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A fragrant moon over Addis


First night in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, reclining in a hammock, chewing on some Chaat and gazing at the moon at 2,355 meters above sea level. She feels closer somehow. Supporting a huge halo, I’m comforted by her unchanging presence no matter where in the world i might be.
The blend of fragrances in the air is nothing short of exotic.
Sewage in a small stream that runs through the city provides a complicated base-note that blends in and out with mysterious and foreign florals, the smell of burning cook fires, punctuated by rich hints of Frankincense Papyrifera wafting from homes and the massive, always-busy church up the street. An engaging and ever-changing composition.
All in all, a wonderful way to shake off the claustrophobia and travel fatigue from the day-long journey getting here.
image Vending incense and resins on the street. Boswellia Papyrifera on the upper left.

This morning the burnt, rich scent of fresh roasting coffee beans leads the parade up my nose. Most everyone buys them green and roasts their own over a charcoal burner. A signature smell of Addis.
My Airbnb host Henok, is an artist, radical and kindred spirit. His home feels like many of my own over the years. Life is good.
The always busy Piazza.

The morning was perfected with a coffee with my good friend Ermias, AKA
professor emeritus Dagne, who relishes the campus coffee even more because it is the cheapest in town. A perfect place for us to meet and to catch up on projects, future and past.
Though officially retired from teaching, professor Dagne is still very active in the university of Addis Ababa and there is usually a flock of grad students not too far from him.
He is one of those warm, authentic, magnetic, energetic people that walks with a slight tilt forward as if constantly on his way somewhere. Always busy. Always inspired, he is as much an artist as a scientist, and as much an apothecary and medicine maker as a distiller of essential oils. I’m honored to call him my friend.

Professor Dagne has offered his support with the upcoming Samburu project in neighboring Kenya.
One of the critical issues in marketing the resins the Samburu women collect is properly identifying which species they are.
While the Myrrh they gather  is generally accepted as Molmol, Myrrh or Commiphorah Myrrha, and the other as Hagar, or Opoponax, AKA C. Holtzii, the Frankincense types they bring back from their nomadic travels, are simply called “Light” and Dark” incense.

The global academic community has decided that only Boswellia Neglecta is to be found in North Eastern Kenya and neither of these fragrant oleoresins matches the description of B. Neglecta oleoresin as we know it. One is a clear golden yellow, often in tear form, and the other arrives in dull grey/white lumps.
So, a mystery awaits. And some work.
Professor Dagne will receive both plant pressings and their paired resins, and perform Gas Chromatography tests on the resin samples to help us identify them.

Over the past 100 or so years, 7 distinct species of Boswellia were registered in this area of East Africa. Over the past few decades they were all relegated to the species B. Neglecta S. Moore. I don’t know if this was based on similarity of leaf and flower and reasonably safe guesswork, but if the resins of these trees differ from each other so radically, it is worth a close look. And smell. Likely a taste too. Having access to sophisticated equipment that has not been available till recently could be the determinating factor in answering these important questions.
I will try to keep everyone updated as these projects unfold.

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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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As the dust settles-Riding the wheel of the year

After 3 months of packing and letting go of “stuff” on different levels, I’m on the other side of my decision to leave Canada and move to Israel. The flight was long, but relatively painless, and I’m back to work 2 days later which suits me well.
Though I hate to admit it to my friends who are in the midst of a classic Canadian Winterlude,  they were right, the weather here is amazing. Not only perfectly warm without being hot, the air caresses you with a sensuous signature fragrance that is hard to describe. Every country has one. That first foreign inhalation, as you disembark the airplane. Here it is a musky female earthiness, like nature, releasing her first spring breath mixed with bitter olive and orange blossoms. Israel by birth is ruled by Taurus and Venus. Need I say more…

Horseshoe nail Jewellry- Wheel of the year-Dan Riegler 2000
Horseshoe nail Jewellry- Wheel of the year-Dan Riegler 2000

I timed my flight to coincide with the traditional sacred day of Imbolc, (or Tu’bishvat?), “The first stirrings of spring”. It is a cross-quarter station of the sun in the cycle of the year, midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox. A symbolic act synchronizing a major life change with the bigger cycle of life on the planet. Like catching a ride on the wheel of the year.

