Civet paste is a rare, ancient and highly esteemed perfume ingredient as well as a traditional medicine in the East. Collected bi-monthly from the perineal gland of the adult Ethiopian Civet, it is still used in mainstream perfumery but mostly via black market back doors hidden from public sight and in a manner that contributes nothing to the well-being of the animals, the farmers, industry standards or the local economy.
Civet coffee, or Kopi Luwak, is a colonial tradition that has grown steadily in popularity the past few decades. Neither industry meets our Western standards for animal welfare and thus hover more in the shadows than the limelight.
Due to unacceptable animal welfare standards, we in the West, have boycotted the use of Civet in perfumes for over 50 years, yet this has done nothing to improve the lives of Civets or Civet farmers in Ethiopia and has likely caused more damage than good. With a reduced market, little income or resources to invest in higher standards of animal care, our boycott created a half century long stalemate in the industry.
The past decade or so has seen a growing trend in Indonesia where local Palm Civets are kept in battery cages under equally poor conditions, fed an unnatural diet of green Coffee beans which are excreted, collected and used to produce Kopi Luwak Coffee, known as the world’s most expensive Coffee.
Creating a model Civet farm and new industry standards
This March will see my 4th visit to Ethiopia in an ongoing effort to help both the Civets and the Civet farmers by establishing an ethical model Civet farm.
A modern farm that meets Western standards could not only revive the market, break the embargo on Civet products, but serve as a model to set industry and animal welfare standards in both Ethiopia and Indonesia.
We are all touched by this situation in some way, even if we are not perfumers or Coffee drinkers. I believe we can’t wait for someone else to make things happen and that as a community we can have a profound and transformative effect in the world if we work together.
Besides concern for the animals, it is also important the Civet paste is processed into ready to use perfume ingredients in Ethiopia so the full value and the brunt of the profits stay in the local economy instead of lining the pockets of corporations in Western countries who already do quite well. We have been taking advantage of developing countries for centuries, buying their raw materials at rock bottom prices, making hefty profits on processing and selling them while little to no profit from value-added processing stays in the local economy. This is a fundamental problem that contributes to keeping developing countries from actually developing.
Though I believe no animal should be caged against its will, I feel we have to start changing things somewhere, and usually, the best place is right beneath our feet. If this is successful, and a greater market demand is re-established for Civet products, I see the eventual development of Civet paste collection systems that are non-invasive and work with the animals in their natural habitat while benefitting the conservation of quickly disappearing forests, wildlife habitats and green zones in Ethiopia. But as long as it operates in the shadows, nothing much will change.
A call for community involvement
This project is now at a crossroads. In March I will travel to Jima, the main Civet production region in Ethiopia with farmers and exporters of Civet paste, we will have an up-close look at existing farms, potential real estate, and take the next steps to bring Civet products back into mainstream commerce in an ethical and broadly beneficial way.
I have written and spoken about this for over three years. Now I need to bring more than just words and a vision to the table.
Since no one person has all the skills and resources needed to bring this project to fruition, the next steps will be pursued by either an organized group of individuals contributing assets, skills and know-how, or it will be taken under the wing of an existing business with an interest in ethics and aromatics.
If we can organize a group of like-minded people to carry this idea forward, it will need
The guidance of people with experience designing and building humane animal enclosures,
People with Veterinary and animal care experience.
People with business acumen and the support of businesses willing to invest in it and ultimately profit from it
It could greatly benefit from involvement with Universities that might have an interest in conducting ongoing studies on these animals, in and out of nature.
There will be a need for tangible assets not easily accessed in Ethiopia. A shortlist would include items such as
Veterinarian supplies and equipment.
Materials for animal enclosures and their ongoing care.
Laboratory equipment, used or new, and laboratory supplies for making perfume tinctures and absolutes.
If you have an interest in being involved, have access to resources such as these, know someone who could add their expertise, know of a buisiness that would contribute or lead the project, or if you can just pass the word on through your networks to catch the eye of the right individuals or businesses it would help bring this concept that much closer to reality.
I have Civet farmers and exporters ready to move forward with this project. What we need now is participation from the West to take it to the next level.
Since returning from Africa 2 weeks ago, it feels like I landed running, and I don’t yet see a respite in the near future. My keynote speech at the Viridis Genii Symposium is coming up fast which means I had better get travel arrangements to Oregon made ASAP, and with any luck get a day in Hawaii with master distiller Jack Chaitman of Scents of knowing, whom has long held my admiration and respect. He is figuratively and literally a wizard with plant intelligence and essential oils.
Spring is just starting to show here in Southwestern Ontario and the tree buds are swelling on the Niagara escarpment, finally clothing their winter nakedness with a bit of brown. I hear the Wild ginger and Witch Hazel calling me. I have to get out of the studio and visit with my plant friends.
For those who generously supported my travels though prepurchasing the Ethiopian Essential oils and professor Dagne’s lovely “Duet” co-distillation of Boswellia Papyrifera and B. Neglecta, the package is finally here from Ethiopia after many delays. I will be bottling them and hope to ship them out beginning of the week. I will also get these gems posted in the shop in the next few days, so keep checking back. I should also mention I am trying out $6.00 flat rate shipping in the shop. If I don’t lose my favourite shirt with it, I will keep it permanently.
