Posted on 14 Comments

A fragrant moon over Addis

image

First night in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, reclining in a hammock, chewing on some Chaat and gazing at the moon at 2,355 meters above sea level. She feels closer somehow. Supporting a huge halo, I’m comforted by her unchanging presence no matter where in the world i might be.
The blend of fragrances in the air is nothing short of exotic.
Sewage in a small stream that runs through the city provides a complicated base-note that blends in and out with mysterious and foreign florals, the smell of burning cook fires, punctuated by rich hints of Frankincense Papyrifera wafting from homes and the massive, always-busy church up the street. An engaging and ever-changing composition.
All in all, a wonderful way to shake off the claustrophobia and travel fatigue from the day-long journey getting here.
image Vending incense and resins on the street. Boswellia Papyrifera on the upper left.

This morning the burnt, rich scent of fresh roasting coffee beans leads the parade up my nose. Most everyone buys them green and roasts their own over a charcoal burner. A signature smell of Addis.
My Airbnb host Henok, is an artist, radical and kindred spirit. His home feels like many of my own over the years. Life is good.
image
The always busy Piazza.

The morning was perfected with a coffee with my good friend Ermias, AKA
professor emeritus Dagne, who relishes the campus coffee even more because it is the cheapest in town. A perfect place for us to meet and to catch up on projects, future and past.
Though officially retired from teaching, professor Dagne is still very active in the university of Addis Ababa and there is usually a flock of grad students not too far from him.
He is one of those warm, authentic, magnetic, energetic people that walks with a slight tilt forward as if constantly on his way somewhere. Always busy. Always inspired, he is as much an artist as a scientist, and as much an apothecary and medicine maker as a distiller of essential oils. I’m honored to call him my friend.

Professor Dagne has offered his support with the upcoming Samburu project in neighboring Kenya.
One of the critical issues in marketing the resins the Samburu women collect is properly identifying which species they are.
While the Myrrh they gather  is generally accepted as Molmol, Myrrh or Commiphorah Myrrha, and the other as Hagar, or Opoponax, AKA C. Holtzii, the Frankincense types they bring back from their nomadic travels, are simply called “Light” and Dark” incense.

The global academic community has decided that only Boswellia Neglecta is to be found in North Eastern Kenya and neither of these fragrant oleoresins matches the description of B. Neglecta oleoresin as we know it. One is a clear golden yellow, often in tear form, and the other arrives in dull grey/white lumps.
So, a mystery awaits. And some work.
Professor Dagne will receive both plant pressings and their paired resins, and perform Gas Chromatography tests on the resin samples to help us identify them.

Over the past 100 or so years, 7 distinct species of Boswellia were registered in this area of East Africa. Over the past few decades they were all relegated to the species B. Neglecta S. Moore. I don’t know if this was based on similarity of leaf and flower and reasonably safe guesswork, but if the resins of these trees differ from each other so radically, it is worth a close look. And smell. Likely a taste too. Having access to sophisticated equipment that has not been available till recently could be the determinating factor in answering these important questions.
I will try to keep everyone updated as these projects unfold.
Dan

Posted on 17 Comments

Ethical Civet, A View from the foothills

African Civet wikipedia
English: African civet
English: African civet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been almost a year since my last visit to Ethiopia, after which I wrote the post, “Ethical civet a glimpse from the mountaintop“.  I must admit, when I returned home I felt overwhelmed, as it seemed the only way a model ethical  Civet farm could be established, was if I moved to Ethiopia, built it, and ran it myself. Much as I do enjoy a creative challenge, the task felt daunting.

Today the project feels a little less challenging and not as far off in the hypothetical distance. This shift is due mainly to the support I have received the past year from around the world and to a great degree from the natural perfume and incense communities.  A network is evolving, and I believe it could help carry this project to fruition.

Since writing that post, I have found an experienced Civet farmer, willing to work with me to establish a modern civet farm that will conform to our western standards of ethics and animal welfare. I plan to visit and speak with him in the next couple of months. It may lead to a model farm, or may not, but it is a step in the right direction. A successful project would greatly benefit the farmers, the wild and captive Civets, the local economy, and, I hope, bring awareness to bear on the shrinking natural habitats of Ethiopia. It would also guarantee an ethical source of pure and unadulterated civet products for perfume and medicine.

Civet Perfume Tincture 2014
Civet Perfume Tincture 2014

Incentive to write this post today, is due in part to a link that indie perfumer Marcus McCoy of House of Orpheus, posted regarding his use of my civet tincture in his perfume, and the negative response he received.  This makes for an ideal opportunity to recap and refresh, and share the project’s progress since then.

Our western boycotting of Civet production in Ethiopia over the past decades has yielded no positive results. It has had little effect on the captive Civet’s quality of life, and the native Ethiopian Civet population continues to decline. Since starting the boycott in the 70’s, after one of WSPA expose’s, no significant change in the treatment of captive Civets has evolved. I believe it has done more harm than good, and a new approach needs to be instituted to reverse the negative impact of the boycott and create a more ethical product, while preserving the native Civet population, guaranteeing a living wage for farmers and exporters, and slowing the loss of Ethiopia’s green spaces..

An Ethiopian Civet farmer holding the ox horn vessels traditionally used to collect and clean the paste. They have been handed down for many generations and emit an extremely heady fragrance.
An Ethiopian Civet farmer holding the ox horn vessels traditionally used to collect and clean the paste. They have been handed down for many generations and emit an extremely heady fragrance.

 

 

  • What the boycott did, was create a black market for civet products, where large international perfume and traditional medicine companies could purchase Civet paste and its derivatives, through foreign buyers hidden from public view.
  • It increased our reliance on chemical fragrance replacements which present their own set of negative side effects that impact us individually and globally.
  • Through lowering the demand, the boycott created a stasis in the price of civet paste, leaving international buyers to pit exporters against each other for the lowest possible price.

Today, the civet farmers often live in abject poverty with insufficient income from the animals to properly feed and care for the Civets or their families. They cannot afford medical attention for their families or veterinary care for their animals. They are simply in no position to institute or accommodate the extensive changes we are demanding from them. Many have abandoned the practice that has been a proud tradition in their family for generations.

