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Lollygagging with Lemurs

Well, I have my tickets to Madagascar. Now I deal with the anxiety of Oh My God what have I done, what am I forgetting to pack, and make sure you buy new underwear in case the plane goes down in a ball of flame.

A huge, warm thank you to everyone who contributed to this project through their donations and purchases in the Apothecary’s Garden Shop. Buying this ticket is not something I could have accomplished without the support of a community that shares in a vision of fair trade and sustainable practices around the world. I don’t know what awaits on the other end of this flight, but there seems to be no lack in the world for little opportunities to make things better and help correct a system that has revealed many flaws.

As many of you know, I believe that directly involving more indigenous harvesters, farmers and communities in our global trade will not only raise the quality of our medicinal and aromatic products in the west, greatly improve the quality of life in remote marginalized areas, but can help preserve and nurture our green spaces across the globe. Indigenous people are perfectly positioned to steward their regions and resources. All we need to do is support them.

We need to rebalance the riches in the world so everyone benefits when we make a purchase, not just our huge corporations and middlemen and start taking care of the planet’s ecosystems before we run out of these precious commodities. Can you believe that we have destroyed between 60% and 80% of Madagascar’s forests and wildlife habitats already?! 

Besides exploring the rich array of aromatics in Madagascar, meeting farmers, harvesters and exporters, my host and I hope to build a small distillation unit with the goal of training local artisans to produce high quality essential oils and direct more of our Western dollars to their communities.

Since our days of colonisation, our practice is to buy natural resources from third world and developing countries at the cheapest possible price, process and add value to them ourselves, and distribute the wealth and profit among our corporations and middlemen. This approach keeps struggling economies poor and developing countries under-developed. It is a model of business based on western profit alone and we can change it.

The harvesters co-op in Somalia

Photos-Frankincense Frereana, or Maydi growing out of the almost vertical rock walls in Somalia. Sorting and packing Boswellia Carterii, Frereana and Commiphora/Myrrh resins. (Photos courtesy Barako Frankincense co-op.)

On a different note, my Somali co-op managers have notified me their shipment of a wide selection of local resins has finally boarded the plane on its way to Toronto.  Keep your eye on the shop. Though I would love to stay here and wait for it, I’ll have to make other arrangements in case it arrives in Canada before I do. If possible I will have Joanne pick it up.

Joanne??

Joanne

Yes, this is also a good time to officially announce I have a helper. Joanne has been packing and shipping orders, communicating with customers for over 4 months now. She is doing an amazing job and becoming indispensable, (which is a little scary).

I saw her curly salt and pepper hair bobbing down the street from my window one day, and there was something powerfully familiar about her though I had never met her. I went to the back porch to see if she would turn the corner and within 5 minutes she was up the staircase interviewing me for the census. Basically she has worked for me ever since. I remembered her from the future of course.

So, while I am away in exotic countries lollygagging with Lemurs and snorting snuff with the Samburu Mamas, it will be Joanne who takes such good care of your orders. When orders are perfectly packaged and arrive with lightening speed, it will be Joanne you can thank. She goes by the name Jo, or Jojo, or Jojojo when I catch her polishing off the last of my coffee thinking its hers.

joannshopcrop2
Employee of the year, helper and apprentice Jo. Be nice to her while I’m away. 🙂

The Samburu women’s Frankincense co-op

While booking my ticket to Madagascar, I was able to finance a flight from Madagascar to Kenya so I can also  work on the Samburu women’s resin co-op project. This left about enough in the bank for a smallish sandwich. But it felt good.  Looked crazy, but felt right.

In Kenya I will post the long-awaited Black and Light Boswellia neglecta to Hamilton. I apologize to everyone for the long wait, but we are still working out logistics and looking for systems that work best for the folks in Kenya. As they say,  “All the beginnings are difficult”.

While there, we will distill a test run of Frankincense neglecta and discuss value-added products the women can make with their resins to boost their income. It’s not a lot of time, but I plan to return for a longer visit in January.

Sorting Frankincense Kenya 2016
The whole family pitches in to sort the Frankincense-Kenya 2016-Photo M. Kalliokowski

That’s about it for now. I will keep everyone updated here when internet is available

I’m off to do some undergarment shopping then.

 

Dan

lord-siva-on-his-tao
I will introduce this image formally in the future. For now let’s say it is drawn by Jane Adams, a talented, artist, poet, magician, mystic and friend. You can see her work at janeadamsart.wordpress.com and be sure to check out Aquariel from which this image is borrowed.
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Chocolate dreams, Vanilla beans, Cinnamon, Cloves and Lemurs-Madagascar 2016

 

Grading Vanilla beans
Grading Bourbon Vanilla beans in Madagascar

I have been offered the opportunity to spend two weeks working in Madagascar this October. Short notice and an unexpected expense, but full of potential. I will stay with Vanilla farmers, distil an unusual Elemi, and look at creating value-added products and direct sales that will benefit harvesters, farmers, and their communities. If I can get myself there.

