Bushman’s Balm. Made with Sarcocaulon Mossemedes wax, with no added colours, fragrances or preservatives.
Simple is often best and with only 3 ingredients, this Bushman’s Candle-Lip Balm really shines. The Amber scent of the wax blends beautifully with the sweet notes of the unrefined Ontario Beeswax creating a smooth texture and a sensuous natural accord.
Sarcocaulon Mossemedense is a flowering shrub of the Geranium family that thrives in the hot, harsh and bone-dry Namib desert of Western Africa. The succulent interior of the plant is preserved and protected by a thick waxy, resinous bark which endures on the parched desert floor for many years after the plant’s demise and can be utilized in a wide range of skin-care products
The fallen bark is collected by members of the Himba tribe and often processed into a resin extract for the perfume industry. Collecting the bark provides an extra income to members of the tribe.
However, besides the aromatic resinous material, there is a natural wax present in the bark which is discarded as waste after removing the resin portion for perfume use.
Utilizing this fragrant wax is a simple process and if a market can be created for it, this value-added product could generate extra income for the tribe.
This amber-scented wax is perfect for cosmetics, candles, moustache waxes, and therapeutic skin-healing formulas.
Both the wax and the resin extract can be prepared from the same material, doubling its usefulness and value as a sustainably collected harvest.
Bushman’s candle resin extract and wax share a beautiful Amber scent that is rich, sweet, warm, woody and tenacious.
It is easy to extract 2 separate products from the raw bark, the alcohol extract for perfume and incense and a wax which can be used in candles and cosmetic/therapeutic preparations.
HOW TO PREPARE A 25% EXTRACT OF BUSHMAN’S CANDLE
Coarsely grind 100 grams of Bushman’s Candle bark.
In a sealed glass vessel, cover with 300 grams 94% to 96% Ethanol.
Let sit in a warmish, (30 degrees Centigrade), place for 6 weeks, stirring or shaking periodically.
Filter through a paper coffee filter and bottle in glass.
A 50% extract can be made in the same manner but with 100 grams alcohol instead of 300 grams.
A resin extract or absolute can be prepared by evaporating the alcohol from the extract at room temperature.
HOW TO EXTRACT THE WAX FROM BUSHMAN’S CANDLE
Collect the spent material left over after the resin extract of Bushman’s Candle.
When the material is bone dry place in a glass vessel and cover with an equal weight of Fractionated Coconut oil or a carrier oil of your choice.
Place in a water-bath and bring the bath to a boil.
Maintain the temperature of the bath for 2-4 hours.
Press the liquid wax, (carefully), from the solid material, or-
Filter the material hot, through a metal mesh coffee filter or –
Botany for the distiller. A workshop series at the Bozarth Mansion in Spokane WA 12-14 June 2017
Distilling essential oils is a simple process that echoes the evaporation and condensation of water in Nature. We load the still with aromatic material and collect essential oil and hydrosol from the other end.
Is this all there is to what was once considered an art? Or is it just the beginning of the journey? Knowing how to paint, does not make one an artist, nor does mastering a language make us poets. Is our goal to simply produce a commodity? Or is there more for us to aspire to as distillers?
While we fashion our tools and equipment by mimicking Nature’s processes and rhythms, the art and artistry of a thing is drawn from within us, independent of the tools we work with. Fine craftsmanship is a marriage of sound tools, high-quality materials, skill and vision, experience and insight. What vision leads us forward as distillers? What qualities can we hope to express in our work and products? What is the poetry, the passion we hold in our minds and hearts that propels us forward and upward towards the perfection of our craft and art? What lies beyond our view and past the horizon?
We are born into a world of mass produced cloned products that share the lowest common denominator in form, function, and price. It is a world focused on quantity not quality, profit not poetry. Financial success often hinges on sacrificing quality to supply a vast market with competitively priced standardized mediocre products. If our paths as distillers are to grow beyond simple manufacturing, where might they lead us and where is the handbook?
