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Commiphora confusa. The Myrrh that is a Frankincense.

I know I said I didn’t often post shop listings here on the blog. Though still true, I may have to take that back soon…After over 2 months in Africa and the Mediterranean, I am still trying to catch up on correspondence and workshops, making new products, and getting some gorgeous African aromatics listed in the shop. I just haven’t found the time to sit down and write a blog post. This may seem a bit like cheating, but sometimes you just have to use what you have at hand and I hope it provides enough new and interesting information to be worthy of reading.

 

Visually and aromatically similar to Boswellia or Frankincense neglecta and often mixed in with it, Commiphora confusa stands out as a unique aromatic material deserving a market of its own. (IMHO).

 

 

Commiphora confusa-AKA Kenyan Frankincense is one of the most baffling resins I have encountered to date. Naming it confusa/confusing is putting it mildly.
Dubbed thus due to the radically different forms its flowers exhibit, the list of confusing and perplexing facets of this fragrant oleoresin goes far beyond variations in its sex organs.

COMMIPHORA CONFUSA

Also known as Kenyan Frankincense, even though it’s a member of the Myrrh family, it is in no way a Boswellia or Frankincense. It looks similar to the Boswellia Neglecta resin, also endemic to Northern Kenya and is usually mixed in with Neglecta by collectors and middlemen.

The fragrance profile of this frankincense look-alike is (confusingly) similar in some ways to that of Frankincense Neglecta and though often distilled together as a Neglecta, C. Confusa has distinct aromatic qualities not found in B. Neglecta.

While Boswellia Neglecta is confusing enough in that it presents 2 distinct types of resin, a granular black callus resin and a clear Thurimel or honey type resin, C. Confusa yields 3 different types of exudates, 2 are similar to B. Neglecta and one a translucent reddish hue that is odorless and made up of water soluble gum. On the bright side, C. Confusa does exhibit some traits that are exclusively those of a Commiphora.

Like many other Myrrh species it grows in the dry valleys, plains and open bush land while Frankincense trees mostly grow on and around rocky outcroppings at higher elevations. Though its fragrance bears similarities to B. Neglecta and indeed it shares some of the same aromatic molecules that give B. Neglecta its distinct aroma, Commiphora Confusa also contains many chemical compounds that are exclusively found in the Commiphora or Myrrh family.

When compared side by side, it is obvious that this Kenyan ‘Frankincense’ possesses a unique fragrance of its own whether fresh, as an essential oil or burned on the coals. To my nose, C. Confusa has a distinct sweet herbaceous scent that is absent in B. Neglecta and, while Neglecta has signature notes reminiscent of our Northern Fir trees, they are not as pronounced in C. Confusa.

C. Confusa shares a similar dark grainy exterior to B. Neglecta and on closer inspection this Commiphora reveals the familiar auburn hue shared by many of the Myrrh species and consistently reveals a reddish center unlike the tar-black interior found in B. Neglecta. Another distinction between these two similar resins is that lumps of B. Neglecta resins will adhere to one another forming large balls where C. confuse lacks this external stickiness and is found for the most part in small loose pieces reminiscent of cheese curds.

Like Boswellia Neglecta, C. Confusa trees cannot be tapped to produce resin. This is an assurance that the resin is sustainably harvested.  It will appear only from natural injuries to trunk and limb from romping elephants, goats or Baboons that enjoy nibbling on its bark. Pastoralist tribes like the Samburu collect this resin as they roam with their herds through the bush land. They do not practice any of the usual Frankincense tapping and harvesting methods on these trees.

As with the B. neglecta resin they collect, the Samburu women distinguish between both a light and a dark C. confusa. Yes…I had to see this for myself and it is true!! Initial injury generates a clear “thurimel” a honey type oleoresin devoid of water-soluble gum which hardens translucent and light golden. Subsequent to injury, the tree creates “Traumatic Resin Ducts” as does our Northern Spruce. These ducts then generate a special therapeutic resinous cocktail called “Callus Resin” that acts as a bandage and promotes the growth of protective tissue that heals the wounds, creates scar tissue and isolates healthy flesh from diseased. In Scandinavia, the Spruce callus resin is used in traditional salves for slow healing wounds, diabetic ulcers and post-surgical wounds.

Though similar in many ways to a Frankincense, C. confusa, like all the Myrrh family, is ruled Astrologically by the Moon. (In case you wondered).

This oleoresin does indeed have an Amber aroma reminiscent of the Frankincense family, but brings with it complex, soft, and sweetly herbaceous, (Myrrh), notes that make it an exceptional incense material on its own or compounded with other aromatics. I look forward to distilling it and getting a clearer sense of its unique aromatic profile.

Though not as well researched as other Commiphora oleoresins, C. confusa does contain some of the same therapeutic compounds found in other Myrrh types which make it a candidate for medicated oils, tinctures, cremes, and salves.

If you would like to experience this lovely resin first-hand you can find it here in my Etsy shop.https://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/536857735/commiphora-confusa-kenyan-frankincense

I’ll close with a warm thank you to Hillary Sommerlatte in Kenya who introduced me to C. confusa and generously shared her home, time and botanical expertise with me.

Dan

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How to make a Frankincense salve for health and beauty

How to make a Frankincense salve

We have relied on Frankincense resin for centuries to treat Arthritis, inflammation of joints, the urinary and gastrointestinal tracts, pain, ulcers, asthma, bronchitis, coughs, and colds, cuts, and wounds. It is traditionally used to improve memory and brain function, as an aphrodisiac, sexual tonic and to address issues of infertility in both sexes. It is well-known for its cosmetic skin rejuvenating properties, adding elasticity to mature skin and reducing wrinkles. Lately, we have seen a slew of studies that indicate the Boswellic acids found in the resin portion of some Frankincense types possess anti-cancer properties.

