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Lead to gold and the magical couscousiere

Alchemist at work.

For all those who pre-purchased, or are otherwise waiting for my promised February distillation of Frankincense Frereana, the wait is over.  Since selling out of the first distillation, packing up and moving, I have finally set up  shop on the other side. Though by no means at full steam yet, orders are going out, the first tinctures and oils are macerating, and the drip drip, drip of a still has been heard again.

Fresh distilled Frankincense Frereana-2013 harvest Somaliland-Fairtrade
Fresh distilled Frankincense Frereana Somaliland-Fairtrade

This also means that there are a number of Boswellia Frereana essential oil bottles back in stock in the Etsy shop.  As usual, this is a small and intimate distillation, not a factory or production run. The advantages of such a small distillation are evident in the quality and nuances of this oil. With a deeper amber note than the 2014 distillation, it opens with hints of Nutmeg, sweet candy, and citrus with a slight floral bouquet. It dries down around the amber, disclosing warm leather and musk, to settle, eventually as a soft amber with a halo of delicate, sweet and muted,musky floral tones.

 2015 Distilled essential oil of  Boswellia Frereana-Somaliland

Since I am starting from scratch here in many ways, I am led forward as much by circumstance and opportunity, as by intent. I find myself building an essential oil still from a Couscousiere. A Moroccan kitchen contraption that is optimized to steam large volumes of couscous. A simple device, but one that should lend itself particularly well to steam distillation of essential oils. Especially to the aromatic seeds such as Cumin, Coriander, Dill, and Carrot to name a few.

Couscousierre pot still
Couscousiere pot still

The problem with still designs sold for home use is they often have a relatively small chamber for raw material. When one considers the miniscule percent of essential oils present in most sources, (often less than 0.1%), and the sheer quantity of material that is needed  just to squeeze a few drops of essential oil from a distillation, one realizes quickly that their first “classic” still may only have the capacity to give them floral waters, and only deepen their yearning for a vial of self-distilled pure essential oil.

Couscousiere pot still with cat
Still pot with cat

It can be a disappointing experience with time wasted going over procedures to make sure one didn’t make a mistake. More often than not there was no mistake made in the operation of the still, but in assuming one should make the purchase based on limited information provided by the seller who omitted mention of the yield of essential oil the device could process. There are a few companies online that provide specifics on how much essential oil to expect from your home still, but they are the exception.

This Couscous pot has a top fitting sieve that will hold 8 liters volume of Coriander, Dill , Caraway or Carrot seed, Allspice or Back pepper.  The size of the holes is fortuitous. Because it is suspended above the water there is little chance of splash over of water from the pot to the condenser and receiver.

The pot easily takes 12 liters of water which will carry off most if not all the essential oils in the material. I intend to set up a reflux or water return system after I have it running properly, to siphon the distillate waters back to the pot for extended operation. It looks promising.

Alchemist applying lute, (gasket putty), to seal distillation vessels. Some things don't change.
Alchemist applying lute, (gasket putty), to seal distillation vessels and keep the insides inside, the outside out. Some things don’t change.

At a later date, I will address the drawbacks to adapting this pot, or maybe I’ll mention them now…….

OK, I’ll address them now,

The drawbacks here, are my pet peeves with any improvised pot still ie., gaskets.

A tisket a tasket, I wish I had a gasket.

Something soft and something round,

something bought or something found.

outides out and insides in

Make it firm and make it thin,

a tisket a tasket, my pot-still needs a gasket, or 2.

A gasket, a gasket. I know I saw something that would be perfect. Hmmmmm.
A gasket,,,,a gasket. I know I saw something that would be perfect.

In the early days of recorded Alchemy, clay and ashes were among the standard materials for “Luteing” or sealing a vessel prior to distillation or processing through the fire. With the addition of vegetable oils such as Linseed, animal hair, plant fiber, cloth and many other ingredients, one could produce a waterproof luteing that would suit and seal a steam or hydro distillation. Today we have access to a boggling plethora of materials, many, we had never even dreamed of back then. If you have an inclination towards theories of reincarnation, then you likely notice the benefits of continuing one’s work in this era are growing daily. If you are reading this, you might wonder what brought you here and give a bit of thought to the idea of reincarnation. You never know why you are drawn to things.

Alchemist at work.
My messy study-Alchemist at work. Ora et Labora.

The world we live in now is an improviser’s emporium of materials. An upcycled’s utopia,  a craftsperson’s  cornucopia. But with it also comes a risk of sensory overload with the abundance of  new materials,  processes and technological breakthroughs, the infinite possibilities that surround us. It can be easy to lose our focus, our connection and appreciation for the earth’s bounty, forget that everything is magical, that everything is alive in its own way, and deserves, even demands our respect.

The modern day alchemist/craftsperson/artist/scientist and creator is likely to spend as much time in communion with the Divine and the creative spirit for the answers to technical  conundrums, as in the quest for intellectual/spiritual enlightenment. But then, don’t all paths lead to the same destination?   Are we not ourselves transmuted when we transmute the dull and leaden into radiant gold?  Shaped and molded by our relationships?

Spiritual and physical alchemy are not distinct paths, but one the reflection of the other. Each making the other possible. Two sides of one coin. We are transformed along with the materials, relationships and processes we engage with.  Lead to gold baby. Lead to gold.

Well, back to work and making magic with my couscousiere. Till then, Artist, craftsperson, or scientist, wherever you are in your creative journey,

remember to always take clear notes

Your future self will thank you.

Dan

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A distillation of Frankincense Frereana

Frankincense Frereana-Freshly distilled Essential Oil in Separatory funnel
Frankincense Frereana-Freshly distilled Essential Oil in Separatory funnel. 

As mentioned in earlier posts, Frankincense Frereana is a relatively rare type of Frankincense in the West. Both the resin and good quality essential oil are difficult to find and much more expensive than other Frankincense types. Despite these drawbacks, or perhaps because of them, it is well worth experiencing at least once.

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

Boswellia Frereana is native to the mountainous regions of Somaliland, the Somali Puntland and to a lesser degree westward through Kenya. Though it has been transplanted to Yemen and possibly Oman over the generations, it is not indigenous there, nor can it supply local demand. Most of the Frankincense Frereana essential oil that is sold as Arabian is purchased in Somaliland and Somalia and distilled in countries across the Red sea which are more economically developed. Not as prolific as the well known Frankincense Sacra/Carterii, it is used by the well to do in Arabia as a high-end chewing gum, in cosmetics, perfume and as incense.  Though culturally important, due to the demand and high price, harvesters often keep only the lower quality scraps and leftovers for their own use since resin sales provide their income and sustenance for the whole year.

Boswellia Frereana Somaliland
Boswellia Frereana tree Somaliland

Translucent and golden, B. Frereana resin could very well be the gold that came as a gift along with Frankincense and Myrrh in scriptures Also called Coptic Frankincense, and Yemenite chewing gum, the oleoresin of Boswellia Frereana is used extensively as incense, alone or combined with other ingredients.  A traditional Somali incense “Amber” called Unsii is prepared from Frankincense Frereana and other aromatics according to local and often secret family recipes.

Frankincense Frereana is traditionally used for oral care, peptic ulcers, and considered antiseptic and anti inflammatory for both the gastrointestinal and the urinary tract. It is believed that the body benefits from these therapeutic actions through use of the essential oil and chewing the raw resin. Externally, Frankincense Frereana is considered excellent for joint inflammations and mature skin, making it ideal in rejuvenative and  anti-aging skin products. From an aromatherapy perspective it is uplifting and a restorative, calming to nerves and emotions. It helps attune the mind and heart to meditative and spiritual/religeous practice. Possessing a warm, amber scent with hints of honey, candy, spice and resinous wood, Maydi, as it is called locally, is one of the most distinguished members of the Frankincense family.

Similar to Our Pine Spruce and Fir saps, Elemi, Mastic and Copal, the hardened sap of Boswellia Frereana, is a pure oleoresin. Unlike most other types of Frankincense, it has little to no water soluble gum, only resins and volatile oils This distinction gives it, and all the aforementioned oleoresins some unique qualities.