Madagascar is the world’s largest supplier of Bourbon Vanilla and provides us a good portion of our Cloves, Cinnamon, Peppercorns, Ginger and other spices. It is also home to some of the world’s finest Cacao and unique resin-bearing trees that grow nowhere else. All in all a paradise for perfumers, herbalists, apothecaries, distillers and the aromatically inclined.

vanilla-pods-ready-for-picking
Almost ripe Vanilla beans

Traditionally, the trade in medicinal and aromatic plants is profit driven with a focus on the bottom line alone. Little thought is given to fair trade practices that benefit harvesters, farmers and their communities. Sadly, there is also a great lack of foresight when it comes to sustainable harvesting in the wild, and agricultural practices that preserve or benefit the local ecological balance.

We are slowly eroding our forests and natural landscapes, losing not only our medicinal and aromatic species, but our wildlife through mismanagement. Madagascar is home to some of the most unusual and unique wildlife on the planet and already losing species through our carelessness. As with my ongoing work with harvesters in East Africa, my goal is to create or source both fair trade and sustainable aromatics and provide them as directly as I can from the harvesters/farmers to my customers.

Since for the most part, I fund my life and all my projects through sales in my Etsy shop, an unexpected trip means getting creative with sales. To this end, I am taking advantage of the shop’s coupon and discount code option to see if I can get enough money together to pay for this trip in the next couple of weeks. It’s short notice and a gamble, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. If I can’t make it to Madagascar this October, that’s OK too and I will definitely visit in the near future.

I am offering a rare 10% discount in the shop for the next 2 weeks. You can use it as often as you like, share it with friends or family and pass it on. The discount code is Madagascar2016  and you will be prompted to type it in at checkout. Here is a link to the shop-Apothecary’s Garden-

After publishing this post I have received numerous comments that asked for the total amount I need for this project and requests to make available an option to donate rather than purchase something from my shop.

I need a minimum of $2,000.00 cover the cost of tickets and some of the basic expenses while I am in Madagascar. In response to the second request I am inserting a Paypal “Donate” button below and in the sidebar of the blog.

If I do get to Madagascar this October, I promise to do my best to post pictures when internet is available, and of course, on my return there will no doubt be aromatic treats circulating among my customers and internet friends.

A deep and warm thank you in advance for everyone’s support for my work, both financial and moral. I could do none of this without you.

Dan
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P.S. After you donate through PayPal, you will receive a receipt on behalf of New Dawn Herbal Apothecary. This is the brick and mortar version of Apothecary’s Garden, it is one and the same though the names are different. Dan

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Essential oils-Art, Ethics, Trust & Adulteration

Distillation Woodcut
 The past few decades we have seen a burgeoning market in herbal health related products.   Natural/botanical perfumes and cosmetics, aromatherapy and massage therapy have all contributed  to a booming Western market and a consistent growth in our use of essential oils.
essential-oils-market
Courtesy of grandview research.com 

Along with this market growth, has come an increase, or at least increased awareness of adulteration routinely practiced by large-scale brokers, manufacturers, and marketers of essential oils.  Vast sums are invested  in marketing  and advertising , crafting assurances of purity and highest quality,  yet too often we hear of essential oils that are adulterated with less expensive materials and diluted with carrier oils to increase profits. Corporate trust, once found, is often fleeting.

In fact, from what I can tell, the art of adulteration has become so sophisticated, it is often impossible to detect foreign, less expensive materials, and diluents in essential oils even with the latest analytical technology. Like lucrative forgeries in any field, there seems to be just as much incentive to beat new tech as there is to develop it.

The hidden price of  essential oils

Besides a lingering doubt around purity, there is also a hidden price that comes with this increase in our demand for essential oils.  Ethics in trade, sustainability, social and environmental integrity can easily be compromised to bring us our natural aromatics while keeping the profit margin high and costs low.  Market growth is mirrored by higher volume production methods which can lead to over-harvesting in the wild, or mono-culture practices which displace indigenous plants and animals, reduce biodiversity, and invite the use of herbicides, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers. If not thoughtfully implemented these practices also have negative  local economic and cultural impact.

Monoculture-Spraying Soya
Monoculture-Spraying Soya

Disconcerting as this is, it is important to keep in  mind that this is a system we created. It is a global machine of commerce, designed, fueled and directed by us alone. It does exactly what we ask of it.  There are no puppet masters controlling the world, just us.

