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A Distillation Workshop in the Apothecary’s garden

Frankincense Frereana essential oil distillation in separatory funnel.

For those who will be in South Central Ontario this weekend

As promised, I will teach a distillation workshop this Saturday in the Apothecary’s Garden at the Teaching gardens in Churchill Park Hamilton. It will be part of the Hamilton Herbal Weekend. Short notice, but it will keep you limber.

You will learn

  • How to distill essential oils and make hydrosols at home.
  • What equipment you need, where to get it and how to create high quality products from harvest to bottle.
  •  I will cover the basics of safely  distilling and using essential oils.
  • The difference between the therapeutic properties of essential oils and other plant products. When and how to use essential oils and what not to expect from them.
  • How to make your own products for beauty and health.

I will be happy to answer questions related to distillation and the Apothecary arts. Which include but are not limited to growing, harvesting and processing herbs, sustainability, ethics and etiquette in wildcrafting, stewardship of the wild, fair trade, sustainable and regenerative commerce, plant energetics and intelligence, Medicinal Astrology and Plant Alchemy.

The subject of the distillation will be fresh Frankincense Serrata from India. The cost of the workshop is only $20.00. Some of my products will be available for purchase, and at the end of the distillation the freshly distilled essential oil and hydrosol will be offered for sale. Profit from sales will go towards my upcoming trip to Madagascar. https://apothecarysgarden.com/2016/09/12/chocolate-dreams-vanilla-beans-cinnamon-cloves-and-lemurs-madagascar-2016/

Drop by if you are in the neighborhood..

Dan

Posted on 13 Comments

3 Recipes for a Beard wax and Dressing

With all my posts on moustache this and moustache that, I don’t mean to marginalize or ignore beards. I sport a beard along with my Stache and I try to give it the same kind of attention..Alas, I think we all get a little lazy at times and can take our beards for granted.. .

Stache and Goatee
Stache and Goatee draw the eye away from sags, bags and wrinkles….Just an old goat…

While most of us focus mainly on shaping and pruning our upper lip fur, the beard often takes up more facial real estate and deserves a little more consideration with a dressing. Ideally, a beard dressing should soften, nourish and moisturize not only the beard, but tend to the skin that sports it.
I like a bit of shaping power to my beard dressing. Having a trimmed goatee and a twirled moustache I like to keep them relatively synchronised and in tandem.

When creating or choosing a beard wax, oil, or dressing it is important to give thought to how much sculpting power you need. Personally, I don’t use a beard oil. I find they make it difficult to apply my moustache waxes and my beard doesn’t really need one. We have fish and chips for that…..

On the other hand, I don’t want a product so sticky or heavy it makes my beard look too stiff. If I want some bold sculpting I’ll use a moustache wax and work it in where I want it with the dressing.  Unless I’m going for some radical creative hair sculpting, I prefer a beard dressing that will look natural, work with, and accent the waves, ripples and highlights already present. Something that will give me as much shaping as I can get without being a moustache wax.

For me, a good beard oil or dressing will have 3 components.

  1. A nourishing and moisturizing element that will soften and protect my facial hair, especially in harsh environments or extreme temperatures. If possible also keep my skin smooth, supple and moisturized.
  2. Something that will keep it in the style and shape I want for extended periods without constant reapplying or making it look too obvious.
  3. It has to smell good, which may actually be at the top of my list. So whatever it takes to achieve that very important aromatic quality. Not overpowering, but doesn’t disappear after a few minutes. Something that is attractive to me and attractive to those I want to be attractive to. Ideally I want my beard to smell so good to me that when no one is looking I will want to cup it up to my nose and inhale it deeply. Mmmm, Labdanum…….

   For #1, There are many vegetable/carrier oils available. Some basic and well-known, and some part of a parade of new and “exiting” exotics vying for our dollars and approval. Some are fads and will fade away with time. Personally I prefer the tried and true classics.

    -Oils- Though classified as a wax, there is nothing as time-tested and as close to our own natural skin oils às Lanolin. It is collected from sheep’s wool after shearing and before the wool is processed into yarn. Using Lanolin causes no harm to sheep, it is eminently renewable, sustainable and ethical. It has been used for centuries to protect, moisturize and heal the skin, just as it protects the sheep’s own hair and skin through the constant wear and tear of elements. It is easy to use and adds a wonderful softness to facial hair while giving some shaping power to your dressing and adding body to your beard.

Extra Virgin Olive oil, and Jojoba oil are my oils of choice in the lab. (Though again, Jojoba is officially classified as a wax), Almond oil is light, lovely, and runs a close third for me.  Argan oil is highly regarded for its nourishing properties so I have been experimenting with it. There are many other natural alternatives, and much for us all to explore.

   2 – Waxes, lend body, hold, and often fragrance. I love using Beeswax.. with its sweet, warm, woody/honey scent it is perfect for men’s products. Depending on whether you want to just firm up your beard, give it volume, or get creative with styling, you can add varying proportions of this lovely natural product. It gives a beard definition and adds hold to hair.
Of course there are many other types of wax that you can use. Candelilla, Soy, Carnauba and microcrystalline wax, which is mainstream candle wax and a petroleum product.

  #3 A  little known secret is that tree resins, even in small proportions, will not only keep stray hairs in line, but will also tame and perm your facial hair. A little tree sap or oleo-resin added to your formula will noticeably help your hair keep the form you shape it in for days.

Another “group” of ingredients that can enhance the texture and fragrance of a beard dressing is vegetable “Butters”.

Adding some Cocoa Butter or Shea Butter to your formula adds sheen, makes your product go on smoothly, and in the case of a stiffer styling wax, reduces hair pulling. The chocolate fragrance of Cocoa Butter is heavenly. The fragrances of both Shea and Cocoa Butters blend in a most pleasing way with the base ingredients listed here. There are many vegetable butters available now, but these 2 are by far my favourites.

Water bath with multiple vessels and ingredients warming to the same temperature.
Water bath with multiple vessels and ingredients warming slowly  to the same temperature before blending.

An important point to make, is that butters,(and some waxes), must be heated separately from oils,  (in the water-bath), before combining. Their temperatures must match before attempting to blend them. Otherwise they tend to granulate and can give you a grainy unpleasantly textured product.

   Here are some simple recipes you can start with. You can modify, improvise and adjust them until they have exactly the look, feel, effect and  fragrance you consider perfect. Please remember to take clear and accurate notes of any modifications you make. Otherwise, if you come up with the perfect product, you may never be able to duplicate it.  You may also end up repeating the same mistakes ad infinitum, which is how some people define Hell…..