Once, we could study the art of distillation with masters, mentors, guilds and societies. We had access to rich, time honoured traditions. Often an integral part of our medicine, magic, science and religion, the art of distillation was woven tightly with an understanding of the rhythms and cycles of a cosmos that was inseparable from all life on the planet. Guarded through the centuries by monasteries, temple priests, and secret societies, hidden behind metaphor and misleading language, secrets and mysteries of the art would only yield themselves through devotion, study, prayer and practical work.
Still hidden behind veiled language and colourful metaphor, we find allusions to the art deep in folklore, and in ancient medical, herbal and alchemical texts. I believe many of the keys to quality that we seek today, await us in traditions and philosophical systems we abandoned in our rush to industrialize, quantify, and monetize our world and its resources. We threw out many a baby with the bathwater to more easily organize and work our will in the world.
On the bright side, we collectively share a wealth of historical, cross-cultural information about plant intelligence, planetary influences and our relationship with Nature, though looking to the past, it is easy to find more questions than answers.
Is there is sentience and intelligence in nature beyond our own? In the cosmos?
Are the plants we distil inanimate conglomerates of chemical compounds? Or are they integral parts of a living breathing, evolving and sentient organism? If so, does any of this carry through to our finished products?
Is there a connection between the energies and rhythms of Sun, Moon, Planets and life on earth?
Do these cycles and rhythms of nature and the cosmos we live in, have any bearing on the qualities expressed in our products?
Are sustainability, fair trade, and ethics in the trade of aromatics simply current PC fads, or are they pressing issues we need to address as distillers of plant materials? What is really going on with our wild aromatics at home and abroad and does it matter?
How has our relationship with nature changed the past 200 years and how does it affect our products?
Are we part of the equation of quality in our products? Does our relationship with our materials, the land, the plants we work with, impact the quality of our products? If so, then how?
Was Strega Nona correct when she postulated the secret ingredient is love?
We have left ourselves with a broad multi-generational gap in our knowledge and wisdom. One that is steadily widening and in my opinion, bringing with it a growing dissonance in our modern world. Ours is a generation that is reclaiming lost babies and practical wisdom from our collective past. We are the ones rooting around in history, folklore and mysticism, experimenting, exploring, testing and trying, and finding out first-hand what works, drawing from it, and weaving it back into the fabric of our world.
Before we go out with our scissors, machetes, shovels and knives to gather our next batch of distillation material, before we order in the next box of exotic and rare aromatics, let’s pause, collect ourselves and reflect on where we are going and how we can best get there. How high can we reach? How far can we go? Let’s see if we can’t get a little closer to answering some of these questions around ethics and sustainability, plant intelligence, rhythms and cycles, product quality, fine craftsmanship, and the ancient art of distillation.
Well, I have my tickets to Madagascar. Now I deal with the anxiety of Oh My God what have I done, what am I forgetting to pack, and make sure you buy new underwear in case the plane goes down in a ball of flame.
A huge, warm thank you to everyone who contributed to this project through their donations and purchases in the Apothecary’s Garden Shop. Buying this ticket is not something I could have accomplished without the support of a community that shares in a vision of fair trade and sustainable practices around the world. I don’t know what awaits on the other end of this flight, but there seems to be no lack in the world for little opportunities to make things better and help correct a system that has revealed many flaws.
As many of you know, I believe that directly involving more indigenous harvesters, farmers and communities in our global trade will not only raise the quality of our medicinal and aromatic products in the west, greatly improve the quality of life in remote marginalized areas, but can help preserve and nurture our green spaces across the globe. Indigenous people are perfectly positioned to steward their regions and resources. All we need to do is support them.
Besides exploring the rich array of aromatics in Madagascar, meeting farmers, harvesters and exporters, my host and I hope to build a small distillation unit with the goal of training local artisans to produce high quality essential oils and direct more of our Western dollars to their communities.
Since our days of colonisation, our practice is to buy natural resources from third world and developing countries at the cheapest possible price, process and add value to them ourselves, and distribute the wealth and profit among our corporations and middlemen. This approach keeps struggling economies poor and developing countries under-developed. It is a model of business based on western profit alone and we can change it.