Armed with this knowledge, more of us are demanding transparency and higher standards from those who procure or manufacture for us. I believe we have a growing voice and influence on the system, though change is slow, we are adjusting our purchasing practices to support those who provide better quality products, higher standards of  ethics in business, production, manufacture, social and environmental accountability.  We in the West are perfectly positioned with our numbers, relative affluence, and privilege to make any changes we choose.

With global and instantaneous communication, the collection, collation and implementation of online data, each mouse click, query, preference and purchase we “input” online works to shape our global marketplace and direct our manufacturers and corporations. The internet is a pure form of global consensus and polling. Just like voting but not yet rigged. Every single click counts. Change could be swift if we all acted together.  This is important and doable, but sadly, will likely take time.

What do we do in the meantime?

Do we have an alternative, besides waiting for enough of us to decide to change the world? Many of us require consistent high-quality essential oils we can trust and use with a clean conscience, and we need them now.

Though the problems of ethics, sustainability, and trust in the corporate world may seem daunting, there is a fast-growing grassroots movement in the Western world that has evolved in part as a solution to the mess and mayhem we created with our industrial revolution, mass production shortcuts, and colonial philandering.

Local, small-scale, conscientious producers in a broad range of creative fields are part of a growing Western trend and are taking an increasing portion of the consumer market in many niche industries .

The number of small-scale farmers,  vintners, craft brewers,  apothecaries, perfumers,  niche craftspeople, and artisans is growing quickly in our culture, and we are increasingly supporting them.

I believe we support them because on some level we would rather invest in quality, craftsmanship, and ethics that reflect our ideals. If given a choice, we prefer to buy from the source and not deal with faceless corporations, myriad middlemen, and indifferent salespeople. Supporting our artists, artisans, craftspeople, small businesses and micro industries is another way we change the world one purchase at a time.

Out of this growing grassroots movement has emerged an alternative to mainstream,  mass-produced essential oils of questionable quality and ethics. These are our  artisan and small batch essential oil distillers.

“One of my mentors once told me the real way to ascertain authenticity is to see the growing plants, the still and ideally be present during distillation and obtain a sample fresh from the still.

Clearly one cannot do this every time for every oil on the list. But we believe that the contact to the actual producer is an indispensable element of every attempt to procuring authentic oils. In our experience adulteration never happens at the level of the producer. The know how to reconstruct, standardize or adjust essential oils is found in the big brokerages who often can sell essential oils for less than they cost at the source”             Kurt Schnaubelt-The human element-Addressing issues around the adulteration of essential oils.

Artisan essential oil distillers are always people with a passion and a focus on quality and craftsmanship. They are most often found tending their aromatic gardens or carefully collecting raw materials from their locale. Most  have a deep connection and relationship with the bio-region and in many cases steward the land fiercely. Like any craftsperson, their products are an extension of themselves, an expression of their values and ethics and fueled by a pride in quality and craftsmanship. Nothing mass-produced or impersonal can be found here. They are the wellspring and the source of these essential oils.

Ring botanicals DF
Douglas Fir distillation. Jessica Ring-Ring Botanicals Oregon

They have mastered their craft and honed it over the course of years if not decades. Their skill is evident in their practice and products, acknowledged by their peers and customers. Their sales grow not through heavy advertising, expensive packaging and marketing props, but from word of mouth and customer satisfaction.

Their products possess  quality and qualities that can never be reproduced on an industrial scale or purchased through a corporation.  Artisan distilled essential oils provide a benchmark for the quality and purity of mainstream essential oils.

A distillation of Rose-Jack Chaitman-Scents of kowing-Maui
A distillation of Rose byJack Chaitman-Scents of knowing-Maui

Artisan essential oil distillers are a vital part of our native aromatic and herbal arts, our indie perfume and aromatherapy communities.  These men and women make up an underground and grassroots movement that we have invoked and called into being with our need for transparency, quality, ethics and sustainable practices in our essential oil market.

Erik Zvonchenko & Dan Riegler-Viridis Genii 2016
Artisan distiller Erik Zvonchenko, (on the right), of Cascadia Terroir in Washington with one of his copper alembics. Distillation workshop Viridis Genii 2016

Though many would rather just be distilling and not bother with the stress of selling or marketing themselves, their products are available if you know where to find them. I will  provide links to some North American artisan distillers in the next few weeks so you can purchase their essential oils directly..

Dan

In the meantime here are some tips on evaluating your essential oils for signs of adulteration. From Prevention.com

 

 

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Medicinal Frankincense FAQ

 

Frankincense Papyrifera ground in a steel mortar in preparation for extraction.
Frankincense Papyrifera ground in preparation for extraction.

