes.

For the second workshop bring a notebook, and a 1 or 2 ounce clean and empty wide-mouthed jar with a sealable lid for a gift of Spruce sap chest balm.

Everyone is welcome to come to these workshops! Drop in is fine but registering helps us know how to best prepare. For questions and to register please be in touch with Julia Hitchcock at The Apothecary Garden is located at the Aviary and Community Gardens at Churchill Park 85 Oak Knoll.

Cost: sliding scale $5-$25.

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Lead to gold and the magical couscousiere

Alchemist at work.

For all those who pre-purchased, or are otherwise waiting for my promised February distillation of Frankincense Frereana, the wait is over.  Since selling out of the first distillation, packing up and moving, I have finally set up  shop on the other side. Though by no means at full steam yet, orders are going out, the first tinctures and oils are macerating, and the drip drip, drip of a still has been heard again.

Fresh distilled Frankincense Frereana-2013 harvest Somaliland-Fairtrade
Fresh distilled Frankincense Frereana Somaliland-Fairtrade

This also means that there are a number of Boswellia Frereana essential oil bottles back in stock in the Etsy shop.  As usual, this is a small and intimate distillation, not a factory or production run. The advantages of such a small distillation are evident in the quality and nuances of this oil. With a deeper amber note than the 2014 distillation, it opens with hints of Nutmeg, sweet candy, and citrus with a slight floral bouquet. It dries down around the amber, disclosing warm leather and musk, to settle, eventually as a soft amber with a halo of delicate, sweet and muted,musky floral tones.

 2015 Distilled essential oil of  Boswellia Frereana-Somaliland

Since I am starting from scratch here in many ways, I am led forward as much by circumstance and opportunity, as by intent. I find myself building an essential oil still from a Couscousiere. A Moroccan kitchen contraption that is optimized to steam large volumes of couscous. A simple device, but one that should lend itself particularly well to steam distillation of essential oils. Especially to the aromatic seeds such as Cumin, Coriander, Dill, and Carrot to name a few.

Couscousierre pot still
Couscousiere pot still

The problem with still designs sold for home use is they often have a relatively small chamber for raw material. When one considers the miniscule percent of essential oils present in most sources, (often less than 0.1%), and the sheer quantity of material that is needed  just to squeeze a few drops of essential oil from a distillation, one realizes quickly that their first “classic” still may only have the capacity to give them floral waters, and only deepen their yearning for a vial of self-distilled pure essential oil.

Couscousiere pot still with cat
Still pot with cat

It can be a disappointing experience with time wasted going over procedures to make sure one didn’t make a mistake. More often than not there was no mistake made in the operation of the still, but in assuming one should make the purchase based on limited information provided by the seller who omitted mention of the yield of essential oil the device could process. There are a few companies online that provide specifics on how much essential oil to expect from your home still, but they are the exception.

This Couscous pot has a top fitting sieve that will hold 8 liters volume of Coriander, Dill , Caraway or Carrot seed, Allspice or Back pepper.  The size of the holes is fortuitous. Because it is suspended above the water there is little chance of splash over of water from the pot to the condenser and receiver.

The pot easily takes 12 liters of water which will carry off most if not all the essential oils in the material. I intend to set up a reflux or water return system after I have it running properly, to siphon the distillate waters back to the pot for extended operation. It looks promising.

Alchemist applying lute, (gasket putty), to seal distillation vessels. Some things don't change.
Alchemist applying lute, (gasket putty), to seal distillation vessels and keep the insides inside, the outside out. Some things don’t change.

At a later date, I will address the drawbacks to adapting this pot, or maybe I’ll mention them now…….

OK, I’ll address them now,

The drawbacks here, are my pet peeves with any improvised pot still ie., gaskets.

A tisket a tasket, I wish I had a gasket.

Something soft and something round,

something bought or something found.

outides out and insides in

Make it firm and make it thin,

a tisket a tasket, my pot-still needs a gasket, or 2.

A gasket, a gasket. I know I saw something that would be perfect. Hmmmmm.
A gasket,,,,a gasket. I know I saw something that would be perfect.

In the early days of recorded Alchemy, clay and ashes were among the standard materials for “Luteing” or sealing a vessel prior to distillation or processing through the fire. With the addition of vegetable oils such as Linseed, animal hair, plant fiber, cloth and many other ingredients, one could produce a waterproof luteing that would suit and seal a steam or hydro distillation. Today we have access to a boggling plethora of materials, many, we had never even dreamed of back then. If you have an inclination towards theories of reincarnation, then you likely notice the benefits of continuing one’s work in this era are growing daily. If you are reading this, you might wonder what brought you here and give a bit of thought to the idea of reincarnation. You never know why you are drawn to things.

Alchemist at work.
My messy study-Alchemist at work. Ora et Labora.

The world we live in now is an improviser’s emporium of materials. An upcycled’s utopia,  a craftsperson’s  cornucopia. But with it also comes a risk of sensory overload with the abundance of  new materials,  processes and technological breakthroughs, the infinite possibilities that surround us. It can be easy to lose our focus, our connection and appreciation for the earth’s bounty, forget that everything is magical, that everything is alive in its own way, and deserves, even demands our respect.

The modern day alchemist/craftsperson/artist/scientist and creator is likely to spend as much time in communion with the Divine and the creative spirit for the answers to technical  conundrums, as in the quest for intellectual/spiritual enlightenment. But then, don’t all paths lead to the same destination?   Are we not ourselves transmuted when we transmute the dull and leaden into radiant gold?  Shaped and molded by our relationships?

Spiritual and physical alchemy are not distinct paths, but one the reflection of the other. Each making the other possible. Two sides of one coin. We are transformed along with the materials, relationships and processes we engage with.  Lead to gold baby. Lead to gold.

Well, back to work and making magic with my couscousiere. Till then, Artist, craftsperson, or scientist, wherever you are in your creative journey,

remember to always take clear notes

Your future self will thank you.


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Preparing winter medicine with tree saps

Spruce sap ready for collection.


Frankincense tree
Frankincense tree

As we enter another winter here in the Northern hemisphere, questions about chest rubs, cough and cold syrups, salves and liniments for sore muscles and joints are increasing. Short days and long nights bring some of us a sense of dread with Seasonal Affective Disorder looming in the dark.

Literally dripping with an abundance of healing plant chemicals, our tree saps, across the globe, have traditionally addressed these discomforts and many more.
They are well established as antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antitussive, and agents of emotional grounding and spiritual clarity. The anti-cancer and anti-arthritic properties of the Frankincense family are getting a lot of attention lately with the isolation and research of Boswellic acids.  Mastic and other oleoresins are proven treatments for peptic ulcers. Myrrh essential oil and tincture are among the best healers for teeth and gums. Pine, Spruce and Fir saps share long histories of use around the world as decongestants, muscle relaxants and relievers of musculoskeletal pain. Most are used to heal and protect our skin, as they do for the trees that bear them. The list of therapeutic properties our trees bring us grows daily as more research is performed and ancient traditions are examined.

Friars Balsam. A tincture of "exotic" tree saps. Popular since the Victorian age and available still in most drug stores.
Friars Balsam. A tincture of “exotic” tree saps. Popular since the Victorian age and available still in most drug stores.

The past few decades, with the wonderful growth of Aromatherapy, we have focused on essential oils as representatives of the therapeutic powers of plants. However, in the case of oleoresins, the essential oils only bring us a small part of the healing compounds in the plant material.

Distillation of fresh Spruce sap with pressure cooker pot-still and Allihn condenser.
Distillation of fresh Spruce sap with pressure cooker pot-still and Allihn condenser.

