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The many benefits of Frankincense tea

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, www.apothecarysgarden.shop

Frankincense tea, also known as a Frankincense infusion, is a time-honoured remedy in many cultures and medical systems. Some of its traditional medicinal uses have been researched in recent years and I am surprised to see that many of the classic therapeutic properties associated with Frankincense tea are substantiated in the laboratory. I have listed a few here, but trust you to do your own research as well.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
A Frankincense infusion is a traditional and time-honoured remedy in many cultures. It has broad therapeutic applications, is easy to make at home and puts less stress on trees that are already burdened by our demand for Frankincense essential oil.

Not the essential oil

Our recent obsession with Frankincense essential oil can easily blind us to the plethora of therapeutic compounds found in the whole oleo gum resin and is no doubt increasing the pressure we are putting on trees that are already over-harvested and over-burdened with our growing demand for Frankincense essential oil.

Frankincense tea, Frankincense infusion, resin extract, spent resin www.apothecarysgarden.com
After distilling a small amount of essential oil of Frankincense, the resin which contains the Boswellic acids and other valuable therapeutic compounds is usually discarded as waste. Increasingly, pharmaceutical companies are buying up the spent Frankincense resin and processing it into Boswellic acid supplements. A rapidly growing and very profitable market.

A Holistic approach

The following gem is borrowed from one of the linked studies below. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

“However, exclusive focus on individual biochemical targets neglects the fact that strong synergy of multiple constituents in a crude drug may prove more potent and effective than any single purified compound, or that interactions of co-occurring phytochemicals may help nullify the toxic effects of individual constituents. So while it is important to understand the active agents within medicinal plants, it should also be with caution that we extract and use constituents in isolation.”

Kurt Schnaubelt,

Traditional therapeutic benefits of Frankincense

Frankincense tea has a broad range of traditional therapeutic applications..

  • As a sexual tonic and aphrodisiac
  • To increase fertility in men and women.
  • To stimulate brain function, memory and intelligence
  • As a home remedy for coughs, colds and congestion
  • To reduce the pain and inflammation associated with Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • As a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Alleviating respiratory complaints such as Asthma and Bronchitis.
  • To treat diabetes.
  • To ease the irritation of urinary tract inflammations

A teaspoon of Frankincense tears steeped overnight in water is a traditional healing formula that has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years

Frankincense tea, Frankincense Carterii. www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Frankincense Carterii harvest Ufeyn Eastern Bari district Somalia. An oleo gum resin, Boswellia Carterii tears form on the tree as a homogenous white emulsion of oil and water soluble compounds which lend it its name of Luban and Olibanum. An infusion of the whole tears mimics this emulsion and delivers both the gum and the oil soluble resins which contain the Boswellic acids and other non-water-soluble therapeutic compounds.

An aqueous solution and emulsion

I found no research that enumerated all the chemical constituents delivered through an aqueous solution of Frankincense. However, it is safe to assume that the emulsion created by an infusion of Frankincense in water is similar in composition to the fresh tears and delivers both the water-soluble gum and the oil-soluble resin acids, (including the Boswellic acids), which are today considered the most sought after therapeutic compounds in Frankincense.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, frankincense as medicine, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
An infusion of Frankincense tears steeped overnight in water is a traditional remedy for many ailments and an effective anti-inflammatory.

How to prepare Frankincense tea

The traditional ratio of Frankincense granules to water is about a teaspoon of tears  to 1 or 2 cups of water.

  • Place a teaspoon of Frankincense tears in a cup, mug or bowl. large tears can be pulverized or crushed with a mortar or pestle, or by putting the tears in a ziplock bag and bruising them with a hammer.
  • Add 1-2 cups, (250-500 Milliliters) of room-temperature water. Some people use boiling water though I can’t say if one method is better than the other. Both seem to yield the same results.
  • Cover the container with a saucer or plastic wrap and let it sit overnight.
  • Sip the tea/infusion throughout the next day.
  • If you prepare too much you can keep it in the fridge for a day or two.
  • If you want to prepare a larger amount for future use, freeze it in ice cube trays, then store the frozen cubes in Ziploc bags in the freezer. Thaw them as needed. they should keep well for up to 6 months.
  • Remember, traditional use suggests consuming small amounts throughout the day. It is likely more beneficial to consistently drink a cup or two slowly throughout the day than to consume large quantities over a short period.
  • Listen to your body, and don’t overdo it.
  • Often, the tears can be infused in water once more and still colour the water.
  • When they are spent they can be consumed, (washed down with water or taken with food), and a new batch prepared.
  • Though there are no major side effects to consuming too much Frankincense, if you experience digestive discomfort in any way, take a break and moderate your intake.

Which types of Frankincense are best suited to making a tea?

Not all Frankincense types are suited to this type of preparation. Some Frankincense resins have no water-soluble gum and will not create an emulsion when steeped in water. If the solution does not turn white or cloudy overnight, know that the resin acids are not included in the “Tea”.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Some types of Frankincense are suited to preparing Frankincense tea, and others are not.

The following species of Frankincense are the best suited and most popular types for this application and contain water soluble gum. Click on the links for a detailed description of each type.

frankincense tea, frankincense infusion, royal green hojari frankincense, boswellia sacra, oman www.apothecarysgarden.shop
Frankincense Sacra-Royal green Hojari, Oman. Some types of Frankincense are suited to preparing Frankincense tea, and others are not. Royal Green Hojari Frankincense is traditionally reserved for medicine and tea in Oman.

Not suitable for teas

Though Frankincense Rivae, Neglecta and Frereana contain many therapeutic compounds, their lack of water-soluble gum means their resin acids will not be delivered through an emulsion.