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 Working with Frankincense

A Frankincense salve can be as simple as hot Olive oil infused with Frankincense thickened with a little beeswax in the Bain Marie. In fact, it has likely been prepared in exactly this fashion for centuries.

The type of oil you use is dictated by personal preferences and intended use, as is the type of butter or wax you use to thicken it. There is an ever-increasing number of exotic oils and butters available and they will all work equally well dissolving the resin portion of Frankincense. The amount of Wax or butter to add can be as little or as much as you like. I usually add just enough to keep the salve in the tin and on the skin for a good period.

The trick with working with Frankincense is understanding that it is an oleo gum resin, has both a water-soluble fraction, (the gum part), and an oil-soluble fraction, (the essential oils and the resin), and that it is the oil-soluble oleoresin that we want to isolate for this application.

There are two methods I use to create a Frankincense salve.

Both will create wonderful healing and fragrant products, but today I will focus on making a salve from the oleo extract.

If you want to deliver Boswellic acids with your salve, you can choose from the 4 Frankincense types that have been shown to contain these healing compounds.

  • Boswellia Serrata
  • Boswellia Carterii
  • Boswellia Sacra
  • Boswellia Papyrifera

I will reiterate here that there are little to no Boswellic acids in the essential oil of Frankincense. The Boswellic acids, AKBA , and other resin acids are only present in the resin portion of these oleo gum resins. Though all essential oils have therapeutic properties, you will not harness the full therapeutic potential of Frankincense unless you work with the whole oleo gum resin or the oleoresin portion.

A hot oil infusion of Frankincense

When preparing a hot oil infusion or extract of Frankincense, we will powder the Frankincense granules to expose as much of the oleoresin as we can to the oil. This can be done using a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. In both cases, we need to spread the powder out and stir it periodically for an hour or so and allow the newly liberated moisture to evaporate. When we grind oleo gum resins, we release up to 10% moisture that has been locked in the gum since the day it bled from the tree. Once the powder dries it will stay loose in a sealed container and will not clump when compacted in capsules. (See-Instructions for grinding Frankincense, Myrrh and other oleoresins).

The simplest way to prepare a salve of Frankincense, (or Myrrh, or both), is –

  • Powder and dry the oleo gum resins.
  • Place the powdered material in a pot, jar or bowl in the water bath.
  • Add a carrier oil of your choice at a minimum ratio of 1:3 by weight. This means 30 grams, (1 ounce),  of powdered resin to 90 grams, (3 ounces), oil of your choice. Depending on your application or the amount of Frankincense you have on hand, you can, of course, make an efficacious product with a higher ratio of oil. I prefer to work with a ratio of 1:3 or 1:5.
  • Bring the bath to a boil and keep it on a low simmer for 3-5 hours stirring occasionally and adding water to the bath periodically if needed.
  • Remove the jar/bowl from the heat, let it sit and sediment a couple of hours, a day or overnight. You can let it sit much longer and many people do so for a full lunar cycle or longer when potentizing more complex medicines.
  • After the undissolved particles have settled to the bottom of the jar, pour the oil through a filter, separating them from the oil.

I use a metal mesh coffee filter to separate the undissolved water-soluble granules from the resin-infused oil. If you don’t filter it, you will have a gritty, grainy salve that will feel more like a greasy exfoliant than a nourishing healing salve. If desired, a finer filtration is possible using the corner of a pillowcase or a paper coffee filter.

 

If you are using a paper coffee filter, keep the sediment out of the filter till the very end, otherwise, it will clog the paper and the process will take much longer to complete. Another trick to filtering through paper is to heat the infused oil in the water bath before filtering. Hot oil is less viscous than cool oil and will pass through the filter paper more quickly.

Once you have a filtered fragrant clear oil,  back to the water bath it goes.

In the bath with Maria

Elegant in its simplicity, the Bain Marie, or water bath is a sophisticated piece of ancient technology. It is a precise and reliable thermoregulator that works as flawlessly today as it did a thousand years ago when knowledge of its use was reserved for initiates of the secret and sacred arts. The Bain Marie is not named after a person, but a principle. And I will leave the pedagogy at that for now.

As the water in your Bain Marie boils, the wax/butter and Frankincense oil will melt together. I like to give them time to heat thoroughly and sit together at the highest temperature for a while to bond. Don’t rush them.

To test the consistency of the mix, I place a few drops of salve to cool on a plate or piece of tinfoil at room temperature. This way I can gauge its current texture and fine-tune the product by adding more wax, butter, oil or any other ingredient that I have incorporated in the formula. When the drop test yields a product you are happy with, remove the salve from the water.

You noticed I didn’t give you a recipe or precise proportions for the waxes or butters in your salve. I am going to let you add these ingredients in small increments, testing the results often till you are happy with the texture, consistency, and fragrance. This is an excellent introduction to your materials and where you make your product uniquely your own. To do this properly and be able to keep accurate notes on what proportions worked best for you, pre-weigh the containers holding your waxes, butters etc. When you have created the product that pleases you, weigh the partially emptied bowls and tally the difference which is what went into your product. Write it down in your formulary for future reference.