In  oleo-resins, the essential oils are the volatile constituents that evaporate before, and up to the boiling point of water. When these flammable chemicals have evaporated, many of the tree’s valuable therapeutic compounds, the “heavier” constituents, are left behind in the resin. Hence oleo, or essential oil, and resin=oleo-resin.

Solvent extractions such as Friars Balsam, (an alcohol tincture of Balsam Peru, Balsam Tolu and Benzoin), , can bring us a more Holistic” and whole product since they collect both the volatile essential oils and the “heavier” resins that remain after the distillation process. Using solvents provides us with a simple method for extracting many more of the valuable healing constituents from oleoresins, including much researched and talked about compounds such as Boswellic acids, Incensole and Incensole Acetate from Frankincense which recent studies have shown to possess anti-cancer and anti-anxiety properties respectively. These powerful healing compounds and many other constituents of our oleo-resins will not be found naturally in the distilled essential oils. 

Alcohol extracts & tinctures from oleoresins

are pretty straight-forward. The alcohol readily dissolves most resins and volatile oils, bringing us the whole sap in the form of a tincture. We know much less about the therapeutic properties of the gum present in many oleoresins, however, if you wish to include them, a water/alcohol solvent mixture will add these water-soluble gums to your medicine as well.

For oral care, I have found nothing as effective as a mouthwash made from a tincture of Myrrh. This can be made easily at home with whole Myrrh oleoresin and pure alcohol or an alcohol-water mix such as Vodka.

Myrrh tree oleo-resin Ethiopia. Photo coutesy-Ermias Dagne
Myrrh tree oleo-resin Ethiopia. Photo coutesy-Ermias Dagne

A Recipe for a Tincture of Myrrh 

  • 1 part finely ground myrrh. (see my post-How to grind Frankincense, Myrrh and other Oleoresins, for tips on grinding.)
  • 3 parts 45% grain alcohol or unflavoured Vodka.
  • A mason jar with a tight fitting lid.
  • mix the powdered Myrrh and the alcohol in the mason jar. Make sure to break up any lumps.
  • Screw the lid on tight, (moisten your finger slightly with vegetable oil and run it around the thread on the outside of the glass before you screw the lid on tight. This will prevent the resins from “gluing” the lid closed if some of your tincture gets on the thread).
  •  Shake the mix thoroughly.
  •  Place the jar in a warm place out of direct sunlight. The top of a fridge, furnace or water heater work well.
  • Shake your jar vigorously at least once a day for 4 weeks. Longer is fine too, but a lunar month should be sufficient.
  • After your maceration is done, find a good spot to work.
  • Filter your tincture into a clean jar or bottle that has a tight-fitting lid or cork. You can do this by pouring it through a paper coffee filter in a funnel.
  • Scrape all the ground Myrrh into the filter. If you like you can try to press the rest of the liquid from the material, but be careful the paper doesn’t rip.
  • Seal the jar or bottle and let your tincture sediment for a few days.
  •  pour or siphon off the clear liquid and bottle it for use. It can keep for a few years.

For sore, spongy or inflamed gums, loose teeth, Canker sores, toothache, Gingivitis, Halitosis, sore throat, or Thrush, mix 1 teaspoon of your tincture in a cup of warm water in which you have dissolved 1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Swoosh some around in your mouth for as long as you can, (spit it out when done), and as often as you can till you find relief.  Use it a few more times, then continue using this tincture as a daily preventative.

The essential oil can be used in a pinch by dabbing a cotton swab soaked with essential oil on and around the bothersome area. It can also be left between gums and cheek till all the essential oil is dispersed in the mouth.

A rudimentary, but still effective tincture can also be made by adding 4-5 drops of essential oil of Myrrh to a teaspoon of an alcohol/water mix like such as vodka. This can be added, as above, to a warm mix of water and salt.

 Make a Tincture of Frankincense

The range of healing properties found in the many types of Frankincense is growing daily as we identify and examine each species more closely and study their effects in the laboratory.  Whether treating various types of cancer and tumors, rheumatoid arthritis, sore, inflamed joints and muscles, peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, Asthma, respiratory complaints, head trauma, depression or anxiety, many active therapeutic compounds are found only in the resin portion of oleoresins not in their essential oils.

Along with the unique chemical compounds each Frankincense type claims as its own, they also share many of the same constituents. In my personal opinion, it is safe to say, all types of Frankincense are anti-inflammatory. There is still confusion, despite recent research, or in light of it, as to which constituents are exclusive to each species of Frankincense. This  points to the need for more studies around the world of our resin bearing trees.

A Visual comparison of Boswellia Species-Frankincense
A Visual comparison of Boswellia Species-Frankincense

Of the 6 types of Frankincense commercially available to us, only one, Frankincense Frereana, is an oleoresin with little to no water-soluble gum. This means it dissolves almost entirely in alcohol, and there is little benefit to using water in the tincturing solvent. In Boswellia Rivae, Neglecta, Serrata, Carterii/Sacra and Papyrifera, an alcohol/water tincture can capture the water-soluble gum and any phytochemicals it may contain. Though not much research has been done on the gum portion of Frankincense, it too is used in traditional medicine.  I would guess that Nature is consistent and produces nothing that has no value.

The instructions for making an alcohol tincture of Frankincense are identical to the above instructions for making a tincture of Myrrh. Though I suggest using a 1:5 ratio of oleoresin to solvent by weight instead of a 1;3 ratio as with the tincture of Myrrh.  Otherwise, simply substitute the oleoresin of a Frankincense type of your choice for the Myrrh in the recipe.


If using alcohol is not an option for you, you will find the oleo extraction of Frankincense and other oleoresins offers a great alternative.

Oil based oleoresin infusions or extracts

are not as well known, and a there is less literature about making and using them. These too can bring us substantially more of the healing compounds found in oleoresins than their essential oils.

Frankincense oleo-resin extracted from Boswellia Neglecta.
The oleo extract of Frankincense oleo-resin extracted from Boswellia Neglecta. A potent anti-anxiety  chest rub with deep calming properties.

A vegetable oil such as olive oil will dissolve most, if not all of the healing compounds in many saps.  This type of oil infusion can be used as a base for a salve, crème or liniment, making it easy to use externally for respiratory issues, inflammations, muscle/joint pain, aging skin, and many other applications. Considering that many of the active compounds in oleoresins are absorbed through the skin and some are able to pass the blood-brain barrier, these types of products can be especially effective when used externally.

Often, creating a medicated product from tree sap is as simple as replacing a unmedicated oil in a salve or creme recipe with your oleo extract.

Some take these vegetable oil extracts of oleoresins internally in small quantities.  They are not as harsh or concentrated as the essential oils, and do not shock our system as essential oils can when ingested. They are assimilated more easily, and bring us a broader range of healing compounds than the essential oils in proportions that echo their source.    That being said,,,let me add a caution. Too much of anything is not good for us. Studies have shown that ingesting an excess of Myrrh oleoresin can cause heart irregularities, and severely tax or cause damage to the kidneys which have a tough time eliminating it. We all have different constitutions, medical histories and tolerance levels. We MUST practice caution when trying new things. Though I believe we need to take responsibility for our own health, I also believe there is likely a talented, qualified, Naturopath, alternative healthcare practitioner, Herbalist, traditional healer, shaman, or progressive doctor in your area, and I advise you to seek them out, and invite them to work with you. If your health is important enough for you to take matters into your own hands, then it is important enough to seek qualified support and expert advice.


Spruce, Pine and Fir saps stand at the top of my list as the very best oleoresins for respiratory complaints. I use them in my Great Northern Cough and Chest Balm, and in my St. John’s Wort-Spruce Muscle rub. I have barely changed these recipes in almost 20 years since they work so well.