Boswellia/Frankincense Frereana-Somalia. Known as Maydi, Frankincense Frereana has no water-soluble gum which makes it ideal for its traditional use as a long-lasting and healthy chewing gum, but ineffective in a tea. Though Maydi contains little to no Boswellic acids, it has its own set of therapeutic compounds

Scientific research

Laboratory studies of the tea, infusion or aqueous extract/solution of Frankincense support many of the traditional uses. Below, are a few of the studies I came across. I urge you to do your own research. An online query such as “Frankincense tea” or”Frankincense infusion” won’t yield many results. However, if you phrase your search, “Aqueous solution of Boswellia”, or something similarly scientific,  you will be well rewarded. I have by no means collated everything there is, and can’t judge the veracity of all the studies, but a few hours searching proved fruitful and educational. The potential benefits of a simple tea of Frankincense are extensive and yet to be fully explored. Here are a few.

Studies like these remind me how much we don’t yet know about nature, our bodies and diseases. There is so much more for us all to learn. It also tells me that our obsession with taking things apart and consuming individual active compounds, ( such as essential oils), is likely to our detriment, that of the land and the plant species that give us our medicine.

This is an updated version of a popular post. originally published in 2017.

Dan

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The Frankincense collectors. Somali Region-Ethiopia

Commiphora Myrrha http://apothecarysgarden.com
Visiting the collectors of Frankincense and Myrrh in the Somali Region of Ethiopia February 2019
Visiting the collectors of Frankincense and Myrrh in the Somali Region of Ethiopia February 2019

February 2019 brought a visit with the Camel and Goat herders of the Somali region of Ethiopia. What was once called the “Ogaden”. They are the collectors of Frankincense and Myrrh. While grazing their animals among the abundant Boswellia and Commiphora trees of the Savannah, they gently and sustainably collect the aromatic resins from the trees and ground.

Herders Somali Region Ethiopia FairtradeFrankincense.com
One of the Last water holes left in the dry season. The wildlife relies on it just as much as the herders. It is not unusual to see pissed off Warthogs trotting away, muttering about the lack of privacy and quiet.

Life as a pastoralist in Eastern Africa has become increasingly difficult as droughts regularly plague the land leaving animals and herders with little water or food in the dry season. There are no guarantees anyone will have enough to barter or buy basic nourishment for their families from season to season.

Collecting and selling these resins could add financial security to their lives. However, more often than not, they lack a market for their resins. Someone to sell them to, which is where we come in.

Our goal is to work with the collector families directly. To train them in best practices for collecting, sorting, grading and storing their resins and to establish cooperatives that will help support their communities and ensure a market with fair and stable prices for their resins. As much as they can collect.

Local and regional governments are with us on this project and with fingers crossed, we will see a container of ethically, sustainably and fairly traded resins in North America before the end of the year.

Dan

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Ammoniacum. Incense of the Oracle-medicine of the people.

Ammoniacum, Ferula Tingitana, Apothecarysgarden.com

During a trip to the Mediterranean and Africa, I purchased two kilos of the aromatic resin known as Ammoniacum. They were beautiful, fragrant, fresh specimens and of rare quality.

Ammoniacum, Ferula Tingitana, Incense of the Oracle
Fresh Gum Ammoniacum from North Africa. Ferula tingitana

They were still as the harvesters had gathered them, many resinous tears pressed into as big a ball as each could manage comfortably. Though steeply priced, they were recently collected and bright with personality, fragrance and colour. There is no doubt I would have spent my last few shekels on them if I had to.

Also known as Giant Tangiers Fennel, Ferula Tingitana is a perennial plant of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. Similar in structure to wild carrot, Angelica, Anise and Lovage, (but not Fennel!)

In late spring/early summer beetles puncture the outer membrane of its hollow stalks, triggering the plant’s defence system to exude a sticky, fragrant oleo gum resin that both repels insect attackers and acts as a bandage to the wound. Commercially, the plant is wounded by harvesters who then collect the droplets when they solidify.

Ammoniacum through the ages

Ammoniacum or Gum Ammoniacum is named for its long association with the Oracle of the Temple of Ammon in Siwa. Originally located in Libya, the temple was an important religious center for the Egyptians and the ancient Greeks,

Famous throughout antiquity, the Temple of Ammon was established by the ancient desert tribes of Libya. The remains of the temple are located 500 Kilometers north of the Kebira Crater, (The source of the mysterious Libyan Desert Glass), and 500 Kilometers West of the Temple of Amun in Karnak.

Temple of Amun, Siwa, Egypt.

Once the site was absorbed by the Egyptians, it was renamed the temple of Amun Ra. Also named Amun, Amun-Re, Amon and Amen, this deity was considered King of the Gods and the God of the wind. In many ancient and modern traditions, the wind is associated with communication, ruled by the element of air, and represented on this plane by burnt offerings, the censer, and the smoke of incense.

When the ancient Greeks settled the coast of Libya around 600 BC, they named their domain Cyrene and operated the Temple and the Oracle under the auspices of their own gods, Jupiter-Ammon and Zeus-Ammon.

In Greek mythology, the Oracle of the temple of Jupiter Ammon is reputed to have instructed that Andromeda should be tied to a rock and devoured by a sea-serpent. Perseus dropped by to visit the Oracle prior to beheading Medusa, (Saving Andromeda on the way back), and Hercules visited the oracle of the temple before he fought.

Also known as Oshek or Veshek, Ammoniacum is burned till this day in the Moroccan Jewish tradition before the holy scrolls are removed from the Synagogue ark.

Horns of the Gods

Since ancient times Ammon, or Baal Hammon, was associated with ram’s horns. An association seen in Egyptian renditions of Amun Ra and through Greek and Roman times where stylized Ram’s horns are found on coins depicting the governors of Cyrene, and on the reverse a plant suspiciously reminiscent of Ammoniacum.

The temple kept its singular purpose and prominence as a divine oracle till the decline of the Roman empire. Even Alexander the Great took a detour and trekked 500 Kilometres through the deadly desert sea to consult the oracle at the Temple of Ammon. (After which he declared himself a God and had coins minted depicting himself with the Horns of Ammon).)

