I have just been invited to Northern Kenya to work with the women of the semi-nomadic Pastoralist Samburu tribe with their wildcrafting business and help set up a fair trade platform that will make their lives a little easier, especially through the unpredictable droughts. As it is in many Patriarchal societies, life as a woman is no easy thing. Doing this work has been a dream of mine.
As they move with their animals through the semi-arid regions, these women collect Frankincense Neglecta, (black and white varieties) , Myrrh and Opoponax, (Commiphora Myrrha and C. Holtziana), resins and Gum Arabic. They have set up a co-op, collection depot, and I’m going to see if Apothecary’s Garden and Fairtrade Frankincense can help get their resins out to us directly at a fair price to them, and do so while sustaining the plants, their traditions and lifestyle.
Would you like to be part of this project?
This invitation came from an intriguing source-Andre and Maria of Indigenous Collective.org. An organization which listens to the land and the tribes, creating bridges, developing and testing new technologies around water, energy and nutrition to serve the Samburu, not change them.
In the words of Andre-
“THE PASTORAL FOLK OF THE WORLD USUALLY GET THE SHORT END OF DEVELOPMENT …. THEY ARE OFTEN REGARDED BY THEIR GOVERNMENTS AS BACKWARD & UNEDUCATED YET, THEY LIVE THE MOST SUSTAINABLE, BALANCED LIVES WITH SUCH A VERY LOW IMPACT ON THEIR ENVIRONMENT. BY DEFAULT THEIR PAST SURVIVAL SUCCESSES DEPENDED ON THEIR INHERENT ABILITY TO MOVE …. NOW, WITH SEDENTARY LIFESTYLES EMERGING THEIR SOCIO-ECONOMIC DYNAMIC IS RAPIDLY CHANGING …. THERE IS OFTEN A VERY SMALL WINDOW TO INTERVENE WITHOUT DISRUPTING AN ANCIENT CULTURAL HERITAGE.”
We need to change how we source our wild medicinals and fragrance materials. Many of them cannot be grown commercially in orderly rows and tended fields. And even if they could, in many cases vast tracts of forest and vegetation are destroyed to feed our growing appetite in the west. We are disrupting and losing delicate ecosystems around the world as our capitalist machine churns out billions of tons of products for our food, fragrance and medicinal needs.
Many of these natural resources, such as our precious fragrant and medicinal Frankincense and Myrrh species, Galbanum, Sandarac, Gum Arabic and many more will only grow in the harshest of conditions and in the most inaccessible areas.
Harvested most often by semi-nomadic tribes who see little of the premium we pay for these exotic treasures. Many of these clans and peoples live traditional pastoral lifestyles which haven’t changed or adapted to modern western society. Most receive a pittance, in cash or barter for small amounts of the basic necessities of life. Often a long chain of middlemen profit from the harvest till it reaches the corporations who process, package and distribute the finished products to us at prices astronomically higher than the return the harvesters see.
Sure, there are lots of things wrong with our world. It will never be perfect, but nothing will change until we choose to change it.
These indigenous roaming people across our little globe are the stewards of some of our most precious medicinal and fragrant plants. Often these trees have socio-cultural significance to these cultures and their value is appreciated far beyond the income they can generate. They are our stewards and the caretakers of our land, our medicinal and fragrant resources around the world. Our shared Apothecary Garden
They are the only ones who can monitor, care for, propagate and maintain these treasures, make sure future generations can also enjoy them. WE need to take care of these people, our planet, its stewards and wildcrafters. Regardless of perceived distance. We need to make sure our plant’s caretakers are being compensated properly, that their needs are met, their lifestyles and traditions are supported.
I believe this is much more than an opportunity to source ethical resins and help out a remote minority. It is part of a global movement of ethics, sustainability and change.
I have had a look at a list of plants that are in the area used by the Samburu. There are many other plant species that will interest the perfumers, incense makers, herbalists and horticulturists out there. Plant material that could be ethically and sustainably collected and shared with the world. Shared in a way that would also sustain the stewards.
I have a feeling about this project.
I have invited a photographer to document this process with the Samburu. Besides her professional work, she is willing to pitch in any way she can. With time, I can cover the cost of her flight and services through sales in my Etsy shop, and through direct sales as I come across fresh oleoresins, but it will take a while. If anyone reading this feels compelled to contribute financially to this project, any assistance would be deeply appreciated. I am resigned that I can’t do this alone.
I am starting this trip today! Israel, Jordan, Ethiopia then Kenya. Kenya will be the jewel. Each place offers rare and unique fragrant/medicinal materials. Some I will ship back to Canada to stock my Etsy shop. But I am going to try to fund this trip as much as I can by selling resins directly from the countries of origin. If possible in 1/2-1 Kilo packages. If you would like to stay abreast of opportunities as they arise, send me your email address to email@example.com and I will keep you updated.