For complete instructions for making an oleo extract of Pine, Spruce or Fir Sap and how to turn it into a fragrant medicated chest or muscle rub, please see the post-

Make a wonderful winter chest rub from Spruce sap

Great Northern Cough & Chest Rub. An all natural alternative to harsh commercial Chest Rubs and inhalers.
Great Northern Cough & Chest Rub. An all natural alternative to harsh commercial Chest Rubs and inhalers.

For complete instructions on making an extract of Frankincense, please see this post-

How to make an extract of Frankincense and other oleoresins

An oleo extract of Frankincense Neglecta from Ethiopia.
An oleo extract of Frankincense Neglecta from Ethiopia.

Animal fats as solvents

Animal fats can work as oleoresin solvents for external applications. Lard and tallow, rendered respectively from Pig and Cattle fat, are traditional carrier/solvents mentioned in many old  herbals. Lanolin keeps much better than rendered fats and causes no harm to the animals. Lanolin is much closer in composition to our own natural body oils than other fats, making it an ideal delivery material for nutrients and therapeutic compounds. Win, win, win. My kind of solution.

Some tips when working with vegetable oils and animal fats as solvents

  • To use animal fats as solvents and carriers for oleoresins, wait till the fats melt in the water bath and use them as indicated for an oil extract. They need to be mixed, filtered and poured while hot, since they will turn more viscous as they cool down to room temperature.
  • Benzoin is a traditional and often used preservative for these types of fat. Adding 1% of Benzoin essential oil is usually recommended.
  • Some saps lend themselves more readily to oleo extraction and others are more difficult. Vegetable and animal fats/oils are not a universal solvent, but offer us a useful and effective alternative in many cases.
  • In general, a fresh and yet pliable sap will part with more of its components, more readily, in vegetable oil or animal fat than a hard and aged sap.
  • An oleo-resin, with little or no water-soluble gum lends itself more easily to a warm dissolution in oil.
  • However, oleo-gum-resins, like most types of Frankincense and Myrrh, require extra attention due to the water-soluble gum component in their makeup. Myrrh, with a 65% water-soluble gum content is likely the most challenging.
  • Finely Grinding these oleo-gum-resins before oil extraction facilitates extraction of both volatile oils and resins, leaving behind mainly water-soluble material, the gum.

Water as a solvent for water-soluble gums in oleoresins

Recently L. A., a reader of this blog who makes her own oleo extracts of Frankincense to address arthritis in her lower back, described the behavior of water-soluble gums in relation to the oleo-resins most eloquently. Quoting her very loosely, “The polysaccharides are nature’s perfect material to encase and lock in the oleoresins. They create a matrix, a hard shell and barrier that surrounds, isolates and preserves the resins and volatile oils.” This suggests how Frankincense, that may be decades or even hundreds of years old will look the same as a fresh sample, and yield its fragrance to a hot coal. It also points out how difficult it is to know with any certainty, whether we are buying Frankincense that is fresh harvested or decades old. This hard protective sheath of gum is also the reason we encounter resistance proportionate to the amount of water-soluble gum present in a oleoresin when we attempt to make an oil extraction.

L.A. also pointed me in the direction of research done in Teheran where an extract made from water-soluble gum of Frankincense Serrata was used in a study and indicated an increase in the learning ability of  rats. Other studies based on local traditional medicine have shown an aqueous, (water),  extract of Frankincense Serrata taken during pregnancy and lactation strengthened short and long-term memory in infants. See-The Therapeutic Effect of the Aqueous Extract of Boswellia Serrata on the Learning Deficit in Kindled Rats.


I want to thank Auntie Doodles, another reader of this blog for sharing the following water based recipe she discovered while visiting Qatar. I assume it is used with either Frankincense Sacra/Carterii, or  Frankincense Papyrifera, when one is suffering from the effects of coughs, colds and congestion.

A recipe for a Frankincense cough and cold  infusion

  • 1 heaping teaspoon of loose Frankincense Papyrifera or Carterii/Sacra tears. You can break them up if they are in large lumps, or crush them coarsely in your mortar.
  • Place Frankincense in a glass, mug or cup, (250 to 400Ml.)
  • Cover with room temperature water.
  • Close loosely with a saucer.
  • Let stand overnight at room temperature.
  • Take the infused water in tablespoon doses as needed for coughs, colds, the discomforts of fevers and flu.
  • It will keep for a couple of days.
  • To keep it longer, pour off the liquid and store it for up to a week, covered in the fridge.
  • To preserve this medicine for months, transfer the liquid to an ice cube tray. When frozen, move the cubes to a sealed container or plastic bag and store for future use.

I see numerous visitors from Arabian countries, India and African states coming through this web site. Whether family recipes, or regional traditions, I would be deeply grateful for any information anyone could share about their traditional uses of Frankincense, Myrrh and other oleoresins.  Too much of our ancient knowledge is getting lost in the wave of progress we are riding.

Ethnobotanical research does not have the economic value or financial incentive of other types of research, and is usually underfunded. It can’t keep up with its role of preserving our rich oral traditions before they are lost.  If you would like to share any cultural wisdom or traditional recipes you possess, and help preserve them for posterity, please leave a comment for me below, or email me directly at I offer my thanks and gratitude in advance. Thank you!!

Water-Bath, Baine Marie, Double Boiler
Water-Bath or Double Boiler-indispenable tool for working with oleoresins.

 Tree saps for our skin

Most of these tree saps have toning and tightening effects on the skin. Many of them help heal our skin from chaffing, chapping, burns and minor cuts, while some have a long history of use in the field of cosmetics and beauty. The most well-known skin “rejuvenatives” used in beauty cremes are Elemi and Frankincense oleoresins. I have found that Spruce, Pine and Fir oleoresins have similar effects on the skin, adding softness,  suppleness and a feeling of youthfulness. Note that these are whole oleoresins. The essential oils in my experience, do not have the same effect.

As an experiment, try rubbing a teaspoon of olive oil mixed with a drop or 2 of essential oil on your skin. Leave it on for a short while, wash it off with warm water and dish soap. How does your skin feel? Now do the same with a bit of fresh sap dissolved in olive oil. I find the difference striking and speaks for itself.

 How to make a rejuvenating skin creme from Frankincense.

To make a rejuvenative skin creme from any oleoresin, please see my recipe and instructions here-

How to make a Frankincense creme from an oleo extract

Frankincense rejuvenative creme using whole oleo-resins
Frankincense rejuvenative creme using whole oleo-resins

In my Etsy shop, you will find some of my own medicinal oleo-resin products.

Frankincense oleo-resin extracted from Boswellia Neglecta.
Frankincense oleo-resin extracted from Boswellia Neglecta. A potent anti anxiety and stress releiving chest rub.
Great Northern Cough & Chest Balm-Spruce-Pine & Fir sap salve
Great Northern Cough & Chest Balm-Spruce-Pine & Fir sap salve

Apothecary's Garden Muscle Rub 2012
Apothecary’s Garden St. John’s Wort-Spruce Muscle Rub


If you would like to create your own oleo extracts or tinctures from these oleoresins, but don’t have access to fresh material, you can find a growing selection of fresh Fairtrade exotic and local oleoresins here in my Etsy shop.

Apothecaries at work

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me via email at

If you try any of these recipes, or develop your own oleoresin product,

remember to always,

always, take clear notes!

Your future self will thank you.

Well, back to packing for my big move. Wishing everyone a bright holiday season and a year of inspiration and abundance in 2015.