  This is a most personal endeavor. Though there are many products in the market there is nothing that can work the same for everyone. And of course there is nothing like the satisfaction of making your own beard or mustache wax. (Or making the perfect product for someone you love.)  There is no one out there who has the exact same facial hair as you.

RECIPES FOR A BEARD DRESSING

– Spruce Sap beard oil-

Spruce sap ready for collection.
Spruce sap ready for collection. Our tree saps not only smell wonderful, but they help tame our facial hair and set it in any style we choose. Many have powerful topical healing properties, such easing our breathing and rejuvenating our skin.
  • In a jar, placed in a double boiler, (See “A Solid Moustache Wax Recipe” for how to use a water-bath), combine 3 parts vegetable oil of your choice, or a combination of oils of your choice and 1-2 parts raw sticky Spruce, Pine or Fir sap collected from the tree.
  • Mix well when hot, until the sap is melted into the oils as much as it will melt.
  • Force the hot mix through a metal coffee filter or the corner of a pillowcase into a clean jar.
  • Either pour it into bottles for use, or add your essential oils while it cools down, and then pour it.

If you want to give your dressing more body and hold,

  • put your jar back in the water-bath,
  • to the water-bath add another jar with a wax of your choice.
  • When the contents of both jars are as hot and liquid as they can be, add a small amount of hot liquid wax to your sap/oil mix.
  • Mix well and test a drop on a room temperature surface.
  • When it’s cool, see how firm it is.
  • When it is at the consistency you like, remove your beard dressing from the water bath, pour in to containers, or add essential oils and then pour to its final destination.

To add greater nourishing, protecting and moisturizing qualities, you can add a bit of Lanolin, in small increments directly to your sap/oil mix. It usually blends well without being preheated in the water-bath.

 

-Frankincense resin beard oil-

Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation. Grinding the oleo-resin.
Frankincense Frereana Hydro Distillation. Grinding the oleo-resin.  Maydi, the King of Frankincenses. Perfect for moustache and beard products especially with its Amber fragrance.
  1. In a double boiler set one jar with your vegetable oil/oils of choice.
  2. In a second vessel set ground Frankincense Frereana, Copal or Elemi oleoresin at 10%-20% the weight of your finished product. If you are making 100 grams of finished product, use 10-20 grams oleoresin.
  3. When both are heated evenly, mix the oils into the resins.
  4. Stir and agitate thoroughly until they can’t be blended any further.
  5. As in the recipe above, pour and filter your oil/resin mixture.
  6. To give your product more sculpting/styling power, you can, as described above,  add a little Beeswax or Lanolin to your formula. If you add a lot of wax you will end up with a moustache wax! So use a light hand…
  7.  The above oleo-resins have little or no water-soluble gum in them. This helps them blend easily with vegetable oils.
  8. You can use other types of Frankincense like Boswellia Rivae, Sacra/Carterii, Papyrifera, Neglecta or Serrata, though due to their added gum component, you will need about twice the quantity of resin, and will have to grind them quite fine before using them. (See How to Grind Frankincense and Myrrh). They will leave behind more residue after filtering, but will still work just as well in your products lending your dressing their unique fragrance and shaping powers. Freshness of your oleo-resins will also impact the quantity you will need. The fresher and more fragrant or pliable, the less you will need. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to find these exotic resins freshly harvested.

Lanolin beard oil and dressing

Pure Lanolin in Apothecary's Garden Etsy Shop
Pure Lanolin in Apothecary’s Garden Etsy Shop

Similar to“An easy 2 part Moustache wax recipe”, all you need here is one jar, pure lanolin and a vegetable oil of your choice.

  1. In a water-bath heat one jar or vessel with 1 part  lanolin and 1 part vegetable oil/oils of your choice.
  2. When thoroughly heated, melted and fully mixed, test with a drop or two on a room temperature surface.
  3. If the cooled product is too thick for your preference, add a bit more of your oils to the mix. If it is too thin, add more lanolin.
  4. If you want more body or hold, add small amounts of Beeswax in increments. (See above).  Make sure to measure, record and test each time you add new material and adjust accordingly.
  5. To add essential oils and create a fragrance for your beard dressing, be patient, I will get to it….

 

Best ingredients for a beard dressing.

Oils, waxes, Butters and fragrances 

Steer away from using petroleum products. They smell bad, using them sustains an industry that is environmentally destructive, non-renewable and non-sustainable. There are no justifications for using them, especially when there are fragrant, sustainable and ethical alternatives. In general, one could say that petroleum sourced products are simple man-made chemicals, while natural products are much more complex compounds. They exist in a deeper harmony with us and  work to heal, nourish and support our body’s systems on many levels.

    • So,,, don’t use Vaseline, instead use Lanolin.
    • Don’t use microcrystalline wax- use Beeswax, Candelilla, non GMO Soy wax or Carnauba wax.
    • Don’t use mineral oil/Baby oil. Use Olive oil, Almond, grapeseed, Argan or any one of many other renewable oils that sustain the communities that produce them.

For more information about Lanolin VS Petroleum jelly and some interesting history, you can check out my post “A moustache twirl to save the world”

When adding fragrance to your product the same guidelines apply.

  • Don’t use “Fragrance oils” they are artificial, manufactured chemical fragrances. They cost less, but do no good for us or the planet on any level. Use only real essential oils. They don’t have to be “Therapeutic quality”, which is a phrase coined recently to market some well known brands and sell their products.  All essential oils are therapeutic.   There is no such thing as “Therapeutic quality essential oils”. Either it is a reak and pure essential oil, or it’s not.

Here is a short list of the best ingredients in my opinion for beard and moustache grooming products.

Beeswax- wonderful fragrance for men. Gives hold and good tackiness for shaping moustaches and beards. Easy to use. Keeps for many years.  Using it supports small communities, local businesses and the people who are best qualified to save our bees from extinction.

Lanolin- Naturally sourced, renewable, ethical and sustainable. Protects and nourishes both skin and hair. Nice musky aroma that works well in male products.

Olive oil- Used for thousands of years for its nourishing and healing properties on the skin and hair. Extra Virgin has the most nutrients and seems to keep the longest.  It is a wonderfully therapeutic carrier oil.

Jojoba oil- Renewable, sustainable, supports farmers, collectors and communities in developing countries. Has a very, very long shelf life. Not greasy and great for skin and hair.