  • They all dissolve easily in alcohol and warm vegetable oils which makes them ideal for use in cosmetics.
  • They burn as incense on a coal or heater in a clean and most fragrant way, leaving little to no residue.
  • They can all be hydro distilled directly in the water with little fear of scorching or burning.
  • They yield a relatively high percent of essential oil which makes extraction of essential oils viable with a non-commercial sized home still. Between 5% and 10%. Much higher than most other essential oil sources.
  • After distillation of their essential oils, they leave behind excellent rosins with many therapeutic properties and practical applications.
  • I believe they can all be “dry distilled though I need to confirm this by trying it.
Pressure cooker pot still for essential oils
Pressure cooker pot still for distilling essential oils

In this particular distillation I used a relatively small 21.5 liter pot still, which is easy to make at home. You can find instructions in my post “How to build a  kitchen still for essential oils at home. It is eminently suitable for hydro distilling essential oils from oleoresins and other high yield materials at home. With the inclusion of a suspended basket, its capabilities can be extended to accommodate a wider variety of materials through steam distillation. The practical elegance of this particular design is due to the thick bottom and milled seal of the lid which makes it a hassle-free apparatus. Its moderate size allows one to distill sufficient quantities for personal use and small scale production. There is a 40 liter model on the market for those who wish to expand their distilling practices further, though the larger model is more difficult to come by second hand. This is a good still to start with. Solid and versatile it makes it easy for anyone to explore the ancient art of distillation.

Charging the still

Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation. Grinding the oleo-resin.
Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation. Grinding the oleo-resin.
Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation. Grinding the oleo-resin.
Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation.

In this 21.5 pint or liter ” All American” pressure cooker adapted to distillation. I added

  • 12 liters water.
  • 3 kilograms coarsely ground oleoresin of Frankincense Frereana. Though I felt it was uncomfortably close to the top of the still, I started with a gentle, moderate temperature, to avoid forcing material over into the receiver.
  • I used an Allihn condenser, but a straight tubed Liebig condenser would have worked just as well.
  • I ran this distillation for 10 hours, 2 hours longer than I would normally, to extract more of the warm amber notes from the resin.

Years ago I purchased essential oil of B. Frereana from a large and well known company and was greatly disappointed in the quality. It smelled more like cleaning fluid than Frankincense. Sometimes you have to do things yourself if you want them done right. I am very happy with this distillation.  Amber with honey, a touch of  black pepper and ginger, with a hint of sweet lemon candy. It is warm and uplifting, drying down to a musky, woody and sensuous soft amber.   The scent of Boswellia Frereana essential oil properly distilled from good quality fresh material, is heavenly. One can see why it is called “The king of Frankincense”.

One of the perks of distilling your own essential oils, is that after separating the volatile oils, you can add the distillate to your bath. (Or make a cold creme?). A half liter of the distilled waters of Frankincense Frereana in a hot bath caressing you, is truly a rare and exotic treat.  Calming, uplifting, soothing, grounding, sensuous and stimulating. Did I mention all the Frankincenses are ruled by the Sun and considered aphrodisiacs?

Fresh Fairtrade Frankincense Frereana, Natural Chewing Gum, Incense and Medicine.
Fresh Fairtrade Frankincense Frereana, Natural Chewing Gum, Incense and Medicine.

The material I used in this distillation is the same oleoresin I sell in my Etsy shop. It is fresh 2013 co-op harvested in the mountains of Somaliland by a group of traditional harvester families who have passed care of the trees down from generation to generation for many decades. The harvesters are traditionally locked in to the low prices, unscrupulous practices of foreign buyers and middlemen. These buyers dominate the local market and offer harvesters a minimum return to keep their own profit as high as possible. The current arrangement is impoverishing for the harvesters, many become indebted to the middlemen. Till recently they have been completely dependent on these buyers for lack of alternative markets for their resins.

Young Frankincense harvester bringing his daily harvest down from dangerous rocky terrain where the Frankincense Frereana  trees grow.
Young Frankincense harvester bringing his day’s collection of resin down from dangerous rocky terrain. Everyone participates. Frankincense Frereana trees grow wild, often in the most inaccessible and precarious places. Injuries are a common occupational hazard and modern medical facilities non-existent for the mountain clans.

Now, with the increase of global communication, travel and commerce coupled with heightened consumer awareness, new and more profitable markets are becoming available to them and some of the middlemen can be bypassed.  This creates a better return for the harvesters, and a place where co-ops can shine. This is where we, the informed western consumer can make a difference with our purchasing power. We need to educate ourselves because we can make a difference with our individual and collective purchases.

Our world is a beautiful little garden in a big universe. It is our very own Apothecary’s garden that gives us all of our medicine and fragrance, all our food and sustenance. We are each individually responsible for it, and it is up to us to tend to it any way we can. Somaliland is famous not only for its Frankincense Frereana, but also for its fine Frankincense Sacra/Carterii, Myrrh and Opoponax, (scented Myrrh), which this co-op also collects.

The organizer of the co-op, B.H., inherited Frankincense and Myrrh trees from his family. Living in the west from a young age, he gave up his western citizenship and took responsibility for their care, harvest and sale.  His co-op has grown to  include other families and clans. He has built a small school, a clinic and purchased an “ambulance” for them. He helps get them out of debt to the buyers, and makes sure they receive a fair price for their resins. He coordinates the harvesting, collection and transportation of resins by camel and donkey from the mountains to the  coast  for sorting and grading, where the buyers await. There are no roads to these remote areas, though the footpaths are obvious after hundreds of years of trading Frankincense.

He mediates between individuals, families and clans, sources markets, organizes shipping and deals with the inevitable red tape. It is a big job, one that requires dedication, passion and commitment. I realize I can’t personally right all the wrongs, be in all the places I would like to be, or make the world the kind of place I would like to live in, all on my own. However, I can support those people who are out there doing the work. Even if it is only in some small way. The combined power of many people choosing to educate and inform themselves about how their fragrance, medicine and food comes to them, coupled with small informed choices that reflect their values, is immense and world changing. We forget how much power we have with our choices, our small purchases, the combined clicks of our mouses. This is the silver lining to our capitalistic system. Our money does indeed talk, and it will say what ever we tell it to.

Fresh distilled Frankincense Frereana-2013 harvest Somaliland-Fairtrade
Fresh distilled Frankincense Frereana-2013 harvest Somaliland-Fairtrade

I believe if we all do what we can, no matter how small, the world will quickly change for the better. If you would like to experience the fresh fair trade oleoresin and the newly distilled essential oil of Frankincense Frereana I invite you to visit my shop onEtsy. If you choose to distill your own essential oils, remember, you will always get better results if you treat nature well, and always, always, take clear notes. Your future self will thank you.   Dan

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How to make an oil extract of Frankincense and other oleoresins

Frankincense oleo-resin extracted from Boswellia Neglecta.

  How to extract the healing properties of Frankincense and other oleo-resins

There is increasing information online about the healing properties of the different types of Frankincense. Notably, the Boswellic acid family including AKBA which make up a large proportion of the resin in these oleo-gum-resins. In general, they all share anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties which make them ideal for many external and internal applications. Phytochemicals in Frankincense have been proven useful for arthritis,  rheumatism, cancer, ulcers, colitis, brain injuries, depression, and much more. They are especially useful in cremes, oils and salves to help rejuvenate the skin, increase elasticity, reduce wrinkles and signs of aging. Many of these healing compounds can be absorbed through the skin and are able to cross the blood-brain barrier.

Oleo-resins are composed of volatile oils, or essential oils, and resins which are not volatile and cannot be separated via water or steam distillation. Though we rely heavily on essential oils to deliver the therapeutic properties of  plants in our medicine and cosmetics,  many of  Frankincense’s therapeutic properties reside in its resin portion. Boswellic acid, lately researched and promoted heavily for its anti-cancer properties is one of many heavier therapeutic compounds that are not naturally present in the distilled essential oils

Frankincense Sacra/Carterii and Frankincense Papyrifera
Frankincense Sacra/Carterii, top, and Frankincense Papyrifera

The whole oleo-resin provides a broader spectrum of phytochemicals, and from a holistic and synergistic point of view more effective than the isolated essential oils.

There is not much information on processing oleo-resins online, nor is there an abundance of research available on the many types of Frankincense compared to other medicinal Herbs.  This is slowly changing as the interest in therapeutic properties of oleo-resins increases.

A great number of the tree oleo-resins in our little garden world hold therapeutic properties that we have used for thousands of years, long before distilled essential oils were commonly available. Mastic, Spruce, Pine, Fir, Opoponax, Myrrh, Frankincense and many others have been highly valued for their healing properties. We are only beginning to appreciate the degree of their healing potential.

Extracting Oleo-resins

Finely ground Frankincense oleoresins for extractions
Finely ground Frankincense oleo-resins for extraction. From left-Boswellia Papyrifera, Boswellia Neglecta, Boswellia Rivae.