Working with essential oils

If you have essential oils you would like to add, now is the time to stir them in as it cools down. I keep essential oils to under 2% for safety reasons. Remember, you already have the aromatic volatile compounds from the oleoresin in their natural proportions.

Sometimes, it can be tempting to overdo it with therapeutic essential oils. I usually find it is more satisfying to keep both the aromatic profile and the therapeutic qualities of the oleoresin front and central and only add essential oils with a light hand and an eye for harmony in fragrance and function.  Resins deliver a broad spectrum of therapeutic compounds and come with their own “custom-made” essential oils. There is no doubt essential oils can provide a supportive role in the finished product, but I have found it is usually best to use a little less rather than a little too much.

Once your essential oils are blended, pour the hot liquid into containers and let it sit undisturbed till it is well solidified. I often use a plastic measuring cup that has a handle and a spout for ease of use and minimal spills when filling tins.

Blending Frankincense & Myrrh

I started writing this post because a reader left a comment asking if she could combine Myrrh in these Frankincense formulas. I got a bit carried away, but I didn’t forget. The answer is YES. You can powder Myrrh and combine it with the Frankincense powder for your oil extract. From there it is easy to make a salve as described above. More than this, there is a special synergy between these 2 trees and their oleoresins. They are known to not only compliment each other but boost each other’s therapeutic qualities when compounded together. In the plant kingdom, Frankincense and Myrrh have a unique bond, resonance, and a polarized symmetry unlike any other 2 plants I know of. Given time I will write more about this.

Thelovers-Arcana6-JaneAdams.janeadamsart.wordpress.com
Frankincense & Myrrh-Sun and Moon   The lovers-Arcana 6-Jane Adams.janeadamsart.wordpress.com

So. Have fun and remember to take clear notes.

Your future self will thank you.

Dan

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An East African Aromatic Adventure

With only a day left in Africa, I feel I need to offer a brief overview of my latest aromatic trip just to keep everyone abreast. Once back in Canada I will write in detail about this last trip to Madagascar and Kenya. So much has happened during these past three weeks and so many things have come together, it has been difficult finding time to write.

Madagascar Vanilla, a rare Elemi, and an improv distillation

Madagascar was beautiful. I am coming home Monday with Vanilla absolute, Vanilla beans, Rare Madagascar Elemi resin, (Canarium madagascariensis), and likely 1 of only two liters of Madagascar Elemi essential oil in  the world.

In Madagascar I travelled with someone just as dedicated to fair trade and sustainable aromatics as myself. Two weeks travelling, smelling, distilling and talking, was a perfect introduction between my new partner in crime, Marco Billi and myself. Some things just can’t be conveyed via email.

We pooled distillation equipment from Canada and italy and put our distillation and improvisation skills to the test. We already have a handful of new  international projects in the works. Lacking a common language was not as great a barrier to communication as I thought it would be. A shared passion for nature lent us common ground. Bourbon Vanilla beans,  Vanilla Absolute, Madagascar Elemi resin and essential oil are some of the Madagascar treasures I’m bringing back home.

Madagascar-Ylang Ylang, Vanilla and Elemi

Kenya. the Samburu, Frankincense, and the “Squirting Perfume Tree”

Though my visit to Kenya was shortened by a cancelled flight in Madagascar and a scramble to buy a new ticket to Kenya, my stay with Andre and Maria of Indigenous Collective has been extremely productive with new developments in our work with the Samburu tribe and the fair trade platform we are setting up for them.

We have now identified some unusual Boswellia and Commiphora trees and discovered valuable fragrance and medicinal compounds in the “Squirting Perfume Tree”, (Commiphora Rostrata). Andre has developed an easy, sustainable method of extracting the volatile oils from under its bark, and with time, we hope to market it and generate an income stream for the remote Samburu tribe.

 Indigenous Collective’s back yard

Somalia-Fair trade, sustainable co-op harvested resins arrive in Hamilton. Patience pays off

On the subject of fragrant resins, my long-awaited shipment of fresh co-op harvested Somali resins finally arrived.. After 7 months of setbacks and roadblocks they are in the shop. As with many new ventures and projects, the beginning is always the hardest and presents the most challenges.

Since our first conversations 2 years ago and birth of the first harvester co-op, we have amalgamated  with another young Somali co-op wIth similar ideals and goals of implementing fair trade and sustainable practices. The Barako co-op signs yearly contracts with 11 village elders, guaranteeing full transparency, a percent of profits going back to the harvester’s communities and infrastructure in exchange for exclusive rights and a commitment to sell their resins.

Barako has also started a nursery, propagating the heavily tapped Boswellias with branch cuttings which will be planted in the wild with their kin and stewarded by the harvesters. This not only ensures a thriving species which is struggling and suffering decline in other harvesting countries, but also ensures a stable income for the harvesters.

Selling directly to the West via the co-op is a challenge from a logistic point of view, but it bypasses the chain of middlemen who buy the resins at the lowest possible price, leaving the harvesters struggling to make ends meet and often leaving them indebted to the middlemen and brokers by pre-selling the next season’s harvest at rock bottom prices out of desperation.

I have to give special credit to my helper Joanne who is not only running the business single-handedly while I’m in Africa, but took upon herself to get the Somali resins quickly released by Canada Customs, avoiding ongoing storage fees, and in the shop, packaged and ready to ship. If I haven’t said it recently, I am indeed a fortunate man. Thank you Joanne!

Somali resins, before and after their long journey

As it stands in the shop now, and while they last, we finally have –

All traded fairly and with an eye to sustainability.

That’s it for now. I will write in more detail when I’m back in Canada.