Almond oil- Light and easily absorbed by skin and hair. Lovely on the skin. Not a very long shelf life in my experience. An oil of beauty ruled by Venus.

Cocoa Butter- Mmmmmm.Cocoa Butter……Smooth creamy, the source of chocolate. The original , only, and never to be defeated champion of chocolate fragrances. Nourishes skin and hair. Melts at body temperature,  (and in your mouth). There is a white variety, post cocoa powder extraction), and a dark brown type  which still contains the dark cocoa which smells more intense, but will colour your product.  Either way you will want to find someone to smear it on….

Shea butter-Nourishing to skin and hair. renewable, sustainable and supports small communities in Africa. Nice stuff….

Vitamin E.- Famous for its skin healing properties, is good for hair, (doesn’t hurt), and acts to prevent rancidity in oils.

You have been patient. Let’s talk fragrance,

Creating a fragrance for your grooming products

Since my own experience is constantly evolving, I will share some recent thoughts and insights briefly before pointing you to my page-Create a natural fragrance for male grooming products. 

Use all essential oils in moderation. I try to add less than 2% to my products. Not only can too much be overpowering for you, a turn-off those around you, but you can “sensitize” yourself, both physically and emotionally to a particular oil. This means that if you overdo it with an essential oil, your body may react to it in the future. This often manifests as a rash, but just as sad, you may find that instead of enjoying the wonderful fragrance you so loved, you cringe at the smell, which is just as great a loss. As was said so wisely in the Tao te Ching, “Rather than filling it to the brim by keeping it upright, better to have stopped in time”. So use restraint.

My favourite scents for men’s products.

Labdanum flower, Cistus_creticus
Labdanum flower, Cistus_creticus

Labdanum

has held the lead in my formula book for men’s products, over a decade now. Woody, warm Amber, soft, sexy masculine with hints of Spice, dry tea leaf and looks like Buckwheat Honey.

Labdanum…..mmmmLabdanummmm. I have 2 oleo-resins/essential oils I find irreplaceable in men’s grooming products. Labdanum, the sticky oleo-resin collected from the mediterranean shrubs of the Cistus or Rockrose family, See -(Labdanum, Beard grooming Babylonian style). and Frankincense Frereana from Somaliland, the King of Frankincense. (See my posts-“Maydi- The King of Frankincense”- and “A Moustache wax recipe with Frankincense resin).

I have always been a sucker for a good Amber scent, and the oleo-resins from both these aromatics are as close as the plant kingdom can get to giving us an Amber fragrance and the materials for building one.

A few Essential oils that blend well with Labdanum for a masculine scent. The proportions below are a reference to the strength of each essential oil compared to the Labdanum, so if you like,  you can keep the Labdanum heart to your product. We want a co-operative,  a commune where everyone works together to create something new and exiting,  not a battle with the strongest scent dominating or conquering the others.

 

-For 10 parts Labdanum,  choose any of these fragrances, in the proportions indicated.

Play, have fun, use 1 or use 10, take your time and take accurate notes.

  • 4 parts-Peru Balsam, Tolu Balsam, Vanilla
  • 3 parts-all Frankincense types, Sandalwood
  • 2 parts-Myyrh, Cedarwoods, Benzoin, 
  • 1 part-Opoponax, Jasmine, Spikenard, Vetiver
  • 1/2 part-Clove, Nutmeg, Ginger, ( or Wild Ginger??), Cardamom
  • 1/4 part-Ambergris tincture,
  • 1/8 part-Civet tincture, Oud essential oil, or Castoreum tincture.
  • There are many more essential oils that will compliment Labdanum and the other essences listed above, this is off the top of my head and I will leave it to you to explore, research and experiment….
  • For more information on using Labdanum for grooming you can check out my recent post-Labdanum resin for perfume and beard dressings

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

Frankincense Frereana

 is another Amber type fragrance that will prompt you and others to bury noses in your beard. Lighter than Labdanum, and possessing a sweet range of  resinous wood, sweet spice and Amber notes, the two work well together and B. Frereana Blends like most other Frankincense types with many, if not all of the above mentioned fragrances.

So, enjoy the gender you were given this time round. Be respectful of the others because karma’s a bitch.

And 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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Tincture of Civet, Spruce essential oil, a fire in the lab

Civet Perfume Tincture 2014

Though I hate to open on a negative note.  I’m going to anyway :-).

Fire in the lab
Fire in the lab

I’m still shaken up by the small fire in my lab the other day. Small being a relative term. It is a small space and could have been much worse given all the high-proof alcohol tinctures and essential oils crowded in the small work area. With good reason they call them volatile oils.

Luckily I caught it before too much damage was done. And one of my lessons is to always have a working fire extinguisher handy. Luckily I didn’t leave things completely unattended. The consequences would have been much more serious had I not been in hearing range.
That being said and out of the way. I had quite a productive time leading up to the fire.

Artisan distilled White Spruce essential oil
Small batch distilled White Spruce essential oil

White Spruce essential oil

While demonstrating how to make a pot-still from a pressure cooker for my last post, I distilled a lovely essential oil from the oleoresins of White Spruce. It has a wonderful fragrance and is different from the needle distilled essential oil.  I attribute this in part to the function of the oleoresins as healers of the trees, while the oils found in the needles perhaps have more of a nourishing anti-freeze in nature.  A hypothesis. In reality, I just enjoy working with the saps. I believe they provide a more holistic and broader therapeutic spectrum in healing balms and salves. A better, or perhaps different representation of the spirit of the tree.

Artisan distilled essential oil of Eastern White Spruce
Artisan distilled essential oil of Eastern White Spruce

While the needle and twig essential oils definitely have proven therapeutic properties, the essential oils from the oleoresins bring a different character to perfume and aromatherapy blends as well.
There is also a great affinity between the oleoresins of trees and our skin. Whether Pine, Spruce or Fir, Frankincense or Myrrh, all are produced by the trees in response to injury and designed to heal their “skin” and protect it from external damage.

Harvesting Spruce sap
Harvesting Spruce sap

The soft smooth feeling of my skin after washing off sticky sap with olive oil and dish soap, is much more than the oil alone produces. There is nothing I have personally experienced that leaves my skin feeling as healthy and supple as tree saps do. Over the years I have had a couple of clients who noticed a reduction of  wrinkles, neck wrinkles in particular, from applying my spruce cough and chest rub. On some level this makes sense.

The fragrance of this essential oil is sweet and woody with a light fruity note.  I have just posted it in the store and here is a link.

