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Ambergris-How to prepare an oil, Attar and tincture

ambergris, perfume, incense, medicine,

Also known as “Floating Gold” and Whale vomit, Ambergris is one of the rarest & most precious gifts of Nature. Coveted since ancient times for it’s value in perfumery, incense making and traditional medicine. Considered an aphrodisiac since time immemorial, it fetches Astronomical prices for those lucky enough to find it washed up on beaches around the world.

Ambergris is a waxy material similar in chemical structure to cholesterol that collects in the stomach of the Sperm Whale, (Physeter macrocephalus). Produced in its bile duct, it coats irritants and indigestible objects and prepares them for safe evacuation. Theories vary as to which end of the whale they find egress.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
Gold Ambergris found in the South Pacific

Till recently these indigestables were limited to Squid beaks and other natural inclusions of an oceanic diet. Now, however, one finds a variety of foreign objects collected in whale digestive tracts and wrapped up in Ambergris.

Ocean Gold in the age of plastic

A recent purchase of 2 lumps disclosed layers of plastic bags tightly wrapped in Ambergris pointing a finger at the deteriorating state of our oceans. A reminder for us to forgo the use of plastic whenever possible.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
Ambergris laden with partially decomposed pieces of plastic bags. Indonesia

A unique perfume ingredient

In perfume, Ambergris is used as a fragrance material and a fixative, lending marine, animalic and Musk notes to perfumes while slowing down the evaporation of more fleeting fragrances. Like other animal sourced perfume ingredients, it adds a dimension that is difficult for synthetic and botanical aromatics to deliver on their own.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,

Oddly, the magic and transformative power of Ambergris in perfume lies not in the strength of its aroma or olfactory contribution. Liminal, as if anchored in the intangible interstices of scent and senses, it rounds out and pulls together a bouquet from underneath while adding depth, tenacity and a unique dimension to compositions by means of a mechanism that is not well understood.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
Brown or black Ambergris with a deep, “dark”, animalic scent.

As an incense material

Ambergris is traditionally burned as incense though the odor is not to everyone’s taste. Conversely, it can be blended into a compound incense directly or in the form of a tincture which will disperse through the material prior to the alcohol evaporating.

Ambergris, Burning-Ambergris-John-Parker-Sargent

In Gourmand food

Historically, Ambergris has been used to flavour egg dishes, wild game, ice cream, tea, coffee and liquers. In Morocco, a small piece of is adhered to the inside of the tea pot lid where it imbues the infusion for a lengthy period with it’s unique fragrance. In Turkey, it is boiled in the traditional Turkish coffee as an aphrodisiac, to bolster the libido and male constitution.

As medicine

Used for centuries in Unani and Ayurveda systems of medicine, Ambergris has a traditional role as an Aphrodisiac and is used in formulas that treat sexual debility, premature ejaculation and in tonic formulas for the heart, liver, brain and kidneys.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
Gold Ambergris carefully separated from the layers of plastic bags.

Different types of Ambergris

Though Ambergris is found in many shades, sizes and shapes, it can be generally divided into 3 types, grey, gold and brown/black.

The lighter coloured material often has a dry marine odour, with hints of Tobacco and ocean breeze. It has a light, clean and crisp fragrance.
The gold can have a soft, dry, Amber scent with Oak and Tobacco couched in Petrichor, (the scent of earth when it rains). It has a brisk marine note and a pleasant, soft animalic musk. It often has a gold colour with black striations.
The Brown material borders on black, and is a bit softer/stickier than the other types. It has a strong, dark, earthy scent and a musk-like animalic note layered over wet-cured tobacco and the scent of the ocean.

Aromatically, the 3 types range in intensity of scent with Grey being the lightest and Brown/Black having the most intense, or strongest fragrance, The Gold material sits between them in intensity of aroma.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,
Brown/Black and Grey Ambergris in the shop

Tinctures for perfume

They are all suited to tincturing in alcohol and extracting in oil, though I find the Gold and the Brown material really shine as oils.