Oleo-resins are usually extracted via volatile solvents.  The most common are ethanol and petroleum distillates. Once the oleo-resin is separated from any water-soluble gum and foreign material, the solvent is evaporated and the remaining sticky mass utilized.

Another approach is to use non-volatile solvents such as vegetable oils and animal fats to extract the therapeutic compounds from oleoresins. They are much gentler than many volatile solvents, do not harm the environment in their production, use and disposal and pose no threat to our health in topical or internal applications. They are easy to make, purchase and use, they break down and decompose without adding toxins to the environment, and are safe and easy enough to use in any kitchen and home. Using non-volatile solvents creates new opportunities for self care and making our own medicine.

Non-volatile solvents for Frankincense oleo-resins

 Frankincense oleo-resin extracted from Boswellia Neglecta.
Frankincense oleo-resin extracted from Boswellia Neglecta with Olive oil.  Originally made as a chest rub for respitory releif. After using it for a year and collecting feedback from other users, I am forced to change its description and application. Rubbed on the chest, it is a surprisingly effective treatment for anxiety, panic attacks and tightness of the chest. It quickly removes the sharp physical pangs of anxiety, lifts and lightens the chest, eases and deepens breathing even during an Asthma attack and brings about a deep feeling of calm. I keep wondering if I am projecting here, but reports from others who use it confirm my description. Pretty amazing. Pine, Spruce and Fir saps still have the lead for coughs, colds and releif of respiratory congestion.

The use of vegetable oils as solvents and carriers for oleo-resins makes these products eminently suitable for external use as oils, liniments, cremes and salves. It can also provide an option for a more readily digestible and easily assimilated product for internal use.

This type of extraction requires no special laboratory chemicals or equipment, and can be performed in any kitchen or field with a simple water bath, mortar and pestle or electric coffee grinder. Oh, and a pillow case..

Solvent/carrier oils for whole oleo-resins

I have found 2 vegetable oils work particularly well with most oleo-resins. They are Jojoba oil and Olive oil. I stick to cold pressed extra virgin Olive oil even though it often has a more bitter flavour and scent.

Jojoba works well if the finished product is for external application only. Jojoba is really a wax and not a true oil. It keeps extremely  well on its own, though if making an emulsion type crème, a broad spectrum preservative is needed due to the presence of water.

Oleoresins are natural preservatives. Hence their extensive use historically for embalming and preserving corpses…. However, I can find no studies that show exactly what percent of oleoresins will preserve vegetable oils or aqueous solutions, and for how long. So for the time being some type of preservative is called for.

Olive oil is an ideal carrier and solvent. It has been used for centuries for its therapeutic effects on skin, hair and  GI tract. If you plan to keep any vegetable oil or animal fat product longer than 6 months unrefrigerated, Vitamin E will greatly delay rancidity and extend its shelf life.

Any vegetable type oil, (not mineral-based), or animal fat such as tallow or lard will work as a solvent for most oleoresins.This includes Coconut oil, nut oils such as Almond, Hazelnut and Macadamia and any of the exotics such as Argan oil, Baobab oil etc. Choose an oil based on your needs and preferences. Some oils keep longer than others though Vitamin E will extend the life of most oils.

 Instructions for making an oleo-resin extract

  • If you are using any type of Frankincense, Mastic, Myrrh, Elemi or other hard brittle oleo-resins, grind them to a fine powder first. (See the post on how to grind Frankincense & Myrrh. ). The finer you grind them, the more readily  and quickly they will dissolve in the oil.
  • If using fresh pliable oleo-resins such as Spruce, Pine or Fir, the soft saps can be used as they are.
  • In a water bath heat up 1 part oleo-resins by weight to 2-3 parts oil in a glass or mason jar. (See  A Solid moustache wax recipe) for complete directions on making and using a water bath at home.
  • When the bath reaches temperature and starts boiling, stir to break up any lumps and let sit in a simmering bath with occasional stirring for up to 3 hours.
  • Remove from the bath and filter when no more oleo-resin can be dissolved.
Water bath with multiple vessels and ingredients warming to the same temperature.
Water bath with multiple vessels and ingredients warming to the same temperature.
Frankincense Papyrifera ground in a steel mortar in preparation for extraction.
Frankincense Papyrifera ground in a steel mortar in preparation for extraction.

In the case of Boswellia Frereana, Maydi),  the oleoresin dissolves into the oils within minutes of the bath reaching the boiling point. (It has little to no water-soluble gum). As soon as you have a hot homogenous liquid you can proceed directly to filtering.

Filtering the oleo-resin extract

  • Filter the hot liquid carefully through a fine metal mesh coffee filter, the corner of a well washed and thoroughly rinsed and dried pillowcase, or through a good piece of cotton cloth similar in weave to a bed sheet.
  • Place your filtering material in a funnel over a clear glass vessel or jar. (so later you can gauge when most of the sediment has fallen).
  • Add the hot liquid extract.
  • If using a cloth filter, twist the excess cloth on top to form a sachet, and press out the liquid from this bag with the back of a spoon.
  • If using a metal mesh filter, running the back or side of the spoon against the mesh will keep the liquid flowing and the mesh open.
  • Working with the extraction while it is still hot keeps it mobile, liquid and more easily filtered. It will thicken a bit when cool.
  • Cover and set aside.
  • Compost the residue or return it to the earth.
  • Wait till all sediment falls to the bottom of the vessel. This could take a day or so.
  • Pour or siphon off the clear liquid, leaving the sediment. You can return this or use it for external applications.
  • If you plan to keep your extract around for a while, add 400 IU of Vitamin E to each 250 ml. or cup of extract. And it is ready to use.

For internal use I suggest starting with 1/2 teaspoon of extract with food. See how your body feels about it. This is uncharted territory and you are ultimately in charge of your own health. We don’t know how much  is too much. However compared to ingesting pure essential oils as some do, this method is relatively easy on the body and I believe likely more effective.
For external use, apply to face, joints etc as often as desired. Again, listen to your body….

To make a Frankincense or oleoresin cosmetic crème

I am not an expert in cosmetics formulation. There is an abundance of great recipes online written by people with much greater knowledge of this art than I. I suggest you find one with detailed instructions for making an oil/water creme that appeals to you, and replace the oil portion in any of these recipes with your oleoresin extract to make a healing creme. The guidelines below are simply that, loose guidelines based around a recipe that works for me at the moment.

  • Set up a fresh water bath with one jar for oil and a large jar for distilled water.
  • Put the filtered and sedimented extract back in a jar in the water bath.
  • Add distilled water in the second jar in a quantity that makes up 75% to 80% of the total weight of your finished creme. More water means a slightly thinner lotion or creme.
  •  If you are not using delicate oils, heat the water bath till boiling till both jars and the bath have reached the same temperature-If you are using oils that won’t tolerate high temperature then follow the instructions that come with the oil and bring both vessels in the water bath to the appropriate and same temperature.
  • Calculate the total of all the oil soluble components you will have in your product, carrier oil, essential oils, waxes and oil based preservative if you are going to use one.
  •  Add 25% of the weight of the oil based portion  of your product in emulsifying wax.
  • Blend the wax in the oil completely.
  • Remove from the bath and add the water slowly to your oil/wax mixture in a large enough bowl or jar to hold both materials comfortably.
  •  Stir or blend the oil-wax mixture for a couple of minutes and let sit. Every 15 minutes or so, repeat the blending till the mixture is room temperature and has started to thicken.
  •  This cooldown period is the time to add your essential oils and any other products that are heat sensitive. the weight of essential oils is added to the overall weight of the oil when you calculate how much wax to add.
  • When room temperature and of the right consistency pour into clean, sterile containers. If you have not added a preservative then keep refrigerated.
  • For long-term unrefrigerated use, a preservative is a must since you have added water to the formula. Bacteria and moulds are “suitcase in hand”,  just waiting to move in. Liquid Germal Plus works well as a broad spectrum preservative and seems relatively benign.
  • Add during the “Cooldown” stage and follow the directions that come with the product. It is considered one of your oil soluble ingredients and should be added to your calculation of how much wax needs to be added to your formula.
  • Of course you can improvise with the formula to your heart’s desire. Depending on the purpose of your creme and your personal preferences, there are many waxes, oils, colourants and essential oils you can fine tune your product with. These are just the basics. I expect you to explore, be creative and have fun with it.
  • For an excellent an excellent website dedicated to all facets of lotion and creme making, recipes, instructions, and tutorials, please visit Makingskincare.com.