In short, justified as we may feel, to indignantly boycott and suspend our financial support to the traditional and cruel treatment of Civets, I believe it was more of an emotional knee-jerk response on our part, and not a well thought out and responsible action. A boycott can be an appropriate response to affect change in some cases, but it is not a universal tool of political and economic advancement. In this case it was, I believe, a poor course of action that had no positive effect on any front and caused more damage than good.

With our boycott and the absence of market demand, the efforts of the government to modernize the industry over the years have encountered ongoing resistance from the farmers who have no incentive or anticipated return forthcoming from changing their traditional methods.

The Baku agricultural mechanization center where new and human designs for Civet traps and cages have been field tested with Civet farmers over the years.
The Baku agricultural mechanization center where new and humane designs for Civet traps and cages have been field tested with Civet farmers over the years.

The farmers are tired of being studied and researched. They need a market for their product.  Something researchers and government ministries cannot promise them. This kind of incentive and motivation can only be offered by us, the western buyers. Shall we do something about this? This is the only question there is.

I believe we need to admit we made a mistake in our reaction, learn from it, and take the time to properly address the problem in a way that is beneficial to all. In my opinion, when we have a solution that creates a win, win, win situation, we are on the right path. Instead of walking away from the problem, turning our backs and withdrawing our financial support, and hoping it will somehow force others to change, which it obviously hasn’t, let’s take action.

I propose working directly with the farmers, government agencies, local and foreign institutions of higher education, researchers, ecologists, architects, forestry experts, veterinarians, animal experts, and anyone else that can contribute to a healthy, ethical and thriving industry in a developing country. We have an obvious stalemate here, and someone has to take the first step to break it.

Reliable and highly valued beasts of burden are well cared for in Ethiopia
Reliable and highly valued beasts of burden are well cared for in Ethiopia

If one takes but a moment to contemplate the ethics and standards we choose to judge others by, we must also take the time to have a good look at ourselves. As many Ethiopians point out, we, in the western world, treat our domestic food animals with no higher ethics and no less cruelty than they treat their Civets. In fact, the time honoured art of animal husbandry is something we have completely abandoned in our rush to factory-produce animal meat by the ton and feed our growing Western population at a profit. Our own “back yard” is rife with examples of horrifying treatment of our food animals which most of us manage to ignore. Ethiopian domestic animals are highly valued on many levels and treated with much greater regard than we treat our “production” animals.

Though I don’t have a solution for our poor North American treatment of animals, and I know I can’t solve any of the world’s problems singlehandedly, I think I can take one small issue that calls to me, and see if I can improve it in some small way. And this is likely all any one of us can do. These posts, the Civet paste and tincture I sell in my shop, and my journey, are an invitation for others to join in, to share and engage in this project with me in any small way they like. Every click, every view, every sale and every share, adds momentum to change. Every conversation stimulated, whether for or against it, brings change closer.

We can’t sit back and wait for others to make the changes in our world. This passive approach only sets us up as victims of the system, leaving us spending more time complaining and pointing fingers at what is wrong, than doing anything to address the problems. We have much more power as individuals than we realize.

As the internet grows, and our technology advances, we are more empowered as global citizens than ever before. Today with the least amount of effort, we are able to create the greatest amount of change anywhere in the world. All it takes are a few well-chosen clicks of a mouse.

The big companies monitor and heed our every click. Our small choices colour the world’s markets and global trends. They even influence the political and economic tides around us. We can complain about this infringement of privacy, as most of us do, or we could use it to our benefit. Every time we click the mouse every time we purchase something, it is noted, recorded and taken into account. Every time we click we’re changing the world individually just a little bit. But what we don’t always see, is that the accumulative power of all these individual choices can be world-changing.

Preparing Civet perfume absolute from the raw paste. Professor Dagne's lab in Addis Ababa
Preparing Civet perfume absolute from the raw paste. Professor Dagne’s lab in Addis Ababa

You don’t need to be a perfumer, you don’t have to know what Civet smells like or ever want to smell it. You don’t even have to like perfume. All you need is the urge to do something to make the world a better place, to benefit someone other than yourself. A desire to contribute to something larger than yourself, and all it takes is a conscious click of the mouse, a tap on your phone.

If we clicked less on cute cat videos and games, lurked a bit less on Facebook, and asked ourselves how could we better use our time on our phones and computers, it would be a worthy act of awareness and self-improvement to change our surfing habits to more productive and creative expressions of our higher ideals. Our power nowadays is far beyond what we ever imagined.

So, I say, let’s support the farmers, let’s buy their products, work with them, and give them the means to create a new model from an outdated industry. Let’s not just wait for something to change on its own. If it hasn’t happened till now, it ain’t gonna happen. Ever.

Let’s stop the decline in the Civet population and perhaps even take a little step in saving the disappearing forests and green spaces of Ethiopia. We live in a tiny, lush, apothecary’s garden in a vast galaxy that provides us all our food, fragrance and medicine. Let’s all take care of it. Believe me, Ethiopia is not as distant as we like to think. Let’s pay the farmers more for their product, not less as we have till now, not because they’re asking but because it’s the way it should be.

Let’s give this ancient and rarest of Nature’s treasures the value and esteem that it deserves, and give the farmers the rewards and return they should see for their efforts regardless of what country they live in, or how poor their economy is. I have no doubt we will quickly see our animal welfare standards manifest on the other end. But, nothing will happen till we are willing to work with each other.

Dan
P.S. if you are not sure what to do next. Below, you will see a plethora of clickable buttons. Take your pick. Go wild. “Like”, Tweet, Repost, Reblog, Share, leave a comment or come browse my shop on the right. Have fun and know, every click counts, and you can make a difference in the world.

Posted on 21 Comments

Post #100- Leaving the country

Card Number 0,The Fool. Says it all.

Well. Looks like I’m moving, and leaving Canada.
I say “looks like” because at this point I can’t see exactly how I’m going to get there. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other, one packed box on top of the other,  filling one garbage bag at a time, and tackling logistics one issue at a time. I figure if I keep going I will find myself at the other end, and it will be good.

Card Number 0,The Fool.  Says it all.
Card Number 0, The Fool. Says it all.

