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Maydi-The King of Frankincense

Boswellia Frereana, Maydi

Perhaps one of the least known Frankincense types in the western world, but one of the most prized  in Arabia and Africa, Boswellia Frereana is native to the Somali Puntland the Somaliland highlands, and is their pride and joy. In Somaliland and neighboring regions, Maydi is considered the King of Frankincenses.

With a sweet and warm amber fragrance highlighted by spice, and floral notes, Frankincense Frereana differs from most other types of Frankincense with its pure oleo-resin content and lack of water-soluble gum.

Fresh Frankincense Frereana- from Somaliland-" Maydi or Yemenite Chewing Gum
Fresh Frankincense Frereana- from Somaliland-” Maydi” or Yemenite Chewing Gum

Harvested from fewer trees over a much shorter period during the year, Maydi, or Boswellia Frereana, is not as abundantly available as the other more familiar types of Frankincense. It is bought up quickly by the Coptic church, Saudi, Omani and Yemenite dealers, and much of it is used domestically.

Maydi is burned in Somali homes to sweeten the air after cooking, to add fragrance to clothing and used on special occasions. The Somalis have a  traditional amber type incense they “cook” up, made from Frankincense Frereana and other local ingredients called “Uusni”. A recipe I hope to eventually discover. ( Any insights or advice would be greatly appreciated!).

The west sees very little of this precious Frankincense. Averaging around  99% oleoresin with barely any water-soluble gum content, (as compared to 20% -35% in Boswellia Carterii/Sacra and other types), this Frankincense is all fragrance.

Maydi is used in its unprocessed state as a natural chewing gum,  locally and in Arabian nations, for this reason it is also known as “Yemenite Chewing Gum”. Due to its lack of water-soluble gum, it does not deteriorate in the mouth with warm saliva, but holds its form indefinitely, releasing healing oils and resins for extended periods of time. Even after chewing  B. Frereana for hours, the used oleoresin still releases heavenly fragrances on the hot coals. Legend says Maydi trees were transplanted to Yemen many decades ago, but the demand for Boswellia Frereana in arabic countries far exceeds quantities grown outside Somaliland.

It is an easy to use ingredient in Bakhoor, powder and formed incense, and due to its near complete solubility in alcohol and its affinity with oils, it is perfect for making , cremes, salves, tinctures and many other natural cosmetic, fragrant  and healing products.  Akin to Elemi, B. Frereana is an excellent oleoresin for mature skin and signs of aging.

For the incense makers and connoisseurs out there, another little known fact about Frankincense Frereana, is that as an incense, it burns clean on the charcoal, pools with the heat and melts into it, leaving no charred water-soluble gum or unpleasant secondary fragrance as do other Frankincense types and Myrrh.

Boswellia Frereana essential oil has a light yellow colour and a unique set of defining chemical markers. It has an olfactory signature distinct from all other types of Frankincense. It is high in  α-pinene (38%), p-Cymene 11%, a-Thujene 8.1%, limonene (2.4%), sabinene (2.6%), trans-verbenol (4.2%) and bornyl acetate (2.8%), contains  dimers of α-phellandrene and close to another 30 odd compounds in varying amounts. These consituents are present in the, Oleo, or volatile, hydro distilled essential oil portion. The resin portion of this fragrant species holds many more therapeutic and fragrant constituents, similar to other well-known and esteemed healers such as the various Frankincense types, Mastic, Spruce Fir and Pine.

I have started purchasing from a cooperative of families and tribes that have tended their Maydi, Myrrh and Sweet Myrrh, (Opoponax) trees for generations in the highlands of Somaliland.  Collection of the resins is a yearly tradition the whole family and tribe participate in, and through which they earn their yearly wage.  Besides their value as a source of livlihood, these trees are an important part of the tribe’s culture. Often trees are reserved unharvested  for decades to be bestowed  as dowry or as an inheritance.

Due to past conflicts in the area there is no government legislation, control of pricing, or supervision of trees and harvest. No big brother to watch out for the harvesters. The harvesters have been susceptible to theft, vandalism of trees, and unscrupulous buyers.This has changed since establishment of the co-op, and money is regularly being reinvested in schools, medical facilities, communication and transport.  This is a social and economic endeavor worthy of our support.  I hope to visit the cooperative this winter if at all possible, while working in Ethiopia on the ethical Civet project.

