Zanzibar Copal. Hymenea verrucosa-Madagascar.
Sustainable harvest- Collected from the ground.
Zanzibar Copal is a very pretty, semi-translucent, hard and brittle exudate of the Hymenea verrucosa tree. It generates the loveliest tinkling sound when shaken in the hand. The tinkle is an indication of its hardness and durability as a varnish and protective surface treatment for wood. And for this reason, it is much sought after.
As an incense ingredient, it creates a wonderful, warm, sweet, old-wood, soft smoke that I find deeply comforting and calming. Blended with other aromatics it softens the harsh edges of rawer ingredients, (fresh conifers, Elemis etc.), and pulls an incense blend together.
This is the same tree that brings us our Manzirufu seed pods, (see here-https://www.etsy.com/listing/1023078941/manzirufu-hymenea-verrucusa-seed-pods), which are used in the Malagasy Tromba ritual where ancestors are petitioned, (usually through possession) to share their advice and wise counsel.
Though this tree does grow in Zanzibar and other areas of East Africa, the Madagascar variety is not fossilized and does not accumulate for thousands of years beneath the trees due to differences in soil composition. These pieces are relatively fresh and likely only hundreds of years old.
One will on occasion find bugs and insects trapped inside the resin sheets.
This is fallen resin and no trees were tapped or harmed in any way to yield this product.
The name Hymenea comes from the Greek God of Marriage Hymen and is in reference to the perfect pairing of the tree’s leaves. The God Hymen also lends us the name for the female membrane of the same name. Once more closely associated with marriage than today.
The second name verrucosa comes from the Latin word for Warts, a reference to the resin-filled blisters that appear on the surface of the tree’s seed pods. See the photo above for reference.
Since this material is quite hard, one needs to break it into smaller pieces before placing on the coal or powdering it for processing. This is easily done by inserting the resin pieces in a closed ziplock bag and tapping them with a hammer. When they are down to about 1/4″ they can easily be powdered in a mortar and pestle or an electric herb/coffee grinder.
Because of its hardness and clarity, it is an excellent material for making high-grade, durable lacquers and varnishes. It dissolves in pure alcohol and Turpentine.
The word Copal truly is generic. It is used in Central and South America to describe incense. Of any type. Thus we will find resins from very different species, with very different physical and aromatic traits, all referred to locally as Copal.
The other use of the word Copal is the reference to any hard, pure resin devoid of gum and essential oil that can be dissolved in a solvent such as alcohol, hot vegetable oils or turpentine to produce a hard protective coating such as varnishes, lacquers and other industrial finishes.
Zanzibar Copal can be burned on its own or compounded with other aromatic materials in sticks, cones, pastilles or loose incense.