I am told regularly by concerned friends that I should not share secrets, methods and successful recipes online. I disagree. I believe we are at a stage in our evolution as a global society that all information needs to be shared freely and openly. The internet is our collective brain and even our collective consciousness. We all draw from it, and contribute to it one way or another. The time for hiding things, for secrets and shadows in the world is past. We need to share whatever we have. If we all shared freely and none of us hoarded any resources, there would be more than enough of everything to go around. There would be no lack in the world, no poverty, and likely no war. If we all actively sought opportunities to share, the transformation would be immediate.  I also believe whatever we put out there always comes back to us in whatever form we need.

So. Have fun, be responsible for your health and wellbeing, and share what you have.

And always, always keep clear notes!

Your future self will thank you.

Dan

Muscle & joint rub from a whole extract of Spruce and Pine oleo-resins
Muscle & joint rub from a whole extract of Spruce and Pine oleo-resins
 Therapeutic Chest Rub from whole Spruce and Pine extract
Therapeutic Chest Rub from whole Spruce and Pine extract
 A wonderful rejuvenative skin creme Simply Frankincense with no added fragrances or extra ingredients.e made from the whole oleo-resin of Maydi-Frankincense Frereana.
A wonderful rejuvenative skin creme Simply made from the whole oleo-resin of Maydi-Frankincense Frereana extracted with Jojoba oil. No added ingredients or  essential oils.
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A Moustache Wax Recipe with Frankincense resin

Fresh co-op harvested Frankincense Frereana- from Somaliland-" Maydi or Yemenite Chewing Gum"

As promised, here is the recipe for my “Abyssinian Twirling Wax”, a Frankincense summer styling wax made with the oleoresin of Frankincense Frereana, co-op harvested in Somaliland. The Frankincense resins in the formula can be replaced with Spruce, Pine or Fir resins if desired. I chose Frankincense Frereana because of its wonderful fragrance and lack of water-soluble gum, perhaps the only Frankincense with this quality. This allows it to dissolve readily in the oils and butters, as the coniferous saps do.

Much as I love my spruce sap moustache wax, (solid moustache wax recipe), I find I am always learning, growing, exploring, and discovering new things. I better be improving with age.

Instead of adding olive oil as a solvent and carrier with the spruce sap in my earlier recipe, I mixed the hot cocoa butter and the coconut oil with the semi-melted Frankincense which gave the resin enough mobility to be filtered through a metal mesh coffee filter. (Easier on the hands than squeezing hot resins through a pillowcase! ). It was then put back in the water bath in the mixing vessel and the rest of the ingredients blended into it till the texture and consistency were just right. This method works just as well with Pine, Spruce and Fir saps.

Resins have the very cool attribute of training or “perming” ones hair. After using a resin based wax for a day or two, one’s moustache notably keeps its shape with less or no waxing. Hairs may still separate, but they will do so according to the shape the resins imparted to them. When you want to try a different style, the resin wax holds it exactly where you want it and sets your facial hair to the new style with the same ease. Simple or extremely elaborate creations are thus possible with no extra effort.

So here is my new and improved recipe for a really lovely resin based, solid moustache wax This recipe is pretty close to the “Abyssinian Twirling Wax”. The product in the shop also has resins of Frankincense Rivae from the Ogaden region in Ethiopia, (hence the Abyssinian part), but it is not a prerequisite for a wonderful product.  To it, I added some Frankincense Rivae resin left over from distilling the essential oils, but you could simply add a little essential oil of Frankincense Rivae to accomplish the same end. These two fragrances compliment each other well.

If you would like to try out a Frankincense resin moustashe wax before you make it, buy some to compare to your own recipe, or if you would like to support and encourage my need to make cool things for cool people, you can find it in my Etsy shop here. https://www.etsy.com/listing/193421122/abyssinian-twirling-wax-a-frankincense

You can experiment with a wide range of ingredients and proportions. A little more Frankincense adds durability and hold in hot humid conditions, a little less, works well in cooler climates.

We all have different needs from a grooming wax, so take the time to play with the proportions and ingredients, and do a”drop test” on a room temperature surface as often as you need, till you are happy with the results. I often do this 10 -20 times till I am satisfied. Remember you can re-melt and redo your wax almost indefinitely. Just return it to the waterbath at any point to experiment , add or adjust ingredients.

-The Frankincense Frereana adds tenacity, nice hold and “perming power”. Plus it has a most lovely fragrance of amber, wood and spice

-The Cocoa butter helps it go on smooth without pulling hairs and smells wonderful with the Frankincense.

-The coconut oil is semi solid at room temperature so I figure it is better for consistency than olive oil, and of course it’s all the rage now for skin, hair and everything else it seems.

-I always use fresh fragrant local Beeswax, not the bleached or deodorizer stuff. Fresh beeswax smells amazing complements the resin’s fragrance, and adds a lovely texture and hold of its own.

You can use any kinds of oleoresins you like or have around, in similar proportions to those below. This recipe yields 1 liter of moustache or beard wax. The percentages should help you make smaller quantities. For a beard wax or dressing, I would reduce the resins and Beeswax, and up the Lanolin and Cocoa butter till you have the consistency and hold you are looking for. I hope to get some in the shop sometime soon.

So,, enough talk-

A recipe for a Frankincense resin Moustache Wax

In  a water bath, (See a solid mustache wax recipe),  heat up the items below.  (Note these are not exact proportions that must be followed to the letter or decimal point, but do work well. I expect everyone to tweak them to their own individual taste and grooming needs.)

  • Frankincense Frereana-125 grams for a summer wax. 100 grams might work well for a winter or cold weather wax. 100 to 125 grams-10%-12.5% . (Or 150-200 grams-15% -20% Spruce, Pine or Fir sap).
  • Cocoa Butter-200 grams. 20%
  • Coconut oil-200 grams-20%
  • Lanolin-150 grams-15%
  • Beeswax 300-350  grams-30%-35%
  • Vitamin E. 400 IU per 250 ml. or more. It helps preserve fats from rancidity and is nourishing to hair and skin. Not obligatory, but an option.
  • Essential oils if you like. You can add essential oils of your choice during the cool down period, before you pour your wax into containers. The fragrance of the Frankincense, Beeswax and Cocoa butter combined is warm, mild, woody and lovely on its own. Some oils that go well with Frankincense Frereana are other Frankincense types, Cedars, Opoponax, Balsam Peru, Cabreva, Muhuhu, Sandalwood, Pettigrain and citrus types.
  •  For more essential oil suggestions and information on how to incorporate natural fragrance in your moustache wax, please see the post How to create a natural fragrance for male grooming products.
Fresh co-op harvested Maydi- Frankincense Frereana
Fresh co-op harvested Maydi- Frankincense Frereana-Natural chewing gum, incense and moustache wax ingredient.

 

So, in the water bath, heat up all your ingredients. Wait till your water boils and everything has melted. Gauging by eye, or with a thermometer wait till they reach a similar temperature.
Add part of the Cocoa butter and part of the coconut oil to the gooey Frankincense resin, stir thoroughly till it is homogeneous and all the Frankincense has dissolved.
Remove and carefully pour it through a metal coffee filter via a funnel or directly into your mixing jar.  Use the back of a spoon or a stir stick to press it through and keep the pores in the filter open.  If you have a large quantity, do this in small batches and return the Frankincense mix to the water bath to keep the contents liquid. If you can’t get a reusable metal coffee filter, (The gold coloured Melita type), then use the corner of a clean and well rinsed pillowcase, and wearing gloves press the mixture through the fabric and funnel to the jar.Any residual goo left on hands and tools cleans up well with olive oil then soap and water.

Put the container with the filtered mix into the water-bath, wait till it is same temperature as the rest of the jars, and you are ready to start adding the remainder of the ingredients to it.
I ususally don’t pour things in all at once, but reserve some for final adjusting. Often I will measure more into the jars than the recipe calls for, just so I have some room for play. Its easy enough to measure what I have left over afterwards and deduce how much I used. Add most of your ingredients then do a cold drop test and see if it suits your needs. More Cocoa butter? More beeswax? Coconut oil?  What do you think??
When you are happy with the result, you are ready to pull it out of the waterbath and either mix in your essential oils or just pour it into containers to set. And that’s it.
Enjoy the gender you were blessed with this life.
And always always remember to take notes! Clear legible and dated notes!

