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An African Fair Trade Frankincense and Myrrh tour 2016

"Samburu women singing" by Wouter van Vliet - Flickr: P1010736. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Samburu_women_singing.jpg#/media/File:Samburu_women_singing.jpg

I have just been invited to Northern Kenya to work with the women of the semi-nomadic Pastoralist Samburu tribe with their wildcrafting business and help set up a fair trade platform that will make their lives a little easier, especially through the unpredictable droughts. As it is in many Patriarchal societies,  life as a woman is no easy thing. Doing this work has been a dream of mine.

 

Myrrh tree oleo-resin Ethiopia. Ermias Dagne
Fresh Myrrh-Commiphora Myrrha-Africa-Photo Prof. E. Dagne

As they move with their animals through the semi-arid regions, these women collect Frankincense Neglecta, (black and white varieties) , Myrrh and Opoponax, (Commiphora Myrrha and C. Holtziana), resins and Gum Arabic. They have set up a co-op, collection depot, and I’m going to see if Apothecary’s Garden and Fairtrade Frankincense can help get their resins out to us directly at a fair price to them, and do so while sustaining the plants, their traditions and lifestyle.

Would you like to be part of this project?

"Samburu women singing" by Wouter van Vliet - Flickr: P1010736. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Samburu_women_singing.jpg#/media/File:Samburu_women_singing.jpg
“Samburu women singing” by Wouter van Vliet

This invitation came from an intriguing source-Andre and Maria of Indigenous Collective.org. An organization which listens to the land and the tribes, creating bridges, developing and testing new technologies around water, energy and nutrition to serve the Samburu, not change them.

In the words of Andre-

“THE PASTORAL FOLK OF THE WORLD USUALLY GET THE SHORT END OF DEVELOPMENT …. THEY ARE OFTEN REGARDED BY THEIR GOVERNMENTS AS BACKWARD & UNEDUCATED YET, THEY LIVE THE MOST SUSTAINABLE, BALANCED LIVES WITH SUCH A VERY LOW IMPACT ON THEIR ENVIRONMENT. BY DEFAULT THEIR PAST SURVIVAL SUCCESSES DEPENDED ON THEIR INHERENT ABILITY TO MOVE …. NOW, WITH SEDENTARY LIFESTYLES EMERGING THEIR SOCIO-ECONOMIC DYNAMIC IS RAPIDLY CHANGING …. THERE IS OFTEN A VERY SMALL WINDOW TO INTERVENE WITHOUT DISRUPTING AN ANCIENT CULTURAL HERITAGE.”

 

We need to change how we source our wild medicinals and fragrance materials. Many of them cannot be grown commercially in orderly rows and tended fields. And even if they could, in many cases vast tracts of  forest and vegetation are destroyed to feed our growing appetite in the west. We are disrupting and losing delicate ecosystems around the world as our capitalist machine churns out billions of tons of products for our food, fragrance and medicinal needs.

Many of these natural resources, such as our precious fragrant and medicinal Frankincense and Myrrh species, Galbanum, Sandarac, Gum Arabic and many more will only grow in the harshest of conditions and in the most inaccessible areas.

Harvested most often by semi-nomadic tribes who see little of the premium we pay for these exotic treasures. Many of these clans and peoples live traditional pastoral lifestyles which haven’t changed or adapted to modern western society. Most receive a pittance, in cash or barter for small amounts of the basic necessities of life. Often a long chain of middlemen profit from the harvest till it reaches the corporations who process, package and distribute the finished products to us at prices astronomically higher than the return the harvesters see.

Sure, there are lots of things wrong with our world. It will never be perfect, but nothing will change until we choose to change it. 

These indigenous roaming people across our little globe are the stewards of some of our most precious medicinal and fragrant plants. Often these trees have socio-cultural significance to these cultures and their value is appreciated far beyond the income they can generate. They are our stewards and the caretakers of our land, our medicinal and fragrant resources around the world. Our shared Apothecary Garden

They are the only ones who can monitor, care for, propagate and maintain these treasures, make sure future generations can also enjoy them. WE need to take care of these people, our planet, its stewards and wildcrafters. Regardless of perceived distance. We need to make sure our plant’s caretakers are being compensated properly, that their needs are met, their lifestyles and traditions are supported.

I believe this is much more than an opportunity to source ethical resins and help out a remote minority. It is part of a global movement of ethics, sustainability and change.

I have had a look at a list of plants that are in the area used by the Samburu. There are many other plant species that will interest the perfumers, incense makers, herbalists and horticulturists out there. Plant material that could be ethically and sustainably collected and shared with the world. Shared in a way that would also sustain the stewards.

I have a feeling about this project.

 I have invited a photographer to document this process with the Samburu.  Besides her professional work, she is willing to pitch in any way she can. With time, I can cover the cost of her flight and services through sales in my Etsy shop, and through direct sales as I come across fresh oleoresins, but it will take a while. If anyone reading this feels compelled to contribute financially to this project, any assistance would be deeply appreciated.  I am resigned that I can’t do this alone.

Here is a link to a short but concise overview of the terrain, climate, culture and resins of Northern Kenya and the Samburu tribe.

I am starting this trip today!  Israel, Jordan, Ethiopia then Kenya. Kenya will be the jewel. Each place offers rare and unique fragrant/medicinal materials. Some I will ship back to Canada to stock my Etsy shop. But I am going to try to fund this trip as much as I can by selling resins directly from the countries of origin. If possible in 1/2-1 Kilo packages. If you would like to stay abreast of opportunities as they arise, send me your email address to  dnriegler@apothecarysgarden.com and I will keep you updated.

In Ethiopia I am also meeting with Civet farmers, travelling to Jima which is a big center for the collection and export of Civet paste to the perfume world. I will be speaking with them about modernizing their farms and bringing them up to the ethical animal welfare standards we require. Wish me luck….. For more on this issue please see my posts-Ethical Civet, a glimpse from the mountaintop and Etical Civet, a view from the foothills.

Here is a partial list of the oleoresins I hope to ship to customers along the way. Let me know here in the comments section of any questions or requests, or email me at dnriegler@apothecarysgarden.com and I can send you updates on events, resins and other treasures as they happen along the way.

Frankincense species

Boswellia Thurifera

B. Rivae

B. Papyrifera

B. Neglecta-(White and black varieties)

B. Frereana

B. Carterii

Myrrh Species

Commiphora Myrrha-Arabian

C. Myrrha-African

C. Holtziana-(Hagar-Opoponax) Kenya

C. Guidotti-(Opoponax)-Ethiopia

C. Giladensis-(Balm of Gilead/Mecca)

Red Sea Operculum-Onycha

Also some unique ethnic bakhours and incense mixes as I come across them such as Bakhour al Aroosa, the rare and breathtakingly beautiful Somali wedding incense and Uunsi, the traditional Somali “Amber”, Ethiopian Bakbooka incense blends etc.

Essential oils of some of the above oleoresins, locally distilled in mid-size quantities via DHL. (Local post will often not ship volatiles)

If you feel inspired to contribute financially to support and facilitate this project with the Samburu women, please send payment to my PayPal account at dnriegler@gmail.com. You do not need a PayPal account to do this.  My gratitude is yours in advance.

My own network is not the most extensive, SO PLEASE SHARE THIS WIDELY!!

With the highest hopes

Dan

 

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Frankincense, Opoponax & Myrrh, Gifts from the land of Punt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan

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Frankincense & Myrrh, a Theory on Holistic Tinctures

A Thought on the holistic tincturing of oleo-resins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dan

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

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

Food for thought.

Dan