Let me open by saying there is no special “medicinal’ type of Frankincense. Don’t be fooled by marketing catch words like “Medicinal” or “Therapeutic”. All Frankincense is medicinal, in fact, everything nature produces is medicinal. Your morning oatmeal, the banana you take to work, the dandelions and “weeds” in your yard.  We don’t need corporations to re-brand, re-market and sell us what is already ours to use. What we do need is reliable unbiased information, a little independent thinking and some guidance on how to best use plants to enhance our lives.
I will also mention here that there is no type of Frankincense that is more sacred than another, regardless of the name a botanist gave it. Nature, in her seamless orchestration of planetary life and brilliant diversity, offers no single facet or expression of Herself that is more, or less sacred than another. Just saying.

Since I have spent the past few years studying and working with Frankincense resin, essential oils, trees and harvesters, my knowledge on the subject is a bit more than average. If I am considered an expert in this area it is  a relative thing. I continue to learn and grow daily, as do you, as do the recognized “experts” in any field.

I mention this because as a group, we can be complacent, seeking and accepting authority and “expert” opinions without question. This is one way we give away our power and effectiveness in the world.  I urge you to research and study all topics independently and reach your own conclusions.

All the information of all our cultures and ages is at our fingertips in our new global brain, the internet.  Nurture your own expertise and knowledge and share it authentically with others. Test whatever you learn against your experience, logic, and your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t. You can quote me on that. Also, You will always be the leading expert on You. Get comfortable with it. Explore it.

Medicine for the masses

With a growing, aging western population, a worldwide increase in chronic inflammatory diseases and cancers, the need for anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer  “cures” has skyrocketed. Big Pharma is hot on the case and investing millions in the search for patentable molecules it can own and sell back to us. In some cases, it will simply repackage and resell us what we already have in our backyard. The appearance of new medicine, mostly sourced from traditional ethnic pharmacopoeia, is driven by profit and not transparency. This has led to some inaccuracies and bits of misinformation that are conveniently geared to sell certain products. I will try to correct some of them here.

OK, on to Frankincense…..

Web_DSC4158
Looking quite neglected, a Boswellia neglecta tree I met in Samburu county Kenya.

What is Frankincense?

A short answer is- Frankincense and Myrrh are the oleo gum resins exuded by the Boswellia and Commiphora shrubs/trees respectively, 2 members of the Burseacae, a plant family that includes aromatic trees such as Palo Santo, Ylang Ylang, Proteus and others. They all have a network of resin-bearing ducts that distribute often fragrant oleo gum resin used by the plants for defence against insects and fungi and the repair of damaged tissue.
Frankincense and Myrrh have been used for incense, perfume and medicine for thousands of years in Asia, Europe, Arabia and Africa.
Off the top of my head, a short list of therapeutic applications traditionally associated with Frankincense would include- treating arthritis, rheumatism, ulcers, asthma, bronchitis, gastrointestinal disorders, tumors, cancers, infertility, moods, anxiety/depression and memory loss, improving brain function, addressing aging skin and flagging libido.

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What are Boswellic acids?

  • All types of Frankincense are composed of varying proportions of  water-soluble gum,  resin, and essential or volatile oils. These resins and volatile oils are lipophilic and dissolve in non-polar solvents such as vegetable oils, alcohol and petroleum distillates.
  •  Boswellic acids are resin acids and make up between 30% to 60% of the resin portion of Frankincense. They can be compared to the rosin we use on violin bows and in paints and lacquer. Though Pine rosin is made up mainly of Abietic acids and contains no Boswellic acids, neither is soluble in water.
  • Recent studies have indicated that the Boswellic acids in Frankincense possess anti-inflammatory and anti-Cancer properties.  Some of the cancer cells they have shown promise and effectiveness in treating are prostate, late stage ovarian, bladder, colorectal, brain tumors and many more.Take the time, do the research, you will find these studies online.
  • Boswellic acids are only present in the resin portion of these oleo-gum-resins, not their essential oils. Though all essential oils can be said to have therapeutic properties, the essential oils of Frankincense contain only trace amounts of Boswellic acids.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boswellic_acid
  • You can literally knock yourself out with Frankincense essential oil without getting a meaningful amount of Boswellic acids.

Boswellia-Frankincense-Comparison-1024x7682

  • Which types of Frankincense contain Boswellic Acids ?

  • So far, research has shown the following species of Frankincense  contain Boswellic acids-
  • Boswellia Carterii-Somalia
  • Boswellia Sacra-Arabia
  • Boswellia Serrata-India
  • Boswellia Papyrifera-Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya
  •  It is more than likely that Boswellia Thurifera from the Red Sea area and B. Elongata from Socrata also contain these compounds though analysis of the resin has not been done to date.

    What do Boswellic acids do?