Your future self will thank you…

Dan

Oh and if you are considering using Frankincense frereana in your recipe, you can find it here-https://www.etsy.com/listing/191307066/frankincense-frereana-maydi-somaliland

Abyssinian Twirling Wax. A Frankincense based Moustache wax. In the Etsy store.
Abyssinian Twirling Wax. A Frankincense based Moustache wax. In the Etsy store.
Housemate Jesse James, a regular user of Abyssinian twirling wax.
Housemate Jesse James, a regular user of Abyssinian twirling wax.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on 6 Comments

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

Posted on 3 Comments

Ebb and Flow

After a month and a half of silence since my last post, I believe I am back. It has been an oddly difficult year leading up to my 60th birthday last Sunday. For the most part I felt like I was sloughing through waist-high molasses to get the smallest thing done. Thank god for the consistency of Nature, and the inevitable ebb and flow of all things. If you can’t fight it, wait it out.  As soon as my birth day was behind me, I felt like a heavy fog lifted from me. Still a little cautious, but optimistic, and taking every opportunity I can to build on it.

I returned from Ethiopia in April a bit shell-shocked. Having gained an intimate and first hand understanding of the state of Civet farming, (See the attached WSPA report), I felt disheartened. Effecting improvements in ethics and practices that were deeply ingrained culturally, in a society that was so slow to embrace change, felt daunting and unrealistic. Even their own government had seemed to have given up trying to modernize the cruel practices, what could one foreigner hope to accomplish on his own?

I have slowly regained some composure since my return, spoken with natural perfumers over the past month, and am selling some of the Civet paste I brought back with a message. Can you help?  So it’s not just a product, but a call that I hope will be passed on. The treatment of Civets for perfume in Africa, and Kopi Luwak Coffee in Asia is truly barbaric. Boycotting the producers has had the reverse effect intended, these people a frighteningly poor already. They will find a way to survive and I don’t blame them. Removing the little income they have, and turning our backs on them indignantly, did absolutely nothing for the Civets. All we have done is increase the poverty and hardship of people who already suffer from lack, created black markets and back doors for the perfume companies to avoid negative publicity. There must be a better way. Even if it means going in there and getting our hands dirty.

If you want to learn more about Civet culture and farming, have a look at my post- Ethical Civet, a glimpse from the mountaintop. If you would like to buy authentic Ethiopian Civet paste at a very reasonable price that includes a call for your support to help change the current farming practices, contact me or leave me a comment. I will get it in the store shortly.

Ethiopian Civet paste 2014
Ethiopian Civet paste 2014

Ok. On a more positive note, I have 3 new apothecary products and have started working with bone, stone, wood, horn and antler again. Hurray for me! I laid down my tools 2 years ago when I started this blog, part of my second Saturn return and 60th birthday evolution no doubt. Three gorgeous large chunks of Jet, (about 20 Kg.), have kept vigilant watch over me  ever since, sitting in my study, whispering all the wonderful things I could carve and turn from them. Not letting me forget they were waiting for me and there was no way I could get them out of my life until I made something spectacular from them. I wonder if Jet is ruled by Saturn astrologically? Likely so.

So my lathe is now set up and turning lovely little incense/moustache wax spoons out of recycled Ebony piano keys. They aren’t finished yet, but looking promising.

Incense/Moustache wax spoons waiting for carving and details. Recycled Ebony piano keys
Incense/Moustache wax spoon blanks, waiting for carving and details. Recycled Ebony piano keys

I formulated a great new summer moustache wax. “Abyssinian Twirling Wax”. Made with oleoresins of Frankincense Frereana from Somaliland and Frankincense Rivae from Ethiopia. Not only does it keep its hold through hot and humid weather, smells great, but it trains and “perms” moustache hairs even better than my old “Solid moustache wax recipe”.

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

 

I now have the very rare co-op harvested “Maydi” or Frankincense Frereana from Somaliland for sale and will do a post introducing it very soon.

Will be posting “Pet Medic” to the Etsy store this week, a safe, natural skin healing ointment for most domestic animals and pets. Made “Astrodynamically” using a triple extraction of fresh Calendula petals, it was originally intended for baby’s butts, but so many people were thrilled it worked so well on their pets, I figured I would go with the flow.

"Maydi" Frankincense Frereana-Co-op harvested Somaliland 2013.
“Maydi” Frankincense Frereana. Co-op harvested Somaliland 2013.

I now have an all-purpose bdsm crème. If you don’t know what that is then just skip to the next item….

One fulfills the needs of the community. Whatever that community might be.

I think my 60th birthday gift from my Self, is a vision of bringing together all the seemingly disparate parts of my long life, my incarnations, into a cohesive whole. That’s really all I wanted to say for now.

Oh, and I will be at the Apothecary’s Garden most Saturday mornings until further notice, so if you have any gardening, herbal or apothecary questions, and if you would like to help grow the Teaching Gardens with us, you know where to find me.

Warm regards

Dan

 

Posted on 11 Comments

Co-ops-Do we support ethical Frankincense Harvesting?

Frankincense tree

I don’t believe in coincidences, which sometimes leaves my mental gears spinning, making sense of the odd things that often unfold in life. I know without a doubt there is something I’m missing when a bizarre  series of events, unusual and random seeming patterns and algorithms are thrown my way. For this reason a parcel is not always just a parcel, and Frankincense is not always just Frankincense, as you will see below.

2 hours before leaving for Israel, I received an email from the manager of a Frankincense cooperative in Somaliland, inquiring if I had received the package of Frankincense Carterii he had sent. After numerous emails back and forth, it was clear there was no chance I would receive the package in the few minutes before I left. Oh well, it would come when it was meant to come I thought to myself. Nothing I could do about it.

15 minutes before leaving for the airport, the doorbell rang to reveal a postman with THE package. I had just enough time to grab the essential oil samples, and a portion of the oleoresin for proper examination and feedback in Israel. I have to admit the timing of it all was extremely odd, rank with hidden meaning. The resin was wildcrafted, and marked 2013 harvest. If you have read any two of posts on this blog, then you are probably familiar with my passion for sustainability and ethics in wildcrafting, and as you can imagine, my interest was piqued. A cooperative you say?…

Though some of my Ethiopian Frankincense is sourced from farmer/collector collectives and co-ops. This kind of local, sustainable community approach to managing our global resources is still in its infancy. There are only so many odoriferous and medicinal materials that are conscientiously gathered in the wild. Likely very few. Because they are in demand, difficult to cultivate en-masse and often represent only a fraction of a meager yearly subsistence outside of mainstream economics, many wild growing plants and trees are vulnerable to harvesting practices that are detrimental to the plants, and the local ecological balance.

Except for rare occasions, wildcrafting in any culture or country is not a well paying job. The harvest and the monetary return fluctuate from year to year, there is often a chain of middlemen who manipulate prices and absorb much of the profit, changing weather and seasonal fluctuations make income unpredictable, and unreliable. There are no benefits, medical or dental, fringe or other, no pension or workers compensation. If you injure yourself, get too sick to harvest, too bad. One tries to make the most of it, when the opportunity presents itself, and nature accommodates the best she can.

Cooperative models, on the other hand, can provide landowners, nomadic shepherds, wildcrafters and farmers, individuals and families, incentive and guidance to take responsibility for the plant’s well-being, protect, propagate and nurture them, attend to increasing the population of healthy plants and trees, while preserving the supporting environments in which they grow. Managers eliminate middlemen and represent the interests of the co-op from harvest to consumer. Co-operatives can educate growers and collectors to harvest in ways that maintain healthy plants, long-term growth and optimum yield.

The need for this sustainable approach to harvesting from the wild is not limited to Africa, Asia or developing countries, it is an approach that is needed and can work beneficially in developed countries as well. There are very few standards for wildcrafting anywhere in the world. Not even in North America where we see ever-growing lists of plants that are threatened, protected, in decline and near extinction such as Goldenrod, Lady’s Slipper and many other medicinal and aromatic plants.

St. John's Wort. Many thousands of tons are collected yearly for herbal medicne.
St. John’s Wort. Many thousands of tons are collected from the wild yearly for herbal medicine.
Elderberry wine's secret synergy with Wild Ginger, Spice, fragrance and medicine - Hidden Ontario treasure - Ontario
Wild Ginger,Spice, fragrance and medicine An endangered species in Maine

Improper and shortsighted harvesting methods have had a great impact on our environment the past 100 years or so, as has the encroachment of roads and cities, invasive species, overuse of herbicides, pesticides, pollution, industrialisation and changes in weather patterns. The saving grace of current wildcrafting practices in North America, is the growing trend of independent, conscientious wildcrafters who have taken it upon themselves to educate and inform themselves and the consumer, while treating nature with reverence and respect. An approach that is slowly spreading in the western world.