In Ethiopia I am also meeting with Civet farmers, travelling to Jima which is a big center for the collection and export of Civet paste to the perfume world. I will be speaking with them about modernizing their farms and bringing them up to the ethical animal welfare standards we require. Wish me luck….. For more on this issue please see my posts-Ethical Civet, a glimpse from the mountaintop and Etical Civet, a view from the foothills.
Here is a partial list of the oleoresins I hope to ship to customers along the way. Let me know here in the comments section of any questions or requests, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send you updates on events, resins and other treasures as they happen along the way.
B. Neglecta-(White and black varieties)
C. Holtziana-(Hagar-Opoponax) Kenya
C. Giladensis-(Balm of Gilead/Mecca)
Red Sea Operculum-Onycha
Also some unique ethnic bakhours and incense mixes as I come across them such as Bakhour al Aroosa, the rare and breathtakingly beautiful Somali wedding incense and Uunsi, the traditional Somali “Amber”, Ethiopian Bakbooka incense blends etc.
Essential oils of some of the above oleoresins, locally distilled in mid-size quantities via DHL. (Local post will often not ship volatiles)
If you feel inspired to contribute financially to support and facilitate this project with the Samburu women, please send payment to my PayPal account at email@example.com. You do not need a PayPal account to do this. My gratitude is yours in advance.
My own network is not the most extensive, SO PLEASE SHARE THIS WIDELY!!
Since I field questions about the products I sell in the shop, including Beaver Castor with increasing frequency, here are a few thoughts on the subject, and how to best make your own high-quality perfume tincture with it.
Beavers are a familiar animal especially here in Canada. They not only symbolize productivity and industriousness, as in being “Busy as a Beaver”, they are a national symbol of Canada. They appear on our 5 cent coin, originally made from, and called a “Nickel”, forever associating the Beaver with our mining industry and our Nickel mines.
This pairing makes sense when one considers that Beaver dams are perhaps nature’s main line of defence in filtering, de-toxifying, de-acidifying and rehabilitating our waterways, wetlands and watershed. Cleaning up after us.
Contrary to popular belief, Beavers are not trapped for their scent glands, but for their waterproof pelts, and not every trapper will remove them.
Castor has been used medicinally in native and European traditions of the past. Most notably by the famous Alchemist/doctor Paracelsus as an antipyretic, to reduce fevers,
In Ontario, the trapping of beavers is regulated in an effort to conserve and protect both wildlife and the ecology of our wetlands. Cruel leg-hold traps that can leave an animal suffering till the trapper does his rounds are illegal.
Beaver pelts have been part of our northern economy for centuries, and were a trading item for indigenous people since time immemorial and well before written history. They still provide a livelihood for professional and aboriginal trappers.
Though it is difficult to portray this busy bucktooth rodent as sexy in any way, Castoreum is one of the most exotic, sensual and sexy fragrance components there is. In the genre of Ambergris, Deer Musk and Civet , Castoreum brings an alluring animalic sensuousness to perfumery that is not reflective of anything obvious in the Beaver.
In traditional perfumery, Beaver Castor is highly valued as a fine and distinguished fragrance ingredient lending warmth, sensuality and endurance to perfume blends for many centuries. The list of popular, familiar and prestigious perfumes that contain Beaver Castoreum is extensive. A simple Google search will reveal many well-known names.
The Castor sacs produce a substance that both male and female Beavers use to mark territory and is thought to contain pheromones that act as sexual attractants. Along with 2 adjacent oil-producing glands that provide a waterproofing material for their fur, the Castors are tucked well away, flanking their pelvic area.
Beaver castor has a deep, rich, persistent, leathery, woody, spicy scent. It can often have smokey undertones and hints of the forest trees and mosses. It is used as fixative, a base to middle note in “Masculine” perfumes, and in leather accords which it can produce almost single-handedly.
In North America it is permitted for use in food, where Castor derivatives have been used as flavouring. It’s presence is most noticeable in chewing tobaccos and snuff.
Castoreum has an aromatic affinity with the essential oils of many Northern trees and plants which make up its environment. Birch, Pine, Spruce, Cedar and Fir, Sasafras, Sarsparilla, mosses, ferns and even Wild Ginger pair in an easy way with the fragrance of Beaver castor. Add to this list Patchouli, Tobacco, Vetiver, Coffee absolute, Jasmine Sambac and other heavier floral scents and we are likely just scratching the surface of promising Castoreum compatibilities in perfumery.
While the Castor sacs are fresh, they contain a yellowish mobile fluid. This is the product that used to be termed “Castoreum”, though the term has been expanded to include all liquid products made from this substance. Because this liquid scent is fluid, any damage to the thin outer membrane of the fresh sac can lead to a loss of fragrant material. This most often happens during the delicate process of removing the well-hidden sacs and must be done with precision and an experienced hand. Any nicks, tears and cuts, lead to inferior quality sacs which contain less castoreum and fetch a lower price.
The dried Castor sacs are divided into 3 grades of quality based on their size and condition.
Grade 1 are the largest and plumpest sacs, with no nicks, cuts or loss of contents.
Grade 2 are smaller specimens and are flatter with some nicks, cuts and holes.