 

Dan

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Lollygagging with Lemurs

Well, I have my tickets to Madagascar. Now I deal with the anxiety of Oh My God what have I done, what am I forgetting to pack, and make sure you buy new underwear in case the plane goes down in a ball of flame.

A huge, warm thank you to everyone who contributed to this project through their donations and purchases in the Apothecary’s Garden Shop. Buying this ticket is not something I could have accomplished without the support of a community that shares in a vision of fair trade and sustainable practices around the world. I don’t know what awaits on the other end of this flight, but there seems to be no lack in the world for little opportunities to make things better and help correct a system that has revealed many flaws.

As many of you know, I believe that directly involving more indigenous harvesters, farmers and communities in our global trade will not only raise the quality of our medicinal and aromatic products in the west, greatly improve the quality of life in remote marginalized areas, but can help preserve and nurture our green spaces across the globe. Indigenous people are perfectly positioned to steward their regions and resources. All we need to do is support them.

We need to rebalance the riches in the world so everyone benefits when we make a purchase, not just our huge corporations and middlemen and start taking care of the planet’s ecosystems before we run out of these precious commodities. Can you believe that we have destroyed between 60% and 80% of Madagascar’s forests and wildlife habitats already?! 

Besides exploring the rich array of aromatics in Madagascar, meeting farmers, harvesters and exporters, my host and I hope to build a small distillation unit with the goal of training local artisans to produce high quality essential oils and direct more of our Western dollars to their communities.

Since our days of colonisation, our practice is to buy natural resources from third world and developing countries at the cheapest possible price, process and add value to them ourselves, and distribute the wealth and profit among our corporations and middlemen. This approach keeps struggling economies poor and developing countries under-developed. It is a model of business based on western profit alone and we can change it.

The harvesters co-op in Somalia

Photos-Frankincense Frereana, or Maydi growing out of the almost vertical rock walls in Somalia. Sorting and packing Boswellia Carterii, Frereana and Commiphora/Myrrh resins. (Photos courtesy Barako Frankincense co-op.)

On a different note, my Somali co-op managers have notified me their shipment of a wide selection of local resins has finally boarded the plane on its way to Toronto.  Keep your eye on the shop. Though I would love to stay here and wait for it, I’ll have to make other arrangements in case it arrives in Canada before I do. If possible I will have Joanne pick it up.

Joanne??

Joanne

Yes, this is also a good time to officially announce I have a helper. Joanne has been packing and shipping orders, communicating with customers for over 4 months now. She is doing an amazing job and becoming indispensable, (which is a little scary).

I saw her curly salt and pepper hair bobbing down the street from my window one day, and there was something powerfully familiar about her though I had never met her. I went to the back porch to see if she would turn the corner and within 5 minutes she was up the staircase interviewing me for the census. Basically she has worked for me ever since. I remembered her from the future of course.

So, while I am away in exotic countries lollygagging with Lemurs and snorting snuff with the Samburu Mamas, it will be Joanne who takes such good care of your orders. When orders are perfectly packaged and arrive with lightening speed, it will be Joanne you can thank. She goes by the name Jo, or Jojo, or Jojojo when I catch her polishing off the last of my coffee thinking its hers.

joannshopcrop2
Employee of the year, helper and apprentice Jo. Be nice to her while I’m away. 🙂

The Samburu women’s Frankincense co-op

While booking my ticket to Madagascar, I was able to finance a flight from Madagascar to Kenya so I can also  work on the Samburu women’s resin co-op project. This left about enough in the bank for a smallish sandwich. But it felt good.  Looked crazy, but felt right.

In Kenya I will post the long-awaited Black and Light Boswellia neglecta to Hamilton. I apologize to everyone for the long wait, but we are still working out logistics and looking for systems that work best for the folks in Kenya. As they say,  “All the beginnings are difficult”.

While there, we will distill a test run of Frankincense neglecta and discuss value-added products the women can make with their resins to boost their income. It’s not a lot of time, but I plan to return for a longer visit in January.

Sorting Frankincense Kenya 2016
The whole family pitches in to sort the Frankincense-Kenya 2016-Photo M. Kalliokowski

That’s about it for now. I will keep everyone updated here when internet is available

I’m off to do some undergarment shopping then.

 

Dan

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I will introduce this image formally in the future. For now let’s say it is drawn by Jane Adams, a talented, artist, poet, magician, mystic and friend. You can see her work at janeadamsart.wordpress.com and be sure to check out Aquariel from which this image is borrowed.
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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

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Medicinal Frankincense FAQ

 

Frankincense Papyrifera ground in a steel mortar in preparation for extraction.
Frankincense Papyrifera ground in preparation for extraction.

Let me open by saying there is no special “medicinal’ type of Frankincense. Don’t be fooled by marketing catch words like “Medicinal” or “Therapeutic”. All Frankincense is medicinal, in fact, everything nature produces is medicinal. Your morning oatmeal, the banana you take to work, the dandelions and “weeds” in your yard.  We don’t need corporations to re-brand, re-market and sell us what is already ours to use. What we do need is reliable unbiased information, a little independent thinking and some guidance on how to best use plants to enhance our lives.
I will also mention here that there is no type of Frankincense that is more sacred than another, regardless of the name a botanist gave it. Nature, in her seamless orchestration of planetary life and brilliant diversity, offers no single facet or expression of Herself that is more, or less sacred than another. Just saying.