An alcoholic tincture brings out different notes than an oil infusion and highlights the Tobacco and marine notes present in the material.
An oil infusion creates a product with more of the animalic and musk notes. Smelling it makes my heart skip every time.

In perfume, Ambergris is used at very low proportions, often dissolved at 1% in high proof alcohol. Only a small amount of this tincture is needed to lend a perfume blend a unique edge.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,

To prepare a tincture of Ambergris

Usually made in concentration of 1% to 5%, a 1% tincture of Ambergris is prepared in the ratio of 1 gram of Ambergris crushed or powdered in 99 parts 94%-96% ethanol. It can be initially warmed in the water-bath to speed up dissolution of the material in the alcohol. When powdered, heating to 40 degrees Centigrade for 15 minutes is usually enough. Kept in a sealed glass jar in a warm place, the scent of this liquid will evolve for 6 or more months. A 3% tincture is made with 3 grams Ambergris and 97 parts alcohol, a 10% tincture with 10 parts ambergris and 90 parts alcohol etc. 6 months is the standard maceration time for Ambergris tincture. Once the liquid is ready, it can be filtered through paper, bottled and kept in a cool dark place until needed. The tincture can be gently evaporated in a shallow cloth-covered dish at room temperature to create an absolute/resinoid. This product is a clean and concentrated form of the material and blends easily with essential oils and alcohol. When used, there is no need to filter the product.

To prepare an oil of Ambergris

An oil of Ambergris is prepared in much the same way as an alcohol tincture. Fractionated Coconut or Jojoba oil are used since they are stable and have an indefinite shelf life. Gently warming in a water-bath facilitates breakdown of the material in the oil and a 6 month maceration yields good results.

When the infusion is ready to be decanted it is allowed to sediment then vacuum filtered through paper and bottled for use.  Though it can be gravity filtered through a paper coffee filter, it is time consuming.

Preparing an Ambergris “Attar”

What is sometimes called an “Attar” is produced by macerating Ambergris in an essential oil such as Sandalwood, Rose, Oud, Frankincense or another stable aromatic liquid. Amyris, Copaiba, Gurjun, and other essential oils that age well can be experimented with. These can be used as standalone concentrated perfumes or as ingredients and fixatives in perfume blends. The process is identical to preparing an oil infusion and up to 10% Ambergris is a good general guideline depending on the essential oil and type of Ambergris used. The term Attar is used loosely here, and traditionally refers to the product created by distilling one aromatic plant material into the essential oil of another. Here we take aromatic license to include infusions of animalic aromatics in essential oil since the animalics cannot be distilled. Theoretically it is possible to distil an essential oil such as Sandalwood into an oil infusion/extract of Ambergris but it too would be stretching the term.

Ambergris, whale vomit, musk, Aphrodisiac,

Finding so much plastic in Ambergris has prompted me to rethink my shop packaging choices. We are now transitioning from plastic Bubble bags to recycled corrugated cardboard packaging and hope to shift to recycled paper mailers later this year.

If you decide to prepare any of these products yourself, remember-Always keep clear notes! Your future self will thank you. Dan


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Northern Allure-How to make a high quality tincture of Castoreum

Castoreum, tincture of Castor, dried granules on the right, ground and preserved in alcohol on the left.

English: A European Beaver.
English: A European Beaver. (Photo credit: Wikipedia

Since I field questions about the products I sell in the shop, including Beaver Castor with increasing frequency, here are a few thoughts on the subject, and how to best make your own high-quality perfume tincture with it.

Beavers are a familiar animal especially here in Canada. They not only symbolize productivity and industriousness, as in being “Busy as a Beaver”, they are a national symbol of Canada. They appear on our 5 cent coin, originally made from, and called a “Nickel”, forever associating the Beaver with our mining industry and our Nickel mines.

This pairing makes sense when one considers that Beaver dams are perhaps nature’s main line of defence in filtering, de-toxifying, de-acidifying and rehabilitating our waterways, wetlands and watershed. Cleaning up after us.