The harvesters co-op in Somalia
Photos-Frankincense Frereana, or Maydi growing out of the almost vertical rock walls in Somalia. Sorting and packing Boswellia Carterii, Frereana and Commiphora/Myrrh resins. (Photos courtesy Barako Frankincense co-op.)
On a different note, my Somali co-op managers have notified me their shipment of a wide selection of local resins has finally boarded the plane on its way to Toronto. Keep your eye on the shop. Though I would love to stay here and wait for it, I’ll have to make other arrangements in case it arrives in Canada before I do. If possible I will have Joanne pick it up.
Yes, this is also a good time to officially announce I have a helper. Joanne has been packing and shipping orders, communicating with customers for over 4 months now. She is doing an amazing job and becoming indispensable, (which is a little scary).
I saw her curly salt and pepper hair bobbing down the street from my window one day, and there was something powerfully familiar about her though I had never met her. I went to the back porch to see if she would turn the corner and within 5 minutes she was up the staircase interviewing me for the census. Basically she has worked for me ever since. I remembered her from the future of course.
So, while I am away in exotic countries lollygagging with Lemurs and snorting snuff with the Samburu Mamas, it will be Joanne who takes such good care of your orders. When orders are perfectly packaged and arrive with lightening speed, it will be Joanne you can thank. She goes by the name Jo, or Jojo, or Jojojo when I catch her polishing off the last of my coffee thinking its hers.
The Samburu women’s Frankincense co-op
While booking my ticket to Madagascar, I was able to finance a flight from Madagascar to Kenya so I can also work on the Samburu women’s resin co-op project. This left about enough in the bank for a smallish sandwich. But it felt good. Looked crazy, but felt right.
In Kenya I will post the long-awaited Black and Light Boswellia neglecta to Hamilton. I apologize to everyone for the long wait, but we are still working out logistics and looking for systems that work best for the folks in Kenya. As they say, “All the beginnings are difficult”.
While there, we will distill a test run of Frankincense neglecta and discuss value-added products the women can make with their resins to boost their income. It’s not a lot of time, but I plan to return for a longer visit in January.
That’s about it for now. I will keep everyone updated here when internet is available
I have been offered the opportunity to spend two weeks working in Madagascar this October. Short notice and an unexpected expense, but full of potential. I will stay with Vanilla farmers, distil an unusual Elemi, and look at creating value-added products and direct sales that will benefit harvesters, farmers, and their communities. If I can get myself there.
Madagascar is the world’s largest supplier of Bourbon Vanilla and provides us a good portion of our Cloves, Cinnamon, Peppercorns, Ginger and other spices. It is also home to some of the world’s finest Cacao and unique resin-bearing trees that grow nowhere else. All in all a paradise for perfumers, herbalists, apothecaries, distillers and the aromatically inclined.
Traditionally, the trade in medicinal and aromatic plants is profit driven with a focus on the bottom line alone. Little thought is given to fair trade practices that benefit harvesters, farmers and their communities. Sadly, there is also a great lack of foresight when it comes to sustainable harvesting in the wild, and agricultural practices that preserve or benefit the local ecological balance.
We are slowly eroding our forests and natural landscapes, losing not only our medicinal and aromatic species, but our wildlife through mismanagement. Madagascar is home to some of the most unusual and unique wildlife on the planet and already losing species through our carelessness. As with my ongoing work with harvesters in East Africa, my goal is to create or source both fair trade and sustainable aromatics and provide them as directly as I can from the harvesters/farmers to my customers.
Since for the most part, I fund my life and all my projects through sales in my Etsy shop, an unexpected trip means getting creative with sales. To this end, I am taking advantage of the shop’s coupon and discount code option to see if I can get enough money together to pay for this trip in the next couple of weeks. It’s short notice and a gamble, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. If I can’t make it to Madagascar this October, that’s OK too and I will definitely visit in the near future.