Since I have spent the past few years studying and working with Frankincense resin, essential oils, trees and harvesters, my knowledge on the subject is a bit more than average. If I am considered an expert in this area it is  a relative thing. I continue to learn and grow daily, as do you, as do the recognized “experts” in any field.

I mention this because as a group, we can be complacent, seeking and accepting authority and “expert” opinions without question. This is one way we give away our power and effectiveness in the world.  I urge you to research and study all topics independently and reach your own conclusions.

All the information of all our cultures and ages is at our fingertips in our new global brain, the internet.  Nurture your own expertise and knowledge and share it authentically with others. Test whatever you learn against your experience, logic, and your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t. You can quote me on that. Also, You will always be the leading expert on You. Get comfortable with it. Explore it.

Medicine for the masses

With a growing, aging western population, a worldwide increase in chronic inflammatory diseases and cancers, the need for anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer  “cures” has skyrocketed. Big Pharma is hot on the case and investing millions in the search for patentable molecules it can own and sell back to us. In some cases, it will simply repackage and resell us what we already have in our backyard. The appearance of new medicine, mostly sourced from traditional ethnic pharmacopoeia, is driven by profit and not transparency. This has led to some inaccuracies and bits of misinformation that are conveniently geared to sell certain products. I will try to correct some of them here.

OK, on to Frankincense…..

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Looking quite neglected, a Boswellia neglecta tree I met in Samburu county Kenya.

What is Frankincense?

A short answer is- Frankincense and Myrrh are the oleo gum resins exuded by the Boswellia and Commiphora shrubs/trees respectively, 2 members of the Burseacae, a plant family that includes aromatic trees such as Palo Santo, Ylang Ylang, Proteus and others. They all have a network of resin-bearing ducts that distribute often fragrant oleo gum resin used by the plants for defence against insects and fungi and the repair of damaged tissue.
Frankincense and Myrrh have been used for incense, perfume and medicine for thousands of years in Asia, Europe, Arabia and Africa.
Off the top of my head, a short list of therapeutic applications traditionally associated with Frankincense would include- treating arthritis, rheumatism, ulcers, asthma, bronchitis, gastrointestinal disorders, tumors, cancers, infertility, moods, anxiety/depression and memory loss, improving brain function, addressing aging skin and flagging libido.

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What are Boswellic acids?

  • All types of Frankincense are composed of varying proportions of  water-soluble gum,  resin, and essential or volatile oils. These resins and volatile oils are lipophilic and dissolve in non-polar solvents such as vegetable oils, alcohol and petroleum distillates.
  •  Boswellic acids are resin acids and make up between 30% to 60% of the resin portion of Frankincense. They can be compared to the rosin we use on violin bows and in paints and lacquer. Though Pine rosin is made up mainly of Abietic acids and contains no Boswellic acids, neither is soluble in water.
  • Recent studies have indicated that the Boswellic acids in Frankincense possess anti-inflammatory and anti-Cancer properties.  Some of the cancer cells they have shown promise and effectiveness in treating are prostate, late stage ovarian, bladder, colorectal, brain tumors and many more.Take the time, do the research, you will find these studies online.
  • Boswellic acids are only present in the resin portion of these oleo-gum-resins, not their essential oils. Though all essential oils can be said to have therapeutic properties, the essential oils of Frankincense contain only trace amounts of Boswellic acids.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boswellic_acid
  • You can literally knock yourself out with Frankincense essential oil without getting a meaningful amount of Boswellic acids.

Boswellia-Frankincense-Comparison-1024x7682

  • Which types of Frankincense contain Boswellic Acids ?

  • So far, research has shown the following species of Frankincense  contain Boswellic acids-
  • Boswellia Carterii-Somalia
  • Boswellia Sacra-Arabia
  • Boswellia Serrata-India
  • Boswellia Papyrifera-Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya
  •  It is more than likely that Boswellia Thurifera from the Red Sea area and B. Elongata from Socrata also contain these compounds though analysis of the resin has not been done to date.

    What do Boswellic acids do?

  •  Boswellic acids have been found to inhibit leukotriene synthesis and act as anti-inflammatories. They modulate/regulate the behavior of Leucocytes which are one of the body’s responses to trauma which create inflammation and subsequent pain.(http://bme.virginia.edu/ley/).
  •  Boswellic acids have been shown in studies to be anti-prolific and may also cause apoptosis, (death), in a wide variety of cancer cells in the laboratory. There is, however, little “In vivo” research at this point. They need to be tested on people.
  •  Though one resin acid in particular, AKBA or acetyl-keto-beta boswellic acid has been the focus of anti-cancer studies, I believe our use of isolated molecules such as AKBA extracted from complex compounds is what has gotten us into a lot of trouble already.
  • All the compounds in Frankincense have their role to play and indeed likely play more effectively together than separately. In my opinion, we are better off using the whole oleo gum resin therapeutically than dosing ourselves with high amounts of concentrated and isolated compounds.

    What is the best way to use Frankincense and Boswellic acids for their therapeutic properties?