The increased interest in Herbalism, Naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, plant Alchemy, alternative medicine  and earth based religions, has given rise to this new kind of self managed ethical wildcrafter whose focus is on quality, sustainability, and the long-term well-being of Nature and the local ecology. I think this is commendable, and a trend that should be encouraged and supported whenever possible.

This approach is just as effective as co-ops and other forms of wild harvesting management. This new breed of Wildcrafters embraces an ethical/sustainable harvesting model that leaves a very small footprint on the environment, but unfortunately also often generates a smaller profit margin for the collector’s extra care. Let’s not allow their efforts, care and dedication go unrecognized or unsupported. Educate yourself and seek them out. They do this work on our behalf.

It is my hope to generate a list of these small-scale, ethical North American, European and Mediterranean wildcrafters who practice sustainable harvesting methods, on this site for future reference. If you know someone you would like to see on this list, please let me know. The demand for wild medicinal, culinary and aromatic materials is growing steadily, as is the impact of wild harvesting on our global environment. Cooperatives and other managed wildcrafting systems, could, in theory slow down and even reverse the large-scale global ecological mess we are creating. One harvester at a time.

Myrrh tree oleo-resin Ethiopia. Ermias Dagne
Myrrh tree  Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of  Ermias Dagne

The old model of opportunistic harvesting was focused on extracting the greatest amount of plant material, or  oleoresin from trees at any cost. In the case of medicinal and aromatic plants, collecting as many as possible in the shortest possible time, so as to increase the ratio of payment to hours of labour. (The profit margin). Care in harvesting is often not high on the list in these scenarios. Collateral damage can only be imagined, especially when mechanized methods such as bulldozers and backhoes are an option. Large tracts of valuable plants can be eliminated from the landscape, leaving nothing behind, and no chance for the landscape to recover for many years if ever. Yes, this does unfortunately still happen!  

  We, as consumers, are largely unaware of what goes on to bring us our wild medicinal and aromatic materials, and are ignorant of the extent of damage our purchases can cost the environment. For this reason we have not yet demanded a change.  At this time, in our western democracies, we are able to address and limit wholesale environmental destruction perpetrated by huge corporations and governments, when we are aware of it. These scenarios are blatant, and difficult to ignore.

  We have our champions of industrial and governmental reform, but few in this “grey zone”. Due to the underground and hidden nature of small wildcrafting operations, the vast territory that is spread over the whole of the world, the lack of sourcing information from large companies, we are simply not aware of the local and cumulative global impact the many tens or hundreds of thousands of wildcrafters collectively have. Without education or direction, they too contribute to the slow decline of the worlds ecology.

In the case of Frankincense trees, in some areas they are often already stressed by uncontrolled grazing, drought and long-term neglect and over harvesting.  They are sometimes cut for lumber, cleared to make way for agriculture,  used as a source of firewood in barren terrains, and when over or improperly harvested,  decline in yield and often suffer from low seed viability which further adds to their decline in the landscape. I believe a study done on Boswellia Papyrifera showed a drop from 80% seed viability to 18%  in trees that were stressed due to these factors, making it almost impossible for the trees to propagate themselves.

Frankincense Tree
Frankincense Tree

Cooperatives on the other hand, encourage ownership and responsibility through reliable financial incentive, education, and when possible provide saplings and seedlings to restore the supply and increase the population. (As in the case of the Ethiopian government’s efforts to reduce the decline of Boswellia Papyrifera). Another benefit of managed wildcrafting, is that when present, middlemen, each profiting from reselling and sometimes adulterating the collected material are replaced by a “manager” who offers fair and consistent prices to the harvesters, sets standards of quality and purity, deals directly with the wholesaler/consumer.

  Purchasing through a co-op or other managed system of wild harvest and collection, the consumer benefits from the knowledge they will receive a product of consistent quality, they are not contributing to the extinction or over harvesting of natural resources, and they are supporting the small shareholders and collectors and their local economy.  The consumer is assured that their financial choices are supporting ethics and methods that benefit nature, the ecology, local economies, and fair wages. It truly is s win win arrangement.

Cooperatives and other informed management solutions can be part of governmental initiatives, local or international conservation organizations, local communities, groups, families or individuals. There are as many options for sustaining ecology and economy as there are ways to destroy them.

Somaliland is in an odd position. Not yet acknowledged as an independent country by the UN, it strives for international recognition as a completely separate entity from war torn Somalia, to rule itself and build a stable, thriving economy. The collection and export of its oleoresins is a staple of the economy and the main source of income for generations of its citizens, one of many things that differentiate Somaliland from its neighbor Somalia. This is, in my opinion, also a cause worth supporting with our choices and dollars.

There needs to be conscientious, responsible, sustainable and ethical wildcrafting in the world, and as this approach of managed wildcrafting spreads, I believe it could make a significant difference in our world, but only if we prove to the harvesters and co-ops it is worth their while financially, that we support what they are trying to accomplish by the simple act of choosing to purchase their products. We have to put our money where our ideology is. That’s where we come in. You and I.

The choice of setting standards for ethical and sustainable harvesting of our worlds natural resources, is on our shoulders as the end users and consumers. Though we are thousands of miles away, and there seem to be cultural chasms between our worlds, the illusion of distance is evaporating through the rapid growth of the internet, global communication, commerce, immigration and travel. Our neighborhoods have expanded enormously. Frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood and other fragrant/medicinal trees and plants are actually in our backyards and every choice we make, or don’t make here, with our digital or physical “coin”, has a direct impact on the environment and inhabitants of every corner of our world. Human, animal, plant and mineral alike. Silence can be as damaging as action.

The wellbeing of all the world and the nations around us, how other governments treat their citizens, each other, their women and children, their plants, animals, minerals, and ecologies, are all well within the influence of the ripples we make with our choices here in north America. Financial and other. Our choices are our voices. We underestimate the power we truly have. Poor as we may see ourselves in relation to our local societal and economical standards, you and I are the rich kids in the world, we live on the good side of the global “tracks”, and all it takes is 5 minutes on the streets of Cairo, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Delhi or any of a thousand other cities to see this clearly. We are privileged and powerful in this world. We can make a real difference.

Every single one of us, bar none, has the power to change the world for the better, one small choice and purchase at a time by using the collective purchasing power we have as consumers. Even those of us on welfare, disability and pensions are rich compared to the average citizen of most developing countries.We can make a difference in the world by directing our individual, informed, conscientious voices, and collective individual purchases towards a powerful cause and a clear statement. What kind of world do we want to see? Let’s choose. Let’s make it so. Through us, our governments have the clout to nonviolently, pressure foreign government bullies, to humanize their laws, end wars, protect women, children and the innocent.

We have seen that using the power of the internet, a cohesive collection of individual voices can create powerful petitions that often change the tide of political, environmental, and economical decisions in “distant” countries.  Our collective purchasing power is enormous, though while it remains unrecognized by us, it is latent and ineffective. Using our collective, individual small purchases to voice our noncompliance with unethical and unsustainable collection practices from the wild, we have the clout and power of a substantially large democracy. Perhaps more so than our governments which have many political considerations and toes to not step on. We really do, collectively have enormous, world changing power in our hands, just waiting to coalesce.

Cooperative collected Somaliland B. Carterii 2013 Harvest.

Bringing this cooperative harvested Boswellia Carterii oleoresin with me on my trip, I have had over a week to judge its quality. I am very very impressed. Not only is it fresh as stated and richly fragrant, even through the thick plastic bag, this Frankincense showed its true freshness by immediately softening and sticking between my fingers with the warmth of my body releasing its essential oils. This usually indicates a high ratio of fragrant oleoresins to water soluble gums. Often, as frankincense ages, it slowly loses its essential oils, becomes more brittle, powders more easily and oxidizes a bit. This batch is exactly as promised, freshly harvested, strongly fragrant and a versatile product for the consumer. Its fragrance, fresh, and burned is comparable to the best B. Sacra/Carterii I have so far examined.

   Having this opportunity to purchase directly from a Frankincense co-op, is a unique and exiting opportunity. Our purchases contribute directly to the well-being of the plants and the local environment, assure a fair price and wage to the collectors, support families and communities that live in remote inaccessible areas, and eliminate excess profiteering by middlemen. In this case, working through a co-op also supports the economy of a country struggling for recognition and independence. When we have figured out pricing and other details, I will post these wonderful Somaliland products in the store and let everyone know.