I am offering a rare 10% discount in the shop for the next 2 weeks. You can use it as often as you like, share it with friends or family and pass it on. The discount code is Madagascar2016 and you will be prompted to type it in at checkout. Here is a link to the shop-Apothecary’s Garden-
After publishing this post I have received numerous comments that asked for the total amount I need for this project and requests to make available an option to donate rather than purchase something from my shop.
I need a minimum of $2,000.00 cover the cost of tickets and some of the basic expenses while I am in Madagascar. In response to the second request I am inserting a Paypal “Donate” button below and in the sidebar of the blog.
If I do get to Madagascar this October, I promise to do my best to post pictures when internet is available, and of course, on my return there will no doubt be aromatic treats circulating among my customers and internet friends.
A deep and warm thank you in advance for everyone’s support for my work, both financial and moral. I could do none of this without you.
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P.S. After you donate through PayPal, you will receive a receipt on behalf of New Dawn Herbal Apothecary. This is the brick and mortar version of Apothecary’s Garden, it is one and the same though the names are different. Dan
The past few decades we have seen a burgeoning market in herbal health related products. Natural/botanical perfumes and cosmetics, aromatherapy and massage therapy have all contributed to a booming Western market and a consistent growth in our use of essential oils.
Along with this market growth, has come an increase, or at least increased awareness of adulteration routinely practiced by large-scale brokers, manufacturers, and marketers of essential oils. Vast sums are invested in marketing and advertising , crafting assurances of purity and highest quality, yet too often we hear of essential oils that are adulterated with less expensive materials and diluted with carrier oils to increase profits. Corporate trust, once found, is often fleeting.
In fact, from what I can tell, the art of adulteration has become so sophisticated, it is often impossible to detect foreign, less expensive materials, and diluents in essential oils even with the latest analytical technology. Like lucrative forgeries in any field, there seems to be just as much incentive to beat new tech as there is to develop it.
The hidden price of essential oils
Besides a lingering doubt around purity, there is also a hidden price that comes with this increase in our demand for essential oils. Ethics in trade, sustainability, social and environmental integrity can easily be compromised to bring us our natural aromatics while keeping the profit margin high and costs low. Market growth is mirrored by higher volume production methods which can lead to over-harvesting in the wild, or mono-culture practices which displace indigenous plants and animals, reduce biodiversity, and invite the use of herbicides, pesticides, and artificial fertilizers. If not thoughtfully implemented these practices also have negative local economic and cultural impact.
Disconcerting as this is, it is important to keep in mind that this is a system we created. It is a global machine of commerce, designed, fueled and directed by us alone. It does exactly what we ask of it. There are no puppet masters controlling the world, just us.
Armed with this knowledge, more of us are demanding transparency and higher standards from those who procure or manufacture for us. I believe we have a growing voice and influence on the system, though change is slow, we are adjusting our purchasing practices to support those who provide better quality products, higher standards of ethics in business, production, manufacture, social and environmental accountability. We in the West are perfectly positioned with our numbers, relative affluence, and privilege to make any changes we choose.
With global and instantaneous communication, the collection, collation and implementation of online data, each mouse click, query, preference and purchase we “input” online works to shape our global marketplace and direct our manufacturers and corporations. The internet is a pure form of global consensus and polling. Just like voting but not yet rigged. Every single click counts. Change could be swift if we all acted together. This is important and doable, but sadly, will likely take time.
What do we do in the meantime?
Do we have an alternative, besides waiting for enough of us to decide to change the world? Many of us require consistent high-quality essential oils we can trust and use with a clean conscience, and we need them now.
Though the problems of ethics, sustainability, and trust in the corporate world may seem daunting, there is a fast-growing grassroots movement in the Western world that has evolved in part as a solution to the mess and mayhem we created with our industrial revolution, mass production shortcuts, and colonial philandering.
Local, small-scale, conscientious producers in a broad range of creative fields are part of a growing Western trend and are taking an increasing portion of the consumer market in many niche industries .