Ammoniacum-Dorema Ammoniacum, Apothecarysgarden.com
Dorema ammoniacum-Iran

Ferula or Dorema?

There is another aromatic resin named Ammoniacum, but it is Dorema ammoniacum and found in Iran and further north. Due to its distance both culturally and physically from the temple of Ammon, my feeling is that Ferula Tingitana was originally associated with the oracle of Ammon and not its eastern cousin Dorema.

Adding to the confusion between these 2 plants is the common name of Oshek or Veshek in Southern Mediterranean and North African communities and its modern-day reference to the resin of both species which are sometimes found in Mediterranean markets and speciality shops.

By Yan Wong from Oxford - Inflorescence,
Ferula tingitana-Ammoniacum, Gum Ammoniacum, Oshek, Veshek. Photo by Yan Wong from Oxford – Inflorescence

Medicine, Perfume and Incense

Ammoniacum has a lovely “green” fragrance, similar to, but sweeter than that of its cousin Galbanum, F. galbaniflua, which is used in perfumery. Where Galbanum has a green and very dry scent, Ammoniacum has a fragrance that could be described as golden green, fresh, penetrating, moist and nourishing.

To my nose, Ammoniacum is closest in scent to Helba, crushed Fenugreek seed. In flavour, it tastes bitter and pungent though this might be due to its high essential oil content.

Ammoniacum has been used since antiquity to treat respiratory issues, excess phlegm, Asthma, chronic coughs and bronchitis and is said to soften hard tumours when applied as a poultice. It is considered a carminative, stimulating appetite and peristalsis which could be useful for the elderly. It may have a stimulating effect on the uterus and likely should not be taken during pregnancy. I found chewing on a small piece of the resin was pleasant and had the effect of stimulating the expectoration of phlegm, easing my breathing and soothing a stubborn cough.

The infused oil of Ammoniacum may be of help in a chest rub for respiratory issues and lends a beautiful crisp golden green fragrance to oil-based perfumes. An alcohol tincture brings out more of its bright notes and burned as incense, the fragrant smoke is true to the aroma of the fresh resin with no charring or unpleasant burnt scent.

Ammoniacum can be used in similar ways to its cousin, the fetid smelling Ferula Asafoetida known as “Devil’s dung”, Stinking gum and Hing.  Cats find the fragrance of both resins repulsive and avoid them at any cost. Ammoniacum, unlike its cousin Ferula assafoetida, does not seem to reduce flatulence.

Silphium and Cyrene

There is a theory that this species of Ammoniacum may be the ancient, mysterious and sought-after Silphium which was highly esteemed for centuries, and found itself minted on many a coin. Silphium was said to grow only in the area of Cyrene, in Libya,  a hop, skip and short camel ride away from the Oracle of the Temple of Ammon.

Silphium was used as a culinary spice, a popular medicine and as an incense material. (An offering to the oracles?) Silphium was so sought after in ancient Mediterranean cultures, it may have become extinct from over-harvesting. A cautionary tale.

Sylhiumcoin1
Roman coin with a depiction of Silphium. Note the stylised ram’s horns on the left. A Ram-horned God has been consistently associated with the temple of Ammon since the time of the nomadic Libyan tribes.

Ammoniacum, according to the Silphium entry in Wikipedia-”This species has been considered to have abortive and menstruation-inducing properties.[7] The species has been suggested as a possible identity for the controversial silphium, a plant used as a spice and for various medical purposes in classical antiquity in the Mediterranean region.[8] Among the many uses of silphium was promoting menstruation, and possibly contraceptive or abortifacient properties, which has been suggested to link it to Ferula.Wikipedia.

For those who have an interest in the spiritual/esoteric aspects of this plant, I will mention that in my experience this resin can serve the same oracular functions today that it offered our ancestors. A piece the size of a lentil is all that is needed. From an Astrological point of view, I would associate it with Mercury.

You won’t find Ammoniacum in the shop. I couldn’t put a monetary value on it so I gave it away to those I thought would appreciate it the most.

 

Dan

 

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Labdanum resin for perfume and beard dressings

Over time I get many of the same questions from customers about the products I sell in the shop.  I love helping people and end up spending quite a bit of time answering them individually which isn’t the most efficient use of my time. So, I’m going to get better organized and post some of the answers to the most asked questions here. A link that can be shared and answers that are easily Googled. So here we go.   Dan…How do I process this lump of Labdanum resin into a perfume ingredient or a grooming product?

wpid-babylonian-sun-god-shamash.jpg.jpeg

Well. Labdanum resin has been used for perfume, incense, medicine and beard grooming for literally thousands of years. The recipe for the Temple incense, “Ketoret”, of the ancient Jews is thought to incorporate Labdanum under the name “Balm of Gilead”. The tightly coiffed and curled beards depicted on Gods and noblemen in ancient Mesopotamian stone art are believed to be based on the use of Labdanum resin.

BabylonianBeard Wax
Babylonian Gods

It is thought that in the distant past sheep and goats were driven through the sticky bushes to accumulate fragrant Labdanum resin which could be collected from their coats.

The depictions of these beards are so stylized, it led us to theorise our ancestors stuck pieces of this aromatic animal hair on their faces.  In my opinion, they were much more sophisticated than we assume and easily processed the pure Labdanum resin out of the leaves or the animal’s fur with warmth, hot water or warm oils to create products that were not only sensuously aromatic but allowed them to create intricate and artistic designs with their facial hair.

Labdanum,  like many other resins, acts as a perming agent and when applied to hair will set it and keep it in the desired style long after the resin is gone.