Grade 3 are the smallest sacs made up mostly of undulating layers of tissue that produce the castor and little actual scent material. Most often they have serious cuts through the sac where the liquid scent escaped over time.
While fresh, the contents or Castoreum is a yellowish goo of a pungent, acrid odor. The process of drying changes the colour and transforms the scent.
In general, Beaver Castors need to dry for one year before they are ready to be used for perfumery. After a year they will continue to age and their scent will soften further with time, both when dry and as a tincture.
If after a year of drying, the plump #1 Castors are not completely dried, they may, at that point, be sliced and exposed to the air to dry further. Only when completely dry and free of moisture should they be processed for a tincture or absolute.
Instructions for making a tincture of Castoreum.
Take-1 part dried and minced Beaver Castors. It can be processed in a blender with a measured amount of alcohol which will be deducted from the total amount of alcohol in the tincture, or simply finely diced with a knife.
10 parts 95% alcohol. (Some prefer a more dilute tincture and opt for a 1:20 ratio of mark to menstruum, and this is an option. 1:20 will yield a less concentrated and lighter coloured product. If for your own perfume use, this is fine as long as you know the ratio and exactly how much of the original material is in the perfume. Keeping clear notes allows us to duplicate a formula precisely.)
Combine the 2 in a wide mouthed airtight jar. Leave headroom in the jar, at least 1/3 of the space above the liquid should stay empty for circulation. (Evaporation and condensation). 1/2 is closer to ideal.
Store in a relatively warm place.
Shake at least once daily.
After 4 to 6 moon cycles, When the menstruum is no longer darkening and the material no longer lightens in colour-
Filter your tincture through a fine filtering medium. This could be as simple as pouring it through an unbleached paper coffee filter and the funnel-shaped holder these filters are invariably built for.
When all the material, including solids have departed the maceration vessel and the last drips have exited the fiter-
Fold over the sides of the paper filter to cover the wet material and press down upon them with the back of a clean spoon or utensil till no more liquid drips down. Take care to press gently but firmly and avoid tearing the wet paper which could allow solids into your already filtered tincture.
Leave your jar to sit undisturbed for a few days so fine particles can settle to the bottom.
You can either-Syphon or Pour off the clear liquid and store it in an airtight bottle.
Keep in a cool dark place. This will keep for many years and even age and develop in subtleties of scent as time goes by. As it does..
On your vessel of finished tincture, or in your workbook/formulary, (or both), mark down the date your tincture was made and any other particulars pertinent to the tincture, Moon phase, planetary associations and considerations, how long it sat macerating, ratio of alcohol to castor, where the castors were from, etc.. Don’t leave anything to memory. Take clear notes!!
I personally often skip the filtering process and when the tincture is ready simply let the solids sink to the bottom. When I need some tincture, I gently draw it off the top of the menstruum without disturbing the sediment. This method gives me a clear tincture and allows the material to continue maturing with the menstruum. This may make no difference at all to the finished product, but I enjoy the thought of it continuing to age, develop, and impart itself to the liquid over the years. If I have no pressing need to separate the mark from the menstruum, I usually won’t. Perhaps I suffer from a bit of laziness, or maybe it reflects a subliminal hope that I too will continue to age, mature and develop gracefully with time…
Dried Beaver Castor lends itself well to oil based perfumes, and will infuse Jojoba oil with its scent for use in a non-alcoholic perfume. Instructions are identical to those above, just replace the alcohol with an enduring oil such as Jojoba which has a very long shelf life and little odor of its own.
There is a growing number of suppliers online that cater to a growing community of natural perfumers, aromatherapists, apothecaries and small independent perfume houses. Most households have a few favourite essential oils in their medicine cabinets.The market for essential oils and natural fragrance materials is booming. With this growth in the industry, one unfortunately also finds an increase in adulterants and sub-standard products. Fixed oils are the usual adulterants to essential oils and can be exposed by their reluctance to evaporate from blotting paper, leaving behind an oily residue. Over time, I have also sniffed some appalling absolutes of both Castor and Civet that obviously contain little if any of these precious materials.
That being said, there is also material of excellent quality to be found, and some very conscientious, usually small scale producers of perfume ingredients. One needs to learn, and develop a sense of discernment which will only come with time and experience. As a general rule, if the price seems too good to be true, it usually is.
More often than not, paying more for a good quality product is immeasurably better than getting the cheapest essential oil we can find and ending up tainting the quality of our own product with an inferior or adulterated essential oil, absolute or tincture. Bearing this in mind, it is equally true that some larger companies that loudly tout their essential oils as “special”, or “Therapeutic Quality”‘, while charging exorbitant above-market prices for them are often equally guilty of robbery and fraud.
Working with artisan distillers and smaller companies allows us to build a sense of trust and a relationship with the supplier/distiller that can only add to our experience, enhance our ability to discern between excellent and poor quality while making the world a slightly better place. We all need to support the little guys if we want to see a change in our world and break away from impersonal and faceless corporations whom we rightly blame for many of the ills and injustices in our world. We must also keep in mind they are there by our own choice, fulfilling our needs and unless we make different choices, seek to fulfill different needs, little in the world will change.