My Ethiopian shipment came in with gorgeous fresh Frankincense and Myrrh resins. The Boswellia Papyrifera is in the largst most succulent chunks I have ever seen. Both the Myrrh and Opoponax resins are fresh, fragrant, vibrant and excellent representations of the species. The Boswellia Rivae is as deliciously sweet as ever, and part of me hopes it doesn’t sell so I can smell it and play with it as long as possible.
I want to thank everyone who has placed orders for resins, essential oils and my Astrodynamic products the past few weeks. Your patronage is a true compliment and your support is heart warming.
That being said, as a one man show, I may have to hire extra help with this influx of orders, so please bear with me while I adjust to the new pace of sales in the shop… ……
In the meantime, to entertain, (distract), you, I am posting some photos from my visit in Kenya and the Samburu tribe courtesy of the talented photographer and wonderful travel companion, Minna Kalliokoski. Many have asked for them, so it will also be one thing I can tick off a job list that strangely seems to be growing daily and not getting any shorter.
Kenya sunset. Truly a magnificent country.
Boswellia Neglecta-Sorting dark and light resins from it.
Her first beads. A story for the next post.
First incursion into the area of quality control with the new resin co-op.
Hunting the edible Frankincense fruit, or Boswellia Yum yum as we dubbed it. delicious succulent fruit. Used locally as a dietary supplement, cus its delicious, and apparently a preventative and cure for Malaria..Still not identified….
Samburu women. They are all gorgeous!
All the Samburu Moran warriors have dual and large “Saddles” or discs in their ears which they remove when they become elders. My single Elk antler tunnel was a never ending source of surprise, amusement, shock and often hilarity for the Samburu.,
Subdued by the Samburu women
Wild animals everywhere!
Samburu women sorting Frankincense Neglecta
Finding some shade after a 10 Km. hike through Commiphora and Boswellia bushland. We collected over 1/2 kilo in 4 hours. Silly me decided to take my hat off to cool down after the trek….Bad move, and paid for it afterwards.
Traditional Samburu headrest/stools
Frankincense fruit and leaf, Kenya 2016
The spraying perfume tree, a Bursera.
Finally, I want to thank everyone for their generous donations to my work with indigenous harvesters and efforts to establish fair and sustainable trade of resins and other fragrant/medicnal materials. I could not have met and worked with Civet farmers, Somali resin co-op managers or the resin harvesting women of the Samburu tribe without your financial support. This influx was unexpected and heartwarming. Much more than money, I was bolstered by the appreciation and warm moral support for these ventures. It makes me feel like change is possible in our world. That we can all work together to make this a better place for everyone, plants, animals and people. It felt like a net of love that somehow appeared under a crazy idea and a leap of faith. My deepest and most sincere gratitude to you all!
As some of you know, I am sourcing fair trade, sustainable and unique fragrance materials, resins and essential oils during my trip through Africa.
At the moment I am in Ethiopia purchasing local aromatics and speaking with Civet farmers and exporters. My friend and photographer Minna will be here tonight so there may be more, (better), photos to share soon….. Next week we leave for Kenya to meet with the women of the Samburu tribe and see if we can help them set up a fair trade platform for their sustainably harvested resins.
Being in Addis Ababa Ethiopia is always a treat because I can visit my good friend Professor Dagne who is not only a distinguished scientist, researcher and educator, but a distiller of essential oils from local resins and fragrant plants. He is my source for the rarer types of Frankincense that grow only in this area of the world.
Professor Dagne has a good stock of essential oils at the moment, which isn’t always the case, and I am buying a nice selection from him while i am here. The purchase will help support his work with local flora, and selling them to my customers and peers supports my projects with the resin harvesters and Civet farmers in Africa.
To this end I am pre-selling some of his oils, in 30 and 100 ml. bottles, which will be shipped to customers between the 16th of March when I arrive back in Canada, and the end of March.
The prices include the cost of shipping from Canada.
If you would like more than 100 ml. please let me know. This offer stands till mid March when I’m back in the shop again.
Boswellia Rivae– The sweetheart of the Frankincense family and my personal favourite. With a familiar, warm Frankincense scent and a surprising sweetness that reminds one of its cousin Palo Santo, B. Rivae is the Frankincense most often found in my own blends and perfumes. I can’t resist it!
Boswellia Neglecta-The “grounded” one in the Frankincense family, Frankincense Neglecta possesses the soft amber of Frankincense under an umbrella of Fir needles. Like Spruce and Fir essential oils it is both uplifting and grounding. I use it for anxiety and stress related issues.
T-Neg- Boswellia Papyrifera/Neglecta co-distillation. This is a special co-distillation created by the professor. The T stands for Tigray, which is the area where Boswellia Papyrifera grows. Co-distillation is the technique of pre-blending raw aromatic materials before distilling them together. This is an ancient approach practiced by more accomplished and creative distillers.