Posted on 13 Comments

3 Recipes for a Beard wax and Dressing

With all my posts on moustache this and moustache that, I don’t mean to marginalize or ignore beards. I sport a beard along with my Stache and I try to give it the same kind of attention..Alas, I think we all get a little lazy at times and can take our beards for granted.. .

Stache and Goatee
Stache and Goatee draw the eye away from sags, bags and wrinkles….Just an old goat…

While most of us focus mainly on shaping and pruning our upper lip fur, the beard often takes up more facial real estate and deserves a little more consideration with a dressing. Ideally, a beard dressing should soften, nourish and moisturize not only the beard, but tend to the skin that sports it.
I like a bit of shaping power to my beard dressing. Having a trimmed goatee and a twirled moustache I like to keep them relatively synchronised and in tandem.

When creating or choosing a beard wax, oil, or dressing it is important to give thought to how much sculpting power you need. Personally, I don’t use a beard oil. I find they make it difficult to apply my moustache waxes and my beard doesn’t really need one. We have fish and chips for that…..

On the other hand, I don’t want a product so sticky or heavy it makes my beard look too stiff. If I want some bold sculpting I’ll use a moustache wax and work it in where I want it with the dressing.  Unless I’m going for some radical creative hair sculpting, I prefer a beard dressing that will look natural, work with, and accent the waves, ripples and highlights already present. Something that will give me as much shaping as I can get without being a moustache wax.

For me, a good beard oil or dressing will have 3 components.

  1. A nourishing and moisturizing element that will soften and protect my facial hair, especially in harsh environments or extreme temperatures. If possible also keep my skin smooth, supple and moisturized.
  2. Something that will keep it in the style and shape I want for extended periods without constant reapplying or making it look too obvious.
  3. It has to smell good, which may actually be at the top of my list. So whatever it takes to achieve that very important aromatic quality. Not overpowering, but doesn’t disappear after a few minutes. Something that is attractive to me and attractive to those I want to be attractive to. Ideally I want my beard to smell so good to me that when no one is looking I will want to cup it up to my nose and inhale it deeply. Mmmm, Labdanum…….

   For #1, There are many vegetable/carrier oils available. Some basic and well-known, and some part of a parade of new and “exiting” exotics vying for our dollars and approval. Some are fads and will fade away with time. Personally I prefer the tried and true classics.

    -Oils- Though classified as a wax, there is nothing as time-tested and as close to our own natural skin oils às Lanolin. It is collected from sheep’s wool after shearing and before the wool is processed into yarn. Using Lanolin causes no harm to sheep, it is eminently renewable, sustainable and ethical. It has been used for centuries to protect, moisturize and heal the skin, just as it protects the sheep’s own hair and skin through the constant wear and tear of elements. It is easy to use and adds a wonderful softness to facial hair while giving some shaping power to your dressing and adding body to your beard.

Extra Virgin Olive oil, and Jojoba oil are my oils of choice in the lab. (Though again, Jojoba is officially classified as a wax), Almond oil is light, lovely, and runs a close third for me.  Argan oil is highly regarded for its nourishing properties so I have been experimenting with it. There are many other natural alternatives, and much for us all to explore.

   2 – Waxes, lend body, hold, and often fragrance. I love using Beeswax.. with its sweet, warm, woody/honey scent it is perfect for men’s products. Depending on whether you want to just firm up your beard, give it volume, or get creative with styling, you can add varying proportions of this lovely natural product. It gives a beard definition and adds hold to hair.
Of course there are many other types of wax that you can use. Candelilla, Soy, Carnauba and microcrystalline wax, which is mainstream candle wax and a petroleum product.

  #3 A  little known secret is that tree resins, even in small proportions, will not only keep stray hairs in line, but will also tame and perm your facial hair. A little tree sap or oleo-resin added to your formula will noticeably help your hair keep the form you shape it in for days.

Another “group” of ingredients that can enhance the texture and fragrance of a beard dressing is vegetable “Butters”.

Adding some Cocoa Butter or Shea Butter to your formula adds sheen, makes your product go on smoothly, and in the case of a stiffer styling wax, reduces hair pulling. The chocolate fragrance of Cocoa Butter is heavenly. The fragrances of both Shea and Cocoa Butters blend in a most pleasing way with the base ingredients listed here. There are many vegetable butters available now, but these 2 are by far my favourites.

Water bath with multiple vessels and ingredients warming to the same temperature.
Water bath with multiple vessels and ingredients warming slowly  to the same temperature before blending.

An important point to make, is that butters,(and some waxes), must be heated separately from oils,  (in the water-bath), before combining. Their temperatures must match before attempting to blend them. Otherwise they tend to granulate and can give you a grainy unpleasantly textured product.

   Here are some simple recipes you can start with. You can modify, improvise and adjust them until they have exactly the look, feel, effect and  fragrance you consider perfect. Please remember to take clear and accurate notes of any modifications you make. Otherwise, if you come up with the perfect product, you may never be able to duplicate it.  You may also end up repeating the same mistakes ad infinitum, which is how some people define Hell…..

  This is a most personal endeavor. Though there are many products in the market there is nothing that can work the same for everyone. And of course there is nothing like the satisfaction of making your own beard or mustache wax. (Or making the perfect product for someone you love.)  There is no one out there who has the exact same facial hair as you.


– Spruce Sap beard oil-

Spruce sap ready for collection.
Spruce sap ready for collection. Our tree saps not only smell wonderful, but they help tame our facial hair and set it in any style we choose. Many have powerful topical healing properties, such easing our breathing and rejuvenating our skin.
  • In a jar, placed in a double boiler, (See “A Solid Moustache Wax Recipe” for how to use a water-bath), combine 3 parts vegetable oil of your choice, or a combination of oils of your choice and 1-2 parts raw sticky Spruce, Pine or Fir sap collected from the tree.
  • Mix well when hot, until the sap is melted into the oils as much as it will melt.
  • Force the hot mix through a metal coffee filter or the corner of a pillowcase into a clean jar.
  • Either pour it into bottles for use, or add your essential oils while it cools down, and then pour it.

If you want to give your dressing more body and hold,

  • put your jar back in the water-bath,
  • to the water-bath add another jar with a wax of your choice.
  • When the contents of both jars are as hot and liquid as they can be, add a small amount of hot liquid wax to your sap/oil mix.
  • Mix well and test a drop on a room temperature surface.
  • When it’s cool, see how firm it is.
  • When it is at the consistency you like, remove your beard dressing from the water bath, pour in to containers, or add essential oils and then pour to its final destination.

To add greater nourishing, protecting and moisturizing qualities, you can add a bit of Lanolin, in small increments directly to your sap/oil mix. It usually blends well without being preheated in the water-bath.


-Frankincense resin beard oil-

Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation. Grinding the oleo-resin.
Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation. Grinding the oleo-resin.  Maydi, the King of Frankincenses. Perfect for moustache and beard products especially with its Amber fragrance.
  1. In a double boiler set one jar with your vegetable oil/oils of choice.
  2. In a second vessel set ground Frankincense Frereana, Copal or Elemi oleoresin at 10%-20% the weight of your finished product. If you are making 100 grams of finished product, use 10-20 grams oleoresin.
  3. When both are heated evenly, mix the oils into the resins.
  4. Stir and agitate thoroughly until they can’t be blended any further.
  5. As in the recipe above, pour and filter your oil/resin mixture.
  6. To give your product more sculpting/styling power, you can, as described above,  add a little Beeswax or Lanolin to your formula. If you add a lot of wax you will end up with a moustache wax! So use a light hand…
  7.  The above oleo-resins have little or no water-soluble gum in them. This helps them blend easily with vegetable oils.
  8. You can use other types of Frankincense like Boswellia Rivae, Sacra/Carterii, Papyrifera, Neglecta or Serrata, though due to their added gum component, you will need about twice the quantity of resin, and will have to grind them quite fine before using them. (See How to Grind Frankincense and Myrrh). They will leave behind more residue after filtering, but will still work just as well in your products lending your dressing their unique fragrance and shaping powers. Freshness of your oleo-resins will also impact the quantity you will need. The fresher and more fragrant or pliable, the less you will need. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to find these exotic resins freshly harvested.