The tincture of Civet

I started on the 24th of April, only a few days after returning from Ethiopia with the fresh Civet paste, did nothing for 2 months. No matter how I plied it, agitated and warmed it, filtered, fussed and poured it, it would not transform into the fragrant tincture I was aiming for. After giving up and setting it aside for over 4 months, I put it on the heated stirrer for a few days. Lo and behold after cold filtering I found a lovely strong tincture with beautiful colour and fragrance.

Civet Perfume Tincture 2014
Mmmmm  Civet Perfume Tincture 2014

Though one can still smell the slightly fecal note of Civet,  the floral notes are already present and will continue to grow as it ages. From experience I have found even a small amount of tincture will age and within months one will notice a change in its subtleties. You don’t need much in a perfume, so even a 10 ml. Bottle should leave more than enough to experience this cool transformation for yourself. You can find a link to it  in the photo above or in the drop down menu at the top of the page.

I should mention, the instigator of the fire was a flask of new Civet tincture with 96% alcohol. Apparently I turned the heater knob to “high” and the magnetic stirrer knob to low, instead of the reverse. Luckily I was around to hear the pop of the exploding flask and the whoosh/thump of the alcohol igniting. Things are so tightly packed in the lab that flaming alcohol pouring over and under the table and cabinets was impossible to smother or put out. A housemate who was quick with his own fire extinguisher saved the day.

I’m a very lucky guy.

Dan

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How to build a kitchen still for essential oils and alcohol

Distillation of fresh Spruce sap with pressure cooker pot-still and Allihn condenser.

How to make a pot still 

Likely the simplest and most versatile distillation apparatus that one can make at home, is a pot still.
With a pot still one can

  • Distill essential oils from aromatic herbs, flowers and seeds, oleo-resins like Frankincense, Myrrh, Pine and Spruce via hydro or steam distillation.
  • Make grappa or moonshine from wine, mash or other fermented materials.
  • Rectify and refine alcohol for medicine, perfume and liquors.
  • Distill and purify water.

As a civilization, we have been distilling for hundreds of years.
IMG_1477

The process of distillation is grounded in nature’s basic laws, simple and almost archetypal, lending itself easily to metaphor and myth, to allegories of purification, transformation, transcendence, and spiritual refinement. Through familiarity with the process of distillation, one can understand many of the old symbols, sigils, allegories and metaphors of the ancients.

The “Art of distillation” is at the core of all alchemical traditions. It is the method by which the “subtle is separated from the gross”, and the process through with it is “married” back into its purified body and exalted at a higher vibratory rate. Modern chemistry owes much of its basic principles and processes, including distillation, to the ancient science and art of Alchemy.

The apparatus for distillation is often called a “distillation train”, and is made up of 3 fundamental parts, each performing a separate function.

  • The first is the pot, flask, retort or boiler, which with the aid of a heat source, evaporates and separates the volatile compounds from the material. (The essential oils from aromatic materials).
  • The second part is the condenser which cools and condenses the hot vapours, returning them to a liquid state.
  • The third part is the receiver where the distillate collects and the essential oils are easily separated from the water.
    Each part of the distillation train can be modified to perform extra functions, but this is the principal division of things.

  The pot or boiler.

DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Still
DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Stills

To make a simple pot still for steam or hydro distillation, one can use any clean metal kitchen pot with a tight-fitting lid.
A hole is drilled in the lid to accommodate a pipe that directs the hot vapors to the condenser.
A gasket of some sort is often required between lid and pot. Without a tight seal, any hot vapor that escapes the pot during distillation will carry your essential oils with it. Working at atmospheric pressure reduces the need for radical sealing methods and this can be accommodated by making sure the pipe leading from the pot to the condenser is wide enough to prevent buildup of pressure in the pot.

It is sometimes possible to seal the pot with Teflon plumbing or gas fitting tape, which is inert and will not leach adhesives into your still. If needed an adhesive tape of some sort can be wrapped tightly around the Teflon tape to hold it in place.

DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Still
DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Still-with and without Gaskets

Pressure cookers can work as distillation pots and have the benefit of a fitted seal. Though contrary to the function they were designed for, pressure should not be allowed to build up pressure.

Since writing this post 3 years ago, I have shifted away from using Aluminum pots as the one shown here. Though in theory, molecules of Aluminum will not transfer to the receiver or essential oil, and they likely could be used safely for distillation or steam production,  it is impossible to know for sure and my focus has shifted to the more traditional and customary copper, stainless steel and glass distillation systems. In this case, a stainless steel pressure cooker will serve just as well as an aluminum version.

An excellent and versatile distillation unit can be made of a stainless steel “Couscousiere”, a 2 tiered traditional Moroccan cooker as shown in a more recent post –How to make an essential oil still at home. A distillation workshop

Here is a PDF with instructions for building a “Magical” Couscousiere distiller.

Here you will find my latest, (March 2018), still design made from a high-end 70 litre stainless steel pot with an air cooled condenser

A n essential oil distillation with a Couscousiere. Atmospheric pressure and gently sealed with Teflon tape.
A recent distillation of Frankincense serrata with a Couscousiere. At atmospheric pressure and gently sealed with Teflon and electrical tape.
Home Distillation-Homemade pot stills- gasketless seal.
Home Distillation-Homemade pot stills- pressure cooker with gasket less seal.
    • When modifying a pressure cooker for home distillation there are some important points to keep in mind.
  • it is likely a good idea to leave the safety release valve on your pressure cooker intact.  Otherwise, unlikely as it may seem, if your exit vent gets clogged, a pressure cooker can turn into a deadly bomb.
  • If using the pressure cooker for simple hydro and steam distillation remove the pressure gauge or the jiggly thingy, and drill through its threaded seat for your steam exit.
  • Make sure you have at least a 1/2 of an inch diameter passage for the hot vapors to exit the pot. Since writing this post I now personally avoid any fittings that are less then 3/4″. 1 inch is my ideal on this sized pot.
Pressure cooker pot still for essential oils
Pressure cooker pot still for essential oils. 2 adjustable joints make positioning the condenser and receiver a breeze. Easy to disassemble and clean between distillations.

In the distillation shown here I used a 21.5 liter All American pressure cooker.
This system is different from the more familiar “press and turn” locking system that most home pressure cookers incorporate. It provides an elegant and enduring alternative to rubber and silicone gaskets through a milled aluminum top and seat. No gasket is needed and the 6 screw down clamps create an even pressure and a perfect seal. Tighten them as you would the wheel on a car, in pairs of opposing nuts. This helps make sure the lid is sitting evenly and properly in its seat.