  •  Boswellic acids have been found to inhibit leukotriene synthesis and act as anti-inflammatories. They modulate/regulate the behavior of Leucocytes which are one of the body’s responses to trauma which create inflammation and subsequent pain.(http://bme.virginia.edu/ley/).
  •  Boswellic acids have been shown in studies to be anti-prolific and may also cause apoptosis, (death), in a wide variety of cancer cells in the laboratory. There is, however, little “In vivo” research at this point. They need to be tested on people.
  •  Though one resin acid in particular, AKBA or acetyl-keto-beta boswellic acid has been the focus of anti-cancer studies, I believe our use of isolated molecules such as AKBA extracted from complex compounds is what has gotten us into a lot of trouble already.
  • All the compounds in Frankincense have their role to play and indeed likely play more effectively together than separately. In my opinion, we are better off using the whole oleo gum resin therapeutically than dosing ourselves with high amounts of concentrated and isolated compounds.

    What is the best way to use Frankincense and Boswellic acids for their therapeutic properties?

  • Frankincense Serrata is used traditionally, whole, in powder, pill, poultice and oil,  for arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, asthma, ulcerative colitis, bronchial issues various cancers and as an ingredient in skincare and beauty products.
  •  In Arabia Frankincense has been chewed for millennia for oral care and general physical/mental well-being. It is taken as a tea, often steeped in water overnight and sipped during the day for inflammations, coughs, congestion, and colds. The grounds should be consumed to benefit fully from the oleoresin.  The recipe is 1 teaspoon course ground Frankincense, in a covered  cup,steeped overnight in room temperature water.
  •  In Islam Frankincense is traditionally consumed by pregnant women to increase the intelligence, (and bravery), of their offspring, and is generally considered to contribute to one’s mental acuity, emotional stability and spiritual clarity. It is sometimes used as a general tonic and restorative.
  • Boswellia Sacra, B. Carterii  and B. Frereana from Somalia have also been used  to address issues of fertility in men and considered aphrodisiacs. Arabian lore indicates that large testicle shaped Frankincense tears, (sometimes called Dakkar, from the Arabic word for masculine), are sexual tonics and aphrodisiacs for men, while pieces more vulvic in shape are believed to have similar effects on women.
  •  Though Boswellia Frereana from Somalia does not contain Boswellic acids, it is also a powerful anti-inflammatory used traditionally to treat inflammations of joints, the GI tract and arthritis. Laboratory studies show it can reduce brain inflammation due to tumors, head injuries and stroke. It kills the H.pylorii bacteria which causes stomach ulcers. It is valued as a high-end chewing gum for oral and gastrointestinal health and is one of the most expensive frankincense types available.
  •  Boswellia Papyrifera from Ethiopia/Eritrea/Kenya and Sudan, which is a source of Boswellic acids, also contains Incensole acetate which is considered a psychoactive compound that crosses the blood-brain barrier, reducing anxiety and eliciting feelings of heightened spirituality and well-being. The incensole and Incensole acetate are delivered to us when using the whole oleoresin internally, through pyrolysis, (burning as an incense), and when using the diluted essential oil externally.
  •  Boswellia Thurifera from the shores of the Red Sea has been shown in the laboratory,  to increase the size of rat testicles and raise their sperm count. True :-)!
  • Frankincense is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I don’t have any expertise or information on that subject. However, the Chinese are currently one of the biggest importers of Frankincense in the world.
  •  There are extracts of Boswellic acids available on the market. I can’t recommend one over the other. Most state they are extracted using ethanol and water, suggesting  one can extract them relatively easily at home by removing the water-soluble gum and essential oils.
  • Personally, I believe it is best to keep things simple and the most direct and effective way to utilize this fragrant potent medicine is by ingesting the powdered whole fresh oleo gum resin.  It is useful and clever to take things apart and understand how they work,  however, there is more to the art of healing than funneling orphaned molecules into our bodies. There are many  interconnected complexities in Nature that we simply have not the tools to measure or discern.
  • I take 1/2 to 1 level teaspoon of finely powdered Frankincense with water 3-5 times a day when needed. For instructions and some tips on easily powdering and storing Frankincense see my post-“How to grind Frankincense and other Oleoresins”.
  • To incorporate the Boswellic acid type Frankincenses in oils, salves and cremes, I use one of the following methods
  • How to make an extract of frankincense and other oleoresins.
  • How to extract the resin and its Boswellic acids from Frankincense
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First contact in this Samburu village and market. Negotiating a fair price with the women. One of their few sources of extra income.