In royal tombs of  ancient Babylon, Sumer, Assyria and Akkad were found combs, bits of ribbon and wire that are believed to have been both decorative elements and tools for shaping the beards.  Sleeping with a beard braided with a bit of Labdanum at night will give one beautiful tight ripples for days after the braid is opened. Even after washing and combing. The danger is, of course, one will accidentally sleep with the beard tucked up behind one’s ear and spend those next days trying to straighten it out.

There are two main types of Labdanum available on the market.

Cistus flower-Labdanum
Cistus flower-Labdanum

Cistus Ladanifer from Spain which comes as a resinoid, a thick liquid resin, and is made by solvent extraction with Benzyl benzoate and Cistus creticus from the island of Crete who’s leaves sweat beads of fragrant oleoresin in the heat of summer that is collected and formed into tarry black slabs that look pretty much like Hashish. (Which is why it is shipped in boxes covered with descriptions of the contents in 4 different languages so there are no misunderstandings with customs or the DEA.)

Fresh Labdanum oleoresin. Wild harvested with traditional tools in the hills of Crete
Fresh Labdanum oleoresin. Wild harvested with traditional tools in the hills of Crete

There are other “Labdanum” products such as Labdanum and Cistus essential oils but these contain no resin and are easy to use as fragrance ingredients I won’t address them here.

The Labdanum resin and resinoid have slightly different fragrance profiles, the resin being a little muskier, bolder, and spicier than the liquid resinoid which is a little  sweeter. Both contain resin and essential oils and both work well for beard grooming and shaping. I have heard Perfumer friends give detailed descriptions of the scent of Labdanum resin, finding in its fragrance the scent of Mediterranean Sea breezes, the aroma of the summer-hot Cretan soil, hints of nearby wildflower essential oils, pollen and stray butterfly wings that are all drawn to the sticky leaves on the hottest of days.

How to process Labdanum

If you have the liquid resinoid of Labdanum, it is simple to dissolve it in alcohol for perfume use and in oil for other applications. Warm oil tends to work best.

If you purchased a lump of Labdanum resin from Crete, it is also simple to process but requires more warmth.

An oil infusion of Labdanum resin

For this I suggest a water bath. A simple Bain Marie could consist of a pot of water and a mason jar clamped to the inside and suspended halfway in the water. Hardware stores offer a variety of suitable spring clamps. It is important to use a water bath and not direct heat or a microwave oven. These offer little control over the temperature. Besides the issue of flammability and flash fires, the smallest amount of burnt material will spoil the whole batch. The water bath is an ancient piece of technology and a reliable thermoregulator that works just as well now as it did a thousand years ago. Again, the ancients were much more sophisticated than we like to think.

 

Weigh your lump of Labdanum, place it in the jar and add an oil of your choice at 3-10 times its weight. A 1-10 ratio will give you a fragrant but less potent oil and a 1-3 a stronger smelling product. You can always start with 1-3 and add oil till you have the strength of fragrance that suits you.

Bring the water to a boil, stir the Labdanum and oil till the Labdanum is completely dissolved. Remove when you are satisfied the Labdanum will break down no further.

Some people let this mix sit 4-6 weeks to extract all the fragrance compounds from the resin, others simply let it sediment well and pour off the liquid. Your choice. You can pass the liquid or the sediment through a pillowcase with a tight weave to rescue any oil left in the spent resin.

This beautifully aromatic oil can be used in oil-based perfumes and skin care products though it can be applied to the hair and skin directly and is one of the most attractive fragrances I know of for facial hair. Literally. It seems to draw people in. Like a people magnet hidden in your beard. If you chose an oil with hair or skin nourishing qualities that is great. If not, your Labdanum oil can be blended with other hair or skin nourishing oils or with a bit of Lanolin or beeswax, (In the water bath), to create a beard balm. Depending on the oil you used this product will keep anywhere from 2 years, (Olive oil) to indefinitely, (Jojoba, Fractionated Coconut Oil).

Water-soluble gum after the hot oil extraction
Metal mesh coffee filter works well for filtering hot resin/oil blends.

 

An alcohol tincture of Labdanum for perfume

To use Labdanum in an alcohol-based perfume use 95%-96% alcohol at the same ratio as above. To make a more concentrated tincture I suggest a twofold tincture rather than trying to tincture the Labdanum with a higher ratio of  Labdanum.

A little warmth speeds up the dissolution of the resin in the oil. A gentle warmth is all that is needed. Again, some perfumers prefer to let this tincture of Labdanum sit for a few weeks before filtering. For an alcohol tincture, I use a paper coffee filter which removes most of the non-aromatic material. You can carefully pour the filtered tincture off the sediment once it has settled. Some perfumers will freeze the tincture before filtering to reduce stickiness in the final perfume product. I haven’t tried it with Labdanum myself

A Labdanum Moustache Wax

If you want to make a moustache wax with Labdanum resin, dissolve the resin in hot wax in the water bath and adjust the product’s hardness and texture by slowly adding small amounts of oil, cocoa butter, lanolin or other oil-soluble materials of your choice till it meets your satisfaction.  Have a plate or other clean room-temperature surface handy to do numerous drop tests to fine-tune the consistency and hardness of your moustache wax. When it is ready, you can pour the liquid wax/resin mix through a metal mesh coffee filter into a measuring cup and either reheat the filtered product in the water bath again for fine-tuning or pour it from the measuring cup into tins or jars for use.

And as always, remember to keep clear notes.

Your future self will thank you.

Dan

 

 

 

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Commiphora confusa. The Myrrh that is a Frankincense.

I know I said I didn’t often post shop listings here on the blog. Though still true, I may have to take that back soon…After over 2 months in Africa and the Mediterranean, I am still trying to catch up on correspondence and workshops, making new products, and getting some gorgeous African aromatics listed in the shop. I just haven’t found the time to sit down and write a blog post. This may seem a bit like cheating, but sometimes you just have to use what you have at hand and I hope it provides enough new and interesting information to be worthy of reading.