Packing up 40 years of creative work as a sculptor, craftsman, herbalist/apothecary, perfumer and impaler. Tools materials and finished work, plus 20 years of parenting and a trail of photos, artwork, and report cards.
Of course, it’s mostly cool and useful stuff which makes it easier to give away or sell. But still, it’s stuff, and every piece has an invisible string of responsibility back to me, depends on me, and should be addressed by me.

Friends have been a boon in letting go of things while helping me keep the business rolling.
I have set them up with tools, stills and water baths, beakers and flasks, furniture, and materials that need an appreciative home. With any luck, I’ll be able to do one last distillation of Wild Ginger before I leave. An opportunity to demonstrate how to use the stills to their new owners. If you are close by and would like to lend a hand, I can use all the help I can get. You might find something you could use and help us both by giving it a home…

Apothecary's Garden-Teaching Gardens at Churchill Park, Hamilton
Apothecary‘s Garden-Teaching Gardens at Churchill Park, Hamilton It won’t weed itself…

Another feature of these exchanges, is that all  these friends are gardeners, herbalists or natural perfumers and have offered to step in to help manage the Teaching Gardens and Apothecary’s Garden in Churchill park in my stead. This responsibility, and what to do with my cat were 2 unresolved stresses from this move. Though I hope I’ll be back early summer to address continuity and future growth in the garden, it is a relief to know there are those who would carry it forward in the right spirit if I was wasn’t around.

 Bottles and test tubes with perfume trials,  experiments and explorations, won't come with me, back to the earth they go.
Hundreds of bottles and test tubes with perfume trials, explorations and experiments won’t come with me, back to the earth they go. Lucky I sometimes listen to my own advice and took clear notes of each formula…

This is my one-hundredth post.

 

Averaging about one a week for two years. There is a rhythm and prose to the timing with this move. Something old ends.  A new cycle begins. I only have a feeling for where this is leading, and that will do just fine for now.

I have learned so much in the 2 years I’ve written here. I have met many incredibly  talented, inspired and inspiring people through this blog and my Etsy shop. I have found kindred spirits all over the world and made new friends for life. People have written me profound and touching words of appreciation and support, the kind of words that make all the challenges feel worthwhile.

Witch Hazel Oil-2014-Etsy
Witch Hazel Oil-2014 in the Etsy Shop

To those who are placing orders over the next month, bear with me. I have no idea how I’m going to keep the business running while I shut down on one end and start from scratch on the other. Especially through Christmas sales. I’m aiming for “seamlessly”, counting mainly on momentum, agility, intuition and trust, (which keeps me from getting paralyzed by the vertigo of dread and the sheer scale of what I’m trying to do in the time I have to do it)..So, I’m not looking down at this point.  This move takes up all the time between opening my eyes in the morning and closing them at night. That and drinking coffee. I keep meaning to play a few minutes of Halo 4, but alas, no time!! If business continues to grow as it has, I’ll get an X-Box on the other end.

 

Why am I moving and where to?

Still in my 60th year, my second Saturn return has pushed and pulled me for two years now. It has tossed me back and forth, up and down. Spun me around then back the other way. If I was using a washing machine metaphor then I would say it hasn’t been on the delicate cycle. It has shaken the change out of my pockets. So change it is.  I get it.

I am moving to Israel. It positions me only 3 hours from Ethiopia and Somaliland where my Frankincense co-ops and suppliers are located. My friend and essential oil distiller, Professor Ermias Dagne is based in Addis Ababa, minutes from the airport.

Professor Ermias Dagne at his farm just outside Addis Ababa.
Professor Ermias Dagne with his beloved Aloe species and other medicinal and aromatic friends just outside Addis Ababa.

 

Recently the opportunity arose to work directly with an Ethiopian Civet farmer.  This is big news!! An Ethiopian supplier with good quality Civet paste and an ambition to modernize and develop the Civet business, has offered to partner with me to create ethical and cruelty-free Civet products. He has a Civet farmer who wants to work together on this. This is the first scenario that doesn’t require I do it all myself. (That really was a daunting thought, and the only visible option when I returned in the spring from Ethiopia!). Being so close to Ethiopia, I will have much more time and flexibility to work with the Civets and could be directly involved in the operation. Again, “Ethical Civet” may not be possible, but we won’t know till we try.-See my posts- Ebb and Flow and Ethical Civet a glimpse from the mountaintop.

My mother just turned 90, and my father is not far behind. Now is a good time to hang out with them. Before I accrue any regrets.

Shipping from Israel is very reasonable and puts Canada Post to shame. It costs over $8.00 to ship one 10 Ml. bottle of essential oil from Hamilton to Toronto. A distance of 60Km.

It costs $1.90 to ship the same bottle 6000 Km. from Israel to Toronto and only takes a couple of days longer to arrive. Such a drastic reduction in cost can only be a good thing.

Labdanum flower, Cistus_creticus
Labdanum flower, Cistus_creticusin Crete

I will be close to the sources of fragrances I adore. I could visit Nyktaris who harvests Labdanum using traditional methods in Crete, the Mastic farmer’s co-op in Chios, the collectors of Onycha by the Red sea, and will  have easier access to the amazing Burserae, Commiphorae and Dragons blood trees of the island of Socrata.

Cypress, Turkey, Persia and other countries were on my imaginary grassroots fragrance tour while raising Nathan and daydreaming about what I wanted to do when he had grown up and left home. That time, apparently, has come.

Nathan-All growed up
Nathan-All growed up

Well then,  here’s to the fool, the adventure, and the journey. Here’s to new beginnings and the next 100 posts.

Dan

 

Posted on 4 Comments

Ethical Civet-a Glimpse from the Mountaintop

 

English: African civet
English: African civet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My apologies to all for the long silence. Especially to Jane, Genie, Theo, Hassan and all those who I had hoped to visit in London on the way back. After 5 weeks, 50 hours of flights and delays, over a month of sleeping on cots and floors, I am home, in my own sweet bed, sheepskin and velvet, purring cats, and it’s good being home again.

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home

This was my second trip to Ethiopia following a winding trail, on a quest for “Ethical Civet”. An ethically produced, and cruelty free, ancient, medicine and fragrance material. A classic ingredient in traditional perfume making for centuries.  I have hunted, researched, emailed and phoned.  Flown, driven and walked many miles, and met many dead ends over the course of the past 4 years to see what could be done, and what has been done to humanize the industry for our use, and find out if it is at all possible.