Ethics and sustainability

  • I’m really glad you asked. We are quickly losing our aromatic and medicinal plants around the world through mismanagement. If we don’t start addressing this, future generations will have no Frankincense or Myrrh.  If we made educated and responsible choices as global consumers, we could have a huge impact on the world, improving the environment and the quality of life of our brothers and sisters who tend to the garden we rely on. This can happen lightning fast if enough of us care to make a difference.
  •  The increased market demand for these medicinal and aromatic oleoresins is already exceeding the amounts trees can comfortably supply.  Over harvesting, improper harvesting methods, agricultural encroachment, fires and grazing animals, have reduced the number of mature trees in the wild, viability of their seeds, and the ability of trees to reproduce. If I recall correctly, seed germination rate has fallen from 81% to 18% in over-tapped trees. This is alarming.
  • There are areas in Kenya, Somalia and Namibia where Frankincense and Myrrh trees are not tapped and the oleoresins are collected in a most sustainable manner. These practices need to be encouraged especially through preferring these sources to heavily tapped trees.
  • Another critical issue that we stay ignorant of is the quality of life of the harvesters and stewards of our medicinal and aromatic resources. We pay a premium price for their products, yet they often see a minute percent of that price and live with financial hardship, often without proper shelter, food, water, education or medical care. A plan of stewardship could pay harvesters directly, cutting out some of the middlemen, upping their income and reducing the need for excessive tapping. There is no good reason for any person in the world to have a lower quality of life than you or I. There is a flaw in our system, a fly in our Frankincense ointment.
  • Frankincense and Myrrh trees are extremely easy to propagate. Large branches will spring into root with barely a word of encouragement. Planting and stewarding new trees in the wild would ensure a sustainable and lucrative future for the harvesters and guarantee the consumer an ethical, fair trade and sustainable product. How perfect is that! The market for both Frankincense and Myrrh resins and essential oils  is only going to grow and we need to apply a little forethought and foresight before it is too late.
  • I currently work with harvesters in Kenya and Somalia setting up ethical, fair trade and sustainable community-oriented co-ops. These are ongoing projects that will take a few years yet to get up and running smoothly.
  • There are many ways you can contribute to establishing healthier trade in these resins. Foremost by educating yourself, making informed choices and informed purchases. Knowledge is power.
  • You can find suppliers of fairly traded, sustainably sourced products online, or purchase them through my shop.

Dan

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Plant Magic, Mysticism and Medicine-the Viridis Genii Symposium 2016

The Viridis Genii Symposium
Plant Magic, Mysticism, and Medicine

June 3rd — June 6th 2016

sympos

As some of you know, I will be presenting the keynote speech and conducting a workshop at the Viridis Genii symposium beginning of June in Portland Oregon.

The premise of this gathering is dear to my heart and indicative of a growing Western culture that is actively weaving spirit and the sacred back into our relationship with nature.

Capitalism and industrialisation have brought us many gifts, but the price we have paid for our progress is a disconnection from nature and spirit. We wake each morning to a  world focused on material goods, devoid of content, meaning, ethics or spirit. We look at our negative impact on the world, how we treat our food animals and forests, we see increasing global environmental degradation, loss of species, rampant new diseases and we wonder what we as individuals can do to change this.

There are facets of nature that we cannot understand through study or external sources.  They represent knowledge that is esoteric, transmitted directly, purely experiential and deeply subjective. I believe the answers to our current disconnectedness are found here through deep, intimate and individual reconnecting with Nature. A path that is available to us all. Anytime. Anywhere.

Carefully veiled around us, is a world of ancestral knowledge and timeless wisdom. Within it we find ancient mysteries, lost sciences and arts, dormant magic and technology both forgotten and yet to be discovered. It is ours to draw from if we so choose.

One need not be a mystic, mage or super-spiritual person to dip into this well of  mysteries, gifts and insights, to be initiated into a deeper understanding of nature, the cosmos and our place in it. There are no titles or certificates needed or given, no special invitations or secret handshakes. Entheogens are not mandatory and there is no age requirement. Come, open and willing as you are. Bring your passion. Nature turns no one away.

What awaits us on this path as plant people, herbalists, healers, apothecaries, alchemists, wizards, witches, wildcrafters and more, is a broadened understanding of  cosmic and planetary intelligence and life, a sense of place and stewardship, a  connectedness to nature and humanity as a whole and an ability to not only hear and understand the language of nature, plants and animals, but to communicate  and forge mutually respectful relationships. Here we directly experience  shamanism, animism, magic, mysticism and the healing arts of our collective ethnocultural pasts. Here we discover stewardship of our future.

When we connect deeply and intimately with nature and its plants, animals and minerals, align ourselves with its cycles and rhythms, we enter into the presence of the “other”, the genius, the intelligence, the spirit, that which speaks directly to us. With us. This is the Viridis Genii, the Spirit of the green, and we learn her secrets through Gnosis, experiential knowledge- Green Gnosis. She invites us each into deep intimacy with her in her world and her temple of mysteries, if we but ask.