 The package I received also included samples of B. Carterii essential oil, and a beautiful perfume/medicinal grade essential oil of the local Myrrh. The Myrrh essential oil especially impressed me, and outshone even the Myrrh essential oil I found in Ethiopia last year. (Sorry Ermias!). Its colour is lighter than other essential oils of Myrrh, which adds to its usefulness in perfumery, and its aroma is heavenly. Softly penetrating with rich deep notes of balsam, vanilla, and a hints of wood and bitter green. However the loveliest characteristic of this Myrrh essential oil, is a subtle and unexpected floral note delicately woven through it. Purchase and import details of  this high quality Myrrh and Frankincense essential oils is being negotiated as I write. As soon as these oleoresins and essential oils become available for purchase, I will let you all know.

 Somaliland is also home to the famous, rare and hard to getMaidi”, or Frankincense Frereana. It has been transplanted and cultivated to some degree in Yemen, but its true home is in the mountains of northern Somaliland. This is the famous “Yemenite chewing gum” I often refer to here. It is still imported by Yemen and Oman from Somaliland, though often marketed as a local product. It was not included in this shipment, but my fingers are crossed that this cooperative will be able to share some with us, or at least direct me to a co-op that does. I will keep you all updated as this unfolds. The possibility of importing fresh, ethically and sustainably harvested Myrrh, Frankincense and Boswellia Frereana directly from the co-ops, is a very exiting project!

 Take some time to research Somaliland. Next time you consider purchasing raw oleoresins, essential oils or herbs, find out where they come from, when and how they were harvested. We demanded “Organic” from our suppliers, and now we have organic options. We have organic produce only because we asked for it and were willing to pay for it. This is only a first step, now we know that just because something is designated organic may mean it is better for us, but does not mean it is better for the planet. In fact the term “Organic” does not and never will be a standard we can apply to wild harvested plant material. We need to demand ethics and sustainability of harvesting wild material. This is the standard we need to establish and demand from our suppliers. Organic is simply not a qualification that can in any way be awarded to, or associated with, wild harvested products. We need to establish a new model, standard and qualification “Ethically and sustainably Harvested”.

Look for cooperatives, outstanding individuals, people that care deeply or have a strong connection to the land. Look for ethical and sustainable collection methods, managed harvesting in some form. The more we ask for ethical and sustainable wildcrafted products, communicate this with our money, the more the market will recognize them as important to sales and profit margin, and will adapt to accommodate our needs around ethics and sustainability. Money does indeed talk, and when directed properly, it can cause a lot of good in the world.

I don’t think we should wait for this to just happen on its own. I’m serious about creating a list on this blog of verified ethical wildcrafters and wild harvested suppliers,  managers, and cooperatives with standards that are both ethical and sustainable. Please do post your suggestions in the comment section or email me directly at-dnriegler@gmail.com. If you know of any individual, group or company that fits the above criteria in your opinion, please let me know. Any suggestions, comments and opinions are welcome.

 Dan

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Frankincense-Boswellia Papyrifera

 

Until recently, in our North American market, there was little choice as far as the type of Frankincense resin or essential oil one could buy. Religious, occult, and “new age” stores, aromatherapy and natural perfume shops offered only Frankincense Sacra or Carterii. (These 2 types are often synonymous with each other and whether they are the same or different species is still a popular topic for researchers and other experts in the field). As recent as the last decade or so there has there been an increase in the types of Frankincense one could easily acquire here. I assume this is in part to the increase in interest in aromatherapy and natural perfumes, the “Global Village” phenomenon and the integration and growth of African, Asian and Mediterranean communities in North America.

Frankincense
Frankincense (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Likely Boswellia Sacra/Carterii.

Though the Boswellia family contains over 20 different species of Frankincense, there are only 6 or 7 types that are readily available commercially.

 

A visual comparison of 5 types of Frankincense-Boswellia- Papyrifera, Neglecta, Frereana, Rivae, Carterii/Sacra Apothecarysgarden.com
A visual comparison of 5 types of Frankincense-Boswellia

Frankincense has been a valuable commodity and a very important part of our global cultures, religions and trade for thousands of years, highly valued for its medicinal ceremonial and esthetic uses, it is only recently that the different types of Frankincense have been examined closely and their unique chemical compositions studied. Until a short time ago there had been much confusion as to which chemical compounds were attributed to the individual species of Frankincense. Samples purchased from merchants for study were not directly taken from identified trees, and some research results were associated with the wrong species. This has been corrected and now one can look back on earlier valuable research and with an understanding of the proper chemical markers associated with each species, identify the correct oleo-resin on which the studies were based.

 

” Although the gum resin of B. Papyrifera coming from Ethiopia, Sudan and E. Africa is believed to be the main source of frankincense of antiquity (Tucker, 1986), there was until recently a great deal of confusion in the literature regarding the chemical analysis of its resin as well as of the essential oil derived from it by steam or hydro distillation. This was mainly due to the fact that analyses were done on commercial samples without establishing the proper botanical identity of the true source of the resin.”, on Boswellia Papyrifera, Aritiherbal.com.

 

Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type
Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type
Ethiopia 2013

Some sound and exiting research studies conducted over the past few decades had reached the right conclusions, but for the wrong trees and oleo-resins, which compounded the confusion. Now that correct chemical markers are assigned to the different species of Frankincense, we find among other critical identifying markers, that Boswellia Papyrifera has the unique chemical markers Incensole and Incensole Acetate that distinguish it from the other types of Frankincense.

Frankincense Boswellia Serrata is well known in India for its healing medicinal properties in Ayurvedic medicine. Boswellia Serrata resin extract shows great promise in the treatment of inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and asthma. Among other characteristic chemicals it contains Boswellic acid which has been linked to anti-tumour and anti-cancer activity. I hope to elaborate on the chemical composition and medicinal applications of Boswellia Serrata in a future post.

 

 Indian frankincense  Boswellia Serrata

 

Boswellia Frereana is another unique type of Frankincense now more readily available commercially in North American markets. It grows mostly in Somalia, Yemen and Kenya and is widely used locally for ritual and medicine. In Somalia it is called “Meydi” and is burned daily in the home after meals and used to odorize ones clothing. It is sometimes called “Yemenite Chewing Gum”. Boswellia Frereana is composed mostly of resins and essential oils and contains very little water-soluble gum, this makes it especially suited to the purpose of chewing gum, because the resin and oils are not water soluble it does not dissolve or break down in the mouth, it softens when chewed, and can be masticated for long periods of time, cleaning teeth, massaging gums and freshening the breath with its essential oils. Its unusually low gum content, relative to other types of Frankincense can be seen in this chart of solubility courtesy of Ariti Herbal in Addis Ababa. Another way this high ratio of oleo-resins to gums can be verified is noting the way Frankincense Frereana melts and is absorbed into a hot incense charcoal, leaving nearly no carbon residue and emitting very little of the traditional burnt odor other types of Frankincense do. This charred remnant is a result of the water soluble gums burning and some historic references cite this charred portion of Frankincense as an ingredient in traditional middle eastern Kohl, eye liner, along with Antimony and other ingredients.

 

Boswellia, Frankincense Frereana. Called Yeminite chewing gum.
Containing almost no water-soluble gum, Frankincense Frereana does not dissolve when masticated, for this reason is used as an all natural chewing gum. It is composed mainly of resin and essential oils.

Ethiopia is home to three commercially important types of Frankincense, none of which had been easily available in North America till recently. Boswellia Papyrifera, or Tigray type from the north, Boswellia Rivae also called the Ogaden type from the south east Ogaden area and Boswellia Neglecta from the Borena area of Ethiopia. All are used locally and are commercially important resources. Their wood is used for fuel, construction and furniture, the bark for incense and medicine and the oleo-resins are used among other things, to produce bases for varnishes and adhesives, essential oils, absolutes for perfume, and as incense and medicine. Boswellia Papyrifera is by far the most extensively used oleo-resin locally and abroad. It is used in Ethiopian households daily as incense and in their traditional coffee ceremonies, it is the choice incense of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and is also used locally as an insect repellent and for medicine. It has been the Frankincense of choice by Churches and religious institutions all over the world for hundreds if not thousands of years. Both Boswellia Rivae and Boswellia Neglecta deserve their own segment here, so I will leave their detailed descriptions for another day and focus on Boswellia Papyrifera .