A civet in Gabon
A civet in Gabon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The civet Civettictis-civetta–  Called “Zbad” in Arabic and other local languages, is an ancient symbol and totem animal of Ethiopia. Considered by many the only type of Civet to yield a high quality perfume ingredient. A name  always uttered in the same fragrant and descriptive sentence that has defined Ethiopia for thousands of years,

“Frankincense, Myrrh and Civet”.

Queen of Sheba traveling to Solomon. A fresco ...
Queen of Sheba traveling to Solomon. A fresco in Ethiopia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Said to be one of the gifts The Queen of Sheba brought King Solomon in their day, and thought by some to be the third rare, fragrant gift the “Magi” brought the baby Jesus, (ZBD and not ZHB, Civet and not Gold),  each often worth more than its weight in gold.  Zbad is also used on occasion as a word meaning  a “Gift” in the old testament. Food for thought.

*****

 Many have inquired about sourcing ethically produced Civet paste and absolute.  Before I go any further, let me say, ethical Civet paste is possible, BUT, to the best of my knowledge, is NOT available yet, and it will not happen on its own. Not to our western ethical and humane standards. If you would like to buy the next best thing, Civet paste that will support the development of a sustainable and cruelty free industry, please look at the bottom of this post.

As far as I can see, humanization and modernization can only come to be, through the initiative and ongoing involvement of outside interests working directly with the animals, and in tandem with government branches and farmers. It will only happen through our involvement.

   Though a western ideal that conflicts with local culture and traditions of Civiculture, it would not only benefit us, but directly benefit the animals, Ethiopia’s rapidly shrinking forests and natural habitats, the traditional Civet farmers, and the local economy. 

Civet Paste-Ethiopia 2014
Civet Paste-Ethiopia 2014. In Professor Dagne’s lab, getting ready to make a perfume absolute.

Standing atop a peak past Bako in the Oromia province this last journey, I could see a “Model” Civet farm in the distance.  It was a possibility glimmering on the horizon. I could also see the many obstacles along the way. It would be a challenge to create such a thing.  Not something any one person could reach on their own without substantial resources, commitment, local and foreign support.

A large structure housing spacious and modern cages.  A place to bring responsibly trapped and tagged Civets from local forests, for a 6-8 month period of research and collection of musk. An opportunity for researchers to study them in captivity and in their natural habitat.

The facility worked with conservation, forestry, legislative, and research sections of government and universities to study, preserve and conserve rapidly shrinking green spaces and wildlife habitats, while practicing  humane alternatives to traditional Civeculture methods, and developing the highest quality export products.

African civet Civettictis civetta Deutsch: Afr...
African civet Civettictis civetta Deutsch: Afrikanische Zibetkatze (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Civets are traditionally kept in tiny tubelike wooden cages they can barely move in, for life. Poorly cared for and traumatically relieved of their musk every 9-12 days. (Many do not survive the harsh trapping methods or the first extraction of musk). The farmers are so poor they usually cannot feed the animals properly, and most can’t afford medical help for the animals let alone their own families. Their living conditions are indeed abhorant and cruel.

This model farm had modern veterinary and laboratory facilities, operated as a center that could provide instruction, subsidised cages, food, humanely trapped and tagged Civets, supervision and veterinary services.  It had its own lab where raw Civet paste was tested for quality and  Civetone levels, and processed into absolute for the perfume industry. A side of the business and a revenue, that till now has always been in the hands of foreign “developed” countries.

As an ethical, natural and cruelty free perfume ingredient, it could generate much more income for the farmers and the country. It could be a model of a model farm, and duplicated in different areas of the country where Civet farmers and co-ops were already established. Answering to the western world, with the power to monitor and confirm ethical and cruelty free practices, it could transform established practices to the benefit of all.

*****

There were a couple of other disturbing things I noticed while I was up on that mountaintop. Ethiopia’s green spaces, wildlife and old growth forest were quickly disappearing. Eaten up daily for lumber, charcoal cooking fuel, low yield, ox tilled agriculture, and grazed to the ground by millions of goats, cows and sheep. There was no roadkill on the highway, an occasional dog, but no wild animals left to cross the road. There was an odd silence that way.

 A joke.Why did the Civet cross the road? It didn’t, there weren’t any Civets left.

Our planet is a very small garden in a big universe, it belongs to all of us. We are all affected by every tree felled  for charcoal or agriculture, every animal that suffers or loses its habitat, every green-space is our responsibility. Poverty, disease and strife anywhere in our world is our business. It is our world. All of us. Space, borders and ownership, all distinctions are illusions. We are born from one living dynamic organism of which we are all intrinsically a receiving and contributing part, we are woven in to the fabric of this planet wherever we are. We can’t afford to look the other way.

*****

 Due to the connections and experience of my most gracious host, and co-conspirator, the esteemed Professor Dagne, of Addis Ababa University, we were able to accomplish much more than we had hoped for this time round. The professors enthusiasm, contacts, knowledge of the of the land, physically, historically and bureaucratically , yielded an abundance of new information and resources, which will take me some time to digest and share here. So bear with me, this might take a few posts.

An antique Ox horn, used to transport Civet paste to market and abroad. Courtesy Prof. Dagne.
An antique Ox horn, age unknown. A traditional vessel used  to  collect Civet paste.  Courtesy Prof. Dagne.

The culture of keeping Civets in Ethiopia, the techniques and practices used to produce the best and the most Civet paste from the animals, are still cruel, primitive and truly barbaric by our standards. They are also deeply entrenched traditions handed down from father to son for generations.   Based as much in culture and religion as superstition, they conflict directly, and at every turn, with our ethical standards for the treatment of animals. To gain a better understanding of why this is, here is an excellent study.

The Cultural Logic of Civiculture in Ethiopia

  Below, is one of the most influential, damaging and accurate reports done on Civet farming in Ethiopia. Written by  Mike Pugh, a representative of the WSPA in 1998, it is not the earliest expose’, but gives an idea of what precipitated a worldwide boycott by western consumers and sent the perfume companies into subterfuge and denial. On the bright side these reports also resulted in some excellent studies through the University of Addis Ababa, and ongoing efforts on behalf of the Ethiopian government to reform and modernize these practices.