Though radically personal and subjective, there is a commonality of experience that lends us a shared understanding and language. That shared language creates a community. A growing community . This growth could be deemed a movement. This movement can be discerned in other fields and human endeavours.
I believe when viewed from afar, this slow radical change in perception through individual personal experience can be seen as an evolution on a global scale.

The Viridis Genii Symposium is a call, a beacon to any and all who have experienced or seek to experience the mysteries, magic and medicine of nature beyond its physical form. All who have ever felt there was more in the forest than meets the eye.

This is your invitation. I hope to see you there.

Dan

 

 

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Kenya to Canada-Landing at a run

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.

 

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Beautiful and aromatic, unusually large chunks of Ethiopian Frankincense Papyrifera in the shop now.

 

 

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.

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!

Dan

 

 

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Samburu County Frankincense and the mystery of the bicoloured Boswellia

A short update before I return to the Kenyan bush and comunication silence.
Though I’ll focus on the more current events in Kenya with the Samburu women since they are fresh, I will return in the next few weeks to expand on the equally important landmarks of my stay in Ethiopia which are, in brief-

An ethical Civet farm

My meeting with Civet farmers and exporters in Ethiopia was ground-breaking. We had a very productive conversation and co-created a basic plan of action to establish the world’s first model Civet farm that can provide an “Ethical” source for Ethiopian Civet paste and products to the West.
Though only the first of many conversations to come, both sides have their roles to play in the next year to make this happen for the benefit of the farmers, Civets, and the economy of this developing country.

We, in the West, now have the opportunity to be actively engaged in solving the problems and not just turn our backs on them with an ineffectual and counter productive boycott as we have for the past 40-50 years. If you are concerned about ethics in perfumery this may be an opportunity to get involved.

A fair trade in sustainable Frankincense

The second major landmark of my stay in Addis Ababa was meeting with my Somali  Frankincense co-op manager who shares my own vision of fair trade and sustainability.  Working directly with the western market, bypassing middlemen and benefitting the harvester communities with tools, training, education and medical facilities, he has signed yearly renewable contracts with the elders of 5 communities to work in mutual transparently for the benefit of the community and has committed to sell their resins to us. (Another opportunity to get involved in a worthwhile project). He has initiated a replanting program in the wild to maintain ecological sustainability and is working on a  long-term replanting and sapling maintenance program with the harvesters. This co-op will provide Boswellia Carterii, the higher grades of B. Frereana, (which we rarly see in the West), Myrrh and Opoponax.
At the moment we are discussing possible markets in the West and logistics of shipping. Professor Dagne may make his expertise and facilities in Ethiopia available for distillation of essential oils from their resins. I will keep you posted. If anyone has an interest in large amounts of these resins please contact me. For regular retail quantities, keep an eye on my shop.

A sustainable fair trade platform for the Samburu women

As some of you know, the purpose of my visit to Kenya is to help the resin harvesting  women of the Samburu tribe gain greater beneifit for themselves, their families and communities via a fair trade platform and co-op.

Originally planned as a 3 day visit to Samburu County, my host Andre of Indiginous Collective has graciously facilitated my request to stay an extra week in the field to make the most of our work with the Samburu.

We returned yesterday evening from 4 days in the bush so I could catch up on correspondence and other obligations. We drive back up Tuesday or Wednesday to speak with more women about the co-op and purchase their resins.

Death Stalker Scorpion under UV light
Nightly campsite visitors-Death Stalker Scorpion under UV light.

A short description of the last 4 days would be abbreviated as- gorgeous cool mornings and evenings, sun stroke days, pristine semi-arid plains, sand, magnificent mountains, adorable wart hogs,  ostriches, elephants, a thousand exotic birds, hordes of baboons, a ridiculously vast night sky blazing with stars, death stalker scorpions who phosphoresce under a UV light, lions, leopards, dry river beds with Ebony driftwood and not the tiniest shred of plastic refuse, water shyly hiding under the ground and in the desert air, herds of sheep, goats and camels, beaded women, pretty Moran warriors,  biting mosquitoes, big hairy spiders, and hundreds of square kilometers of mixed Myrrh and Frankincense trees growing naturally as if planted intentionally. As far as the eye can see!!

Commiphora, Boswellia and Acacia
Commiphora, Boswellia and Acacia as far as the eye can see. 

The Samburu have not had the exposure or experience with the “Muzungu”, or white person, as their cousins the Maasai. Pastoralists living in isolation and such hot arid conditions, their lives focus around their flocks which are entrusted to the Moran caste. When  the Morans reach about 30 years of age they can marry and a new generation of young men carries on with care and protection of the livestock. Elder men are the decision makers and are looked up to. Women do all the domestic work and care for the families. Work that takes up most of their day.