 

Boswellia Papyrifera is distinguished from other types of Frankincense by the presence of large amounts of Octyl Acetate and Octanol and two other unusual and unique chemical markers, Incensole and Incensole Acetate. Studies have shown that Incensole Acetate affects our central nervous system and posesses psychoactive properties. According to studies, Incensole Acetate can generate heightened feelings of well being and spirituality, reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and improve memory function. Other research has indicated that Incensole Acetate shows neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties and indicates it may be of use in cases of stroke and head trauma. It is presumed that Incensole and Incensole Acetate are absorbed by the body through the smoke released during the burning of Frankincense as an incense. One can see how this might be an ideal incense for spiritual/religious purposes in churches and temples.

 

The discovery of Incensole and Incensole Acetate as identifying chemical markers of Boswellia Papyrifera goes a long way to bolster the theory that Frankincense Papyrifera is indeed the true Olibanum and “Frank”(True) Incense of ancient times and scripture. Employing an incense that has psychoactive properties and elicits altered states of mind during ritual and ceremony, would make this incense a very valuable commodity to churches and other religious establishments, and would require a special knowledge to discern between regular non psychoactive incense and the true, or Frank-incense. This would be a valuable skill when one purchased such an exotic and expensive imported item for church use. Oleo resins such as Frankincense and Myrrh were at times worth their weight in gold, they were hard to come by, growing only in Ethiopia they would travel by caravan, ship, boat, donkey, horse or camel, or all the above often for many months. They would exchange hands many times before they reached their final destination which could often be thousands of miles away. One can safely assume, because of their value and scarcity in most parts of the world, they would run a real risk of being adulterated or replaced along the way with other less expensive materials for the profit of those that traded in such items. This would lend even more weight to the need to be able to identify the “true” incense from other types. The Frank-incense.

 

Boswellia Rivae, has a distinct haunting, rich and deep fragrance. The resin stands out in its aroma, fresh, as well as when burned as incense. The essential oil is a sweet, compelling, mysterious and complex mix that brings to mind mystery, magic and ancient sacred places. It has a surprising sweet note reminiscent of Palo Santo, unexpected in a Frankincense essential oil.
Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae
Frankincense. Boswellia Rivae
Boswellia Neglecta; Is another unusual Frankincense from Ethiopia. It is a delight burned as an incense, grounding and elevating. It has a pine like component which nicely rounds out an incense or Bakhoor mix. The essential oil of Frankincense Neglecta is also grounding, earthy & sweet. More stimulating than relaxing. The essential oil and oleo-resin have a boldness that makes them quite a different experience than the Boswellia Sacra/Carterii we have gotten used too.
Dan

 

 

 

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Frankincense & Myrrh, a Theory on Holistic Tinctures

A Thought on the holistic tincturing of oleo-resins.

Each type of Oleo-Gum-Resin such as Myrrh, Opoponax, Mastic, the many types of Frankincense etc., contain different proportions of water-soluble gum and alcohol soluble oleo-resins, (resins and volatile oils).

I propose that when one of these Oleo-gum-resins is tinctured to extract its medicinal constituents and properties, that the 2 solvents used for tincturing, be in the same ratio to each other, as the ratio of gum to oleo-resins in the material being tinctured.

Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera 60 grams. An oleo-gum-resin
Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera 60 grams. An oleo-gum-resin. Has a different percentage of gum to resin than Boswellia Rivae.

In a traditional medicinal, water/alcohol tincture, the gums are dissolved by the water, the oleo resins by the ethanol,(alcohol). What is left over after this extraction is mainly bark and other insoluble extraneous organic material. (Spagyric tinctures often put this to good use). The point of tincturing is to extract as much of the soluble active medicinal components as possible. Ideally exhausting the material by transferring all its chemical constituents to the medicine, while preserving any preexisting synergistic effects between them.

Considering that all parts of these natural Oleo-Gum-Resin exudates, (saps), contain valuable chemical constituents and compounds, and if there is no reason to isolate or change the natural composition of the material, it would  be a more efficacious  medicine if preserved as close to its natural state as possible

Myrrh tree, Myrrh Oleo-Resin, Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Ermias Dagne
Myrrh tree, Myrrh Oleo-Resin, Ogaden region of Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Ermias Dagne

I propose that the best way to create a water/alcohol tincture that is true to its source material, is by using the same ratio of water to ethanol as the plant material exhibits in its ratio of gum to oleo-resin. That this is the only way to accurately migrate  the whole material authentically, with its inherent medicinal potency, and any “synergy” that is naturally present in the original material.

Boswellia, Frankincense Papyrifera. Gum, Resin and volatile oils.
“Solve'” applied to Boswellia Papyrifera. The triad is separated into its 3 components. Gum(on right), Resin, (on left), in solution, and essential oil. (Not in  their naturally occurring proportions ).

Thus, if a sample of Myrrh oleo-gum-resin contains 60% gum and 40% oleo-resins, and a Tincture was made using 100% ethanol, it would only extract the resins and volatile oils. It would have a negligible amount of water-soluble gum. Certainly nothing close to the gum to oleo-resin proportions found in the original material. One would assume this extraction would not offer the same medicinal effects as the whole oleo-gum-resin. 1- Because the water-soluble gum contains   chemical constituents that have medicinal value on their own. And 2- because whatever effects the synergy of the whole material had in its natural form, would be lost.

Myrrh is a common resin in the Horn of Africa.
Myrrh is a common resin in the Horn of Africa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to this method, a solvent mix composed of 20% alcohol and 80% water would not extract a tincture that was representative of the original material either. Rather it would contain more gum than oleo-resins than the original Myrrh. The same could be said of any other combination of these two solvents other than a combination of water to alcohol that reflected as closely as possible the actual proportions of gum to oleo-resin found in the material tinctured.

Some types of Frankincense contain very little gum, such as Boswellia Frereana.  As low as 0. 5%-0.1%, see AritiHerbal table of Extractability of Boswellia Resin. Other types of Frankincense have greater proportions of gum to oleo-resin. According to this theory of holistic tincturing,  the unique qualities inherent in each oleo-gum-resin, can only be  reproduced in a tincture if the natural ratio of gum to oleo resin in the source material is reflected accurately in the ratio of water to alcohol in the tincturing solvent. One could assume it would keep the same natural synergy in the original material intact by keeping all the chemical constituents in the same relative proportion to each other in the finished product or tincture.

Boswellia, Frankincense Frereana. Called Yeminite chewing gum.
Containing almost no water-soluble gum, Frankincense Frereana does not dissolve when masticated, for this reason it is used as a chewing gum and can be purchased under the name “Yemenite chewing gum”. It is composed mainly of resin and essential oils.

I am not a trained scientist, nor do I have access to the instruments that would put this theory of holistic tincturing to the test.  I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone besides myself, or if there is any corroborating research out there to support this theory, but I would Love to hear any opinions, conflicting or supporting.

Dan

As an addendum ,( written a month or two after this post), I need to add that after thought, contemplation, examination and the occasional dream, I realize there may be one other way to extract all of the essential oils, resin and gum from these oleo-gum resins. The one way they could be extracted in their entirety and with their naturally occurring proportions intact, without a knowledge of their inherent gum-resin-oil ratios is, If  a “disproportionately large” amount of alcohol/water is used for the extraction. So instead of making a 1:5 or 1:6 tincture with 1 being the oleo-gum-resin, something like a 1:10 tincture could be prepared. using much more water than the quantity of gum required, and much more alcohol than the oleo-resin required. In this way all the components could be extracted. However…the obvious drawback, is that there would be a much higher quantity of liquid and a lower proportion of oleo-gum-resin. So it can be done, but with a price. In a way, cheating a bit. This 1:10 ratio tincture, though containing all the soluble and desired parts of the material, would be very weak, which is not ideal and I see no finesse, or advantage to it. It would be very very difficult, if even possible, to remove the excess solvents without losing some of the volatile oils.

Since I am on the topic I will take this opportunity to raise a point that I will address in greater detail  in a future post. Lately there has been a lot of talk about the healing properties of Boswellic acid found in Boswellia Sacra. Though much important research has been done on the different types of Frankincense, and Boswellic acid does show great promise as an anti-inflammatory and antitumor, among other important applications,  it is not a volatile  or essential oil . Which means little, if any Boswellic acid is found in the essential oil of Boswellia Sacra/Carterii.  Whatever Boswellic acid is present in the oleo-gum-resins of some of the members of the Boswellia family, resides  in the resin part, not in the “Oil”, and is not normally extracted with the essential oils. If a  company claims that its essential oil of Frankincense Sacra has a “high percentage  of Boswellic acid, then one should ask, how did it get there??

Food for thought.

Dan