Civet-farming, An Ethiopian Investigation-wspa-1998

 Our western need for ethical and cruelty free animal products came head to head with the beliefs, methods and traditions of Civet farmer families. We have been at a stalemate ever since. It has been a lose, lose situation. While chemical replacements for Civet absolute are available and used to varying degree in the perfume industry, they too have their shortcomings.  I hope a trend towards natural perfumery and chemical free lifestyles may lead us back to establishing ethical and sustainable sources for all our fragrant and herbal needs.

Sustainable-Utilisation-of-the-African-Civet-Civettictis-civetta-in-Ethiopia

 Regardless of government efforts, directives and incentives, it has been difficult for traditional Civet farmers to change their ways. Deeply ingrained traditions, societal and cultural norms and deep poverty in these communities all add to their inability to establish new and modern practices.  It has been challenging for local agencies and regional governments to facilitate and support farmers through a transition to modern methods. They haven’t given up, but could definitely use a little help and support.

New Humane traps and cages were developed and field tested by the Ministry of Agriculture, Center for Mechanization.
New Humane traps and cages were developed and field tested with Civet farmers by the Ministry of Agriculture, Center for Mechanization.  Some farmers do use them.

Due to our boycott of unethically produced Civet products, many traditional Civet farmers abandoned Civiculture to pursue less challenging  markets such as Coffee and Chaat. I don’t believe this really solved the problem.  There are still no winners here, not human and not animal. The Civets that are still farmed, supply a grey market in China and Korea, (I assume a backdoor to the large French Perfume companies who don’t want any direct link to unethical practices), and  likely do not enjoy their captivity to any greater degree as a result of our boycott. I believe we may have made things worse. We pointed out the problems, but we were not there with the needed solutions and support.

  Similar ethical issues are mirrored in Indonesia where captured Civets are kept in tiny cages and fed a diet of mainly coffee beans to excrete the very lucrative and lately famous Kopi Luwak Coffee. I haven’t studied this phenomenon in any great depth, but it appears to me it presents identical ethical issues around the treatment of the animals.  A very elusive animal, this “Ethical Civet”. My hope is, that if an ethical model can be developed for Ethiopia’s Civet farms, it can be duplicated, or legislated and enforced in Indonesia. Win, win. Win, win. Win. English: Kopi luwak, coffee seeds from faeces ...

Through our continued efforts the past years, our failures and successes, Professor  Dagne and I may have  an opportunity to initiate something that decades of western boycotts and  petitioning against animal cruelty have not been able to do. There is talk of setting up and operating a “Model Farm” that would involve both local and foreign interests. It’s only talk at this point, but I want to put it out there in the community, and see if there is in fact any real and tangible interest in ethical Civet products.

 

Etched Ox horn cup. One of two that have been used in this Civet farmers family for many generations. One is used to collect and the other to clean the fresh paste.
Etched Ox horn cup. One of two that have been used in this Civet farmers family for many generations. One is used to collect and the other to clean the fresh paste.

I believe we can do some good here, all of us. I believe that doing some good, is what is really called for. Our wild medicinals, aromatics, animals and plants are threatened all over the world. We have to each do what we can to preserve our natural bounty before it is too late.   I believe that greening and tending, healing the farthest reaches of our world is only as far as the mouse on our desk. A click on our phone.

I worry that Nature in Ethiopia is not doing too well, though it may not yet seem obvious. I worry we are losing the old growth forests all over our world, the havens for medicinal and aromatic plants, indigenous species, animals, insects and the Civets of our world.  I worry that  the green regenerative oh so fertile and womanly spirit of Ethiopia is slowly losing ground. That we will only notice our loss when it is too late. And it will be Our loss when it happens.

Needless to say, we all know there are many things in the world that need to change. Sometimes we wait for others to  change them, and sometimes, we see an opportunity to change them ourselves. None of this can happen without global community support. Without conscious consumerism and individual activism. Nothing will change without many voices speaking up. Without your voice.

  I did purchase a quantity of Civet paste this last trip. It is not an ethical Civet product, but, that being said, the one factor that will determine viability of change in the industry, is whether there is enough western interest in ethical Civet products. This is gauged by our willingness to financially invest in the concept of ethics and sustainability. It is our interest, expressed in our western currency that makes and shapes the world around us. If we can’t show them that we are offering more than our criticism or advice, there will be no incentive to develop ethical Civiculture in Ethiopia. Our boycott of Civet products has proven detrimental to all involved. It is time for a different approach to the problem. It is not going away on its own.
I am not talking about billion dollar corporations investing here, but about individual activism. You and I and many more like us that want to put in our vote on what kind of world reflects our values. What kind of world we want to see and manifest. The power of many individual voices and small purchases is absolutely world changing.
So, you and anyone you know that might want a say in rectifying this ethical stalemate, are invited to show the Ethiopian government, farmers and Civet industry, the world really, that we do care and are willing to do something about it.
I have priced the Civet paste at $10.00 a gram, on Parr with the lowest retail price I could find. Every gram sold is a statement that change is possible.
It is pure and high quality, authentic and genuine. It’s about as close as anyone can get to actually collecting paste from a Civet’s butt in person. Anyone who has tried to get real Civet paste knows it is not easy. Between adulterants, chemical and aromatic substitutes, fillers, fakes and unscrupulous middlemen, it can take years to find the real deal or discern the differences in quality.

Please support this project with your “likes”, shares or purchases, your comments or ratings. You can reblog or repost, or link back to it through your own blog or website, and please do pass it on to anyone you think might have an interest. If there is no interest, market or demand for an ethical alternative, no input from the public, it will not be possible, and in my opinion this unfortunate and sad situation will never change. Without our intervention, I believe we will all end up facing a great loss.

 You can also contact me directly at dnriegler@gmail.com

Let me know what you think.

Warmly

Dan

Caged civets in Vietnam

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted on 7 Comments

Cowboy boots, Frankincense and fragrant tips for travellers

Since travelling in the Middle east and Africa, I haven’t been writing as much as I should. My apologies.