Fresh 2013 harvest of Frankincense Frereana oleoresin from this co-op is now available for sale in the Etsy store. You can click on the photo below, or in the sidebar to check it out.

Fresh co-op harvested Maydi- Frankincense Frereana
Fresh co-op harvested Maydi- Frankincense Frereana

Showcasing the versatility of Frankincense Frereana, I have just made a batch of a new moustache wax, I named it “Abyssinian Twirling Wax” and posted it in the Etsy store if you would like to try it out. It is a unique summer Moustache Wax,  which easily creates and holds moustache embellishments and twirls, even through hot summer days and overnight romps.  The fresh Frankincense resins in this wax help train and “perm” facial hair. The fragrance of fresh beeswax, Cocoa butter, Maydi, Frankincense Rivae and Labdanum is heavenly.

Another new “Maydi” product posted in the shop, is my Frankincense Frereana Rejuvenative Creme” which utilizes the therapeutic in both the essential oils and the resin portion of Frankincense Frereana. We have come to think of a plant’s essential oils as representing the healing properties of the plant, but in the case of our oleoresins, we miss out on what is often 95% of the healing compounds available to us. For this reason, I consider this a “Holistic” product that maintains the natural synergy between the oils and resins and brings us a product much closer to its natural form.

Abyssinian Twirling Wax. A Frankincense based Moustache wax.
Abyssinian Twirling Wax. A Frankincense based Moustache wax.

And  for T.B. and all the rest of you that are waiting patiently for Part 2 of “How to distill essential oils from Pine, Fir and Sruce saps”, Hang in….. I’m almost there :-).

Dan

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Labdanum- Beard grooming Babylonian Style

Labdanum-Beard Grooming Babylonian style

 

Labdanum and Babylonian Beards
Babylonian Beard

 

Labdanum. Also called LadanumCistus or Rockrose, is a fragrant mediterranean shrub, rich in history, oleo-resin, and tradition, both medicinally and aromatically.

Cistus ladanifer #1
Cistus ladanifer #1 (Photo credit: J.G. in S.F.)

 

The use of Labdanum, Cistus Ladanifera, Cistus Incanus or Cistus Creticus from Crete, has been traced back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, the civilizations of Akkad, Sumeria, Babylon. It is believed to be one of the ingredients in the ancient Hebrews sacred temple incense, “K’toret”. Thus keeping privileged company with such esteemed fragrant oleo-resins as Frankincense, Myrrh and Balm of Gilead

Labdanum is the starting material for most, if not all “Amber” type scents. Since there is no naturally occurring material with this name and fragrance. If you come across anything purported to be “True Amber”, be aware it is a composite material.

Cistis creticus (Cistus) source of traditional Cretan Labdanum

 

The fragrance of Labdanum is musky, warm, masculine, mysterious, balsamic, woody, slightly spicy and sweet. It is a heady odour, rich, complex and long-lasting. To me it speaks of mystery and masculinity. Not aggressive or self-serving masculinity, as Mars’ energy can be at times, but the powerful and gentle, nourishing strength of  the Sun. The kind of warm masculinity I associate with wisdom, compassion, love and healing. Labdanum speaks to me of the mystery and magic that we, the not so fair sex, are bestowed with. The receptive side that most men often do not discover till later in life.

 

English: Adam and Eve
English: Adam and Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia

 

Yes, men have a mystery too, an intuitive and sensitive side, a perspective and insight that only men can have. One of equal weight, but less obvious as the better known womanly mysteries. For in this reality of duality, there could not be one without the other. Nor can we respect and honour one without accepting the other as its equal and counterpoint . It can work no other way. Yin and Yang. It is a gift that all men can draw upon.

 

 

 

One symbol of masculinity that cannot be refuted is A beard.  They say a man’s beard covers his throat area, the seat of his emotions and vulnerability, hiding and protecting them. I can’t disagree. It certainly feels necessary at times. Believe it or not, it’s not easy being a man in our society.  But we also embrace and  care for our masculine nature by growing and grooming our facial hair.

 

Sumerian-Babylonian-Beard

 

My personal favourite beard dressing ingredient is, you guessed it, Labdanum. It has a warm comforting and familiar scent to it, as if carried through lifetimes and centuries, adhered to our spirits.  It does have an ancient and timeless quality to it, and as mentioned, it is persistent!             Persistent enough to stick to our memory and genes 2000, 3000 or 5000 years later?  Apparently.