 

Visually and aromatically similar to Boswellia or Frankincense neglecta and often mixed in with it, Commiphora confusa stands out as a unique aromatic material deserving a market of its own. (IMHO).

 

 

Commiphora confusa-AKA Kenyan Frankincense is one of the most baffling resins I have encountered to date. Naming it confusa/confusing is putting it mildly.
Dubbed thus due to the radically different forms its flowers exhibit, the list of confusing and perplexing facets of this fragrant oleoresin goes far beyond variations in its sex organs.

COMMIPHORA CONFUSA

Also known as Kenyan Frankincense, even though it’s a member of the Myrrh family, it is in no way a Boswellia or Frankincense. It looks similar to the Boswellia Neglecta resin, also endemic to Northern Kenya and is usually mixed in with Neglecta by collectors and middlemen.

The fragrance profile of this frankincense look-alike is (confusingly) similar in some ways to that of Frankincense Neglecta and though often distilled together as a Neglecta, C. Confusa has distinct aromatic qualities not found in B. Neglecta.

While Boswellia Neglecta is confusing enough in that it presents 2 distinct types of resin, a granular black callus resin and a clear Thurimel or honey type resin, C. Confusa yields 3 different types of exudates, 2 are similar to B. Neglecta and one a translucent reddish hue that is odorless and made up of water soluble gum. On the bright side, C. Confusa does exhibit some traits that are exclusively those of a Commiphora.

Like many other Myrrh species it grows in the dry valleys, plains and open bush land while Frankincense trees mostly grow on and around rocky outcroppings at higher elevations. Though its fragrance bears similarities to B. Neglecta and indeed it shares some of the same aromatic molecules that give B. Neglecta its distinct aroma, Commiphora Confusa also contains many chemical compounds that are exclusively found in the Commiphora or Myrrh family.

When compared side by side, it is obvious that this Kenyan ‘Frankincense’ possesses a unique fragrance of its own whether fresh, as an essential oil or burned on the coals. To my nose, C. Confusa has a distinct sweet herbaceous scent that is absent in B. Neglecta and, while Neglecta has signature notes reminiscent of our Northern Fir trees, they are not as pronounced in C. Confusa.

C. Confusa shares a similar dark grainy exterior to B. Neglecta and on closer inspection this Commiphora reveals the familiar auburn hue shared by many of the Myrrh species and consistently reveals a reddish center unlike the tar-black interior found in B. Neglecta. Another distinction between these two similar resins is that lumps of B. Neglecta resins will adhere to one another forming large balls where C. confuse lacks this external stickiness and is found for the most part in small loose pieces reminiscent of cheese curds.

Like Boswellia Neglecta, C. Confusa trees cannot be tapped to produce resin. This is an assurance that the resin is sustainably harvested.  It will appear only from natural injuries to trunk and limb from romping elephants, goats or Baboons that enjoy nibbling on its bark. Pastoralist tribes like the Samburu collect this resin as they roam with their herds through the bush land. They do not practice any of the usual Frankincense tapping and harvesting methods on these trees.

As with the B. neglecta resin they collect, the Samburu women distinguish between both a light and a dark C. confusa. Yes…I had to see this for myself and it is true!! Initial injury generates a clear “thurimel” a honey type oleoresin devoid of water-soluble gum which hardens translucent and light golden. Subsequent to injury, the tree creates “Traumatic Resin Ducts” as does our Northern Spruce. These ducts then generate a special therapeutic resinous cocktail called “Callus Resin” that acts as a bandage and promotes the growth of protective tissue that heals the wounds, creates scar tissue and isolates healthy flesh from diseased. In Scandinavia, the Spruce callus resin is used in traditional salves for slow healing wounds, diabetic ulcers and post-surgical wounds.

Though similar in many ways to a Frankincense, C. confusa, like all the Myrrh family, is ruled Astrologically by the Moon. (In case you wondered).

This oleoresin does indeed have an Amber aroma reminiscent of the Frankincense family, but brings with it complex, soft, and sweetly herbaceous, (Myrrh), notes that make it an exceptional incense material on its own or compounded with other aromatics. I look forward to distilling it and getting a clearer sense of its unique aromatic profile.

Though not as well researched as other Commiphora oleoresins, C. confusa does contain some of the same therapeutic compounds found in other Myrrh types which make it a candidate for medicated oils, tinctures, cremes, and salves.

If you would like to experience this lovely resin first-hand you can find it here in my Etsy shop.https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/536857735/commiphora-confusa-kenyan-frankincense

I’ll close with a warm thank you to Hillary Sommerlatte in Kenya who introduced me to C. confusa and generously shared her home, time and botanical expertise with me.

Dan

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Boswellia neglecta Thurimel. Somalia Co-op harvested

Boswellia neglecta Thurimel. co-op harvested in Somalia

I usually don’t post shop listings on the blog and make an effort to keep the sales pitch to a bare minimum here. However,  there is a lot of important information in this particular shop listing and I don’t want to write it all again for the blog. Not so much lazy as I seem to have less and less time for some reason.

Many blog readers still ask me if I have a shop where they can buy the Frankincense products I write about, so I will take this as an opportunity to be more overt about it.

Here is a link to my Etsy shop-https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/ApothecarysGarden. It is full of beautiful, sustainably sourced, high quality fragrant and healing stuff. Buy something :-)!

 

Boswellia neglecta thurimel- Somalia, Co-op harvested.

(The shop listing)

Thurimella- Boswellia neglecta, "light"
Boswellia neglecta, “light”. A thurimel

This shipment of “Light” Boswellia neglecta from the Barako co-op in Somalia was a surprise.
It was sent as part of a joint effort to take some of the pressure off the heavily tapped  Boswellia carterii and frereana trees and develop a market for the lesser-known species that share the mountains with them.