The number of small-scale farmers, vintners, craft brewers, apothecaries, perfumers, niche craftspeople, and artisans is growing quickly in our culture, and we are increasingly supporting them.
I believe we support them because on some level we would rather invest in quality, craftsmanship, and ethics that reflect our ideals. If given a choice, we prefer to buy from the source and not deal with faceless corporations, myriad middlemen, and indifferent salespeople. Supporting our artists, artisans, craftspeople, small businesses and micro industries is another way we change the world one purchase at a time.
Out of this growing grassroots movement has emerged an alternative to mainstream, mass-produced essential oils of questionable quality and ethics. These are our artisan and small batch essential oil distillers.
“One of my mentors once told me the real way to ascertain authenticity is to see the growing plants, the still and ideally be present during distillation and obtain a sample fresh from the still.
Clearly one cannot do this every time for every oil on the list. But we believe that the contact to the actual producer is an indispensable element of every attempt to procuring authentic oils. In our experience adulteration never happens at the level of the producer. The know how to reconstruct, standardize or adjust essential oils is found in the big brokerages who often can sell essential oils for less than they cost at the source” Kurt Schnaubelt-The human element-Addressing issues around the adulteration of essential oils.
Artisan essential oil distillers are always people with a passion and a focus on quality and craftsmanship. They are most often found tending their aromatic gardens or carefully collecting raw materials from their locale. Most have a deep connection and relationship with the bio-region and in many cases steward the land fiercely. Like any craftsperson, their products are an extension of themselves, an expression of their values and ethics and fueled by a pride in quality and craftsmanship. Nothing mass-produced or impersonal can be found here. They are the wellspring and the source of these essential oils.
They have mastered their craft and honed it over the course of years if not decades. Their skill is evident in their practice and products, acknowledged by their peers and customers. Their sales grow not through heavy advertising, expensive packaging and marketing props, but from word of mouth and customer satisfaction.
Their products possess quality and qualities that can never be reproduced on an industrial scale or purchased through a corporation. Artisan distilled essential oils provide a benchmark for the quality and purity of mainstream essential oils.
Artisan essential oil distillers are a vital part of our native aromatic and herbal arts, our indie perfume and aromatherapy communities. These men and women make up an underground and grassroots movement that we have invoked and called into being with our need for transparency, quality, ethics and sustainable practices in our essential oil market.
Though many would rather just be distilling and not bother with the stress of selling or marketing themselves, their products are available if you know where to find them. I will provide links to some North American artisan distillers in the next few weeks so you can purchase their essential oils directly..
As some of you know, I will be presenting the keynote speech and conducting a workshop at the Viridis Genii symposium beginning of June in Portland Oregon.
The premise of this gathering is dear to my heart and indicative of a growing Western culture that is actively weaving spirit and the sacred back into our relationship with nature.
Capitalism and industrialisation have brought us many gifts, but the price we have paid for our progress is a disconnection from nature and spirit. We wake each morning to a world focused on material goods, devoid of content, meaning, ethics or spirit. We look at our negative impact on the world, how we treat our food animals and forests, we see increasing global environmental degradation, loss of species, rampant new diseases and we wonder what we as individuals can do to change this.
There are facets of nature that we cannot understand through study or external sources. They represent knowledge that is esoteric, transmitted directly, purely experiential and deeply subjective. I believe the answers to our current disconnectedness are found here through deep, intimate and individual reconnecting with Nature. A path that is available to us all. Anytime. Anywhere.
Carefully veiled around us, is a world of ancestral knowledge and timeless wisdom. Within it we find ancient mysteries, lost sciences and arts, dormant magic and technology both forgotten and yet to be discovered. It is ours to draw from if we so choose.
One need not be a mystic, mage or super-spiritual person to dip into this well of mysteries, gifts and insights, to be initiated into a deeper understanding of nature, the cosmos and our place in it. There are no titles or certificates needed or given, no special invitations or secret handshakes. Entheogens are not mandatory and there is no age requirement. Come, open and willing as you are. Bring your passion. Nature turns no one away.