Assyrian composite man/horse/bird with beard
Assyrian composite man/horse/bird with beard

Labdanum, as other oleo-resins, has an affinity with facial hair. If anyone has read my earlier post about mustaches, Waxing warmly over mustaches, or a recipe for solid mustache wax, you will know I find oleo-resins a great aid in training facial hair. I have not researched the chemistry of this effect, but the resin part seems to have chemical compounds that affect hair behaviour. Labdanum works just as well as Pine, Spruce and Fir saps in this regard. It helps shape my beard, training it to hold a form long after the Labdanum has gone from my face. It helps with stray hairs, cowlicks and in general keeps things in place without the use of extra waxes and gels. And of course, the warm Amber like scent that Labdanum imparts to my facial hair is reason enough to slather it on regularly.

 

Mesoporamian relief
Mesopotamian relief

Traditionally Labdanum was collected from the beards and thighs of sheep and goats. The animals would accumulate sticky gobs of resin on their wool as they rubbed against the plants while grazing. If anyone is familiar with the musky fragrance of goats, or the gentler odor of raw Lanolin, (from sheep’s wool), they may have an idea what a good match these animal essences can be to Labdanum.There is a wonderful muskiness to these smells that compliments the sweet woody balsamic notes of Labdanum. For this reason I often use Lanolin as a conditioning agent in my Labdanum based beard grooming products. When fragrance and function of materials work together naturally, it is always a joy.

 cretan goats, collect Labdanum as they brush against against Cistus while grazing

 

Nowadays Labdanum is either collected by thrashing the plants with an ancient tool called a Ladanesterion, (There are records of its use in the first century A.D.), or by harvesting the shrub and boiling it in water, often a water and alkaloid mixture. The separated residue is then processed with solvents to create resinoids, an absolute and eventually an essential oil. There are different grades of quality depending on which type of Cistus is used, where, when and how it is harvested, the methods of separation and extraction used. Gentler solvents and lower temperatures are of course preferred when a high quality perfume ingredient is required.

When one comes upon photographs of sculptures of ancient Mesopotamian kings and gods, or Akkadian, Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian men, we gaze upon some very ornate and stylized beards carved in stone reliefs and sculptures, steles and rock walls thousands of years ago. Sadly, very few of these magnificent representations of Mesopotamic masculinity remain intact. If they haven’t been defaced by conquering armies, then  religious zealots finished the job in their attempts to eradicate idolatry and any competition with their own gods and dogma. Maybe they were pissed off that someone else’s god had a more magnificent beard than their god.

..Stylized Babylonian beard

When I come across references that ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian figures may have pasted Labdanum soaked, sheep’s, (or goat’s), wool on their faces as part of their facial hair grooming methods, I always feel it is too tempting to underestimate  the sophistication of our ancestors and misinterpret the visual references carved in the ancient stone. These people were not as primitive as we like to assume. Labdanum, in my experience, is an ideal facial hair styling and grooming gift from nature, on its own or when combined with oils, waxes or resins.  When one learns of the elaborate beard grooming and shaping techniques employed in ancient Mesopotamian cultures, such as tying strings or ribbons, using hot  irons, curling and braiding a beard, weaving in beads and precious metals, dyeing the hair with henna or other coloring agents, and of course applying sweet smelling unguents to it,  it makes me question whether sticking patches of sheep’s wool on ones face would complement any of these techniques or grooming methods, or if it would be completely at odds with it.

Presumed to be a stone relief of a "Genie" performing blessings and sprinkling "Holy", fragrant water, (Labdanum and other odiferous materials??).
Presumed to be a stone relief of a “Genie” performing blessings and sprinkling “Holy”, or fragrant water, (Labdanum and other odiferous materials??).

 

 

 

On the other hand, incorporating fragrant resins and oils, especially those that would help with shaping and setting a beard, does seem a more likely complement to the established grooming practices of the times. In my mind, Labdanum would be a perfect aromatic accompaniment to all that beard training, styling, preening and fussing. Just as effective then as it is today.

 

That’s my take on it.   Whatever methods you use to groom and shape your facial hair, they are part of your own unique path of self-expression. If you want to explore making your own beard or mustache grooming products, have fun, and remember to always take notes! Your future self will thank you.

If you have any questions, comments, insights or suggestions, I would love to hear from you..

Dan

 

 

 

 

 

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http://archaeologistforhire.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/the-archaeology-of-beards/

 

 

 

 

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