The product of this co-distillation of gentle B. Papyrifera and robust B. Neglecta is unique, thrilling and uplifting. The soft-spoken scent of reserved and dignified B. Papyrifera is radiant and energized, somehow expanded and exalted by the B. Neglecta without it dominating the fragrance in any way. He has managed to create a unique marriage, synergy and accord between these two very different types of Frankincense.
Personally, I think the name could be a bit more descriptive of its unique fragrance and not just the materials. This is why we need artists and scientists working together.
After much contemplation, coffee and pacing, reams of metaphoric notes crumpled and tossed in my metaphoric trash can, I have named this harmonic composition of odiferous tree voices “Duet”, a Boswellic Fantasy.
Actually “Dryad’s Duet” is the name that keeps tapping me on the shoulder even after publishing this post, but for now, and until I succumb to the wood spirit’s whisper, we can call it Duet.
I can only provide 10 Ml. and 30 ml. bottles of Duet. What is not sold now will be available in the shop after I return home.
The prices for these pre-paid essential oils are below. Payment can be made via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org and will help fund these projects that promote fair and sustainable practices in the trade of our medicinal and aromatic resources.
Feel free to email me directly at email@example.com with any questions or requests.
Shipping from Canada is included in the price as is my gratitude with each of these special purchases, and if I can, I might include a little something from my trip in your package as I am a compulsive gift-giver.
· 30 ml.-85.00
· 100 ml. $230.00
· 30 ml.$75.00
· 100 ml. $180.00
Duet, a Boswellic Fantasy
· 10 ml. $35.00
· 30 ml.$90.00
I know some of you are waiting for fresh Ethiopian resins to be shipped directly from Ethiopia. I encountered some unexpected postal restrictions, which put a dent in my plans, but, I am still working on it.
That’s it for now. A warm thank you to everyone who has contributed through a donation or purchase to this venture.
If we all do what we can, we can change the world for the better. It can’t happen without community and an active involvement the in the process.
It’s been almost a year since my last visit to Ethiopia, after which I wrote the post, “Ethical civet a glimpse from the mountaintop“. I must admit, when I returned home I felt overwhelmed, as it seemed the only way a model ethical Civet farm could be established, was if I moved to Ethiopia, built it, and ran it myself. Much as I do enjoy a creative challenge, the task felt daunting.
Today the project feels a little less challenging and not as far off in the hypothetical distance. This shift is due mainly to the support I have received the past year from around the world and to a great degree from the natural perfume and incense communities. A network is evolving, and I believe it could help carry this project to fruition.
Since writing that post, I have found an experienced Civet farmer, willing to work with me to establish a modern civet farm that will conform to our western standards of ethics and animal welfare. I plan to visit and speak with him in the next couple of months. It may lead to a model farm, or may not, but it is a step in the right direction. A successful project would greatly benefit the farmers, the wild and captive Civets, the local economy, and, I hope, bring awareness to bear on the shrinking natural habitats of Ethiopia. It would also guarantee an ethical source of pure and unadulterated civet products for perfume and medicine.
Incentive to write this post today, is due in part to a link that indie perfumer Marcus McCoy of House of Orpheus, posted regarding his use of my civet tincture in his perfume, and the negative response he received. This makes for an ideal opportunity to recap and refresh, and share the project’s progress since then.
Our western boycotting of Civet production in Ethiopia over the past decades has yielded no positive results. It has had little effect on the captive Civet’s quality of life, and the native Ethiopian Civet population continues to decline. Since starting the boycott in the 70’s, after one of WSPA expose’s, no significant change in the treatment of captive Civets has evolved. I believe it has done more harm than good, and a new approach needs to be instituted to reverse the negative impact of the boycott and create a more ethical product, while preserving the native Civet population, guaranteeing a living wage for farmers and exporters, and slowing the loss of Ethiopia’s green spaces..
What the boycott did, was create a black market for civet products, where large international perfume and traditional medicine companies could purchase Civet paste and its derivatives, through foreign buyers hidden from public view.
It increased our reliance on chemical fragrance replacements which present their own set of negative side effects that impact us individually and globally.
Through lowering the demand, the boycott created a stasis in the price of civet paste, leaving international buyers to pit exporters against each other for the lowest possible price.
Today, the civet farmers often live in abject poverty with insufficient income from the animals to properly feed and care for the Civets or their families. They cannot afford medical attention for their families or veterinary care for their animals. They are simply in no position to institute or accommodate the extensive changes we are demanding from them. Many have abandoned the practice that has been a proud tradition in their family for generations.
In short, justified as we may feel, to indignantly boycott and suspend our financial support to the traditional and cruel treatment of Civets, I believe it was more of an emotional knee-jerk response on our part, and not a well thought out and responsible action. A boycott can be an appropriate response to affect change in some cases, but it is not a universal tool of political and economic advancement. In this case it was, I believe, a poor course of action that had no positive effect on any front and caused more damage than good.
With our boycott and the absence of market demand, the efforts of the government to modernize the industry over the years have encountered ongoing resistance from the farmers who have no incentive or anticipated return forthcoming from changing their traditional methods.