So, when you find a supplier, merchant, artisan or craftsperson you trust, make sure to show your appreciation, and support them any way you can. The world will not change for the better without them.
It’s been almost a year since my last visit to Ethiopia, after which I wrote the post, “Ethical civet a glimpse from the mountaintop“. I must admit, when I returned home I felt overwhelmed, as it seemed the only way a model ethical Civet farm could be established, was if I moved to Ethiopia, built it, and ran it myself. Much as I do enjoy a creative challenge, the task felt daunting.
Today the project feels a little less challenging and not as far off in the hypothetical distance. This shift is due mainly to the support I have received the past year from around the world and to a great degree from the natural perfume and incense communities. A network is evolving, and I believe it could help carry this project to fruition.
Since writing that post, I have found an experienced Civet farmer, willing to work with me to establish a modern civet farm that will conform to our western standards of ethics and animal welfare. I plan to visit and speak with him in the next couple of months. It may lead to a model farm, or may not, but it is a step in the right direction. A successful project would greatly benefit the farmers, the wild and captive Civets, the local economy, and, I hope, bring awareness to bear on the shrinking natural habitats of Ethiopia. It would also guarantee an ethical source of pure and unadulterated civet products for perfume and medicine.
Incentive to write this post today, is due in part to a link that indie perfumer Marcus McCoy of House of Orpheus, posted regarding his use of my civet tincture in his perfume, and the negative response he received. This makes for an ideal opportunity to recap and refresh, and share the project’s progress since then.
Our western boycotting of Civet production in Ethiopia over the past decades has yielded no positive results. It has had little effect on the captive Civet’s quality of life, and the native Ethiopian Civet population continues to decline. Since starting the boycott in the 70’s, after one of WSPA expose’s, no significant change in the treatment of captive Civets has evolved. I believe it has done more harm than good, and a new approach needs to be instituted to reverse the negative impact of the boycott and create a more ethical product, while preserving the native Civet population, guaranteeing a living wage for farmers and exporters, and slowing the loss of Ethiopia’s green spaces..
What the boycott did, was create a black market for civet products, where large international perfume and traditional medicine companies could purchase Civet paste and its derivatives, through foreign buyers hidden from public view.
It increased our reliance on chemical fragrance replacements which present their own set of negative side effects that impact us individually and globally.
Through lowering the demand, the boycott created a stasis in the price of civet paste, leaving international buyers to pit exporters against each other for the lowest possible price.
Today, the civet farmers often live in abject poverty with insufficient income from the animals to properly feed and care for the Civets or their families. They cannot afford medical attention for their families or veterinary care for their animals. They are simply in no position to institute or accommodate the extensive changes we are demanding from them. Many have abandoned the practice that has been a proud tradition in their family for generations.
In short, justified as we may feel, to indignantly boycott and suspend our financial support to the traditional and cruel treatment of Civets, I believe it was more of an emotional knee-jerk response on our part, and not a well thought out and responsible action. A boycott can be an appropriate response to affect change in some cases, but it is not a universal tool of political and economic advancement. In this case it was, I believe, a poor course of action that had no positive effect on any front and caused more damage than good.
With our boycott and the absence of market demand, the efforts of the government to modernize the industry over the years have encountered ongoing resistance from the farmers who have no incentive or anticipated return forthcoming from changing their traditional methods.
The farmers are tired of being studied and researched. They need a market for their product. Something researchers and government ministries cannot promise them. This kind of incentive and motivation can only be offered by us, the western buyers. Shall we do something about this? This is the only question there is.
I believe we need to admit we made a mistake in our reaction, learn from it, and take the time to properly address the problem in a way that is beneficial to all. In my opinion, when we have a solution that creates a win, win, win situation, we are on the right path. Instead of walking away from the problem, turning our backs and withdrawing our financial support, and hoping it will somehow force others to change, which it obviously hasn’t, let’s take action.
I propose working directly with the farmers, government agencies, local and foreign institutions of higher education, researchers, ecologists, architects, forestry experts, veterinarians, animal experts, and anyone else that can contribute to a healthy, ethical and thriving industry in a developing country. We have an obvious stalemate here, and someone has to take the first step to break it.
If one takes but a moment to contemplate the ethics and standards we choose to judge others by, we must also take the time to have a good look at ourselves. As many Ethiopians point out, we, in the western world, treat our domestic food animals with no higher ethics and no less cruelty than they treat their Civets. In fact, the time honoured art of animal husbandry is something we have completely abandoned in our rush to factory-produce animal meat by the ton and feed our growing Western population at a profit. Our own “back yard” is rife with examples of horrifying treatment of our food animals which most of us manage to ignore. Ethiopian domestic animals are highly valued on many levels and treated with much greater regard than we treat our “production” animals.