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Deep in thought, Ystalia harvests resins and is letting other women harvester know about the co-op and new market. She led us to her Boswellia Neglecta trees and other medicinals she collects in the area. Hubby in the background. Lovely people both. Photo Minna Kalliokoski

Our work with the women entails going through tiny remote villages which are basically clusters of oval, round topped homes made of branch, vine, thatch and leather. These “Manyatas” are residence to one or two extended families via dirt roads. Some may see a car once a month and most travel is by foot in the hot sun. Water is fetched from often remote areas though people like Andre are dedicated to creating easy access to clean water for the Samburu and their herds.

Likely the most important and unexpected result of this “tour”, was the wealth of information that was shared with us by the Samburu on the medicinal and cultural functions of many of the local trees, plants and animals. The Samburu have a well-developed medicinal, spiritual/mystical and astrological tradition. They have a strong connection to the planet Venus and their creation myth tells of their origin on Venus before migrating to earth. This is reflected in the Ankh/Venus type adornment worn on the forehead of many Samburu  women.

 

 

  The mystery of the bi-coloured Boswellia resin, Commiphora “Aqua Velva” and a Frankincense tree that squirts essential oil.

 

“Confounded and perplexed I was”, to hear that over the past decades botanists had aggregated 6 different types of Kenyan Boswellia under the name Boswellia Neglecta S. Moore. Currently it is considered by many to be the only Frankincense in the area. This in itself was enough to make me question the larger picture and accuracy of accepted distribution of Frankincense types in Kenya. So far, I belive we have come across 5 unique species of Boswellia in only 4 days.

If this discrepancy was not enough, imagine my raised eyebrow when I was repeatedly told the Samburu women collected 2 types of “incense”,  a black and a white from the same tree! Yes, 2 resin types from one tree. I had to get to the bottom of this.

Frankincense-Boswellia Neglecta
Frankincense-Boswellia Neglecta as know today.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting B. Neglecta personally, it is known and accepted as a blackish, grainy, fragrant oleoresin that appears in a lumpy form similar to our northern spruce and pine saps, and not in the clear/opaque aggregate of tear shapes associated with other Frankincense types.

So how can both clear light tears, and most definitely solid black tar like resin be collected from one tree I ask?
We spent 4 days in the semi-arid broiling sun of Samburu county, speaking with harvester women from numerous villages and were taken to the hills where one woman gathers her Frankincense resin.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered for myself, with my own eyes, hands, nose, and mouth, that indeed, this particular Boswellia yields not one resin, but 2 distinct and disparate types of resin with completely different characteristics and fragrances!
When injured, the tree’s first response is as expected. It produces globules of a clear slightly golden oleoresin, sticky and particularly fragrant which harden into translucent tears.

 

Boswellia Neglecta-fresh sap
Boswellia Neglecta-fresh sap. 

 

However, what happens next is completely unexpected in a Boswellia tree.
The tree creates traumatic resin ducts, (TRDs), and changes the chemical composition of the oleo resin to a “Callus” resin product much like our conifers. A grainy therapeutic living bandage that not only protects the exposed surface of a wound, but facilitates the growth of special tissue and bark from the edges of the wound towards the middle. If a branch is stripped, it forms a barrier between the stripped portion and the healthy part of the branch protecting it from the spread of decay.

In our Spruce and Pine families this unique resin product is often of a brown colour. In the case of B. Neglecta this callus resin is black as pitch and of a rich deep woody frankincense fragrance. The callus resin of  the Spruce tree is a potent medicinal used to heal old wounds, ulcers on the extremities and slow-healing surgical wounds in Scandinavian traditions. One can only wonder what medicinal properties lay undiscovered in the callus resin of B. Neglecta.

This post is likely long enough for most people’s attention span, so I will till next time to tell you about the fragrant and brilliantly blue/aquamarine coloured Commiphora/Myrrh tree which I have dubbed “Commiphora Aqua Velva”. Its bracing fragrance does indeed remind one of the aftershave, but of course, it is much nicer :-).

At that time I will share another cool find. A unique and as yet unidentified Frankincense tree that squirts pure essential oil when pricked and is used by the Samburu as a fragrance and sexual attractant.

Many thanks to the talented Minna Kalliokoski for her photography and all her help on this trip.

Till then

Dan

 

 

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A Frankincense update and a bit of crowd funding

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.
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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.

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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.

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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 dnriegler@gmail.com 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 dnriegler@apothecarysgarden.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.

Frankincense Rivae

· 30 ml.-85.00

· 100 ml. $230.00

Frankincense Neglecta

· 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.

Dan

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A fragrant moon over Addis

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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.
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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.
Dan