  • Frankincense Serrata is used traditionally, whole, in powder, pill, poultice and oil,  for arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, asthma, ulcerative colitis, bronchial issues various cancers and as an ingredient in skincare and beauty products.
  •  In Arabia Frankincense has been chewed for millennia for oral care and general physical/mental well-being. It is taken as a tea, often steeped in water overnight and sipped during the day for inflammations, coughs, congestion, and colds. The grounds should be consumed to benefit fully from the oleoresin.  The recipe is 1 teaspoon course ground Frankincense, in a covered  cup,steeped overnight in room temperature water.
  •  In Islam Frankincense is traditionally consumed by pregnant women to increase the intelligence, (and bravery), of their offspring, and is generally considered to contribute to one’s mental acuity, emotional stability and spiritual clarity. It is sometimes used as a general tonic and restorative.
  • Boswellia Sacra, B. Carterii  and B. Frereana from Somalia have also been used  to address issues of fertility in men and considered aphrodisiacs. Arabian lore indicates that large testicle shaped Frankincense tears, (sometimes called Dakkar, from the Arabic word for masculine), are sexual tonics and aphrodisiacs for men, while pieces more vulvic in shape are believed to have similar effects on women.
  •  Though Boswellia Frereana from Somalia does not contain Boswellic acids, it is also a powerful anti-inflammatory used traditionally to treat inflammations of joints, the GI tract and arthritis. Laboratory studies show it can reduce brain inflammation due to tumors, head injuries and stroke. It kills the H.pylorii bacteria which causes stomach ulcers. It is valued as a high-end chewing gum for oral and gastrointestinal health and is one of the most expensive frankincense types available.
  •  Boswellia Papyrifera from Ethiopia/Eritrea/Kenya and Sudan, which is a source of Boswellic acids, also contains Incensole acetate which is considered a psychoactive compound that crosses the blood-brain barrier, reducing anxiety and eliciting feelings of heightened spirituality and well-being. The incensole and Incensole acetate are delivered to us when using the whole oleoresin internally, through pyrolysis, (burning as an incense), and when using the diluted essential oil externally.
  •  Boswellia Thurifera from the shores of the Red Sea has been shown in the laboratory,  to increase the size of rat testicles and raise their sperm count. True :-)!
  • Frankincense is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. I don’t have any expertise or information on that subject. However, the Chinese are currently one of the biggest importers of Frankincense in the world.
  •  There are extracts of Boswellic acids available on the market. I can’t recommend one over the other. Most state they are extracted using ethanol and water, suggesting  one can extract them relatively easily at home by removing the water-soluble gum and essential oils.
  • Personally, I believe it is best to keep things simple and the most direct and effective way to utilize this fragrant potent medicine is by ingesting the powdered whole fresh oleo gum resin.  It is useful and clever to take things apart and understand how they work,  however, there is more to the art of healing than funneling orphaned molecules into our bodies. There are many  interconnected complexities in Nature that we simply have not the tools to measure or discern.
  • I take 1/2 to 1 level teaspoon of finely powdered Frankincense with water 3-5 times a day when needed. For instructions and some tips on easily powdering and storing Frankincense see my post-“How to grind Frankincense and other Oleoresins”.
  • To incorporate the Boswellic acid type Frankincenses in oils, salves and cremes, I use one of the following methods
  • How to make an extract of frankincense and other oleoresins.
  • How to extract the resin and its Boswellic acids from Frankincense
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First contact in this Samburu village and market. Negotiating a fair price with the women. One of their few sources of extra income.

Ethics and sustainability

  • I’m really glad you asked. We are quickly losing our aromatic and medicinal plants around the world through mismanagement. If we don’t start addressing this, future generations will have no Frankincense or Myrrh.  If we made educated and responsible choices as global consumers, we could have a huge impact on the world, improving the environment and the quality of life of our brothers and sisters who tend to the garden we rely on. This can happen lightning fast if enough of us care to make a difference.
  •  The increased market demand for these medicinal and aromatic oleoresins is already exceeding the amounts trees can comfortably supply.  Over harvesting, improper harvesting methods, agricultural encroachment, fires and grazing animals, have reduced the number of mature trees in the wild, viability of their seeds, and the ability of trees to reproduce. If I recall correctly, seed germination rate has fallen from 81% to 18% in over-tapped trees. This is alarming.
  • There are areas in Kenya, Somalia and Namibia where Frankincense and Myrrh trees are not tapped and the oleoresins are collected in a most sustainable manner. These practices need to be encouraged especially through preferring these sources to heavily tapped trees.
  • Another critical issue that we stay ignorant of is the quality of life of the harvesters and stewards of our medicinal and aromatic resources. We pay a premium price for their products, yet they often see a minute percent of that price and live with financial hardship, often without proper shelter, food, water, education or medical care. A plan of stewardship could pay harvesters directly, cutting out some of the middlemen, upping their income and reducing the need for excessive tapping. There is no good reason for any person in the world to have a lower quality of life than you or I. There is a flaw in our system, a fly in our Frankincense ointment.
  • Frankincense and Myrrh trees are extremely easy to propagate. Large branches will spring into root with barely a word of encouragement. Planting and stewarding new trees in the wild would ensure a sustainable and lucrative future for the harvesters and guarantee the consumer an ethical, fair trade and sustainable product. How perfect is that! The market for both Frankincense and Myrrh resins and essential oils  is only going to grow and we need to apply a little forethought and foresight before it is too late.
  • I currently work with harvesters in Kenya and Somalia setting up ethical, fair trade and sustainable community-oriented co-ops. These are ongoing projects that will take a few years yet to get up and running smoothly.
  • There are many ways you can contribute to establishing healthier trade in these resins. Foremost by educating yourself, making informed choices and informed purchases. Knowledge is power.
  • You can find suppliers of fairly traded, sustainably sourced products online, or purchase them through my shop.