Though I don’t have a solution for our poor North American treatment of animals, and I know I can’t solve any of the world’s problems singlehandedly, I think I can take one small issue that calls to me, and see if I can improve it in some small way. And this is likely all any one of us can do. These posts, the Civet paste and tincture I sell in my shop, and my journey, are an invitation for others to join in, to share and engage in this project with me in any small way they like. Every click, every view, every sale and every share, adds momentum to change. Every conversation stimulated, whether for or against it, brings change closer.
We can’t sit back and wait for others to make the changes in our world. This passive approach only sets us up as victims of the system, leaving us spending more time complaining and pointing fingers at what is wrong, than doing anything to address the problems. We have much more power as individuals than we realize.
As the internet grows, and our technology advances, we are more empowered as global citizens than ever before. Today with the least amount of effort, we are able to create the greatest amount of change anywhere in the world. All it takes are a few well-chosen clicks of a mouse.
The big companies monitor and heed our every click. Our small choices colour the world’s markets and global trends. They even influence the political and economic tides around us. We can complain about this infringement of privacy, as most of us do, or we could use it to our benefit. Every time we click the mouse every time we purchase something, it is noted, recorded and taken into account. Every time we click we’re changing the world individually just a little bit. But what we don’t always see, is that the accumulative power of all these individual choices can be world-changing.
You don’t need to be a perfumer, you don’t have to know what Civet smells like or ever want to smell it. You don’t even have to like perfume. All you need is the urge to do something to make the world a better place, to benefit someone other than yourself. A desire to contribute to something larger than yourself, and all it takes is a conscious click of the mouse, a tap on your phone.
If we clicked less on cute cat videos and games, lurked a bit less on Facebook, and asked ourselves how could we better use our time on our phones and computers, it would be a worthy act of awareness and self-improvement to change our surfing habits to more productive and creative expressions of our higher ideals. Our power nowadays is far beyond what we ever imagined.
So, I say, let’s support the farmers, let’s buy their products, work with them, and give them the means to create a new model from an outdated industry. Let’s not just wait for something to change on its own. If it hasn’t happened till now, it ain’t gonna happen. Ever.
Let’s stop the decline in the Civet population and perhaps even take a little step in saving the disappearing forests and green spaces of Ethiopia. We live in a tiny, lush, apothecary’s garden in a vast galaxy that provides us all our food, fragrance and medicine. Let’s all take care of it. Believe me, Ethiopia is not as distant as we like to think. Let’s pay the farmers more for their product, not less as we have till now, not because they’re asking but because it’s the way it should be.
Let’s give this ancient and rarest of Nature’s treasures the value and esteem that it deserves, and give the farmers the rewards and return they should see for their efforts regardless of what country they live in, or how poor their economy is. I have no doubt we will quickly see our animal welfare standards manifest on the other end. But, nothing will happen till we are willing to work with each other.
P.S. if you are not sure what to do next. Below, you will see a plethora of clickable buttons. Take your pick. Go wild. “Like”, Tweet, Repost, Reblog, Share, leave a comment or come browse my shop on the right. Have fun and know, every click counts, and you can make a difference in the world.
Well. Looks like I’m moving, and leaving Canada.
I say “looks like” because at this point I can’t see exactly how I’m going to get there. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other, one packed box on top of the other, filling one garbage bag at a time, and tackling logistics one issue at a time. I figure if I keep going I will find myself at the other end, and it will be good.
Packing up 40 years of creative work as a sculptor, craftsman, herbalist/apothecary, perfumer and impaler. Tools materials and finished work, plus 20 years of parenting and a trail of photos, artwork, and report cards.
Of course, it’s mostly cool and useful stuff which makes it easier to give away or sell. But still, it’s stuff, and every piece has an invisible string of responsibility back to me, depends on me, and should be addressed by me.
Friends have been a boon in letting go of things while helping me keep the business rolling.
I have set them up with tools, stills and water baths, beakers and flasks, furniture, and materials that need an appreciative home. With any luck, I’ll be able to do one last distillation of Wild Ginger before I leave. An opportunity to demonstrate how to use the stills to their new owners. If you are close by and would like to lend a hand, I can use all the help I can get. You might find something you could use and help us both by giving it a home…
Another feature of these exchanges, is that all these friends are gardeners, herbalists or natural perfumers and have offered to step in to help manage the Teaching Gardens and Apothecary’s Garden in Churchill park in my stead. This responsibility, and what to do with my cat were 2 unresolved stresses from this move. Though I hope I’ll be back early summer to address continuity and future growth in the garden, it is a relief to know there are those who would carry it forward in the right spirit if I was wasn’t around.
This is my one-hundredth post.
Averaging about one a week for two years. There is a rhythm and prose to the timing with this move. Something old ends. A new cycle begins. I only have a feeling for where this is leading, and that will do just fine for now.
I have learned so much in the 2 years I’ve written here. I have met many incredibly talented, inspired and inspiring people through this blog and my Etsy shop. I have found kindred spirits all over the world and made new friends for life. People have written me profound and touching words of appreciation and support, the kind of words that make all the challenges feel worthwhile.