The farmers are tired of being studied and researched. They need a market for their product. Something researchers and government ministries cannot promise them. This kind of incentive and motivation can only be offered by us, the western buyers. Shall we do something about this? This is the only question there is.
I believe we need to admit we made a mistake in our reaction, learn from it, and take the time to properly address the problem in a way that is beneficial to all. In my opinion, when we have a solution that creates a win, win, win situation, we are on the right path. Instead of walking away from the problem, turning our backs and withdrawing our financial support, and hoping it will somehow force others to change, which it obviously hasn’t, let’s take action.
I propose working directly with the farmers, government agencies, local and foreign institutions of higher education, researchers, ecologists, architects, forestry experts, veterinarians, animal experts, and anyone else that can contribute to a healthy, ethical and thriving industry in a developing country. We have an obvious stalemate here, and someone has to take the first step to break it.
If one takes but a moment to contemplate the ethics and standards we choose to judge others by, we must also take the time to have a good look at ourselves. As many Ethiopians point out, we, in the western world, treat our domestic food animals with no higher ethics and no less cruelty than they treat their Civets. In fact, the time honoured art of animal husbandry is something we have completely abandoned in our rush to factory-produce animal meat by the ton and feed our growing Western population at a profit. Our own “back yard” is rife with examples of horrifying treatment of our food animals which most of us manage to ignore. Ethiopian domestic animals are highly valued on many levels and treated with much greater regard than we treat our “production” animals.
Though I don’t have a solution for our poor North American treatment of animals, and I know I can’t solve any of the world’s problems singlehandedly, I think I can take one small issue that calls to me, and see if I can improve it in some small way. And this is likely all any one of us can do. These posts, the Civet paste and tincture I sell in my shop, and my journey, are an invitation for others to join in, to share and engage in this project with me in any small way they like. Every click, every view, every sale and every share, adds momentum to change. Every conversation stimulated, whether for or against it, brings change closer.
We can’t sit back and wait for others to make the changes in our world. This passive approach only sets us up as victims of the system, leaving us spending more time complaining and pointing fingers at what is wrong, than doing anything to address the problems. We have much more power as individuals than we realize.
As the internet grows, and our technology advances, we are more empowered as global citizens than ever before. Today with the least amount of effort, we are able to create the greatest amount of change anywhere in the world. All it takes are a few well-chosen clicks of a mouse.
The big companies monitor and heed our every click. Our small choices colour the world’s markets and global trends. They even influence the political and economic tides around us. We can complain about this infringement of privacy, as most of us do, or we could use it to our benefit. Every time we click the mouse every time we purchase something, it is noted, recorded and taken into account. Every time we click we’re changing the world individually just a little bit. But what we don’t always see, is that the accumulative power of all these individual choices can be world-changing.
You don’t need to be a perfumer, you don’t have to know what Civet smells like or ever want to smell it. You don’t even have to like perfume. All you need is the urge to do something to make the world a better place, to benefit someone other than yourself. A desire to contribute to something larger than yourself, and all it takes is a conscious click of the mouse, a tap on your phone.
If we clicked less on cute cat videos and games, lurked a bit less on Facebook, and asked ourselves how could we better use our time on our phones and computers, it would be a worthy act of awareness and self-improvement to change our surfing habits to more productive and creative expressions of our higher ideals. Our power nowadays is far beyond what we ever imagined.
So, I say, let’s support the farmers, let’s buy their products, work with them, and give them the means to create a new model from an outdated industry. Let’s not just wait for something to change on its own. If it hasn’t happened till now, it ain’t gonna happen. Ever.
Let’s stop the decline in the Civet population and perhaps even take a little step in saving the disappearing forests and green spaces of Ethiopia. We live in a tiny, lush, apothecary’s garden in a vast galaxy that provides us all our food, fragrance and medicine. Let’s all take care of it. Believe me, Ethiopia is not as distant as we like to think. Let’s pay the farmers more for their product, not less as we have till now, not because they’re asking but because it’s the way it should be.
Let’s give this ancient and rarest of Nature’s treasures the value and esteem that it deserves, and give the farmers the rewards and return they should see for their efforts regardless of what country they live in, or how poor their economy is. I have no doubt we will quickly see our animal welfare standards manifest on the other end. But, nothing will happen till we are willing to work with each other.
P.S. if you are not sure what to do next. Below, you will see a plethora of clickable buttons. Take your pick. Go wild. “Like”, Tweet, Repost, Reblog, Share, leave a comment or come browse my shop on the right. Have fun and know, every click counts, and you can make a difference in the world.
Well. Looks like I’m moving, and leaving Canada.
I say “looks like” because at this point I can’t see exactly how I’m going to get there. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other, one packed box on top of the other, filling one garbage bag at a time, and tackling logistics one issue at a time. I figure if I keep going I will find myself at the other end, and it will be good.
Packing up 40 years of creative work as a sculptor, craftsman, herbalist/apothecary, perfumer and impaler. Tools materials and finished work, plus 20 years of parenting and a trail of photos, artwork, and report cards.
Of course, it’s mostly cool and useful stuff which makes it easier to give away or sell. But still, it’s stuff, and every piece has an invisible string of responsibility back to me, depends on me, and should be addressed by me.