What awaits us on this path as plant people, herbalists, healers, apothecaries, alchemists, wizards, witches, wildcrafters and more, is a broadened understanding of cosmic and planetary intelligence and life, a sense of place and stewardship, a connectedness to nature and humanity as a whole and an ability to not only hear and understand the language of nature, plants and animals, but to communicate and forge mutually respectful relationships. Here we directly experience shamanism, animism, magic, mysticism and the healing arts of our collective ethnocultural pasts. Here we discover stewardship of our future.
When we connect deeply and intimately with nature and its plants, animals and minerals, align ourselves with its cycles and rhythms, we enter into the presence of the “other”, the genius, the intelligence, the spirit, that which speaks directly to us. With us. This is the Viridis Genii, the Spirit of the green, and we learn her secrets through Gnosis, experiential knowledge- Green Gnosis. She invites us each into deep intimacy with her in her world and her temple of mysteries, if we but ask.
Though radically personal and subjective, there is a commonality of experience that lends us a shared understanding and language. That shared language creates a community. A growing community . This growth could be deemed a movement. This movement can be discerned in other fields and human endeavours.
I believe when viewed from afar, this slow radical change in perception through individual personal experience can be seen as an evolution on a global scale.
The Viridis Genii Symposium is a call, a beacon to any and all who have experienced or seek to experience the mysteries, magic and medicine of nature beyond its physical form. All who have ever felt there was more in the forest than meets the eye.
Since returning from Africa 2 weeks ago, it feels like I landed running, and I don’t yet see a respite in the near future. My keynote speech at the Viridis Genii Symposium is coming up fast which means I had better get travel arrangements to Oregon made ASAP, and with any luck get a day in Hawaii with master distiller Jack Chaitman of Scents of knowing, whom has long held my admiration and respect. He is figuratively and literally a wizard with plant intelligence and essential oils.
Spring is just starting to show here in Southwestern Ontario and the tree buds are swelling on the Niagara escarpment, finally clothing their winter nakedness with a bit of brown. I hear the Wild ginger and Witch Hazel calling me. I have to get out of the studio and visit with my plant friends.
For those who generously supported my travels though prepurchasing the Ethiopian Essential oils and professor Dagne’s lovely “Duet” co-distillation of Boswellia Papyrifera and B. Neglecta, the package is finally here from Ethiopia after many delays. I will be bottling them and hope to ship them out beginning of the week. I will also get these gems posted in the shop in the next few days, so keep checking back. I should also mention I am trying out $6.00 flat rate shipping in the shop. If I don’t lose my favourite shirt with it, I will keep it permanently.
My Ethiopian shipment came in with gorgeous fresh Frankincense and Myrrh resins. The Boswellia Papyrifera is in the largst most succulent chunks I have ever seen. Both the Myrrh and Opoponax resins are fresh, fragrant, vibrant and excellent representations of the species. The Boswellia Rivae is as deliciously sweet as ever, and part of me hopes it doesn’t sell so I can smell it and play with it as long as possible.
I want to thank everyone who has placed orders for resins, essential oils and my Astrodynamic products the past few weeks. Your patronage is a true compliment and your support is heart warming.
That being said, as a one man show, I may have to hire extra help with this influx of orders, so please bear with me while I adjust to the new pace of sales in the shop… ……
In the meantime, to entertain, (distract), you, I am posting some photos from my visit in Kenya and the Samburu tribe courtesy of the talented photographer and wonderful travel companion, Minna Kalliokoski. Many have asked for them, so it will also be one thing I can tick off a job list that strangely seems to be growing daily and not getting any shorter.
Kenya sunset. Truly a magnificent country.
Boswellia Neglecta-Sorting dark and light resins from it.
Her first beads. A story for the next post.
First incursion into the area of quality control with the new resin co-op.
Hunting the edible Frankincense fruit, or Boswellia Yum yum as we dubbed it. delicious succulent fruit. Used locally as a dietary supplement, cus its delicious, and apparently a preventative and cure for Malaria..Still not identified….