To those who are placing orders over the next month, bear with me. I have no idea how I’m going to keep the business running while I shut down on one end and start from scratch on the other. Especially through Christmas sales. I’m aiming for “seamlessly”, counting mainly on momentum, agility, intuition and trust, (which keeps me from getting paralyzed by the vertigo of dread and the sheer scale of what I’m trying to do in the time I have to do it)..So, I’m not looking down at this point. This move takes up all the time between opening my eyes in the morning and closing them at night. That and drinking coffee. I keep meaning to play a few minutes of Halo 4, but alas, no time!! If business continues to grow as it has, I’ll get an X-Box on the other end.
Why am I moving and where to?
Still in my 60th year, my second Saturn return has pushed and pulled me for two years now. It has tossed me back and forth, up and down. Spun me around then back the other way. If I was using a washing machine metaphor then I would say it hasn’t been on the delicate cycle. It has shaken the change out of my pockets. So change it is. I get it.
I am moving to Israel. It positions me only 3 hours from Ethiopia and Somaliland where my Frankincense co-ops and suppliers are located. My friend and essential oil distiller, Professor Ermias Dagne is based in Addis Ababa, minutes from the airport.
Recently the opportunity arose to work directly with an Ethiopian Civet farmer. This is big news!! An Ethiopian supplier with good quality Civet paste and an ambition to modernize and develop the Civet business, has offered to partner with me to create ethical and cruelty-free Civet products. He has a Civet farmer who wants to work together on this. This is the first scenario that doesn’t require I do it all myself. (That really was a daunting thought, and the only visible option when I returned in the spring from Ethiopia!). Being so close to Ethiopia, I will have much more time and flexibility to work with the Civets and could be directly involved in the operation. Again, “Ethical Civet” may not be possible, but we won’t know till we try.-See my posts- Ebb and Flow and Ethical Civet a glimpse from the mountaintop.
My mother just turned 90, and my father is not far behind. Now is a good time to hang out with them. Before I accrue any regrets.
Shipping from Israel is very reasonable and puts Canada Post to shame. It costs over $8.00 to ship one 10 Ml. bottle of essential oil from Hamilton to Toronto. A distance of 60Km.
It costs $1.90 to ship the same bottle 6000 Km. from Israel to Toronto and only takes a couple of days longer to arrive. Such a drastic reduction in cost can only be a good thing.
I will be close to the sources of fragrances I adore. I could visit Nyktaris who harvests Labdanum using traditional methods in Crete, the Mastic farmer’s co-op in Chios, the collectors of Onycha by the Red sea, and will have easier access to the amazing Burserae, Commiphorae and Dragons blood trees of the island of Socrata.
Cypress, Turkey, Persia and other countries were on my imaginary grassroots fragrance tour while raising Nathan and daydreaming about what I wanted to do when he had grown up and left home. That time, apparently, has come.
Well then, here’s to the fool, the adventure, and the journey. Here’s to new beginnings and the next 100 posts.
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.
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.
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.
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 :-).
My apologies to all for the long silence. Especially to Jane, Genie, Theo, Hassan and all those who I had hoped to visit in London on the way back. After 5 weeks, 50 hours of flights and delays, over a month of sleeping on cots and floors, I am home, in my own sweet bed, sheepskin and velvet, purring cats, and it’s good being home again.
This was my second trip to Ethiopia following a winding trail, on a quest for “Ethical Civet”. An ethically produced, and cruelty free, ancient, medicine and fragrance material. A classic ingredient in traditional perfume making for centuries. I have hunted, researched, emailed and phoned. Flown, driven and walked many miles, and met many dead ends over the course of the past 4 years to see what could be done, and what has been done to humanize the industry for our use, and find out if it is at all possible.
The civet Civettictis-civetta– Called “Zbad” in Arabic and other local languages, is an ancient symbol and totem animal of Ethiopia. Considered by many the only type of Civet to yield a high quality perfume ingredient. A name always uttered in the same fragrant and descriptive sentence that has defined Ethiopia for thousands of years,
“Frankincense, Myrrh and Civet”.
Said to be one of the gifts The Queen of Sheba brought King Solomon in their day, and thought by some to be the third rare, fragrant gift the “Magi” brought the baby Jesus, (ZBD and not ZHB, Civet and not Gold), each often worth more than its weight in gold. Zbad is also used on occasion as a word meaning a “Gift” in the old testament. Food for thought.
Many have inquired about sourcing ethically produced Civet paste and absolute. Before I go any further, let me say, ethical Civet paste is possible, BUT, to the best of my knowledge, is NOT available yet, and it will not happen on its own. Not to our western ethical and humane standards. If you would like to buy the next best thing, Civet paste that will support the development of a sustainable and cruelty free industry, please look at the bottom of this post.
As far as I can see, humanization and modernization can only come to be, through the initiative and ongoing involvement of outside interests working directly with the animals, and in tandem with government branches and farmers. It will only happen through our involvement.
Though a western ideal that conflicts with local culture and traditions of Civiculture, it would not only benefit us, but directly benefit the animals, Ethiopia’s rapidly shrinking forests and natural habitats, the traditional Civet farmers, and the local economy.