Friends have been a boon in letting go of things while helping me keep the business rolling.
I have set them up with tools, stills and water baths, beakers and flasks, furniture, and materials that need an appreciative home. With any luck, I’ll be able to do one last distillation of Wild Ginger before I leave. An opportunity to demonstrate how to use the stills to their new owners. If you are close by and would like to lend a hand, I can use all the help I can get. You might find something you could use and help us both by giving it a home…
Another feature of these exchanges, is that all these friends are gardeners, herbalists or natural perfumers and have offered to step in to help manage the Teaching Gardens and Apothecary’s Garden in Churchill park in my stead. This responsibility, and what to do with my cat were 2 unresolved stresses from this move. Though I hope I’ll be back early summer to address continuity and future growth in the garden, it is a relief to know there are those who would carry it forward in the right spirit if I was wasn’t around.
This is my one-hundredth post.
Averaging about one a week for two years. There is a rhythm and prose to the timing with this move. Something old ends. A new cycle begins. I only have a feeling for where this is leading, and that will do just fine for now.
I have learned so much in the 2 years I’ve written here. I have met many incredibly talented, inspired and inspiring people through this blog and my Etsy shop. I have found kindred spirits all over the world and made new friends for life. People have written me profound and touching words of appreciation and support, the kind of words that make all the challenges feel worthwhile.
To those who are placing orders over the next month, bear with me. I have no idea how I’m going to keep the business running while I shut down on one end and start from scratch on the other. Especially through Christmas sales. I’m aiming for “seamlessly”, counting mainly on momentum, agility, intuition and trust, (which keeps me from getting paralyzed by the vertigo of dread and the sheer scale of what I’m trying to do in the time I have to do it)..So, I’m not looking down at this point. This move takes up all the time between opening my eyes in the morning and closing them at night. That and drinking coffee. I keep meaning to play a few minutes of Halo 4, but alas, no time!! If business continues to grow as it has, I’ll get an X-Box on the other end.
Why am I moving and where to?
Still in my 60th year, my second Saturn return has pushed and pulled me for two years now. It has tossed me back and forth, up and down. Spun me around then back the other way. If I was using a washing machine metaphor then I would say it hasn’t been on the delicate cycle. It has shaken the change out of my pockets. So change it is. I get it.
I am moving to Israel. It positions me only 3 hours from Ethiopia and Somaliland where my Frankincense co-ops and suppliers are located. My friend and essential oil distiller, Professor Ermias Dagne is based in Addis Ababa, minutes from the airport.
Recently the opportunity arose to work directly with an Ethiopian Civet farmer. This is big news!! An Ethiopian supplier with good quality Civet paste and an ambition to modernize and develop the Civet business, has offered to partner with me to create ethical and cruelty-free Civet products. He has a Civet farmer who wants to work together on this. This is the first scenario that doesn’t require I do it all myself. (That really was a daunting thought, and the only visible option when I returned in the spring from Ethiopia!). Being so close to Ethiopia, I will have much more time and flexibility to work with the Civets and could be directly involved in the operation. Again, “Ethical Civet” may not be possible, but we won’t know till we try.-See my posts- Ebb and Flow and Ethical Civet a glimpse from the mountaintop.
My mother just turned 90, and my father is not far behind. Now is a good time to hang out with them. Before I accrue any regrets.
Shipping from Israel is very reasonable and puts Canada Post to shame. It costs over $8.00 to ship one 10 Ml. bottle of essential oil from Hamilton to Toronto. A distance of 60Km.
It costs $1.90 to ship the same bottle 6000 Km. from Israel to Toronto and only takes a couple of days longer to arrive. Such a drastic reduction in cost can only be a good thing.
I will be close to the sources of fragrances I adore. I could visit Nyktaris who harvests Labdanum using traditional methods in Crete, the Mastic farmer’s co-op in Chios, the collectors of Onycha by the Red sea, and will have easier access to the amazing Burserae, Commiphorae and Dragons blood trees of the island of Socrata.
Cypress, Turkey, Persia and other countries were on my imaginary grassroots fragrance tour while raising Nathan and daydreaming about what I wanted to do when he had grown up and left home. That time, apparently, has come.
Well then, here’s to the fool, the adventure, and the journey. Here’s to new beginnings and the next 100 posts.
Though I hate to open on a negative note. I’m going to anyway :-).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a month and a half of silence since my last post, I believe I am back. It has been an oddly difficult year leading up to my 60th birthday last Sunday. For the most part I felt like I was sloughing through waist-high molasses to get the smallest thing done. Thank god for the consistency of Nature, and the inevitable ebb and flow of all things. If you can’t fight it, wait it out. As soon as my birth day was behind me, I felt like a heavy fog lifted from me. Still a little cautious, but optimistic, and taking every opportunity I can to build on it.
I returned from Ethiopia in April a bit shell-shocked. Having gained an intimate and first hand understanding of the state of Civet farming, (See the attached WSPA report), I felt disheartened. Effecting improvements in ethics and practices that were deeply ingrained culturally, in a society that was so slow to embrace change, felt daunting and unrealistic. Even their own government had seemed to have given up trying to modernize the cruel practices, what could one foreigner hope to accomplish on his own?