I removed the pressure gauge, drilled a 1/2 inch hole and inserted a 1/2 inch brass fitting through the hole and screwed on a matching female fitting with Teflon tape on the inside of the lid. This diameter vent, (1/4″), is suitable for distilling liquids.

Herbs resins, barks and other materials are more safely distilled using a larger 1/2″ to 2″ exit hole to avoid clogging and building up pressure in the pot.
Adjustable couplings with elbows allow the pipe to swing horizontally and vertically to accommodate easy positioning of the condenser and receiver. All parts are available at most hardware stores.
In this example, I use an electric hot plate as a heat source which is not ideal. Electric elements don’t disperse the heat well and can burn the material in a thin-bottomed pot, especially if there is a water-soluble component to the distilled material that will create a sludge. Even the smallest bit of burnt material in the pot can spoil the batch of essential oil. A thick-bottomed pot is ideal, as is a gas heat source.

 The condenser

Though one can make a coiled copper tube condenser, or a metal water-cooled sleeve condenser at home, by far the easiest solution for the beginner is to purchase a ready made glass condenser.  They are available from laboratory supply houses or eBay from about $20 to $60.  I prefer to support small businesses and get mine from alchemylabsupply.com . A Liebig condenser is a simple glass “sleeve” condenser and an Alihn condenser has a series of glass “bubbles” to extend the cooling surface area. They range in length from 200 mm. To 600 mm. I find 300 mm to 400 mm. the most convenient.

Antique, but functional Liebig condenser for distillation-400 mm length.
An antique, but functional Liebig condenser for distillation-400 mm length.

The hot vapors pass from the pot, through the central glass tube, while cold water enters one end of the surrounding sleeve and exits the other, cooling down and condensing the vapors.  I prefer these 2 condenser designs when distilling different materials since they are relatively easy to clean between distillations.

Distillation of fresh Spruce sap with pressure cooker pot-still and Allihn condenser.
Distillation of essential oils with pressure cooker pot-still and Allihn condenser.

The water supply in this particular distillation is taken off a household tap and is collected and reused in the home/garden after passing through the condenser. All the adapters for the water hookup can be purchased at a hardware store.
One can use a large pot of water and an aquarium pump to circulate cooling water through the condenser as long as one keeps an eye on the temperature of the water in the reservoir. It will warm up and become less effective overtime as it runs though the hot condenser.
There is also the option of using an air-cooled condenser and I hope to go into detail around this option in another post.

DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Still distilling Frankincense essential oils with an air cooled condenser.
DIY Distillation-Home made Pot Still distilling Frankincense essential oils with an air cooled condenser.

The Receiver

 Last but not least important is our receiver. Any narrow-necked, clean glass vessel will do.

There are ssyphonsystems that attach to the receiver and help with separating the volatile oils from the water. In most cases the oils will float on top.
A simple method is to syphon or draw them off at the end of the distillation process and transfer them to a separatory funnel which allows easy removal of the heavier liquid from the distillate.

If you intend to collect the hydrosol, make sure your receiver is sterile otherwise it is easy to introduce organisms that will quickly spoil it.
Once the essential oils have been isolated they should be stored in a cool place.
That’s about it…….

Wild Ginger essential oil in small separatory funnel
Wild Ginger essential oil in small separatory funnel

Distilling different aromatic materials in a pot still

The distillation in the above pressure cooker pot still example was a hydro distillation of oleo-resins.

  • As a general rule, I try to keep my water level between 1/2 and 2/3 the height of the pot.Any higher and there is a risk of liquid splashing or foaming over into the condenser, or plant material blocking the exit vent.
  •  Always measure exactly how much water you put in the pot. If possible use a graduated receiver that will easily show you exactly how much distillate has come over and thus, how much water is left in your pot..
  • For plant material that needs to be steam distilled, a sieve or perforated container can be suspended above the water.  With a little improvisation it can be supported by the lid, sides or bottom of the pot. For an example see Distilling Frankincense essential oil.
  • The amount of essential oil you will extract from different materials varies greatly. Oleo-resins yield much more essential oil per kilogram material than flowers for example, and even between different oleo-resins there is great variation. Some Frankincense types yield 0.05% essential oil, while others yield 10% and more. Some fragrant seeds are quite high in essential oil content and others less so.
  • Fresh, or gently dried aromatic material is preferred for both quantity and quality of essential oil yield.

As a general guideline, it could be said that different materials could be distilled thus-

  • Oleo-resins with no water-soluble gum content can be distilled by hydro distillation directly in the water. These include Pine, Spruce and Fir saps, Mastic, Elemi, Copals and Frankincense Frereana.
  • Oleo-resins with water soluble gum, or oleo-gum -resins such as most types of Frankincense and Myrrh, need extra attention when using a flat-bottomed pot still. They can be suspended in a sieve/colander  above the water, or distilled very gently with a higher ratio of water to distilled material so less sludge and no burning occurs. The water soluble gums dissolve in the water and can create a slur that is apt to burn if the water level gets too low. When using flat bottomed pots, a thick bottom and a  flame for a heat source, help reduce the risk of burning your material and losing the whole batch of essential oil.
  • Aromatic seeds such as cumin, carrot, Dill etc can be distilled either suspended in a sieve or gently and directly in the water.

The beauty of water and steam distillation of this type is that you will never go above 100 degrees Celsius in the still, which is suitable for distilling most essential oils for apothecary, perfume and aromatherapy use.

If a hole is drilled in the pot lid, a thermometer can be inserted through a cork, and the temperature of the vapors can be finely controlled. This is important when distilling alcohol for instance.

I’m sure I have missed some important points. So feel free to leave any questions, ideas, insights or omissions in the comments section below. They are most welcome and appreciated.

 

Dan

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The Traveling Apothecary

My apologies for the long delay posting here.
My intent was to deliver part 2 of “How to distill essential oils from spruce and pine sap” a long time ago.
But life doesn’t always unfold the way we plan it. Instead, I find myself in Israel with no pine sap and without my distilling equipment.
I am improvising with this unexpected scenario, and trying to catch up on many of the plans I had made for March and April.
It is the spring equinox, and a time for new beginnings. Sometimes chaos is the ideal material from which new endeavors rise. I hope this is the case.

I feel I haven’t caught my breath or found my ground in over 2 weeks.