Samburu women. They are all gorgeous!
All the Samburu Moran warriors have dual and large “Saddles” or discs in their ears which they remove when they become elders. My single Elk antler tunnel was a never ending source of surprise, amusement, shock and often hilarity for the Samburu.,
Subdued by the Samburu women
Wild animals everywhere!
Samburu women sorting Frankincense Neglecta
Finding some shade after a 10 Km. hike through Commiphora and Boswellia bushland. We collected over 1/2 kilo in 4 hours. Silly me decided to take my hat off to cool down after the trek….Bad move, and paid for it afterwards.
Traditional Samburu headrest/stools
Frankincense fruit and leaf, Kenya 2016
The spraying perfume tree, a Bursera.
Finally, I want to thank everyone for their generous donations to my work with indigenous harvesters and efforts to establish fair and sustainable trade of resins and other fragrant/medicnal materials. I could not have met and worked with Civet farmers, Somali resin co-op managers or the resin harvesting women of the Samburu tribe without your financial support. This influx was unexpected and heartwarming. Much more than money, I was bolstered by the appreciation and warm moral support for these ventures. It makes me feel like change is possible in our world. That we can all work together to make this a better place for everyone, plants, animals and people. It felt like a net of love that somehow appeared under a crazy idea and a leap of faith. My deepest and most sincere gratitude to you all!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!!
Recently, while writing about the traditional Labdanum harvest in Crete for my Etsy shop, I was reminded why I love doing what I’m doing. I see us, a new wave of herbalists, natural perfumers, earth and people healers, plant whisperers, craftspeople and shamans, with a role in this world and an opportunity that was not offered us till recently. We now have the tools to change the world much more easily and quickly. If we understand what is required from us.
We have become accustomed to a Colonial/Capitalist approach to natural resources. Our western corporations take the precious stuff from poorer countries at the lowest possible price, taking advantage of cheap local labour and poverty, then sell it to us at the highest possible price. This is one reason developing countries are still only developing and corporations are doing so well. They see very little of the money we consumers pay for their resources. I think it’s time for a change.
Dealing in the trade of fragrant materials and working directly with harvesters, I am exposed to this process from the harvester’s perspective. Gaining an understanding of the harvester’s lives, cultures and struggles is eye-opening and often disturbing
Frankincense is one example. Not only are wild growing trees sometimes raided by thieves, but when the harvest does get collected and taken to the local market, traders aim to pay the lowest possible price for the harvest and I have heard many horror stories about this. Trading a bag of rice or flour for a bag of the highest quality resin that can fetch up to $300.00 a kilo on the retail market, is not an unusual story. A hungry harvester who needs to provide for their family the year ahead is vulnerable to these offers.
I hear of traders telling the harvesters they will only pay them when they sell their resins. Of harvesters indebted to traders since the prices they receive are not sufficient to sustain them for the year and they end up borrowing against future harvests. That scenario never bodes well for the harvester and is, sadly, quite common. Harvesters are often pitted against each other by the buyers and told others are selling at a much lower price leading desperate gatherers to settle for low prices to ensure a sale.
Sadly, many of these “Traders” are westerners, representatives or middlemen for familiar international companies, bullies sent out to ensure the corporations make the biggest possible profit by paying the lowest possible price for goods. Till now, profit for the corporations, at any cost, has been the only motivator and goal in this trade. We have accomplished a lot with our capitalist model of commerce, but lately it has become obvious, some things need to change. I believe we now have the tools and group power to collectively build a new model for ourselves.
We are the rich kids on the block and it is our responsibility to share what we have and not close our eyes to the distress or struggles of our neighbors. Especially not when we are buying their goods. We certainly shouldn’t take advantage of their poverty and lack as we do. And we do. Let’s be clear and honest about this. The high prices we pay for our wild harvested medicinal herbs and fragrant materials go mainly to the big corporations and others who make a profit along the way. Very little ever reaches the people who harvest it except the bare minimum to ensure they keep supplying us.