Lanolin beard oil and dressing

Pure Lanolin in Apothecary's Garden Etsy Shop
Pure Lanolin in Apothecary’s Garden Etsy Shop

Similar to“An easy 2 part Moustache wax recipe”, all you need here is one jar, pure lanolin and a vegetable oil of your choice.

  1. In a water-bath heat one jar or vessel with 1 part  lanolin and 1 part vegetable oil/oils of your choice.
  2. When thoroughly heated, melted and fully mixed, test with a drop or two on a room temperature surface.
  3. If the cooled product is too thick for your preference, add a bit more of your oils to the mix. If it is too thin, add more lanolin.
  4. If you want more body or hold, add small amounts of Beeswax in increments. (See above).  Make sure to measure, record and test each time you add new material and adjust accordingly.
  5. To add essential oils and create a fragrance for your beard dressing, be patient, I will get to it….


Best ingredients for a beard dressing.

Oils, waxes, Butters and fragrances 

Steer away from using petroleum products. They smell bad, using them sustains an industry that is environmentally destructive, non-renewable and non-sustainable. There are no justifications for using them, especially when there are fragrant, sustainable and ethical alternatives. In general, one could say that petroleum sourced products are simple man-made chemicals, while natural products are much more complex compounds. They exist in a deeper harmony with us and  work to heal, nourish and support our body’s systems on many levels.

    • So,,, don’t use Vaseline, instead use Lanolin.
    • Don’t use microcrystalline wax- use Beeswax, Candelilla, non GMO Soy wax or Carnauba wax.
    • Don’t use mineral oil/Baby oil. Use Olive oil, Almond, grapeseed, Argan or any one of many other renewable oils that sustain the communities that produce them.

For more information about Lanolin VS Petroleum jelly and some interesting history, you can check out my post “A moustache twirl to save the world”

When adding fragrance to your product the same guidelines apply.

  • Don’t use “Fragrance oils” they are artificial, manufactured chemical fragrances. They cost less, but do no good for us or the planet on any level. Use only real essential oils. They don’t have to be “Therapeutic quality”, which is a phrase coined recently to market some well known brands and sell their products.  All essential oils are therapeutic.   There is no such thing as “Therapeutic quality essential oils”. Either it is a reak and pure essential oil, or it’s not.

Here is a short list of the best ingredients in my opinion for beard and moustache grooming products.

Beeswax- wonderful fragrance for men. Gives hold and good tackiness for shaping moustaches and beards. Easy to use. Keeps for many years.  Using it supports small communities, local businesses and the people who are best qualified to save our bees from extinction.

Lanolin- Naturally sourced, renewable, ethical and sustainable. Protects and nourishes both skin and hair. Nice musky aroma that works well in male products.

Olive oil- Used for thousands of years for its nourishing and healing properties on the skin and hair. Extra Virgin has the most nutrients and seems to keep the longest.  It is a wonderfully therapeutic carrier oil.

Jojoba oil- Renewable, sustainable, supports farmers, collectors and communities in developing countries. Has a very, very long shelf life. Not greasy and great for skin and hair.

Almond oil- Light and easily absorbed by skin and hair. Lovely on the skin. Not a very long shelf life in my experience. An oil of beauty ruled by Venus.

Cocoa Butter- Mmmmmm.Cocoa Butter……Smooth creamy, the source of chocolate. The original , only, and never to be defeated champion of chocolate fragrances. Nourishes skin and hair. Melts at body temperature,  (and in your mouth). There is a white variety, post cocoa powder extraction), and a dark brown type  which still contains the dark cocoa which smells more intense, but will colour your product.  Either way you will want to find someone to smear it on….

Shea butter-Nourishing to skin and hair. renewable, sustainable and supports small communities in Africa. Nice stuff….

Vitamin E.- Famous for its skin healing properties, is good for hair, (doesn’t hurt), and acts to prevent rancidity in oils.

You have been patient. Let’s talk fragrance,

Creating a fragrance for your grooming products

Since my own experience is constantly evolving, I will share some recent thoughts and insights briefly before pointing you to my page-Create a natural fragrance for male grooming products. 

Use all essential oils in moderation. I try to add less than 2% to my products. Not only can too much be overpowering for you, a turn-off those around you, but you can “sensitize” yourself, both physically and emotionally to a particular oil. This means that if you overdo it with an essential oil, your body may react to it in the future. This often manifests as a rash, but just as sad, you may find that instead of enjoying the wonderful fragrance you so loved, you cringe at the smell, which is just as great a loss. As was said so wisely in the Tao te Ching, “Rather than filling it to the brim by keeping it upright, better to have stopped in time”. So use restraint.

My favourite scents for men’s products.

Labdanum flower, Cistus_creticus
Labdanum flower, Cistus_creticus


has held the lead in my formula book for men’s products, over a decade now. Woody, warm Amber, soft, sexy masculine with hints of Spice, dry tea leaf and looks like Buckwheat Honey.

Labdanum…..mmmmLabdanummmm. I have 2 oleo-resins/essential oils I find irreplaceable in men’s grooming products. Labdanum, the sticky oleo-resin collected from the mediterranean shrubs of the Cistus or Rockrose family, See -(Labdanum, Beard grooming Babylonian style). and Frankincense Frereana from Somaliland, the King of Frankincense. (See my posts-“Maydi- The King of Frankincense”- and “A Moustache wax recipe with Frankincense resin).

I have always been a sucker for a good Amber scent, and the oleo-resins from both these aromatics are as close as the plant kingdom can get to giving us an Amber fragrance and the materials for building one.

A few Essential oils that blend well with Labdanum for a masculine scent. The proportions below are a reference to the strength of each essential oil compared to the Labdanum, so if you like,  you can keep the Labdanum heart to your product. We want a co-operative,  a commune where everyone works together to create something new and exiting,  not a battle with the strongest scent dominating or conquering the others.


-For 10 parts Labdanum,  choose any of these fragrances, in the proportions indicated.

Play, have fun, use 1 or use 10, take your time and take accurate notes.

  • 4 parts-Peru Balsam, Tolu Balsam, Vanilla
  • 3 parts-all Frankincense types, Sandalwood
  • 2 parts-Myyrh, Cedarwoods, Benzoin, 
  • 1 part-Opoponax, Jasmine, Spikenard, Vetiver
  • 1/2 part-Clove, Nutmeg, Ginger, ( or Wild Ginger??), Cardamom
  • 1/4 part-Ambergris tincture,
  • 1/8 part-Civet tincture, Oud essential oil, or Castoreum tincture.
  • There are many more essential oils that will compliment Labdanum and the other essences listed above, this is off the top of my head and I will leave it to you to explore, research and experiment….
  • For more information on using Labdanum for grooming you can check out my recent post-Labdanum resin for perfume and beard dressings

    Fresh co-op harvested Frankincense Frereana- from Somaliland-" Maydi or Yemenite Chewing Gum"

Frankincense Frereana

 is another Amber type fragrance that will prompt you and others to bury noses in your beard. Lighter than Labdanum, and possessing a sweet range of  resinous wood, sweet spice and Amber notes, the two work well together and B. Frereana Blends like most other Frankincense types with many, if not all of the above mentioned fragrances.