Lots of great new business opportunities, connections and relationships, especially around free trade, sustainability of resources, ethics of commerce, and general free and happy exchanges for all in the Frankincense trade, my favourite topics.

While travelling, I am setting up a new website  and online store that specializes in ethical, sustainable and free trade Frankincense and Myrrh varieties.  Not as easy to source as one might think. I may throw in some hand harvested Labdanum and mastic along the way, but first, I am aiming for 6 types of Frankincense  and at least three types of medicinal and fragrant Myrrh. Oleoresins and essential oils. One can aspire..

Dealing directly with cooperative managers who are actively reinvesting profits into improving living standards for the harvesting families and clans is exiting and inspiring. I will be sure to fill in the details once wi-fi is more consistent.

Black Western cowboy boots on a white background
Black Western cowboy boots on a white background (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The long row of cowboy boots portrayed in a photo that you will find in my “About” gallery to the right, is a fairly accurate account of how many cowboy boots I usually have in use at the same time. I rotate, have favourites and standbys, replace them with new or used pairs as they each in turn, transcend to the great beyond where holey boots go.  High , or low Cuban heels, but pointy evil toes are the best.

Travelling in hot Mediterranean and African climates, wearing cowboy boots, may seem impractical,  but, did I bring any other type of footwear with me?

No.

Will I be remembered in far away places as the gentleman with the twirly moustache? Or the silly foreigner who wore cowboy boots in the hot sun?

Only time will tell..

What I won’t be however, is the silly foreigner who wore smelly cowboy boots in the hot sun.

I discovered that a few drops of Frankincense Rivae essential oil on socks or between toes, works miracles. This should be considered the sacred Frankincense as far as I’m concerned.  A lifesaver for those one travels with.  My feet, socks, boots, and probably my breath, are always fragrant!! None of the usual Cedar, Tea Tree and other essential oils have had any positive effect.

Summer boots used to come off in private only, with plenty of ventilation and fresh air. Not anymore.

Today, the little lightbulb in my brain finally went off, when I suddenly “Got” what that extra, sweet fragrance is, that  distinguishes Boswellia Rivae  from all other types of Frankincense.  I think my feet or boots had sucked up all the actual “Frankincense” fragrance, and what was left was pure Palo Santo. Yes! Palo Santo! That is the perfect description that has waited on the tip of my tongue all along.

Mind you the Frankincense has likely been increasing blood circulation to my brain cells, leading to improved mental function and concentration, and this very kind of “Ahah” scenario.

Of course I have read umpteen times that the Palo Santo tree is of the  Burseraceae, the same family as the Frankincense trees. But till today, could not name that extra fragrance in B. Rivae as Palo Santo. Sweet, sacred, yummy Palo Santo and rich warm Frankincense mingled and mixed, and dancing a little  dervish together in the deserts of Ethiopia.  Now there is a sexy spring image. Birds and bees and resins in the trees. Now perhaps you can understand why I go on so about “Sweet Frankincense Rivae” in my posts and in the store.

On the subject already, it is important to note that, (at this time), among the 3 types of Frankincense that are indigenous to Ethiopia, only Boswellia Rivae is collected through a cooperative. Thus guaranteeing a fair price to the collectors, many of whom have family traditions of caring for and harvesting from the trees for generations, and who rely on  much of their yearly income from the fragrant resins they collect.

Boswellia Frankincense Rivae Resin- Ethhiopia. Freshly collected
Boswellia Frankincense Rivae Resin- Ethhiopia. Freshly collected

Collectives are one of the most effective grassroots mechanisms for social, economic, ecological and even political change. There is nothing like people working together for their mutual benefit. I think it’s a beautiful thing, makes the world a more beautiful, fragrant, abundant and peaceful place. One plant at a time. And I like to support them anyway I can.

I imagine I will likely ask you to join me in supporting these Frankincense cooperatives in the near future. Abundance for all I say!

Unfortunately, due to the great demand,  expanding roads and agriculture, fires, overgrazing, improper harvesting methods, and over harvesting, the more famous Ethiopian Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera, has suffered, and the numbers of healthy resin bearing trees has been steadily dropping. Stressed trees are yielding only 16% seed viability as opposed to 80% in healthy trees.

This has not gone unnoticed and one has to admire the many and varied efforts, the ongoing investment of resources and manpower the Ethiopian government, research institutions and conservation authorities are committing to correct this trend. From educating growers and harvesters, to propagating, supplying, planting and protecting viable nursery stock, and funding ongoing research into ways of maintaining the sustainability of this ancient and treasured crop, they continue to come up with new and improved methods to reverse the downward trend.

Frankincense Papyrifera is used extensively by orthodox churches around the world, it is a traditional incense used daily by Ethiopians in their coffee ceremonies, (which means it is used A LOT),  and a major natural resource traded globally. Boswellia Papyrifera is a pretty special Frankincense.

It doesn’t yield a lot of essential oil when distilled, often less than 5%, and it is hard to find it on the market, but it is one oleoresin and essential oil that everyone should experience at least once in their lives. It is the most mellow, inspiring, dignified, self-assured and lofty  Frankincense…   B. Papyrifera has the highest content of incensole and incensole acetate of all the Frankincense family, which are its own special identifying markers in the laboratory, those psychoactive compounds that can create feelings of heightened spirituality and wellbeing, reduce depression and anxiety in laboratory studies.

So from an ethical and sustainable point of view we have covered 2 out of 3 of Ethiopia’s unique Frankincense types. We have one left. ( No I won’t neglect the Neglecta, if that’s what you were thinking,,) Though B. Neglecta may not have the fame and market demand of its brothers in the perfume world, it is a valuable medicinal. Its most obvious properties are as a decongestant and rubificant. Though seemingly neglected, there have been almost no studies done on this unique medicinal, and references used here are from my own use, and experience of its effects on myself and others.

Perhaps neglected for not being as exotic, conspicuous or just for its name. I believe Frankincense Neglecta is actually holding its own in the background of the local ecology, safely hidden from the limelight and over harvesting.

Essential Oils of Boswellia-Frankincense Rivae and Neglecta
Essential Oils of Boswellia-Frankincense Rivae and Neglecta-In the Etsy store.