I have slowly regained some composure since my return, spoken with natural perfumers over the past month, and am selling some of the Civet paste I brought back with a message. Can you help? So it’s not just a product, but a call that I hope will be passed on. The treatment of Civets for perfume in Africa, and Kopi Luwak Coffee in Asia is truly barbaric. Boycotting the producers has had the reverse effect intended, these people a frighteningly poor already. They will find a way to survive and I don’t blame them. Removing the little income they have, and turning our backs on them indignantly, did absolutely nothing for the Civets. All we have done is increase the poverty and hardship of people who already suffer from lack, created black markets and back doors for the perfume companies to avoid negative publicity. There must be a better way. Even if it means going in there and getting our hands dirty.
If you want to learn more about Civet culture and farming, have a look at my post- Ethical Civet, a glimpse from the mountaintop. If you would like to buy authentic Ethiopian Civet paste at a very reasonable price that includes a call for your support to help change the current farming practices, contact me or leave me a comment. I will get it in the store shortly.
Ok. On a more positive note, I have 3 new apothecary products and have started working with bone, stone, wood, horn and antler again. Hurray for me! I laid down my tools 2 years ago when I started this blog, part of my second Saturn return and 60th birthday evolution no doubt. Three gorgeous large chunks of Jet, (about 20 Kg.), have kept vigilant watch over me ever since, sitting in my study, whispering all the wonderful things I could carve and turn from them. Not letting me forget they were waiting for me and there was no way I could get them out of my life until I made something spectacular from them. I wonder if Jet is ruled by Saturn astrologically? Likely so.
So my lathe is now set up and turning lovely little incense/moustache wax spoons out of recycled Ebony piano keys. They aren’t finished yet, but looking promising.
I formulated a great new summer moustache wax. “Abyssinian Twirling Wax”. Made with oleoresins of Frankincense Frereana from Somaliland and Frankincense Rivae from Ethiopia. Not only does it keep its hold through hot and humid weather, smells great, but it trains and “perms” moustache hairs even better than my old “Solid moustache wax recipe”.
I now have the very rare co-op harvested “Maydi” or Frankincense Frereana from Somaliland for sale and will do a post introducing it very soon.
Will be posting “Pet Medic” to the Etsy store this week, a safe, natural skin healing ointment for most domestic animals and pets. Made “Astrodynamically” using a triple extraction of fresh Calendula petals, it was originally intended for baby’s butts, but so many people were thrilled it worked so well on their pets, I figured I would go with the flow.
I now have an all-purpose bdsm crème. If you don’t know what that is then just skip to the next item….
One fulfills the needs of the community. Whatever that community might be.
I think my 60th birthday gift from my Self, is a vision of bringing together all the seemingly disparate parts of my long life, my incarnations, into a cohesive whole. That’s really all I wanted to say for now.
Oh, and I will be at the Apothecary’s Garden most Saturday mornings until further notice, so if you have any gardening, herbal or apothecary questions, and if you would like to help grow the Teaching Gardens with us, you know where to find me.
My apologies to all for the long silence. Especially to Jane, Genie, Theo, Hassan and all those who I had hoped to visit in London on the way back. After 5 weeks, 50 hours of flights and delays, over a month of sleeping on cots and floors, I am home, in my own sweet bed, sheepskin and velvet, purring cats, and it’s good being home again.
This was my second trip to Ethiopia following a winding trail, on a quest for “Ethical Civet”. An ethically produced, and cruelty free, ancient, medicine and fragrance material. A classic ingredient in traditional perfume making for centuries. I have hunted, researched, emailed and phoned. Flown, driven and walked many miles, and met many dead ends over the course of the past 4 years to see what could be done, and what has been done to humanize the industry for our use, and find out if it is at all possible.
The civet Civettictis-civetta– Called “Zbad” in Arabic and other local languages, is an ancient symbol and totem animal of Ethiopia. Considered by many the only type of Civet to yield a high quality perfume ingredient. A name always uttered in the same fragrant and descriptive sentence that has defined Ethiopia for thousands of years,
“Frankincense, Myrrh and Civet”.
Said to be one of the gifts The Queen of Sheba brought King Solomon in their day, and thought by some to be the third rare, fragrant gift the “Magi” brought the baby Jesus, (ZBD and not ZHB, Civet and not Gold), each often worth more than its weight in gold. Zbad is also used on occasion as a word meaning a “Gift” in the old testament. Food for thought.
Many have inquired about sourcing ethically produced Civet paste and absolute. Before I go any further, let me say, ethical Civet paste is possible, BUT, to the best of my knowledge, is NOT available yet, and it will not happen on its own. Not to our western ethical and humane standards. If you would like to buy the next best thing, Civet paste that will support the development of a sustainable and cruelty free industry, please look at the bottom of this post.
As far as I can see, humanization and modernization can only come to be, through the initiative and ongoing involvement of outside interests working directly with the animals, and in tandem with government branches and farmers. It will only happen through our involvement.