Standing atop a peak past Bako in the Oromia province this last journey, I could see a “Model” Civet farm in the distance. It was a possibility glimmering on the horizon. I could also see the many obstacles along the way. It would be a challenge to create such a thing. Not something any one person could reach on their own without substantial resources, commitment, local and foreign support.
A large structure housing spacious and modern cages. A place to bring responsibly trapped and tagged Civets from local forests, for a 6-8 month period of research and collection of musk. An opportunity for researchers to study them in captivity and in their natural habitat.
The facility worked with conservation, forestry, legislative, and research sections of government and universities to study, preserve and conserve rapidly shrinking green spaces and wildlife habitats, while practicing humane alternatives to traditional Civeculture methods, and developing the highest quality export products.
The Civets are traditionally kept in tiny tubelike wooden cages they can barely move in, for life. Poorly cared for and traumatically relieved of their musk every 9-12 days. (Many do not survive the harsh trapping methods or the first extraction of musk). The farmers are so poor they usually cannot feed the animals properly, and most can’t afford medical help for the animals let alone their own families. Their living conditions are indeed abhorant and cruel.
This model farm had modern veterinary and laboratory facilities, operated as a center that could provide instruction, subsidised cages, food, humanely trapped and tagged Civets, supervision and veterinary services. It had its own lab where raw Civet paste was tested for quality and Civetone levels, and processed into absolute for the perfume industry. A side of the business and a revenue, that till now has always been in the hands of foreign “developed” countries.
As an ethical, natural and cruelty free perfume ingredient, it could generate much more income for the farmers and the country. It could be a model of a model farm, and duplicated in different areas of the country where Civet farmers and co-ops were already established. Answering to the western world, with the power to monitor and confirm ethical and cruelty free practices, it could transform established practices to the benefit of all.
There were a couple of other disturbing things I noticed while I was up on that mountaintop. Ethiopia’s green spaces, wildlife and old growth forest were quickly disappearing. Eaten up daily for lumber, charcoal cooking fuel, low yield, ox tilled agriculture, and grazed to the ground by millions of goats, cows and sheep. There was no roadkill on the highway, an occasional dog, but no wild animals left to cross the road. There was an odd silence that way.
A joke.Why did the Civet cross the road? It didn’t, there weren’t any Civets left.
Our planet is a very small garden in a big universe, it belongs to all of us. We are all affected by every tree felled for charcoal or agriculture, every animal that suffers or loses its habitat, every green-space is our responsibility. Poverty, disease and strife anywhere in our world is our business. It is our world. All of us. Space, borders and ownership, all distinctions are illusions. We are born from one living dynamic organism of which we are all intrinsically a receiving and contributing part, we are woven in to the fabric of this planet wherever we are. We can’t afford to look the other way.
Due to the connections and experience of my most gracious host, and co-conspirator, the esteemed Professor Dagne, of Addis Ababa University, we were able to accomplish much more than we had hoped for this time round. The professors enthusiasm, contacts, knowledge of the of the land, physically, historically and bureaucratically , yielded an abundance of new information and resources, which will take me some time to digest and share here. So bear with me, this might take a few posts.
The culture of keeping Civets in Ethiopia, the techniques and practices used to produce the best and the most Civet paste from the animals, are still cruel, primitive and truly barbaric by our standards. They are also deeply entrenched traditions handed down from father to son for generations. Based as much in culture and religion as superstition, they conflict directly, and at every turn, with our ethical standards for the treatment of animals. To gain a better understanding of why this is, here is an excellent study.
Below, is one of the most influential, damaging and accurate reports done on Civet farming in Ethiopia. Written by Mike Pugh, a representative of the WSPA in 1998, it is not the earliest expose’, but gives an idea of what precipitated a worldwide boycott by western consumers and sent the perfume companies into subterfuge and denial. On the bright side these reports also resulted in some excellent studies through the University of Addis Ababa, and ongoing efforts on behalf of the Ethiopian government to reform and modernize these practices.
Our western need for ethical and cruelty free animal products came head to head with the beliefs, methods and traditions of Civet farmer families. We have been at a stalemate ever since. It has been a lose, lose situation. While chemical replacements for Civet absolute are available and used to varying degree in the perfume industry, they too have their shortcomings. I hope a trend towards natural perfumery and chemical free lifestyles may lead us back to establishing ethical and sustainable sources for all our fragrant and herbal needs.
Regardless of government efforts, directives and incentives, it has been difficult for traditional Civet farmers to change their ways. Deeply ingrained traditions, societal and cultural norms and deep poverty in these communities all add to their inability to establish new and modern practices. It has been challenging for local agencies and regional governments to facilitate and support farmers through a transition to modern methods. They haven’t given up, but could definitely use a little help and support.