I will address this fully in a soon to be published post, but, the certification of “Organic” for our wild-crafted herbs and fragrance materials, is too often misused for profit.
I assure you without hesitation that the cheaper version of that Frankincense essential oil, beside the one that is certified organic, is , without the slightest doubt, equally organic and could very well be of higher quality.
The qualification of “Organic” in our wild harvested crops is inappropriate and misused. It was designed for domestic and cultivated crops and has no business being applied to wild harvested plants. It is also important to point out that not a penny of the premium we pay for this spurious certification is seen by the harvesters.
What we do need is a legitimate certification of Sustainable/Ethical harvest and “Fair Trade” practices. If we aren’t dealing directly with the harvesters ourselves, then we need a body we can trust to look out for them and see to their well-being, financially, socially, culturally and otherwise. Ideally we need a certification by an organization that will protect and support the harvesters while ensuring sustainable harvesting practices and propagation in the wild. Our market demand is growing, natural resources are stressed and in many cases declining. We need to address this now, not when it’s too late.
These harvesters and collecters are the only stewards we have for these precious and quickly disappearing resources. We must see to their needs to ensure they have the means to sustain themselves and the wild crops we depend on. This is our obligation. We need to take care of those who are taking care of our precious resources and their little corner of the planet for us.
We complain about the big corporations we have created and the damage they are doing to our society, economy and the planet. However it is we who sustain them with our purchases. If we stop feeding them and supporting them they will cease to exist. We are solely responsible for giving corporations their power because we give them our money.
If, instead, we direct our support towards the small-scale local operators, at home and abroad, and take care of the “little people”, we could, in fact, replace our corporate Capitalist model with something that is more suited to ensuring peace, prosperity and liberty for all while sustaining an ongoing supply of the medicinal and fragrant plant materials we love and depend on.
Do our harvesters have enough food? Adequate shelter? Clean water? Enough income to get by comfortably? Do they have basic healthcare and education? Are they receiving fair prices for their products? If not, then we are not paying them enough for their goods and services. Or more to the point, our money is not reaching them and something needs to change.
In the case of our wild aromatics and medicinals, the harvesters are the best positioned and best qualified to steward these precious resources. In fact, they are the only onesthat can do this critical job. Many of our medicinal and aromatic plants also have important roles in the cultures and societies that harvest them for us.
Frankincense trees are often left untapped for decades just so they can be given as gifts or dowry to newlyweds. These trees are of great value to the harvesters from a social and cultural perspective. They are much more than just a source of income. This is likely the case with other wild harvested plants we in the west purchase.
Many of these wild crops will not grow, thrive or lend themselves to domestic cultivation in orderly rows and tended fields and must be tended to where they grow best, in the wild. We need to maintain the balance of nature in the wild so our harvesting does not leave holes in the local ecology where other species might take over.
Many plants we use are stressed and not reproducing as well as they should due to over-harvesting, yet our demand still grows. Now is the time to propagate and replenish them in the wild, before it is too late. Part of the money we pay for our wild aromatics and medicinals needs to be invested in programs that ensure these native crops are maintained and do not decline from our intervention. The harvesters are the ideal implementors of programs of propagation, seeding and stewardship in the wild.
To change the current scenario, we need to deal as directly as we can with the harvesters, cut out the ruthless traders, the profit-focused large corporations, the myriad middlemen and the impersonal companies that receive the lion’s share of the high prices we pay. We need a new model that will serve us all well, harvesters, purveyors and consumers alike, where profit is only one of many conditions that need to be met. We need a model that brings prosperity and benefit to all, including the plants and their environments, the harvesters and their communities.
I invite you to think differently about our exotic wild medicinals and fragrant plant materials and start thinking about our brothers and sisters who harvest and steward them for us, and how to best appreciate and support their efforts so our children and theirs can experience these same wonderful scents and medicinals before they disappear from the planet through our shortsightedness.
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.