Thanks to everyone for the great response to the last post. Especially the “Preppers” and “Doing The Stuff Network”. I would love to do a followup on the many practical uses for our native saps. Things everyone should know how to do.                                                                  If indeed we find ourselves at the end of the world, apocalypse upon us, I still expect everyone to treat nature with due reverence. We may not get a second chance to do things right. If we do, and we blow off Nature again, well, we probably deserve extinction. Of course we could change how we are doing things now, and avoid post apocalyptic anarchy completely,,, Time will tell.

I imagine I could write a “how to” on distilling Frankincense essential oil, a popular topic on search engines, and an oleoresin readily available here. The distillation process for both saps is close to identical,  so I could kill two birds with one stone. Of course barring the above mentioned apocalypse, thankfully,  I won’t have to physically bash in any bird skulls. Another reason to change our attitude towards Nature asap.
Let me ponder the idea of a post covering the distillation of both Frankincense and Pine oleoresins, and I will get back to you.
In the meantime, I will entertain you with photos of wild flowers blooming on desert mountains, in arid Wadi beds, and on beaches of southern Israel, eye candy from the Negev.

So. With the intent of finding a way to finish my post on distilling essential oils from tree saps, I will leave you, and promise to post again soon.

Wishing a happy and productive Spring to all.
Dan

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How to distill essential oils from Pine and Spruce sap-Part 1

White Pine Sap-2014
White Pine Sap-2014

It is very easy to distill the essential oils from our local North American Pine, Spruce and Fir tree saps ourselves, but, to fully capture the exquisite qualities this type of small-scale distillation can offer us, a different approach and perspective is called for. Everything leading up to the distillation is as important to the quality of our oils as the physical process of distillation. The approach is simple.

We have to shift our perspective from being product oriented to relationship oriented. From getting to giving, and change our role of consumers to that of stewards. We each exist in a relationship with nature, the planet, and much more than is visible to the eye. We are part of a vast dynamic living matrix linking and coordinating all life in its many forms, from beyond the planets and stars to the very atoms within all things. Severed from it but for a moment we would cease to exist. Literally. I know, it’s a big statement to open with, but for now, keep an open mind, and I will I will try to keep this to one post of readable length, and address these concepts in upcoming posts.

We have put a lot of stress on the planet’s systems the past few hundred years. We have excelled at taking and making, and most  definitely gained a lot.  We have progressed and evolved as a civilization. As we see the negative impact on the health of the planet and our bodies, we struggle to understand what we are doing wrong.  Skyrocketing cancers and other diseases. What are we missing? How can we do this differently so nature thrives along with us? Lucky for us Nature sees us as part of her, not the enemy, or we would have been disposed of and reabsorbed into the planet a long time ago.  Dominant species or not, our behaviour has been abhorrent towards each other and the planet. Dominant Shmominant. We have intellectualized our role here, separating ourselves from nature as beings superior to all others. Crowned ourselves kings of the planet without assuming the responsibilities of rulership.

Simple homemade multipurpose  pot still with air-cooled condenser.
Simple homemade multipurpose pot still with air-cooled condenser. Th metal sleeve on left, is added to the top of the still for steam distillation of suspended material. Also makes a mean Grappa if it is legal where you live….

Here are some simple methods of extracting essential oils from conifers

Though more sophisticated methods areinvented daily, let’s hope, ethics and sustainability are an important part of them.

  • Needles, smaller branches and twigs can be mindfully trimmed, sent through a “mulcher”, then hydro/steam distilled. This is done easily in a home-made pot still. (See the post on distilling Frankincense). The chopped material will float on the water in the pot, avoiding the danger of material burning on the bottom. This allows us to distill the essential oils of evergreens that do not exude their saps such as White Cedar and the Junipers. They can also be set atop the boiling still pot and steam distilled.
  • The trees can be tapped, and the essential oils distilled from their sap in a process similar to the preparation of Maple syrup. (Tapping spiles can be purchased, (Stainless steel), or made from Elder branches as these shown below). If I had a choice between a cold metal tube, or a body temperature tube made of the same material as my body,  inserted into me, I know which I would choose.

    Handmade Elder Spiles for tapping the saps of Maple, Spruce and other trees
    Handmade Elder Spiles for tapping the saps of Maple, Spruce and other trees. (Maple Syrup, Spruce Beer etc.)
  •  In the turpentine industry, Pine bark is cut, stripped or slashed, using methods similar to the extraction methods of  Frankincense and Myrrh trees. The ensuing exudate of oleoresin, (essential oils and resins), collected and  processed in copper stills. The vapours from the heated oleoresins are condensed for turpentine and essential oils, while the leftover resin is drained and filtered to make the rosin we use on the bows of violins and other stringed instruments, and other applications where increased friction and contact is needed. With a little love and ingenuity, you can make your own beautiful crystal clear amber Rosin  from Pine, Spruce or Fir saps. You can get creative and cast this rosin in any shape you can envision. It makes a lovely incense even after separation from its essential oils.
  • Rosin
    Rosin, Make your own high quality Rosin from the saps of trees that grow around you
  • Rosin, Make your own high quality Rosin from the saps of trees that grow around you
  • By far the simplest and gentlest method for distilling essential oils from local conifers, especially if one lives in the city, is from the sap already present from the trimming of lower branches. This requires no further damage to the trees, while giving us the opportunity to produce our own exquisite essential oils and rosins for perfume, medicine and many other products.

Even in the middle of the city, you will find a connection to the trees that grow in your sphere.  I would say you already have a relationship with them whether you recognize it or not. To notice a tree, acknowledges the existence of a relationship between you. Life is full of subtle truths. The quality of that relationship is mostly in your hands. The quality of the products you make with the trees in your sphere is completely in your hands. A little piece of the planet’s well-being is yours to watch over and nurture. These are the seeds of stewardship. 

American Turpentine workers circa 1912
American Turpentine workers circa 1912. (I know, this photo makes me cringe, for a couple of reasons)

Today some large-scale operations distill essential oils from pulp, sawdust and foliage left over from milling and processing trees for lumber and paper industries. The quality of the essential oils produced by these large industries can not compare to those you can distill in small quantities on your own. The chemical and  fragrance industry is vast, and many of these factory produced essential oils, especially those distilled from coniferous trees are used as starting materials for other  chemicals and essential oils utilized in our everyday products.

distillation column-I don't know what they are distilling, but it gives us an idea of the scale of these industrial operations.
distillation column-I don’t know what they are distilling, but it gives us an idea of the huge scale of these industrial operations.