Due to our boycott of unethically produced Civet products, many traditional Civet farmers abandoned Civiculture to pursue less challenging markets such as Coffee and Chaat. I don’t believe this really solved the problem. There are still no winners here, not human and not animal. The Civets that are still farmed, supply a grey market in China and Korea, (I assume a backdoor to the large French Perfume companies who don’t want any direct link to unethical practices), and likely do not enjoy their captivity to any greater degree as a result of our boycott. I believe we may have made things worse. We pointed out the problems, but we were not there with the needed solutions and support.
Similar ethical issues are mirrored in Indonesia where captured Civets are kept in tiny cages and fed a diet of mainly coffee beans to excrete the very lucrative and lately famous Kopi Luwak Coffee. I haven’t studied this phenomenon in any great depth, but it appears to me it presents identical ethical issues around the treatment of the animals. A very elusive animal, this “Ethical Civet”. My hope is, that if an ethical model can be developed for Ethiopia’s Civet farms, it can be duplicated, or legislated and enforced in Indonesia. Win, win. Win, win. Win.
Through our continued efforts the past years, our failures and successes, Professor Dagne and I may have an opportunity to initiate something that decades of western boycotts and petitioning against animal cruelty have not been able to do. There is talk of setting up and operating a “Model Farm” that would involve both local and foreign interests. It’s only talk at this point, but I want to put it out there in the community, and see if there is in fact any real and tangible interest in ethical Civet products.
I believe we can do some good here, all of us. I believe that doing some good, is what is really called for. Our wild medicinals, aromatics, animals and plants are threatened all over the world. We have to each do what we can to preserve our natural bounty before it is too late. I believe that greening and tending, healing the farthest reaches of our world is only as far as the mouse on our desk. A click on our phone.
I worry that Nature in Ethiopia is not doing too well, though it may not yet seem obvious. I worry we are losing the old growth forests all over our world, the havens for medicinal and aromatic plants, indigenous species, animals, insects and the Civets of our world. I worry that the green regenerative oh so fertile and womanly spirit of Ethiopia is slowly losing ground. That we will only notice our loss when it is too late. And it will be Our loss when it happens.
Needless to say, we all know there are many things in the world that need to change. Sometimes we wait for others to change them, and sometimes, we see an opportunity to change them ourselves. None of this can happen without global community support. Without conscious consumerism and individual activism. Nothing will change without many voices speaking up. Without your voice.
I did purchase a quantity of Civet paste this last trip.It is notan ethical Civet product, but, that being said, the one factor that will determine viability of change in the industry, is whether there is enough western interest in ethical Civet products. This is gauged by our willingness to financially invest in the concept of ethics and sustainability. It is our interest, expressed in our western currency that makes and shapes the world around us. If we can’t show them that we are offering more than our criticism or advice, there will be no incentive to develop ethical Civiculture in Ethiopia. Our boycott of Civet products has proven detrimental to all involved. It is time for a different approach to the problem. It is not going away on its own.
I am not talking about billion dollar corporations investing here, but about individual activism. You and I and many more like us that want to put in our vote on what kind of world reflects our values. What kind of world we want to see and manifest. The power of many individual voices and small purchases is absolutely world changing.
So, you and anyone you know that might want a say in rectifying this ethical stalemate, are invited to show the Ethiopian government, farmers and Civet industry, the world really, that we do care and are willing to do something about it.
I have priced the Civet paste at $10.00 a gram, on Parr with the lowest retail price I could find. Every gram sold is a statement that change is possible.
It is pure and high quality, authentic and genuine. It’s about as close as anyone can get to actually collecting paste from a Civet’s butt in person. Anyone who has tried to get real Civet paste knows it is not easy. Between adulterants, chemical and aromatic substitutes, fillers, fakes and unscrupulous middlemen, it can take years to find the real deal or discern the differences in quality.
Please support this project with your “likes”, shares or purchases, your comments or ratings. You can reblog or repost, or link back to it through your own blog or website, and please do pass it on to anyone you think might have an interest. If there is no interest, market or demand for an ethical alternative, no input from the public, it will not be possible, and in my opinion this unfortunate and sad situation will never change. Without our intervention, I believe we will all end up facing a great loss.
You can also contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Herbal Apothecary, Wildcrafter, Sculptor, Craftsman.
Owner of Apothecary's Garden and Fairtrade Frankincense LTD. Providing a selection of fresh & fair trade, ethical and sustainably harvested Frankincense and Myrrh species, local and exotic fragrance materials, unusual essential oils, Natural perfume ingredients and animal essences. Astrodynamic plant Preparations, Herbal salves, cremes, tinctures and oils.
Tested on Animals and Babies, Children, Parents and Old Folks.
A sap for resins, ritual, Sun, Moon and Mother Nature.
A journal about Herbs, plants and processes. Recipes, plant Alchemy and our Relationship with Nature. Natural fragrance and medicine. Astrodynamics, rhythms and cycles, Medical Astrology, traditional Wisdom. Herbs and Healing, Science and Spirit. Oh and moustaches.
Fairtrade Frankincense explores our ancient and modern relationship with Nature's fragrant, medicinal oleoresins and provides a link joining traditional harvesters directly with our western market in fair and mutually beneficial commerce.