So, enjoy the gender you were given this time round. Be respectful of the others because karma’s a bitch.

And remember to always take clear notes!

Your future self will thank you…



Posted on 19 Comments

A distillation of Frankincense Frereana

Frankincense Frereana-Freshly distilled Essential Oil in Separatory funnel
Frankincense Frereana-Freshly distilled Essential Oil in Separatory funnel. 

As mentioned in earlier posts, Frankincense Frereana is a relatively rare type of Frankincense in the West. Both the resin and good quality essential oil are difficult to find and much more expensive than other Frankincense types. Despite these drawbacks, or perhaps because of them, it is well worth experiencing at least once.

Fresh co-op harvested Frankincense Frereana- from Somaliland-" Maydi or Yemenite Chewing Gum"
Fresh co-op harvested Frankincense Frereana- from Somaliland-” Maydi or Yemenite Chewing Gum”

Boswellia Frereana is native to the mountainous regions of Somaliland, the Somali Puntland and to a lesser degree westward through Kenya. Though it has been transplanted to Yemen and possibly Oman over the generations, it is not indigenous there, nor can it supply local demand. Most of the Frankincense Frereana essential oil that is sold as Arabian is purchased in Somaliland and Somalia and distilled in countries across the Red sea which are more economically developed. Not as prolific as the well known Frankincense Sacra/Carterii, it is used by the well to do in Arabia as a high-end chewing gum, in cosmetics, perfume and as incense.  Though culturally important, due to the demand and high price, harvesters often keep only the lower quality scraps and leftovers for their own use since resin sales provide their income and sustenance for the whole year.

Boswellia Frereana Somaliland
Boswellia Frereana tree Somaliland

Translucent and golden, B. Frereana resin could very well be the gold that came as a gift along with Frankincense and Myrrh in scriptures Also called Coptic Frankincense, and Yemenite chewing gum, the oleoresin of Boswellia Frereana is used extensively as incense, alone or combined with other ingredients.  A traditional Somali incense “Amber” called Unsii is prepared from Frankincense Frereana and other aromatics according to local and often secret family recipes.

Frankincense Frereana is traditionally used for oral care, peptic ulcers, and considered antiseptic and anti inflammatory for both the gastrointestinal and the urinary tract. It is believed that the body benefits from these therapeutic actions through use of the essential oil and chewing the raw resin. Externally, Frankincense Frereana is considered excellent for joint inflammations and mature skin, making it ideal in rejuvenative and  anti-aging skin products. From an aromatherapy perspective it is uplifting and a restorative, calming to nerves and emotions. It helps attune the mind and heart to meditative and spiritual/religeous practice. Possessing a warm, amber scent with hints of honey, candy, spice and resinous wood, Maydi, as it is called locally, is one of the most distinguished members of the Frankincense family.

Similar to Our Pine Spruce and Fir saps, Elemi, Mastic and Copal, the hardened sap of Boswellia Frereana, is a pure oleoresin. Unlike most other types of Frankincense, it has little to no water soluble gum, only resins and volatile oils This distinction gives it, and all the aforementioned oleoresins some unique qualities.

  • They all dissolve easily in alcohol and warm vegetable oils which makes them ideal for use in cosmetics.
  • They burn as incense on a coal or heater in a clean and most fragrant way, leaving little to no residue.
  • They can all be hydro distilled directly in the water with little fear of scorching or burning.
  • They yield a relatively high percent of essential oil which makes extraction of essential oils viable with a non-commercial sized home still. Between 5% and 10%. Much higher than most other essential oil sources.
  • After distillation of their essential oils, they leave behind excellent rosins with many therapeutic properties and practical applications.
  • I believe they can all be “dry distilled though I need to confirm this by trying it.
Pressure cooker pot still for essential oils
Pressure cooker pot still for distilling essential oils

In this particular distillation I used a relatively small 21.5 liter pot still, which is easy to make at home. You can find instructions in my post “How to build a  kitchen still for essential oils at home. It is eminently suitable for hydro distilling essential oils from oleoresins and other high yield materials at home. With the inclusion of a suspended basket, its capabilities can be extended to accommodate a wider variety of materials through steam distillation. The practical elegance of this particular design is due to the thick bottom and milled seal of the lid which makes it a hassle-free apparatus. Its moderate size allows one to distill sufficient quantities for personal use and small scale production. There is a 40 liter model on the market for those who wish to expand their distilling practices further, though the larger model is more difficult to come by second hand. This is a good still to start with. Solid and versatile it makes it easy for anyone to explore the ancient art of distillation.

Charging the still

Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation. Grinding the oleo-resin.
Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation. Grinding the oleo-resin.
Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation. Grinding the oleo-resin.
Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation.

In this 21.5 pint or liter ” All American” pressure cooker adapted to distillation. I added

  • 12 liters water.
  • 3 kilograms coarsely ground oleoresin of Frankincense Frereana. Though I felt it was uncomfortably close to the top of the still, I started with a gentle, moderate temperature, to avoid forcing material over into the receiver.
  • I used an Allihn condenser, but a straight tubed Liebig condenser would have worked just as well.
  • I ran this distillation for 10 hours, 2 hours longer than I would normally, to extract more of the warm amber notes from the resin.

Years ago I purchased essential oil of B. Frereana from a large and well known company and was greatly disappointed in the quality. It smelled more like cleaning fluid than Frankincense. Sometimes you have to do things yourself if you want them done right. I am very happy with this distillation.  Amber with honey, a touch of  black pepper and ginger, with a hint of sweet lemon candy. It is warm and uplifting, drying down to a musky, woody and sensuous soft amber.   The scent of Boswellia Frereana essential oil properly distilled from good quality fresh material, is heavenly. One can see why it is called “The king of Frankincense”.

One of the perks of distilling your own essential oils, is that after separating the volatile oils, you can add the distillate to your bath. (Or make a cold creme?). A half liter of the distilled waters of Frankincense Frereana in a hot bath caressing you, is truly a rare and exotic treat.  Calming, uplifting, soothing, grounding, sensuous and stimulating. Did I mention all the Frankincenses are ruled by the Sun and considered aphrodisiacs?

Fresh Fairtrade Frankincense Frereana, Natural Chewing Gum, Incense and Medicine.
Fresh Fairtrade Frankincense Frereana, Natural Chewing Gum, Incense and Medicine.

The material I used in this distillation is the same oleoresin I sell in my Etsy shop. It is fresh 2013 co-op harvested in the mountains of Somaliland by a group of traditional harvester families who have passed care of the trees down from generation to generation for many decades. The harvesters are traditionally locked in to the low prices, unscrupulous practices of foreign buyers and middlemen. These buyers dominate the local market and offer harvesters a minimum return to keep their own profit as high as possible. The current arrangement is impoverishing for the harvesters, many become indebted to the middlemen. Till recently they have been completely dependent on these buyers for lack of alternative markets for their resins.

Young Frankincense harvester bringing his daily harvest down from dangerous rocky terrain where the Frankincense Frereana  trees grow.
Young Frankincense harvester bringing his day’s collection of resin down from dangerous rocky terrain. Everyone participates. Frankincense Frereana trees grow wild, often in the most inaccessible and precarious places. Injuries are a common occupational hazard and modern medical facilities non-existent for the mountain clans.

Now, with the increase of global communication, travel and commerce coupled with heightened consumer awareness, new and more profitable markets are becoming available to them and some of the middlemen can be bypassed.  This creates a better return for the harvesters, and a place where co-ops can shine. This is where we, the informed western consumer can make a difference with our purchasing power. We need to educate ourselves because we can make a difference with our individual and collective purchases.