What to pack, to ship, or leave behind was an ongoing dilemma. I crammed 95% tools and materials into my 3 Stanley toolbox “suitcases”, both for apothecary work and carving, with a sentimental grabbing of Ebony, Jet  and antler. I topped my permitted 70 kilograms of luggage with lab-glass wrapped in socks and tee shirts. Our priorities become apparent when the crunch is on.


Fresh co-op harvested Frankincense Frereana- from Somaliland-" Maydi or Yemenite Chewing Gum"
Back in stock. Fresh co-op harvested Frankincense Frereana- from Somaliland-” Maydi or Yemenite Chewing Gum” is an exquisite material for making incense, perfume, cosmetics and medicine.

To my delight, I discovered the rare, fragrant and oh so chewable Frankincense Frereana was waiting for me here. As of now, it is officially, and finally back in stock. I can get the first distillation of pre-ordered Boswellia Frereana essential oil up and running! WooHoo!!! With any luck I will record a video of the process and share it..

Though I didn’t write much during the whirlwind of moving, I did finish some new and exciting products for the store in the few weeks before I left. I didn’t have the time to write them up properly, so I left posting them till after the move when life would be a little calmer, (which should happen any time now?)

These are the new items I will post in the Etsy shop over the next while. I will describe them in greater detail in the store, but for now here is a glimpse.

– Frankincense Frereana Rejuvenative Creme.

Frankincense rejuvenative creme
A Frankincense Frereana rejuvenative creme using the whole oleoresin, not just the essential oils, simple whole and no fragrance added. A traditional cosmetic and anti-aging product that includes the therapeutic properties of the resin as well as the essential oils of Boswellia Frereana.

Spruce Oil, for DIY chest or muscle rubs & moustache wax recipes

ruce Oil-an Astrodynamic preparation
Spruce Oil-an Astrodynamic preparation. Ready to use straight or in your own formulas. The messy sap and oil extraction process already done.


Frankincense Neglecta Heart and chest rub

Frankincense Neglecta oleo Extract
Frankincense Neglecta oleo Extract. My “Heartsease oil”. Nothing external compares to the calming effect this has on the physical pangs of anxiety, heartache, panic, and tightness of the chest from stress. My  topical and natural Xanax. Reports indicate it might help with the constriction associated with asthma attacks as well. It may be due to the presence of Incensole and Incensole Acetate, but, studies are conflicting on the constituents of Boswellia Neglecta at this point.

5-fold Perfume Tincture of Muskrat Musk glands.

Muskrat 5-fold musk gland tincture
5-fold Muskrat musk gland perfume tincture. Fresh material macerated in the the menstruum/alcohol 5 times.

The name says it all.

Red Pine Ontario
Red Pine Ontario

 Red Pine essential oil-Artisan distilled

I distilled this from the oleoresin of local Ontario Red Pines about 6 years ago. It resurfaced during the move. During distillation, I reserved the first 20% that came over, and kept it separate, leaving a slightly sweeter essential oil minus some of the terpene notes. Like many resinous essential oils, it improves with time. I have about 20 10 ml. bottles left.


That’s it for now. Time to address the inevitable red tape and bureaucracy , open a bank account, get a local phone, find new suppliers, rates at the post office, and to pack and ship orders to those of you who have been waiting patiently for this move to end. I can’t wait to dig into work, tincturing, distilling and getting the lab up and running at full speed again!

The ride might have been hairy till now, but with all the wonderful medicinal and aromatic materials to work with close by, both in Africa and the Mediterranean, it’s also bound to be well worth the upheaval and change.

Ahh, new beginnings..