Similar to Fir and Spruce oleoresins, the fragrance of B. Neglecta is grounding and elevating, it leaves one inhaling easily and deeply. It rounds out the sharp corners of anxiety and panic in the chest, calming the heart and the pangs associated with stress,while it helps break up phlegm, and expel it.

Not a bad days work for an unappreciated tree.  There is no Frankincense type that is better for coughs, colds and congestion than Frankincense Neglecta.  For instructions on how to make your own Frankincense Neglecta whole oleoresin medicated chest rub, please see my post“Frankincense oil, a cough, cold and chest rub.

So, travelling tips, consider sandals next time you travel, and take some exhilarating brain boosting Boswellia Rivae with you.  Disinfectant and definitely a mood elevator. It is almost a complete perfume on its own. I have no doubt that if you try it, you too will fall in love with it. Especially if you have a weakness for Palo Santo.

Travelling with a cold, cough or congestion? Frankincense Neglecta oil in a steam inhalation, or mixed with olive oil 20 drops essential oil to 1/2 cup Olive or any vegetable oil, is an effective and fragrant item to keep in your first aid kit and rub on your chest day and night.

Frankincense Papyrifera? Well, if you have the opportunity to smell it fresh, burned or as an essential oil, don’t pass on it . You won’t know what you are missing!

And buy some sandals already!

Dan

 

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta
Posted on 6 Comments

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

 

 

 

Posted on 10 Comments

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

Posted on 18 Comments

Distilling Frankincense essential oil

Continuing to work on a Frankincense anti aging/wrinkle crème and a Frankincense rejuvenating mask from the (post distillation) gum and resin residue of different types of Frankincense. Here I am distilling the essential oils from Frankincense, Boswellia species.

Successful formulation of a Frankincense Anti-Aging creme, utilizing the healing properties of the Frankincense gum and resin.
Successful formulation of a Frankincense Anti-Aging creme, utilizing the healing properties of the Frankincense gum and resin. Much more than just an essential oil.

By “post distillation” I mean that after distilling off the essential oils, what I am left with are the water-soluble gum and alcohol-soluble resin.
Since essential oils can irritate the skin, especially of the face, post distillation allows me to add a controlled amount of essential oils of my choice, isolate the water-soluble gums from the alcohol-soluble resins and remove all extraneous materials from them.

The method for distillation is steam/hydro distillation using a simple home-made pot still.

For a closer look at distilling Frankincense please see my post “A distillation of Frankincense Frereana”.

  For instructions on how to make a pot still for home production of essential oils and alcohol, see- “How to build a kitchen still for essential oils and alcohol”.

Home made pot still charged with fresh Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera from Ethiopia.
Home made pot still charged with fresh Frankincense from Ethiopia.

  The oleo-gum-resin for this distillation is Frankincense Papyrifera from Ethiopia. Because this is an experiment I only used 2 kg. of resin. Much less than this still can process.
The ratio of essential oils in each type of Frankincense varies greatly. One can collect  anywhere from 0.05% to 10% essential oil from Frankincense and other oleoresins.

The sieve keeps the resin from sitting on the bottom of the pot where it could burn. If the resin did get burned, even slightly, the fragrance of all the components would be affected, making resin, gum, oil and residue in the still, unusable for any purpose whatsoever and no way to reclaim them or separate the burnt odor from them. In fact, on top of the loss of the material, the whole still, including over 8 feet of air-cooled copper condenser would have to be scrubbed and practically sterilized to make sure there was not the slightest remnant of burnt residue or odor in the whole distillation train. I shudder at the thought!!! I had already done this twice prior to distilling the Frankincense just the day before. First removing traces of the last essential I had distilled, then had to do it all over again because I could smell hints of cleaning products in the condenser when I turned up the heat and started the distillation process.

       The lesson here, I believe, is that there are benefits to using standard glass water cooled condensers. I love the fact that this one utilizes air and consumes no resources to function. But it has its drawbacks.

This is a photo of the resin after distilling. Note the change in colour and texture. A pool of gum has settled at the bottom of the sieve, trying to drip into the pot through resin clogged sieve holes. Also note the milky white colour of the water after it has dissolved some of the the water soluble gums.

Home made pot Still. Frankincense resin suspended in sieve to avoid burning.
Home made pot Still. Frankincense resin suspended in sieve to avoid burning.
Frankincense water soluble gum mixed with distillation water in the still
Frankincense water soluble gum mixed with distillation water in the still has coloured the water a milky white.

Now that the essential oil is distilled from the oleo-gum-resin, most of the resin is in the basket. Except for some that dripped through the sieve and formed the tastiest looking layer of caramel coloured resin on the bottom of the pot.The water in the pot is white from dissolved gum. What remains is to separate the rest of the gum from the resin, (using water as the solvent), then remove all extraneous materials, pieces of bark, stone, sand etc., and purify the components.

Frankincense, Boswellia Papyrifera resin from bottom of still
Frankincense, Boswellia resin from bottom of still. Looks good enough to eat!!

 

When gum and resin are separated and purified they will be recombined in an emulsion with the addition of  emollient and skin nourishing oils, antioxidants, and a small amount of broad spectrum preservative.

Even though the prototypes and first formulas seem to have kept well for months without obvious spoilage or mold.  And even though i have a deep respect for the preserving qualities of tree oleo resins. I can’t take the chance of bacteria or other organisms growing after making an oil/water emulsion.

Frankincense, Boswellia Rivae, post distillation of essential oils. Only gum and resins remain to be separated and cleaned. Then recombined and reformulated for skin care and healing products.
A different type of Frankincense, post distillation of essential oils. Only gum and resins remain to be separated and cleaned. Then recombined and reformulated for skin care and healing products.
Home made pot Still. Used to distill essential oils, wines and much more. Note it is made of everything including parts of the kitchen sink.
Home made pot Still. Used to distill essential oils, wines and much more. Note it is made of everything including parts of the kitchen sink, with a salvaged copper/Aluminum heat exchange as an air cooled condenser..
Distilled Frankincense essential oil. Boswellia Rivea. 2013, Home made still.
Distilled Frankincense essential oil. Boswellia Rivea. 2013.
Posted on 12 Comments

Back Alley Boswellia or Frankincense Fantasy

A foray into native Ethiopian fragrant materials

I am past the worst of the jet lag. I think..