On the bright side, Small scale “Artisan” Distillers of essential oils, made from hand collected plant materials, by craftspeople that have personal and intimate relationships with their local flora, people who practice ethical and sustainable methods due to their philosophies and convictions, are becoming recognized in commerce. They are increasingly in demand  by  “bespoke” and small-scale perfumers, naturopaths and alternative healers around the world. This, I believe, is how change on a global scale is slowly unfolding.

We need these small-scale producers and artisans in as many fields as possible, and we need to support them whenever, wherever and however possible. They represent a new paradigm and model of how we can live in harmony and balance with the planet instead of our current destructive model of impersonal mass production which is taking a growing toll on our health and wellbeing , and that of the planet.

Small scale farmers, conscientious and ethical animal husbandry operations, local dairy and artisan cheese producers, private-label vineyards and cottage industries, ethical wildcrafting homesteads and collectives, and small-scale distillers, all allow this type of rich, intimate, respectful relationship with nature to flourish. Supporting them enriches our communities, nurtures an ethical and sustainable relationship with the planet and provides us with high quality products that help reintegrate us on an individual and societal level with nature. They are the vanguard of change and evolution.

In the production of essential oils, I believe this is the only practical way to keep the integrity of the fresh plant, the nuances and depth, their healing potential, and the metaphorical “heartbeat” of the plant intact through the process. Something not achievable on an “Industrial scale”. Though each batch may differ slightly in complexities of fragrance, I believe these small distillations using planet friendly and non destructive practices, built on intimate personal  relationships with nature, from the tapped or exposed saps of the trees, yield perfume and therapeutic ingredients of the highest quality

Distilling essential oils from tree sap. An opportunity for Stewardship.

As mentioned above there are 3 materials we can extract essential oils from in a non destructive and responsible way.

  • Needles and twigs,
  • Sap from tapping the trunks
  • Sap collected from the exterior of the trees.

I am going to focus on the external sap we can collect. If there is interest, leave a comment below, I will write about the other methods in future posts.

One obvious difference is that we are working with a very specific product the tree has produced in response to an injury.  One can safely assume this is not the regular sap that flows within the tree due to the unique role of these self-produced “Bandages”. These oleoresins are exuded by the tree as a barrier against opportunistic organisms and microorganisms, and to heal an injury to itself. Their composition differs from the essential oils distilled from the tapped tree and from the needles.  They are higher in resins, and in my opinion, the essential oils they yield, are richer and more complex in fragrance.

For this reason, it is thought, that these saps and their essential oils have a greater healing potential, and are especially suited to managing skin ailments, aging skin, wrinkles and scarring. Healing our own “bark”. The affinity is obvious.  The Pinenes in these saps are considered anti inflammatory and broad spectrum antibiotics. They open bronchial passages, stimulate surface blood flow, stimulate brain function and  memory. These are only a few of the therapeutic properties and beneficial traits they offer us.

Each and every species of Pine, Spruce and Fir has its own unique chemical compounds, characteristics and fragrance 

Learn to differentiate between the different species and types of trees. Always collect and distill Pine, Spruce and Fir sap separately. If you like, you can start by collecting unidentified Pine, Spruce and Fir saps, and distill a more generic essential oil from each tree type, until you can discern between them. For most medicinal purposes this works well. If you invest some time in study, you will learn to tell the difference between the various species in each of these families. Your relationships with the trees will grow and deepen, leading you to consistent and higher quality essential oils. This is a craft and an art that calls for mastery.

A simple way to tell the difference between the three families, is that pine needles are “almost always” multiple, and are joined at the base in a sheath. Spruce and Fir needles are attached to the branch individually, a Spruce needle will roll easily between thumb and forefinger, while a Fir needle is flat and will not roll.  Spruce needles are often more rigid and have sharp skin penetrating tips, Fir needles are softer. Spruce cones grow downward while Fir, as far as I know has upward growing cones that do not last the whole season. Someone once said “Loving someone is knowing them”. It is so with Nature, you will find that love and knowledge will grow hand in hand.

We raise our children detached from Nature. Shamans, elders, Priests and priestesses, medicine men and women, those who have traditionally kept the spirit and connection with nature alive in our communities, have lost their roles in modern society. It is up to us to address this void. There is no one else. Our natural “resources” are much more than just chemical compounds we can take and process into useful products, there is a unique life force within each plant, animal and mineral woven through the universe.  Can we keep  this energetic vitality alive from harvest to finished product?

Sustainable and Ethical Harvesting or Wildcrafting

The laws of Nature, Physics and Karma work flawlessly, whether we can see them or not. For every action there is a reaction, no energy invested ever disappears, and we reap what we sow. There is an intelligence of Nature that exists everywhere around us. Just because we have not yet invented the instruments to measure it, does not mean it does not exist or does not react to every action we impose upon it. More than this, we are innately and intimately involved in this dance, as individuals and societies. The intelligence of trees, and those intelligences that take care of our trees and woods and every other individual species in plant, animal and mineral world exist to my satisfaction. We too are part of this living tapestry, regardless of all attempts to intellectualize our superiority, and see ourselves as separate from the rest of life on the planet.

   Do no harm, should be in the forefront of our minds whatever we occupy ourselves with. Especially with Nature. And if you can help out natures citizens while you are out in the woods, it is important you do so. There is no better use or service for our so-called “superior intellects”.

Harvesting

 The beginning of all endeavours starts with our intent. What is your vision?

The laws of nature and physics dictate you will receive as you give.

As in many aboriginal traditions we communicate our intent, listen carefully, and give before we take.

Nature isn’t picky about what you give. Lucky for us She is not hung up on material things.

Learn to listen to Nature and to yourself. Just as in any important relationship.

There are no coincidences. Nurture your relationships.

Secrets are never shouted. They are whispered.

Be quiet and still, and Nature can teach you everything you need to know.

Let it be a devotion.

  Deepen your relationships with the  plants you engage, develop your own personal ethics, and methods of sustainable and mutually beneficial harvesting in the wild. Engage with the spirit of your harvest, respond to their needs there is much more to be reaped than meets the eye.