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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…



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

Civet Perfume Tincture 2014

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

Fire in the lab
Fire in the lab

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

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

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

White Spruce essential oil

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

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

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

Harvesting Spruce sap
Harvesting Spruce sap

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

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

The tincture of Civet

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

Civet Perfume Tincture 2014
Mmmmm  Civet Perfume Tincture 2014

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

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

I’m a very lucky guy.


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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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Maydi-The King of Frankincense

Boswellia Frereana, Maydi

Perhaps one of the least known Frankincense types in the western world, but one of the most prized  in Arabia and Africa, Boswellia Frereana is native to the Somali Puntland the Somaliland highlands, and is their pride and joy. In Somaliland and neighboring regions, Maydi is considered the King of Frankincenses.

With a sweet and warm amber fragrance highlighted by spice, and floral notes, Frankincense Frereana differs from most other types of Frankincense with its pure oleo-resin content and lack of water-soluble gum.

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

Harvested from fewer trees over a much shorter period during the year, Maydi, or Boswellia Frereana, is not as abundantly available as the other more familiar types of Frankincense. It is bought up quickly by the Coptic church, Saudi, Omani and Yemenite dealers, and much of it is used domestically.

Maydi is burned in Somali homes to sweeten the air after cooking, to add fragrance to clothing and used on special occasions. The Somalis have a  traditional amber type incense they “cook” up, made from Frankincense Frereana and other local ingredients called “Uusni”. A recipe I hope to eventually discover. ( Any insights or advice would be greatly appreciated!).

The west sees very little of this precious Frankincense. Averaging around  99% oleoresin with barely any water-soluble gum content, (as compared to 20% -35% in Boswellia Carterii/Sacra and other types), this Frankincense is all fragrance.

Maydi is used in its unprocessed state as a natural chewing gum,  locally and in Arabian nations, for this reason it is also known as “Yemenite Chewing Gum”. Due to its lack of water-soluble gum, it does not deteriorate in the mouth with warm saliva, but holds its form indefinitely, releasing healing oils and resins for extended periods of time. Even after chewing  B. Frereana for hours, the used oleoresin still releases heavenly fragrances on the hot coals. Legend says Maydi trees were transplanted to Yemen many decades ago, but the demand for Boswellia Frereana in arabic countries far exceeds quantities grown outside Somaliland.

It is an easy to use ingredient in Bakhoor, powder and formed incense, and due to its near complete solubility in alcohol and its affinity with oils, it is perfect for making , cremes, salves, tinctures and many other natural cosmetic, fragrant  and healing products.  Akin to Elemi, B. Frereana is an excellent oleoresin for mature skin and signs of aging.

For the incense makers and connoisseurs out there, another little known fact about Frankincense Frereana, is that as an incense, it burns clean on the charcoal, pools with the heat and melts into it, leaving no charred water-soluble gum or unpleasant secondary fragrance as do other Frankincense types and Myrrh.

Boswellia Frereana essential oil has a light yellow colour and a unique set of defining chemical markers. It has an olfactory signature distinct from all other types of Frankincense. It is high in  α-pinene (38%), p-Cymene 11%, a-Thujene 8.1%, limonene (2.4%), sabinene (2.6%), trans-verbenol (4.2%) and bornyl acetate (2.8%), contains  dimers of α-phellandrene and close to another 30 odd compounds in varying amounts. These consituents are present in the, Oleo, or volatile, hydro distilled essential oil portion. The resin portion of this fragrant species holds many more therapeutic and fragrant constituents, similar to other well-known and esteemed healers such as the various Frankincense types, Mastic, Spruce Fir and Pine.

I have started purchasing from a cooperative of families and tribes that have tended their Maydi, Myrrh and Sweet Myrrh, (Opoponax) trees for generations in the highlands of Somaliland.  Collection of the resins is a yearly tradition the whole family and tribe participate in, and through which they earn their yearly wage.  Besides their value as a source of livlihood, these trees are an important part of the tribe’s culture. Often trees are reserved unharvested  for decades to be bestowed  as dowry or as an inheritance.