Our world is a beautiful little garden in a big universe. It is our very own Apothecary’s garden that gives us all of our medicine and fragrance, all our food and sustenance. We are each individually responsible for it, and it is up to us to tend to it any way we can. Somaliland is famous not only for its Frankincense Frereana, but also for its fine Frankincense Sacra/Carterii, Myrrh and Opoponax, (scented Myrrh), which this co-op also collects.

The organizer of the co-op, B.H., inherited Frankincense and Myrrh trees from his family. Living in the west from a young age, he gave up his western citizenship and took responsibility for their care, harvest and sale.  His co-op has grown to  include other families and clans. He has built a small school, a clinic and purchased an “ambulance” for them. He helps get them out of debt to the buyers, and makes sure they receive a fair price for their resins. He coordinates the harvesting, collection and transportation of resins by camel and donkey from the mountains to the  coast  for sorting and grading, where the buyers await. There are no roads to these remote areas, though the footpaths are obvious after hundreds of years of trading Frankincense.

He mediates between individuals, families and clans, sources markets, organizes shipping and deals with the inevitable red tape. It is a big job, one that requires dedication, passion and commitment. I realize I can’t personally right all the wrongs, be in all the places I would like to be, or make the world the kind of place I would like to live in, all on my own. However, I can support those people who are out there doing the work. Even if it is only in some small way. The combined power of many people choosing to educate and inform themselves about how their fragrance, medicine and food comes to them, coupled with small informed choices that reflect their values, is immense and world changing. We forget how much power we have with our choices, our small purchases, the combined clicks of our mouses. This is the silver lining to our capitalistic system. Our money does indeed talk, and it will say what ever we tell it to.

Fresh distilled Frankincense Frereana-2013 harvest Somaliland-Fairtrade
Fresh distilled Frankincense Frereana-2013 harvest Somaliland-Fairtrade

I believe if we all do what we can, no matter how small, the world will quickly change for the better. If you would like to experience the fresh fair trade oleoresin and the newly distilled essential oil of Frankincense Frereana I invite you to visit my shop onEtsy. If you choose to distill your own essential oils, remember, you will always get better results if you treat nature well, and always, always, take clear notes. Your future self will thank you.   Dan

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How to build a kitchen still for essential oils and alcohol

Distillation of fresh Spruce sap with pressure cooker pot-still and Allihn condenser.

How to make a pot still 

Likely the simplest and most versatile distillation apparatus that one can make at home, is a pot still.
With a pot still one can

  • Distill essential oils from aromatic herbs, flowers and seeds, oleo-resins like Frankincense, Myrrh, Pine and Spruce via hydro or steam distillation.
  • Make grappa or moonshine from wine, mash or other fermented materials.
  • Rectify and refine alcohol for medicine, perfume and liquors.
  • Distill and purify water.

As a civilization, we have been distilling for hundreds of years.

The process of distillation is grounded in nature’s basic laws, simple and almost archetypal, lending itself easily to metaphor and myth, to allegories of purification, transformation, transcendence, and spiritual refinement. Through familiarity with the process of distillation, one can understand many of the old symbols, sigils, allegories and metaphors of the ancients.

The “Art of distillation” is at the core of all alchemical traditions. It is the method by which the “subtle is separated from the gross”, and the process through with it is “married” back into its purified body and exalted at a higher vibratory rate. Modern chemistry owes much of its basic principles and processes, including distillation, to the ancient science and art of Alchemy.

The apparatus for distillation is often called a “distillation train”, and is made up of 3 fundamental parts, each performing a separate function.

  • The first is the pot, flask, retort or boiler, which with the aid of a heat source, evaporates and separates the volatile compounds from the material. (The essential oils from aromatic materials).
  • The second part is the condenser which cools and condenses the hot vapours, returning them to a liquid state.
  • The third part is the receiver where the distillate collects and the essential oils are easily separated from the water.
    Each part of the distillation train can be modified to perform extra functions, but this is the principal division of things.

  The pot or boiler.

DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Still
DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Stills

To make a simple pot still for steam or hydro distillation, one can use any clean metal kitchen pot with a tight-fitting lid.
A hole is drilled in the lid to accommodate a pipe that directs the hot vapors to the condenser.
A gasket of some sort is often required between lid and pot. Without a tight seal, any hot vapor that escapes the pot during distillation will carry your essential oils with it. Working at atmospheric pressure reduces the need for radical sealing methods and this can be accommodated by making sure the pipe leading from the pot to the condenser is wide enough to prevent buildup of pressure in the pot.

It is sometimes possible to seal the pot with Teflon plumbing or gas fitting tape, which is inert and will not leach adhesives into your still. If needed an adhesive tape of some sort can be wrapped tightly around the Teflon tape to hold it in place.

DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Still
DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Still-with and without Gaskets

Pressure cookers can work as distillation pots and have the benefit of a fitted seal. Though contrary to the function they were designed for, pressure should not be allowed to build up pressure.

Since writing this post 3 years ago, I have shifted away from using Aluminum pots as the one shown here. Though in theory, molecules of Aluminum will not transfer to the receiver or essential oil, and they likely could be used safely for distillation or steam production,  it is impossible to know for sure and my focus has shifted to the more traditional and customary copper, stainless steel and glass distillation systems. In this case, a stainless steel pressure cooker will serve just as well as an aluminum version.

An excellent and versatile distillation unit can be made of a stainless steel “Couscousiere”, a 2 tiered traditional Moroccan cooker as shown in a more recent post –How to make an essential oil still at home. A distillation workshop

Here is a PDF with instructions for building a “Magical” Couscousiere distiller.

Here you will find my latest, (March 2018), still design made from a high-end 70 litre stainless steel pot with an air cooled condenser

A n essential oil distillation with a Couscousiere. Atmospheric pressure and gently sealed with Teflon tape.
A recent distillation of Frankincense serrata with a Couscousiere. At atmospheric pressure and gently sealed with Teflon and electrical tape.
Home Distillation-Homemade pot stills- gasketless seal.
Home Distillation-Homemade pot stills- pressure cooker with gasket less seal.
    • When modifying a pressure cooker for home distillation there are some important points to keep in mind.
  • it is likely a good idea to leave the safety release valve on your pressure cooker intact.  Otherwise, unlikely as it may seem, if your exit vent gets clogged, a pressure cooker can turn into a deadly bomb.
  • If using the pressure cooker for simple hydro and steam distillation remove the pressure gauge or the jiggly thingy, and drill through its threaded seat for your steam exit.
  • Make sure you have at least a 1/2 of an inch diameter passage for the hot vapors to exit the pot. Since writing this post I now personally avoid any fittings that are less then 3/4″. 1 inch is my ideal on this sized pot.
Pressure cooker pot still for essential oils
Pressure cooker pot still for essential oils. 2 adjustable joints make positioning the condenser and receiver a breeze. Easy to disassemble and clean between distillations.

In the distillation shown here I used a 21.5 liter All American pressure cooker.
This system is different from the more familiar “press and turn” locking system that most home pressure cookers incorporate. It provides an elegant and enduring alternative to rubber and silicone gaskets through a milled aluminum top and seat. No gasket is needed and the 6 screw down clamps create an even pressure and a perfect seal. Tighten them as you would the wheel on a car, in pairs of opposing nuts. This helps make sure the lid is sitting evenly and properly in its seat.

I removed the pressure gauge, drilled a 1/2 inch hole and inserted a 1/2 inch brass fitting through the hole and screwed on a matching female fitting with Teflon tape on the inside of the lid. This diameter vent, (1/4″), is suitable for distilling liquids.