Dan

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Kenya to Canada-Landing at a run

Since returning from Africa 2 weeks ago, it feels like I landed running, and I don’t yet see a respite in the near future. My keynote speech at the Viridis Genii Symposium is coming up fast which means I had better get travel arrangements to Oregon made ASAP, and with any luck get a day in Hawaii with master distiller Jack Chaitman of Scents of knowing, whom has long held my admiration and respect. He is figuratively and literally a wizard with plant intelligence and essential oils.

Spring is just starting to show here in Southwestern Ontario and the tree buds are swelling on the Niagara escarpment, finally clothing their winter nakedness with a bit of brown.  I hear the Wild ginger and Witch Hazel calling me. I have to get out of the studio  and visit with my plant friends.

For those who generously supported my travels though prepurchasing the Ethiopian Essential oils and professor Dagne’s lovely “Duet” co-distillation of Boswellia Papyrifera and B. Neglecta, the package is finally here from Ethiopia after many delays. I will be bottling them and hope to ship them out beginning of the week. I will also get these gems posted in the shop in the next few days, so keep checking back. I should also mention I am trying out $6.00 flat rate shipping in the shop. If I don’t lose my favourite shirt with it, I will keep it permanently.

My Ethiopian shipment came in with gorgeous fresh Frankincense and Myrrh resins. The Boswellia Papyrifera is in the largst most succulent chunks I have ever seen. Both the Myrrh and Opoponax resins are fresh, fragrant, vibrant and excellent representations of the species. The Boswellia Rivae is as deliciously sweet as ever, and part of me hopes it doesn’t sell so I can smell it and play with it as long as possible.

 

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Beautiful and aromatic, unusually large chunks of Ethiopian Frankincense Papyrifera in the shop now.

 

 

I want to thank everyone who has placed orders for resins, essential oils and my Astrodynamic products the past few weeks. Your patronage is a true compliment and your support is heart warming.

That being said, as a one man show, I may have to hire extra help with this influx of  orders, so please bear with me while I adjust to the new pace of sales in the shop… ……

In the meantime, to entertain, (distract), you, I am posting some photos from my visit in Kenya and the Samburu tribe courtesy of the talented photographer and wonderful travel companion, Minna Kalliokoski. Many have asked for them, so it will also be one thing I can tick off a job list that strangely seems to be growing daily and not getting any shorter.

Finally, I want to thank everyone for their generous donations to my work with indigenous harvesters and efforts to establish fair and sustainable trade of resins and other fragrant/medicnal materials. I could not have met and worked with Civet farmers, Somali resin co-op managers or the resin harvesting women of the Samburu tribe without your financial support. This influx  was unexpected and heartwarming. Much more than money, I was bolstered by the appreciation and warm moral support for these ventures. It makes me feel like change is possible in our world. That we can all work together to make this a better place for everyone, plants, animals and people. It felt like  a net of love that somehow appeared under a crazy idea and a leap of faith. My deepest and most sincere gratitude to you all!

Dan

 

 

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Samburu County Frankincense and the mystery of the bicoloured Boswellia

A short update before I return to the Kenyan bush and comunication silence.
Though I’ll focus on the more current events in Kenya with the Samburu women since they are fresh, I will return in the next few weeks to expand on the equally important landmarks of my stay in Ethiopia which are, in brief-

An ethical Civet farm

My meeting with Civet farmers and exporters in Ethiopia was ground-breaking. We had a very productive conversation and co-created a basic plan of action to establish the world’s first model Civet farm that can provide an “Ethical” source for Ethiopian Civet paste and products to the West.
Though only the first of many conversations to come, both sides have their roles to play in the next year to make this happen for the benefit of the farmers, Civets, and the economy of this developing country.

We, in the West, now have the opportunity to be actively engaged in solving the problems and not just turn our backs on them with an ineffectual and counter productive boycott as we have for the past 40-50 years. If you are concerned about ethics in perfumery this may be an opportunity to get involved.

A fair trade in sustainable Frankincense

The second major landmark of my stay in Addis Ababa was meeting with my Somali  Frankincense co-op manager who shares my own vision of fair trade and sustainability.  Working directly with the western market, bypassing middlemen and benefitting the harvester communities with tools, training, education and medical facilities, he has signed yearly renewable contracts with the elders of 5 communities to work in mutual transparently for the benefit of the community and has committed to sell their resins to us. (Another opportunity to get involved in a worthwhile project). He has initiated a replanting program in the wild to maintain ecological sustainability and is working on a  long-term replanting and sapling maintenance program with the harvesters. This co-op will provide Boswellia Carterii, the higher grades of B. Frereana, (which we rarly see in the West), Myrrh and Opoponax.
At the moment we are discussing possible markets in the West and logistics of shipping. Professor Dagne may make his expertise and facilities in Ethiopia available for distillation of essential oils from their resins. I will keep you posted. If anyone has an interest in large amounts of these resins please contact me. For regular retail quantities, keep an eye on my shop.

A sustainable fair trade platform for the Samburu women

As some of you know, the purpose of my visit to Kenya is to help the resin harvesting  women of the Samburu tribe gain greater beneifit for themselves, their families and communities via a fair trade platform and co-op.

Originally planned as a 3 day visit to Samburu County, my host Andre of Indiginous Collective has graciously facilitated my request to stay an extra week in the field to make the most of our work with the Samburu.

We returned yesterday evening from 4 days in the bush so I could catch up on correspondence and other obligations. We drive back up Tuesday or Wednesday to speak with more women about the co-op and purchase their resins.

Death Stalker Scorpion under UV light
Nightly campsite visitors-Death Stalker Scorpion under UV light.