Due to past conflicts in the area there is no government legislation, control of pricing, or supervision of trees and harvest. No big brother to watch out for the harvesters. The harvesters have been susceptible to theft, vandalism of trees, and unscrupulous buyers.This has changed since establishment of the co-op, and money is regularly being reinvested in schools, medical facilities, communication and transport.  This is a social and economic endeavor worthy of our support.  I hope to visit the cooperative this winter if at all possible, while working in Ethiopia on the ethical Civet project.

Fresh 2013 harvest of Frankincense Frereana oleoresin from this co-op is now available for sale in the Etsy store. You can click on the photo below, or in the sidebar to check it out.

Fresh co-op harvested Maydi- Frankincense Frereana
Fresh co-op harvested Maydi- Frankincense Frereana

Showcasing the versatility of Frankincense Frereana, I have just made a batch of a new moustache wax, I named it “Abyssinian Twirling Wax” and posted it in the Etsy store if you would like to try it out. It is a unique summer Moustache Wax,  which easily creates and holds moustache embellishments and twirls, even through hot summer days and overnight romps.  The fresh Frankincense resins in this wax help train and “perm” facial hair. The fragrance of fresh beeswax, Cocoa butter, Maydi, Frankincense Rivae and Labdanum is heavenly.

Another new “Maydi” product posted in the shop, is my Frankincense Frereana Rejuvenative Creme” which utilizes the therapeutic in both the essential oils and the resin portion of Frankincense Frereana. We have come to think of a plant’s essential oils as representing the healing properties of the plant, but in the case of our oleoresins, we miss out on what is often 95% of the healing compounds available to us. For this reason, I consider this a “Holistic” product that maintains the natural synergy between the oils and resins and brings us a product much closer to its natural form.

Abyssinian Twirling Wax. A Frankincense based Moustache wax.
Abyssinian Twirling Wax. A Frankincense based Moustache wax.

And  for T.B. and all the rest of you that are waiting patiently for Part 2 of “How to distill essential oils from Pine, Fir and Sruce saps”, Hang in….. I’m almost there :-).


Posted on 3 Comments

The Traveling Apothecary

My apologies for the long delay posting here.
My intent was to deliver part 2 of “How to distill essential oils from spruce and pine sap” a long time ago.
But life doesn’t always unfold the way we plan it. Instead, I find myself in Israel with no pine sap and without my distilling equipment.
I am improvising with this unexpected scenario, and trying to catch up on many of the plans I had made for March and April.
It is the spring equinox, and a time for new beginnings. Sometimes chaos is the ideal material from which new endeavors rise. I hope this is the case.

I feel I haven’t caught my breath or found my ground in over 2 weeks.

Thanks to everyone for the great response to the last post. Especially the “Preppers” and “Doing The Stuff Network”. I would love to do a followup on the many practical uses for our native saps. Things everyone should know how to do.                                                                  If indeed we find ourselves at the end of the world, apocalypse upon us, I still expect everyone to treat nature with due reverence. We may not get a second chance to do things right. If we do, and we blow off Nature again, well, we probably deserve extinction. Of course we could change how we are doing things now, and avoid post apocalyptic anarchy completely,,, Time will tell.

I imagine I could write a “how to” on distilling Frankincense essential oil, a popular topic on search engines, and an oleoresin readily available here. The distillation process for both saps is close to identical,  so I could kill two birds with one stone. Of course barring the above mentioned apocalypse, thankfully,  I won’t have to physically bash in any bird skulls. Another reason to change our attitude towards Nature asap.
Let me ponder the idea of a post covering the distillation of both Frankincense and Pine oleoresins, and I will get back to you.
In the meantime, I will entertain you with photos of wild flowers blooming on desert mountains, in arid Wadi beds, and on beaches of southern Israel, eye candy from the Negev.

So. With the intent of finding a way to finish my post on distilling essential oils from tree saps, I will leave you, and promise to post again soon.

Wishing a happy and productive Spring to all.

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