Diversifying the trade in resins gives harvesters and their communities a broader income base and a safety net in case the mainstream Frankincense and myrrh trees cannot be saved from their current decline. They are dying off, around the world, at an alarming rate from both environmental stresses and human folly. Something I will post about in depth shortly.

After hundreds, if not thousands of years of tending and harvesting Frankincense and Myrrh trees, these harvester communities have developed unique relationships, cultures, and traditions that are tightly woven with the trees. In many cases, up to 95% of their yearly income is generated from the collection and sale of these aromatic resins. If indeed their decline cannot be stopped, these communities will become displaced and seek new lives in towns and cities, losing their rich heritage and their ties with the land.

Diversifying their income could be a key factor in weathering the loss of Frankincense trees till reforestation and replanting programs are instigated and bear fruit which could take between 30 to 50 years. We need to start thinking about these things.

Olibanum & Thurimel

Boswellia Neglecta-fresh sap
Boswellia Neglecta- Fresh clear exudate.  A pure oleoresin.  A Thurimel.

 

Boswellia carterii. fresh white exudate. Courtesy of Dr. Anjanette DeCarlo
Boswellia carterii. Fresh white exudate. Luban, Levonah, Olibanum. An oleo gum resin and an emulsion of oil and water. Photo courtesy of Dr. Anjanette DeCarlo. http://conservecalmadow.org/

 Frankincense neglecta “light”, a thurimel

Our familiar Frankincense types are oleo-gum-resins and contain varying proportions of water soluble gum. This combination of gum and oleoresin exudes from the tree as a white emulsion which gives Frankincense its traditional names- Luban in Arabic and Levonah in Hebrew, both based on the Semitic root word “White”. The latin name for Frankincense, Olibanum and Oleum Liban in ancient Greek are both derivatives of this word. After thousands of years, we have come to associate all Frankincense species with this white exudate.

Surprisingly, Boswellia neglecta is an oleoresin with no water-soluble gum. It appears as clear golden droplets and thus, is not an Olibanum or Luban.

Not only does this “Light” B. neglecta differ from other Frankincense resins in colour and composition, but the honey coloured “Light” resin contrasts radically with the granular aromatic black resin produced alongside it on the very same tree which is commonly sold as Boswellia neglecta resin. Confused yet?

For these reasons, I felt we needed a proper name for the amber resin of Boswellia neglecta. It sounded grammatically grating and irritatingly unimaginative to call it “Neglecta Light” in the shop.

So, for the sake of clarity, linguistic aesthetics, and to more easily differentiate the “light from the dark, I have dubbed the resin formerly known as Boswellia neglecta “Light”- Boswellia neglecta Thurimellis, a Thurimel which means Frankincense Honey in Latin. I was considering the other Latin version, Tus melle, but that was too smelly.  I am taking artistic license with this.  I don’t know if I got the Latin declensions right, but I look forward to being corrected if this is the case…..

The scent of this Frankincense neglecta Thurimel from Somalia is more intense than the Kenyan variety. Though both share the same Amber Frankincense heart couched in sweet honey and soft musk, this variety is more vivid, fruity and citrusy than the Samburu Frankincense neglecta Thurimel. Other than the scent, it seems identical to the Kenyan variety in all ways. It is a pure oleoresin with no water soluble gum which means it melts cleanly into the charcoal as incense, and just as readily, dissolves into warm oils and waxes for the production of moustache waxes, oils, salves and cremes. It makes a unique perfume tincture and the infused oil of this Frankincense feels softening, nourishing and penetrating on the skin. I can only Imagine the fragrance of its distilled essential oil. It is on the top of my to-distill list.

Boswellia neglecta Thurimel
Boswellia neglecta Thurimel

An introduction to Boswellia neglecta

The Boswellia or Frankincense neglecta resin of commerce is generally accepted as a dark, granular, blackish mass with a rich familiar Frankincense fragrance and a note of sweet Fir trees. l was convinced no tree could produce 2 resins so different in appearance. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes in Northern Kenya I would still be sceptical.

Initial injury to the tree generates a clear oleoresin which hardens translucent and light golden in colour. Subsequently, the tree creates traumatic resin ducts as do our Northern Spruce and Pines. These ducts generate a therapeutic compound called “Callus Resin” that acts as a bandage and promotes the growth of protective tissue that heals the wounds, creates “scar tissue” and isolates healthy tissue from diseased. I assume, that the presence of different chemical compounds lends a different fragrance profile to each of these oleoresins.

Thurimel- Boswellia neglecta, "light"
Thurimel- Boswellia neglecta, “light”

In Scandinavia, Spruce callus resin is used in traditional salves for slow healing wounds and diabetic ulcers. This is the type of Boswellia neglecta resin we are familiar with in the West. It is granular, fragrant, and often tar-like in texture and colour.
I prepare my Frankincense “Heartsease oil” from the dark neglecta which is used in massage to help reduce anxiety, panic, and tightness of the chest.

In Northern Kenya the Samburu women pick it off the trees in small tears which melt together in the 30-40 degree heat that accompanies most days in the bush. It is usually purchased as an aggregate in hardened lumps shaped by the women’s hands as they keep the light resin separate from the dark.

As all its brothers, Frankincense Neglecta is ruled by the Sun from an astrological point of view. It is calming and strengthening to both mind and heart, aids in meditation and concentration, and is thought to act as an aphrodisiac. It is assumed this oleoresin is composed of Boswellic (resin) acids, but I have yet to come across an analysis of the resin. It can be easily crushed and added to other materials when making incense blends and has a sweet, crisp, uplifting Amber fragrance.