On to the harvest

  • Our Northern American evergreens have been suffering from an infestation of Borers that have decimated huge tracts of our forests. I always carry a long wire with me when I harvest sap. Whenever I see a hole under a patch of sap, I insert the wire to the depth of the hole, and destroy the grub therein. Not a planet saving move on its own, but if we all held the well being of the trees and all nature’s citizens in mind while we were taking what we wanted from them, it would, I believe, make a difference. Not only in the world, but in the products we create from nature.
  • In the winter the tree is dormant, the cold weather inhibits the growth of organisms and micro organisms that could attack an exposed area of the tree. This is when it is ideal to harvest our sap.
  • Try not to scrape the sap down to the bare wood. There is plenty for you and the tree.
  • If you get ahead of me, and try to distill these saps before the next post, please be very careful! They are extremely volatile! Keep vapours away from open flames and perform a hydro or steam distillation. Don’t heat the saps directly!

For part 2 and instructions for making your own pot still and distilling essential oils with it, please see my post, “How to build and use an essential oil still.- http://apothecarysgarden.com/2014/09/20/how-to-build-and-use-an-essential-oil-still/

I could not in good conscience, write a post about distilling from the wild, without first laying down some clear directions for ethical and sustainable wildcrafting. I apologize for the length and any excess meandering. It is obvious where my passion lies. I would feel terrible if I found  that someone was hacking at trees after reading this post. Especially with that disturbing photo of turpentine collection….

If you do not have these trees in your area, or if you would like to buy ethically and sustainably harvested saps from someone who is passionately involved with the ethics and sustainability of wildcrafting, I have some beautiful fresh White Pine and Spruce saps for sale in my Etsy store. Click on the photo below or any of the Etsy badges in the sidebar to find out more.

Dan

Fresh Spruce and Pine saps Ethical and sustainably collected
Fresh Spruce and Pine saps Ethically  and sustainably collected
Disclaimer- This post does in no way imply one should harvest from city or private property, or if in the Hamilton/Burlington area, stray from the marked trails on RBG property.Enhanced by Zemanta
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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, Opoponax & Myrrh, Gifts from the land of Punt

Frankincense and Myrrh. This is a fine relief of members of Hatshepsut's trading expedition to the mysterious 'Land of Punt' from this pharaoh's elegant mortuary temple at Deir El-Bahri. In this scene, Egyptian soldiers bear tree branches and axes.
This is a relief of members of Hatshepsut’s trading expedition to the mysterious ‘Land of Punt’ from this pharaoh’s elegant mortuary temple at Deir El-Bahri. In this scene, Egyptian soldiers bear tree branches and axes.

Today I received my much-anticipated package from Addis Ababa Ethiopia. What a treat for the senses!!! This first shipment of two, contains unique essential oils distilled from fresh harvested local oleo-resins. Boswellia and Commiphora. Rare Ethiopian Frankincense and Myrrh essential oils, Palmarosa, Lemongrass, and fresh pressed Black Cumin, and Neem oils to stock the store and use for perfume and herbal products. The second, forthcoming shipment will deliver the equivalent Ethiopian oleo-resins from which these oils were distilled, more of the unique bounty of the fertile and fragrant land of Ethiopia, the ancient land known as Punt.

These precious oils were created by a wonderful operation based in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. Ariti Herbal is a small-scale manufacturer of herbal products, pressed and essential oils made from local medicinal plants. Run by a husband-wife team, Professor Ermias Dagne, is a well-known and respected teacher and researcher of African medicinal and aromatic plants, creator of the Natural Products Database for Africa (NAPDA) available on CDRO and on the internet at the following site ALNAP. Professor Dagne is a warm, intelligent and enthusiastic individual, passionately committed to his students and his country. He has a vision of building a strong local economy through education and the development of unique products from the bountiful Ethiopian resources. His passion and vision are contagious, making it easy to feel inspired to support them anyway one can.

Frankincense, Opoponax and Myrrh. Treasures from the land of Punt. Coveted and traded for thousands of years Frankincense, Opoponax and Myrrh. Priceless treasures from the land of Punt. Coveted and traded for thousands of years

Treasures from Ethiopia, the land of Punt, sought after and coveted for thousands of years. Essential oils of Opoponax, Frankincense Rivae, Frankincense Neglecta. Palmarosa, and Lemongrass.

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

Opoponax and Myrrh. It makes sense that I would speak of them both first. The same family, Commiphora. Also called Sweet Myrrh, Commiphora Guidotti, Opoponax is probably one of my favourite essential oils. Both the Myrrh and the essential oil of Opoponax are the best I have smelled. The Opoponax could be described as fresh, uplifting, crisp, balsamic, airy and sweet, a classic in mens products where it lends a light citrus crispness to aftershaves, balms and colognes. The Myrrh, cool and soft with a bitter aromatic edge. Both ground a perfume while adding an exotic touch of mystery.

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

Finally, a true essential oil of Myrrh. So much more complex and refined in its fragrance “profile” than the usual solvent extraction.

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

Myrrh is a difficult and finicky oleo-resin to distill. Essential oil of Myrrh wants to stick to things, the sides of the still, the sides of the receiver the condenser It can never decide if it is lighter than water or heavier , so it poses challenges for the distiller. For large-scale industrial distillers there is often too much work and fuel involved to produce a true essential oil of Myrrh at a competitive price. Lucky for me there is someone who is willing to do the work, and people like me who appreciate it.

The fragrance is rich, deep, lightly bitter like its oleo-resin, but much more refined, with a well rounded, cool, (It suggests to me, sitting in the shade of the Myrrh tree on a hot Ethiopian afternoon), woody, with a spicy sweetness that is delicious. Its complexities suggest it is halfway to being a perfume. It lingers and persists for a long long time, the sign of a good Base Note..

 Commiphora Myrrha-Myrrh tree
Commiphora Myrrha-Myrrh tree. Maybe better to wait till it is in leaf before enjoying its aromatic shade and protection from the Ethiopian sun!

This Myrrh essential oil is reddish amber in colour and mobile, moving like a thin liquid not like Molasses, or tar, which is how the usual solvent extracts of Myrrh look and behave. It blends with pure alcohol like milk in water, literally on contact, what a joy! I used to get very frustrated trying to blend Myrrh in perfumes or cremes with little success, until I learned, that what I had, was actually a solvent extraction, a resinoid, and not an essential oil at all. This knowledge didn’t make my life any easier, but it at least allowed me to resign myself to its limitations instead of fighting them, while I searched for a true essential oil.

I only have a small amount of this oil to share through the shop, so if you consider purchasing some, check it out in the shop or contact me in the comments section here. I would be delighted if more people appreciated this gem, and the finesse it takes to create it. A gift from the Land of Punt.

Dan