Herbs resins, barks and other materials are more safely distilled using a larger 1/2″ to 2″ exit hole to avoid clogging and building up pressure in the pot.
Adjustable couplings with elbows allow the pipe to swing horizontally and vertically to accommodate easy positioning of the condenser and receiver. All parts are available at most hardware stores.
In this example, I use an electric hot plate as a heat source which is not ideal. Electric elements don’t disperse the heat well and can burn the material in a thin-bottomed pot, especially if there is a water-soluble component to the distilled material that will create a sludge. Even the smallest bit of burnt material in the pot can spoil the batch of essential oil. A thick-bottomed pot is ideal, as is a gas heat source.

 The condenser

Though one can make a coiled copper tube condenser, or a metal water-cooled sleeve condenser at home, by far the easiest solution for the beginner is to purchase a ready made glass condenser.  They are available from laboratory supply houses or eBay from about $20 to $60.  I prefer to support small businesses and get mine from . A Liebig condenser is a simple glass “sleeve” condenser and an Alihn condenser has a series of glass “bubbles” to extend the cooling surface area. They range in length from 200 mm. To 600 mm. I find 300 mm to 400 mm. the most convenient.

Antique, but functional Liebig condenser for distillation-400 mm length.
An antique, but functional Liebig condenser for distillation-400 mm length.

The hot vapors pass from the pot, through the central glass tube, while cold water enters one end of the surrounding sleeve and exits the other, cooling down and condensing the vapors.  I prefer these 2 condenser designs when distilling different materials since they are relatively easy to clean between distillations.

Distillation of fresh Spruce sap with pressure cooker pot-still and Allihn condenser.
Distillation of essential oils with pressure cooker pot-still and Allihn condenser.

The water supply in this particular distillation is taken off a household tap and is collected and reused in the home/garden after passing through the condenser. All the adapters for the water hookup can be purchased at a hardware store.
One can use a large pot of water and an aquarium pump to circulate cooling water through the condenser as long as one keeps an eye on the temperature of the water in the reservoir. It will warm up and become less effective overtime as it runs though the hot condenser.
There is also the option of using an air-cooled condenser and I hope to go into detail around this option in another post.

DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Still distilling Frankincense essential oils with an air cooled condenser.
DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Still distilling Frankincense essential oils with an air cooled condenser.

The Receiver

 Last but not least important is our receiver. Any narrow-necked, clean glass vessel will do.

There are ssyphonsystems that attach to the receiver and help with separating the volatile oils from the water. In most cases the oils will float on top.
A simple method is to syphon or draw them off at the end of the distillation process and transfer them to a separatory funnel which allows easy removal of the heavier liquid from the distillate.

If you intend to collect the hydrosol, make sure your receiver is sterile otherwise it is easy to introduce organisms that will quickly spoil it.
Once the essential oils have been isolated they should be stored in a cool place.
That’s about it…….

Wild Ginger essential oil in small separatory funnel
Wild Ginger essential oil in small separatory funnel

Distilling different aromatic materials in a pot still

The distillation in the above pressure cooker pot still example was a hydro distillation of oleo-resins.

  • As a general rule, I try to keep my water level between 1/2 and 2/3 the height of the pot.Any higher and there is a risk of liquid splashing or foaming over into the condenser, or plant material blocking the exit vent.
  •  Always measure exactly how much water you put in the pot. If possible use a graduated receiver that will easily show you exactly how much distillate has come over and thus, how much water is left in your pot..
  • For plant material that needs to be steam distilled, a sieve or perforated container can be suspended above the water.  With a little improvisation it can be supported by the lid, sides or bottom of the pot. For an example see Distilling Frankincense essential oil.
  • The amount of essential oil you will extract from different materials varies greatly. Oleo-resins yield much more essential oil per kilogram material than flowers for example, and even between different oleo-resins there is great variation. Some Frankincense types yield 0.05% essential oil, while others yield 10% and more. Some fragrant seeds are quite high in essential oil content and others less so.
  • Fresh, or gently dried aromatic material is preferred for both quantity and quality of essential oil yield.

As a general guideline, it could be said that different materials could be distilled thus-

  • Oleo-resins with no water-soluble gum content can be distilled by hydro distillation directly in the water. These include Pine, Spruce and Fir saps, Mastic, Elemi, Copals and Frankincense Frereana.
  • Oleo-resins with water soluble gum, or oleo-gum -resins such as most types of Frankincense and Myrrh, need extra attention when using a flat-bottomed pot still. They can be suspended in a sieve/colander  above the water, or distilled very gently with a higher ratio of water to distilled material so less sludge and no burning occurs. The water soluble gums dissolve in the water and can create a slur that is apt to burn if the water level gets too low. When using flat bottomed pots, a thick bottom and a  flame for a heat source, help reduce the risk of burning your material and losing the whole batch of essential oil.
  • Aromatic seeds such as cumin, carrot, Dill etc can be distilled either suspended in a sieve or gently and directly in the water.

The beauty of water and steam distillation of this type is that you will never go above 100 degrees Celsius in the still, which is suitable for distilling most essential oils for apothecary, perfume and aromatherapy use.

If a hole is drilled in the pot lid, a thermometer can be inserted through a cork, and the temperature of the vapors can be finely controlled. This is important when distilling alcohol for instance.

I’m sure I have missed some important points. So feel free to leave any questions, ideas, insights or omissions in the comments section below. They are most welcome and appreciated.



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Calendula, an introduction and Harvest

Harvest and make  medicine from local and organically grown Calendula flowers at the Apothecary’s Garden this Sunday

Calendula is likely one of the best  known, easiest to grow and use medicinal herbs in the Western world.

Calendula Harvest 2014 Apothecary's Garden Churchill Park Hamilton
Calendula Harvest 2014 Apothecary’s Garden Churchill Park Hamilton

With a strong affinity for healing the skin, Calendula is used fresh or dry, in an infusion, oil or salve. It quickly soothes and facilitates the healing of insect  bites and stings, burns, blisters and chafing, cracked, dry and chapped skin, itchiness, rashes, sores, cuts and scrapes, eczema, psoriasis, fungal infections, and much more. Besides its skin healing applications, varicose veins, oral inflammations  infections, thrush and candida are traditionally treated with Calendula..
Not only is it an herb that should be in every household in one form or another, but it is one of the prettiest and easiest medicinal herbs to grow at home and use as medicine.
For families it makes the best nappy creme and works wonderfully from birth for  both mothers and babies. It effectively treats many of the bangs and bumps we all receive through childhood, and works just as well for pets and domestic animals. Calendula can and should accompany us all from birth to grandparenthood as a familiar in the garden and medicine cabinet

Preparing Calendula flowers for medicine with mortar and pestle.
Preparing Calendula flowers for medicine with mortar and pestle.

I have yet to find anything that works as well as a Calendula salve to soften and moisturize rough, dry or cracked hands from gardening, carpentry,and even concrete and cement work overnight.

From an Astrological point of view, Calendula is ruled by the Sun as indicated by the shape and colour of its bright sunny flowers and healing attributes. Like our skin, Calendula flowers meet the sun head on and they share that nourishing cosmic source-energy with us readily. There is no flower that brightens up a room like Calendula. Fresh or dried it has a bright uplifting presence.

Join me in the Apothecary’s Garden at the Teaching Gardens in Churchill Park this Sunday, share in the harvest, and I will share some of the many ways Calendula can be used for everyday healing at home.

The harvest this year is abundant, so if you can’t make it this Sunday, let me know and we will repeat this on an upcoming Sunday. Why on a Sunday?  I will let you figure  it out, or come and ask me on Sunday…

The harvest is free, child friendly and all are welcome. Bring a paper bag and take notes if you like.