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How to make a Frankincense salve for health and beauty

How to make a Frankincense salve

We have relied on Frankincense resin for centuries to treat Arthritis, inflammation of joints, the urinary and gastrointestinal tracts, pain, ulcers, asthma, bronchitis, coughs, and colds, cuts, and wounds. It is traditionally used to improve memory and brain function, as an aphrodisiac, sexual tonic and to address issues of infertility in both sexes. It is well-known for its cosmetic skin rejuvenating properties, adding elasticity to mature skin and reducing wrinkles. Lately, we have seen a slew of studies that indicate the Boswellic acids found in the resin portion of some Frankincense types possess anti-cancer properties.

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 Working with Frankincense

A Frankincense salve can be as simple as hot Olive oil infused with Frankincense thickened with a little beeswax in the Bain Marie. In fact, it has likely been prepared in exactly this fashion for centuries.

The type of oil you use is dictated by personal preferences and intended use, as is the type of butter or wax you use to thicken it. There is an ever-increasing number of exotic oils and butters available and they will all work equally well dissolving the resin portion of Frankincense. The amount of Wax or butter to add can be as little or as much as you like. I usually add just enough to keep the salve in the tin and on the skin for a good period.

The trick with working with Frankincense is understanding that it is an oleo gum resin, has both a water-soluble fraction, (the gum part), and an oil-soluble fraction, (the essential oils and the resin), and that it is the oil-soluble oleoresin that we want to isolate for this application.

There are two methods I use to create a Frankincense salve.

Both will create wonderful healing and fragrant products, but today I will focus on making a salve from the oleo extract.

If you want to deliver Boswellic acids with your salve, you can choose from the 4 Frankincense types that have been shown to contain these healing compounds.

  • Boswellia Serrata
  • Boswellia Carterii
  • Boswellia Sacra
  • Boswellia Papyrifera

I will reiterate here that there are little to no Boswellic acids in the essential oil of Frankincense. The Boswellic acids, AKBA , and other resin acids are only present in the resin portion of these oleo gum resins. Though all essential oils have therapeutic properties, you will not harness the full therapeutic potential of Frankincense unless you work with the whole oleo gum resin or the oleoresin portion.

A hot oil infusion of Frankincense

When preparing a hot oil infusion or extract of Frankincense, we will powder the Frankincense granules to expose as much of the oleoresin as we can to the oil. This can be done using a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. In both cases, we need to spread the powder out and stir it periodically for an hour or so and allow the newly liberated moisture to evaporate. When we grind oleo gum resins, we release up to 10% moisture that has been locked in the gum since the day it bled from the tree. Once the powder dries it will stay loose in a sealed container and will not clump when compacted in capsules. (See-Instructions for grinding Frankincense, Myrrh and other oleoresins).

The simplest way to prepare a salve of Frankincense, (or Myrrh, or both), is –

  • Powder and dry the oleo gum resins.
  • Place the powdered material in a pot, jar or bowl in the water bath.
  • Add a carrier oil of your choice at a minimum ratio of 1:3 by weight. This means 30 grams, (1 ounce),  of powdered resin to 90 grams, (3 ounces), oil of your choice. Depending on your application or the amount of Frankincense you have on hand, you can, of course, make an efficacious product with a higher ratio of oil. I prefer to work with a ratio of 1:3 or 1:5.
  • Bring the bath to a boil and keep it on a low simmer for 3-5 hours stirring occasionally and adding water to the bath periodically if needed.
  • Remove the jar/bowl from the heat, let it sit and sediment a couple of hours, a day or overnight. You can let it sit much longer and many people do so for a full lunar cycle or longer when potentizing more complex medicines.
  • After the undissolved particles have settled to the bottom of the jar, pour the oil through a filter, separating them from the oil.

I use a metal mesh coffee filter to separate the undissolved water-soluble granules from the resin-infused oil. If you don’t filter it, you will have a gritty, grainy salve that will feel more like a greasy exfoliant than a nourishing healing salve. If desired, a finer filtration is possible using the corner of a pillowcase or a paper coffee filter.

 

If you are using a paper coffee filter, keep the sediment out of the filter till the very end, otherwise, it will clog the paper and the process will take much longer to complete. Another trick to filtering through paper is to heat the infused oil in the water bath before filtering. Hot oil is less viscous than cool oil and will pass through the filter paper more quickly.

Once you have a filtered fragrant clear oil,  back to the water bath it goes.

In the bath with Maria

Elegant in its simplicity, the Bain Marie, or water bath is a sophisticated piece of ancient technology. It is a precise and reliable thermoregulator that works as flawlessly today as it did a thousand years ago when knowledge of its use was reserved for initiates of the secret and sacred arts. The Bain Marie is not named after a person, but a principle. And I will leave the pedagogy at that for now.

As the water in your Bain Marie boils, the wax/butter and Frankincense oil will melt together. I like to give them time to heat thoroughly and sit together at the highest temperature for a while to bond. Don’t rush them.

To test the consistency of the mix, I place a few drops of salve to cool on a plate or piece of tinfoil at room temperature. This way I can gauge its current texture and fine-tune the product by adding more wax, butter, oil or any other ingredient that I have incorporated in the formula. When the drop test yields a product you are happy with, remove the salve from the water.

You noticed I didn’t give you a recipe or precise proportions for the waxes or butters in your salve. I am going to let you add these ingredients in small increments, testing the results often till you are happy with the texture, consistency, and fragrance. This is an excellent introduction to your materials and where you make your product uniquely your own. To do this properly and be able to keep accurate notes on what proportions worked best for you, pre-weigh the containers holding your waxes, butters etc. When you have created the product that pleases you, weigh the partially emptied bowls and tally the difference which is what went into your product. Write it down in your formulary for future reference.

Working with essential oils

If you have essential oils you would like to add, now is the time to stir them in as it cools down. I keep essential oils to under 2% for safety reasons. Remember, you already have the aromatic volatile compounds from the oleoresin in their natural proportions.