A short description of the last 4 days would be abbreviated as- gorgeous cool mornings and evenings, sun stroke days, pristine semi-arid plains, sand, magnificent mountains, adorable wart hogs,  ostriches, elephants, a thousand exotic birds, hordes of baboons, a ridiculously vast night sky blazing with stars, death stalker scorpions who phosphoresce under a UV light, lions, leopards, dry river beds with Ebony driftwood and not the tiniest shred of plastic refuse, water shyly hiding under the ground and in the desert air, herds of sheep, goats and camels, beaded women, pretty Moran warriors,  biting mosquitoes, big hairy spiders, and hundreds of square kilometers of mixed Myrrh and Frankincense trees growing naturally as if planted intentionally. As far as the eye can see!!

Commiphora, Boswellia and Acacia
Commiphora, Boswellia and Acacia as far as the eye can see. 

The Samburu have not had the exposure or experience with the “Muzungu”, or white person, as their cousins the Maasai. Pastoralists living in isolation and such hot arid conditions, their lives focus around their flocks which are entrusted to the Moran caste. When  the Morans reach about 30 years of age they can marry and a new generation of young men carries on with care and protection of the livestock. Elder men are the decision makers and are looked up to. Women do all the domestic work and care for the families. Work that takes up most of their day.

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Deep in thought, Ystalia harvests resins and is letting other women harvester know about the co-op and new market. She led us to her Boswellia Neglecta trees and other medicinals she collects in the area. Hubby in the background. Lovely people both. Photo Minna Kalliokoski

Our work with the women entails going through tiny remote villages which are basically clusters of oval, round topped homes made of branch, vine, thatch and leather. These “Manyatas” are residence to one or two extended families via dirt roads. Some may see a car once a month and most travel is by foot in the hot sun. Water is fetched from often remote areas though people like Andre are dedicated to creating easy access to clean water for the Samburu and their herds.

Likely the most important and unexpected result of this “tour”, was the wealth of information that was shared with us by the Samburu on the medicinal and cultural functions of many of the local trees, plants and animals. The Samburu have a well-developed medicinal, spiritual/mystical and astrological tradition. They have a strong connection to the planet Venus and their creation myth tells of their origin on Venus before migrating to earth. This is reflected in the Ankh/Venus type adornment worn on the forehead of many Samburu  women.

 

 

  The mystery of the bi-coloured Boswellia resin, Commiphora “Aqua Velva” and a Frankincense tree that squirts essential oil.

 

“Confounded and perplexed I was”, to hear that over the past decades botanists had aggregated 6 different types of Kenyan Boswellia under the name Boswellia Neglecta S. Moore. Currently it is considered by many to be the only Frankincense in the area. This in itself was enough to make me question the larger picture and accuracy of accepted distribution of Frankincense types in Kenya. So far, I belive we have come across 5 unique species of Boswellia in only 4 days.

If this discrepancy was not enough, imagine my raised eyebrow when I was repeatedly told the Samburu women collected 2 types of “incense”,  a black and a white from the same tree! Yes, 2 resin types from one tree. I had to get to the bottom of this.

Frankincense-Boswellia Neglecta
Frankincense-Boswellia Neglecta as know today.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting B. Neglecta personally, it is known and accepted as a blackish, grainy, fragrant oleoresin that appears in a lumpy form similar to our northern spruce and pine saps, and not in the clear/opaque aggregate of tear shapes associated with other Frankincense types.

So how can both clear light tears, and most definitely solid black tar like resin be collected from one tree I ask?
We spent 4 days in the semi-arid broiling sun of Samburu county, speaking with harvester women from numerous villages and were taken to the hills where one woman gathers her Frankincense resin.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered for myself, with my own eyes, hands, nose, and mouth, that indeed, this particular Boswellia yields not one resin, but 2 distinct and disparate types of resin with completely different characteristics and fragrances!
When injured, the tree’s first response is as expected. It produces globules of a clear slightly golden oleoresin, sticky and particularly fragrant which harden into translucent tears.

 

Boswellia Neglecta-fresh sap
Boswellia Neglecta-fresh sap. 

 

However, what happens next is completely unexpected in a Boswellia tree.
The tree creates traumatic resin ducts, (TRDs), and changes the chemical composition of the oleo resin to a “Callus” resin product much like our conifers. A grainy therapeutic living bandage that not only protects the exposed surface of a wound, but facilitates the growth of special tissue and bark from the edges of the wound towards the middle. If a branch is stripped, it forms a barrier between the stripped portion and the healthy part of the branch protecting it from the spread of decay.

In our Spruce and Pine families this unique resin product is often of a brown colour. In the case of B. Neglecta this callus resin is black as pitch and of a rich deep woody frankincense fragrance. The callus resin of  the Spruce tree is a potent medicinal used to heal old wounds, ulcers on the extremities and slow-healing surgical wounds in Scandinavian traditions. One can only wonder what medicinal properties lay undiscovered in the callus resin of B. Neglecta.

This post is likely long enough for most people’s attention span, so I will till next time to tell you about the fragrant and brilliantly blue/aquamarine coloured Commiphora/Myrrh tree which I have dubbed “Commiphora Aqua Velva”. Its bracing fragrance does indeed remind one of the aftershave, but of course, it is much nicer :-).

At that time I will share another cool find. A unique and as yet unidentified Frankincense tree that squirts pure essential oil when pricked and is used by the Samburu as a fragrance and sexual attractant.

Many thanks to the talented Minna Kalliokoski for her photography and all her help on this trip.

Till then

Dan

 

 

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A fragrant moon over Addis

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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.
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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