I was going to continue sharing my journey in chronological order, Dead Sea, Jerusalem then Ethiopia, but,,,, I had such a great time in Addis Ababa and came back with such amazing treasures and opportunities that I simply couldn’t keep it all under my hat. I am bursting to talk about my finds and the great luck that came my way. Three new and rare types of Frankincense. All native to Ethiopia and each distinctly unique. A supply of their distilled oils and the most heavenly essential oils of Opoponax and Palmarosa on their way here soon.

Boswellia Rivae Frankincense
Boswellia Rivae Frankincense Ethiopia 2013

The trip from Israel to Ethiopia was booked on the fly two days after we arrived in Israel, four days to get organized for it..

For the past couple of years I had researched and hoped one day to visit Ethiopia, make contact with farmers/collectors and suppliers of Civet paste, Myrrh and Frankincense, but until I bought the ticket, it was only a theory. A wisp of a dream that rose and wafted around in my mind with visions of visiting Frankincense trees in Yemen, Dragon’s Blood trees on Socrato island, and vendors sorting grades of fresh harvested Boswellia Carterii/Sacra Frankincense in Oman.

In 2012, while researching Frankincense chemistry and looking for reliable ways of distinguishing between the different types, I discovered the website of another “Apothecary” and teaching garden in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. Not only was there a teaching garden associated with the website, the person who ran the site seemed an accredited expert in Frankincense and African medicinal plants, made and sold herbal products from local plants as I, and was a distiller and supplier of essential oils from those local plants and oleo-resins. Wow!

After arriving in Israel and with only a few days notice, I let him know I would be in Addis Ababa, could we meet? The timing was tight, he had a local trip booked for that week, and was chairing an annual congress of the Chemical Society of Ethiopia. Very tight timing.

University of Addis Ababa
University of Addis Ababa. Grad students,(my babysitters), performing an extraction of Moringa seeds.

In short, I was his guest at the University of Addis Ababa for 2 days, His grad students expanded their social skills and their command of English by babysitting me, (poor guys, I kept disappearing ). I listened to some very interesting presentations on the development and uses of local plant and mineral resources from the perspectives of organic and inorganic chemistry. Most notably I spent time enjoying his laboratory where his students were doing an extraction of Moringa seed, preparing it for chemical analysis, and visiting the specimen gardens on the university grounds. Both these made me feel right at home. Running between laboratory and garden, that’s me!

Specimen Garden at the University of Addis Ababa
Specimen Garden at the University of Addis Ababa
Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type
Boswellia Papyrifera, Frankincense Tigray type
Ethiopia 2013

Our time was limited, but we made the most of it, talking when we could and getting as many of our goals accomplished as our time would allow, while planning a few future projects together. His invitations to dinner at his home where I met his talented wife, Chemist and business partner, were both gracious and productive. It seems quite true that Ethiopians are a very warm, hospitable and generous people based on my week long experiences.

We visited a grassroots resin “supplier” in the the “Mercado”, ( Africa’s largest outdoor market), after dusk. When it was quiet enough so one could actually drive and walk the rocky unpaved roads between the bustling people of the market without being knocked down or running over someone selling on the road, and dark enough so no one would notice the tourist in the car and decide to multiply the price of resins astronomically. This is unfortunately the norm. It is beyond haggling or dickering as in the Mediterranean, where you have a reasonable chance to haggle and actually get a good price even if you are a tourist. There are simply two different price structures, tourist and negotiable.

Buying Frankincense at the Mercado in Addis Ababa.
Buying Frankincense at the Mercado in Addis Ababa. Felt like a back alley drug deal.

It felt more like a drug deal in a dark alley. Samples covertly sent back and forth to be approved by me in the dark car and five kilo bags put in the trunk. But boy it was worth it! Fresh fragrant Frankincense resins, each more distinguished than the next.

  • Boswellia Papyrifera Frankincense is, I believe, the Tigray type. From the North of the country. Used by all Ethiopians in their daily coffee ceremonies throughout the country and purchased in bulk by the church. The essential oil is woody & balsamic with a sweet, haunting feeling, reminiscent of ancient souks and sacred stone churches, with a citrus note that would bridge to other citrus notes perfectly.
  • Boswellia Rivae Frankincense is from the Ogaden region in the south east and by far the most complex in its scent. It reaches in and moves you from bottom to top.This oil and that of the Neglecta would make precious additions to any perfumers collection. Not true,, they all would!
  • Boswellia Neglecta Frankincense, (I neglected to ask which region it was from), has a beautiful, creamy rich middle note with a warm balsamic nutty base , yumm. I believe it got its name from not getting classified till much later than the others. Neglected. I will have to research that further. Again, what a unique incense Neglecta makes, and the essential oil is so different than the Boswellia Serrata and Sacra we are all so used to.

All in all, three really unique, unusual and lovely types of Frankincense. Mainly used locally for medicine and ceremony, but as yet not fully recognized or utilized for their broader applications in perfume, cosmetics and mainstream herbal medicine. (I see a face lift for my Frankincense Anti aging creme!)

My gracious Host Professor Ermias Dagne & myself. Addis Ababa 2013
My gracious Host Professor Ermias Dagne & myself. Addis Ababa 2013

So,,, I now have a few Kilos of each resin to experiment with, maybe a little to sell, and a few liters of essential oils being distilled and packaged for shipment soon.

I feel very lucky. Blessed. We established some future goals of working together over the next few months to experiment in both our labs, to explore ways we could add value to Ethiopian resources and products, ways we could work together for our mutual benefit while helping a developing country develop. I felt inspired and exited by the creative possibilities bubbling in my brain. We discovered between us we could meet goals we both have had for a while that pertain to improving the viability of refining Civet products. in Ethiopia.

A civet in Gabon

I have been trying to establish a reliable Civet connection in Ethiopia for years. It seems I may have a chance to not only visit a traditional Civet farmer in person, but could be part of the process of analysis, extraction, refinement and marketing of the finished product, (Civetone), which till now was controlled by large foreign companies, while the Ethiopian economy received the minimum benefit in the chain of commerce, supplying only the raw product at the lowest relative price. At the very bottom of the ladder. Feels like a win, win, win situation. My favourite.