Though a western ideal that conflicts with local culture and traditions of Civiculture, it would not only benefit us, but directly benefit the animals, Ethiopia’s rapidly shrinking forests and natural habitats, the traditional Civet farmers, and the local economy.
Standing atop a peak past Bako in the Oromia province this last journey, I could see a “Model” Civet farm in the distance. It was a possibility glimmering on the horizon. I could also see the many obstacles along the way. It would be a challenge to create such a thing. Not something any one person could reach on their own without substantial resources, commitment, local and foreign support.
A large structure housing spacious and modern cages. A place to bring responsibly trapped and tagged Civets from local forests, for a 6-8 month period of research and collection of musk. An opportunity for researchers to study them in captivity and in their natural habitat.
The facility worked with conservation, forestry, legislative, and research sections of government and universities to study, preserve and conserve rapidly shrinking green spaces and wildlife habitats, while practicing humane alternatives to traditional Civeculture methods, and developing the highest quality export products.
The Civets are traditionally kept in tiny tubelike wooden cages they can barely move in, for life. Poorly cared for and traumatically relieved of their musk every 9-12 days. (Many do not survive the harsh trapping methods or the first extraction of musk). The farmers are so poor they usually cannot feed the animals properly, and most can’t afford medical help for the animals let alone their own families. Their living conditions are indeed abhorant and cruel.
This model farm had modern veterinary and laboratory facilities, operated as a center that could provide instruction, subsidised cages, food, humanely trapped and tagged Civets, supervision and veterinary services. It had its own lab where raw Civet paste was tested for quality and Civetone levels, and processed into absolute for the perfume industry. A side of the business and a revenue, that till now has always been in the hands of foreign “developed” countries.
As an ethical, natural and cruelty free perfume ingredient, it could generate much more income for the farmers and the country. It could be a model of a model farm, and duplicated in different areas of the country where Civet farmers and co-ops were already established. Answering to the western world, with the power to monitor and confirm ethical and cruelty free practices, it could transform established practices to the benefit of all.
There were a couple of other disturbing things I noticed while I was up on that mountaintop. Ethiopia’s green spaces, wildlife and old growth forest were quickly disappearing. Eaten up daily for lumber, charcoal cooking fuel, low yield, ox tilled agriculture, and grazed to the ground by millions of goats, cows and sheep. There was no roadkill on the highway, an occasional dog, but no wild animals left to cross the road. There was an odd silence that way.
A joke.Why did the Civet cross the road? It didn’t, there weren’t any Civets left.
Our planet is a very small garden in a big universe, it belongs to all of us. We are all affected by every tree felled for charcoal or agriculture, every animal that suffers or loses its habitat, every green-space is our responsibility. Poverty, disease and strife anywhere in our world is our business. It is our world. All of us. Space, borders and ownership, all distinctions are illusions. We are born from one living dynamic organism of which we are all intrinsically a receiving and contributing part, we are woven in to the fabric of this planet wherever we are. We can’t afford to look the other way.
Due to the connections and experience of my most gracious host, and co-conspirator, the esteemed Professor Dagne, of Addis Ababa University, we were able to accomplish much more than we had hoped for this time round. The professors enthusiasm, contacts, knowledge of the of the land, physically, historically and bureaucratically , yielded an abundance of new information and resources, which will take me some time to digest and share here. So bear with me, this might take a few posts.
The culture of keeping Civets in Ethiopia, the techniques and practices used to produce the best and the most Civet paste from the animals, are still cruel, primitive and truly barbaric by our standards. They are also deeply entrenched traditions handed down from father to son for generations. Based as much in culture and religion as superstition, they conflict directly, and at every turn, with our ethical standards for the treatment of animals. To gain a better understanding of why this is, here is an excellent study.
Below, is one of the most influential, damaging and accurate reports done on Civet farming in Ethiopia. Written by Mike Pugh, a representative of the WSPA in 1998, it is not the earliest expose’, but gives an idea of what precipitated a worldwide boycott by western consumers and sent the perfume companies into subterfuge and denial. On the bright side these reports also resulted in some excellent studies through the University of Addis Ababa, and ongoing efforts on behalf of the Ethiopian government to reform and modernize these practices.
Our western need for ethical and cruelty free animal products came head to head with the beliefs, methods and traditions of Civet farmer families. We have been at a stalemate ever since. It has been a lose, lose situation. While chemical replacements for Civet absolute are available and used to varying degree in the perfume industry, they too have their shortcomings. I hope a trend towards natural perfumery and chemical free lifestyles may lead us back to establishing ethical and sustainable sources for all our fragrant and herbal needs.
Regardless of government efforts, directives and incentives, it has been difficult for traditional Civet farmers to change their ways. Deeply ingrained traditions, societal and cultural norms and deep poverty in these communities all add to their inability to establish new and modern practices. It has been challenging for local agencies and regional governments to facilitate and support farmers through a transition to modern methods. They haven’t given up, but could definitely use a little help and support.