Sometimes, it can be tempting to overdo it with therapeutic essential oils. I usually find it is more satisfying to keep both the aromatic profile and the therapeutic qualities of the oleoresin front and central and only add essential oils with a light hand and an eye for harmony in fragrance and function.  Resins deliver a broad spectrum of therapeutic compounds and come with their own “custom-made” essential oils. There is no doubt essential oils can provide a supportive role in the finished product, but I have found it is usually best to use a little less rather than a little too much.

Once your essential oils are blended, pour the hot liquid into containers and let it sit undisturbed till it is well solidified. I often use a plastic measuring cup that has a handle and a spout for ease of use and minimal spills when filling tins.

Blending Frankincense & Myrrh

I started writing this post because a reader left a comment asking if she could combine Myrrh in these Frankincense formulas. I got a bit carried away, but I didn’t forget. The answer is YES. You can powder Myrrh and combine it with the Frankincense powder for your oil extract. From there it is easy to make a salve as described above. More than this, there is a special synergy between these 2 trees and their oleoresins. They are known to not only compliment each other but boost each other’s therapeutic qualities when compounded together. In the plant kingdom, Frankincense and Myrrh have a unique bond, resonance, and a polarized symmetry unlike any other 2 plants I know of. Given time I will write more about this.

Thelovers-Arcana6-JaneAdams.janeadamsart.wordpress.com
Frankincense & Myrrh-Sun and Moon   The lovers-Arcana 6-Jane Adams.janeadamsart.wordpress.com

So. Have fun and remember to take clear notes.

Your future self will thank you.

Dan

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How to make an essential oil still at home-A distillation workshop at The Apothecary’s garden.

Gratitude to Christianne L’Esperance for shooting, editing and posting this video. It shows how easy it is to distill essential oils at home. In it I share some of the basic principles, terminology, dos and don’ts, easy to access parts and where to get them. Though by no means a step by step walk through, I hope my approach and philosophy are just as helpful as the practical instructions. Recording was cut short by a dying phone battery, but the outcome of a distillation demonstration is no mystery. Attendees received the hydrosol of Frankincense Serrata with a healthy layer of essential oil. My thanks to everyone who came to the workshop and made it so enjoyable for me.

Dan

 

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An East African Aromatic Adventure

With only a day left in Africa, I feel I need to offer a brief overview of my latest aromatic trip just to keep everyone abreast. Once back in Canada I will write in detail about this last trip to Madagascar and Kenya. So much has happened during these past three weeks and so many things have come together, it has been difficult finding time to write.

Madagascar Vanilla, a rare Elemi, and an improv distillation

Madagascar was beautiful. I am coming home Monday with Vanilla absolute, Vanilla beans, Rare Madagascar Elemi resin, (Canarium madagascariensis), and likely 1 of only two liters of Madagascar Elemi essential oil in  the world.

In Madagascar I travelled with someone just as dedicated to fair trade and sustainable aromatics as myself. Two weeks travelling, smelling, distilling and talking, was a perfect introduction between my new partner in crime, Marco Billi and myself. Some things just can’t be conveyed via email.

We pooled distillation equipment from Canada and italy and put our distillation and improvisation skills to the test. We already have a handful of new  international projects in the works. Lacking a common language was not as great a barrier to communication as I thought it would be. A shared passion for nature lent us common ground. Bourbon Vanilla beans,  Vanilla Absolute, Madagascar Elemi resin and essential oil are some of the Madagascar treasures I’m bringing back home.

Madagascar-Ylang Ylang, Vanilla and Elemi

Kenya. the Samburu, Frankincense, and the “Squirting Perfume Tree”

Though my visit to Kenya was shortened by a cancelled flight in Madagascar and a scramble to buy a new ticket to Kenya, my stay with Andre and Maria of Indigenous Collective has been extremely productive with new developments in our work with the Samburu tribe and the fair trade platform we are setting up for them.

We have now identified some unusual Boswellia and Commiphora trees and discovered valuable fragrance and medicinal compounds in the “Squirting Perfume Tree”, (Commiphora Rostrata). Andre has developed an easy, sustainable method of extracting the volatile oils from under its bark, and with time, we hope to market it and generate an income stream for the remote Samburu tribe.

 Indigenous Collective’s back yard

Somalia-Fair trade, sustainable co-op harvested resins arrive in Hamilton. Patience pays off

On the subject of fragrant resins, my long-awaited shipment of fresh co-op harvested Somali resins finally arrived.. After 7 months of setbacks and roadblocks they are in the shop. As with many new ventures and projects, the beginning is always the hardest and presents the most challenges.

Since our first conversations 2 years ago and birth of the first harvester co-op, we have amalgamated  with another young Somali co-op wIth similar ideals and goals of implementing fair trade and sustainable practices. The Barako co-op signs yearly contracts with 11 village elders, guaranteeing full transparency, a percent of profits going back to the harvester’s communities and infrastructure in exchange for exclusive rights and a commitment to sell their resins.

Barako has also started a nursery, propagating the heavily tapped Boswellias with branch cuttings which will be planted in the wild with their kin and stewarded by the harvesters. This not only ensures a thriving species which is struggling and suffering decline in other harvesting countries, but also ensures a stable income for the harvesters.

Selling directly to the West via the co-op is a challenge from a logistic point of view, but it bypasses the chain of middlemen who buy the resins at the lowest possible price, leaving the harvesters struggling to make ends meet and often leaving them indebted to the middlemen and brokers by pre-selling the next season’s harvest at rock bottom prices out of desperation.

I have to give special credit to my helper Joanne who is not only running the business single-handedly while I’m in Africa, but took upon herself to get the Somali resins quickly released by Canada Customs, avoiding ongoing storage fees, and in the shop, packaged and ready to ship. If I haven’t said it recently, I am indeed a fortunate man. Thank you Joanne!

Somali resins, before and after their long journey

As it stands in the shop now, and while they last, we finally have –

All traded fairly and with an eye to sustainability.

That’s it for now. I will write in more detail when I’m back in Canada.

 

Dan