Due to our boycott of unethically produced Civet products, many traditional Civet farmers abandoned Civiculture to pursue less challenging markets such as Coffee and Chaat. I don’t believe this really solved the problem. There are still no winners here, not human and not animal. The Civets that are still farmed, supply a grey market in China and Korea, (I assume a backdoor to the large French Perfume companies who don’t want any direct link to unethical practices), and likely do not enjoy their captivity to any greater degree as a result of our boycott. I believe we may have made things worse. We pointed out the problems, but we were not there with the needed solutions and support.
Similar ethical issues are mirrored in Indonesia where captured Civets are kept in tiny cages and fed a diet of mainly coffee beans to excrete the very lucrative and lately famous Kopi Luwak Coffee. I haven’t studied this phenomenon in any great depth, but it appears to me it presents identical ethical issues around the treatment of the animals. A very elusive animal, this “Ethical Civet”. My hope is, that if an ethical model can be developed for Ethiopia’s Civet farms, it can be duplicated, or legislated and enforced in Indonesia. Win, win. Win, win. Win.
Through our continued efforts the past years, our failures and successes, Professor Dagne and I may have an opportunity to initiate something that decades of western boycotts and petitioning against animal cruelty have not been able to do. There is talk of setting up and operating a “Model Farm” that would involve both local and foreign interests. It’s only talk at this point, but I want to put it out there in the community, and see if there is in fact any real and tangible interest in ethical Civet products.
I believe we can do some good here, all of us. I believe that doing some good, is what is really called for. Our wild medicinals, aromatics, animals and plants are threatened all over the world. We have to each do what we can to preserve our natural bounty before it is too late. I believe that greening and tending, healing the farthest reaches of our world is only as far as the mouse on our desk. A click on our phone.
I worry that Nature in Ethiopia is not doing too well, though it may not yet seem obvious. I worry we are losing the old growth forests all over our world, the havens for medicinal and aromatic plants, indigenous species, animals, insects and the Civets of our world. I worry that the green regenerative oh so fertile and womanly spirit of Ethiopia is slowly losing ground. That we will only notice our loss when it is too late. And it will be Our loss when it happens.
Needless to say, we all know there are many things in the world that need to change. Sometimes we wait for others to change them, and sometimes, we see an opportunity to change them ourselves. None of this can happen without global community support. Without conscious consumerism and individual activism. Nothing will change without many voices speaking up. Without your voice.
I did purchase a quantity of Civet paste this last trip.It is notan ethical Civet product, but, that being said, the one factor that will determine viability of change in the industry, is whether there is enough western interest in ethical Civet products. This is gauged by our willingness to financially invest in the concept of ethics and sustainability. It is our interest, expressed in our western currency that makes and shapes the world around us. If we can’t show them that we are offering more than our criticism or advice, there will be no incentive to develop ethical Civiculture in Ethiopia. Our boycott of Civet products has proven detrimental to all involved. It is time for a different approach to the problem. It is not going away on its own.
I am not talking about billion dollar corporations investing here, but about individual activism. You and I and many more like us that want to put in our vote on what kind of world reflects our values. What kind of world we want to see and manifest. The power of many individual voices and small purchases is absolutely world changing.
So, you and anyone you know that might want a say in rectifying this ethical stalemate, are invited to show the Ethiopian government, farmers and Civet industry, the world really, that we do care and are willing to do something about it.
I have priced the Civet paste at $10.00 a gram, on Parr with the lowest retail price I could find. Every gram sold is a statement that change is possible.
It is pure and high quality, authentic and genuine. It’s about as close as anyone can get to actually collecting paste from a Civet’s butt in person. Anyone who has tried to get real Civet paste knows it is not easy. Between adulterants, chemical and aromatic substitutes, fillers, fakes and unscrupulous middlemen, it can take years to find the real deal or discern the differences in quality.
Please support this project with your “likes”, shares or purchases, your comments or ratings. You can reblog or repost, or link back to it through your own blog or website, and please do pass it on to anyone you think might have an interest. If there is no interest, market or demand for an ethical alternative, no input from the public, it will not be possible, and in my opinion this unfortunate and sad situation will never change. Without our intervention, I believe we will all end up facing a great loss.
You can also contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Herbal Apothecary, Wildcrafter, Sculptor, Craftsman.
Owner of Apothecary's Garden and Fairtrade Frankincense LTD. Providing a selection of fresh & fair trade, ethical and sustainably harvested Frankincense and Myrrh species, local and exotic fragrance materials, unusual essential oils, Natural perfume ingredients and animal essences. Astrodynamic plant Preparations, Herbal salves, cremes, tinctures and oils.
Tested on Animals and Babies, Children, Parents and Old Folks.
A sap for resins, ritual, Sun, Moon and Mother Nature.
A journal about Herbs, plants and processes. Recipes, plant Alchemy and our Relationship with Nature. Natural fragrance and medicine. Astrodynamics, rhythms and cycles, Medical Astrology, traditional Wisdom. Herbs and Healing, Science and Spirit. Oh and moustaches.
Fairtrade Frankincense explores our ancient and modern relationship with Nature's fragrant, medicinal oleoresins and provides a link joining traditional harvesters directly with our western market in fair and mutually beneficial commerce.