Beaver dam, northern California, USA
Beaver dam, northern California, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Contrary to popular belief, Beavers are not trapped for their scent glands, but for their waterproof pelts,  and not every trapper will remove them.

Beavers are an important part of native North American legend and European folklore, where “Castor fiber”  the cousin of our North American Castor Canadense, finds its home.

Castor has been used medicinally in native and European traditions of the past. Most notably by the famous Alchemist/doctor Paracelsus as an antipyretic, to reduce fevers,

In Ontario, the trapping of beavers is regulated in an effort to conserve and protect both wildlife and the ecology of our wetlands.  Cruel leg-hold traps that can leave an animal suffering till the trapper does his rounds are illegal.

Beaver pelts have been part of our northern economy for centuries, and were a trading item for indigenous people since time immemorial and well before written history. They still provide a livelihood for professional and aboriginal trappers.

Though it is difficult to portray this busy bucktooth rodent as sexy in any way, Castoreum is one of the most exotic, sensual and sexy fragrance components there is. In the genre of Ambergris, Deer Musk and Civet , Castoreum brings an alluring animalic sensuousness to perfumery that is not reflective of anything obvious in the Beaver.

In traditional perfumery, Beaver Castor is highly valued as a fine and distinguished fragrance ingredient lending warmth, sensuality and endurance to perfume blends for many centuries. The list of popular, familiar and prestigious perfumes that contain Beaver Castoreum is extensive. A simple Google search will reveal many well-known names.

Aged Canadian Beaver Castors with cross section
Aged Canadian Beaver Castors with cross section

The Castor sacs produce a substance that both male and female Beavers use to mark territory and is thought to contain pheromones that act as sexual attractants. Along with 2 adjacent oil-producing glands that provide a waterproofing material for their fur, the Castors are tucked well away, flanking their pelvic area.

Beaver castor has a deep, rich, persistent, leathery, woody, spicy scent. It can often have smokey undertones and hints of the forest trees and mosses. It is used as fixative, a base to middle note in “Masculine” perfumes, and in leather accords which it can produce almost single-handedly.

In North America it is permitted for use in food, where Castor derivatives have been used as flavouring. It’s presence is most noticeable in chewing tobaccos and snuff.

Castoreum has an aromatic affinity with the essential oils of many Northern trees and plants which make up its environment. Birch, Pine, Spruce, Cedar and Fir, Sasafras, Sarsparilla, mosses, ferns and even Wild Ginger  pair in an easy way with the fragrance of Beaver castor. Add to this list Patchouli, Tobacco, Vetiver, Coffee absolute, Jasmine Sambac and other heavier floral scents and we are likely just scratching the surface of promising  Castoreum compatibilities in perfumery.

While the Castor sacs are fresh, they contain a yellowish mobile fluid. This is the product that used to be termed “Castoreum”, though the term has been expanded to include all liquid products made from this substance. Because this liquid scent is fluid, any damage to the thin outer membrane of the fresh sac can lead to a loss of fragrant material. This most often happens during the delicate process of removing the well-hidden sacs and must be done with precision and an experienced hand. Any nicks, tears and cuts, lead to inferior quality sacs which contain less castoreum and fetch a lower price.

  The dried Castor sacs are divided into 3 grades of quality based on their size and condition.

 Grade #1 Beaver Castoreum-Castor sacs-Canada
Grade #1 Beaver Castoreum-Castor sacs-Canada.  After about 6 months and not thoroughly dried.

  • Grade 1 are the largest and plumpest sacs, with no nicks, cuts or loss of contents.
  • Grade 2 are smaller specimens and are flatter with some nicks, cuts and holes.
  • Grade 3 are the smallest sacs made up mostly of undulating layers of tissue that produce the castor and little actual scent material. Most often they have serious cuts through the sac where the liquid scent escaped over time.
    While fresh, the contents or Castoreum is a yellowish goo of a pungent, acrid odor. The process of drying changes the colour and transforms the scent.

Castor sacs Grade1 aged 1year+
Castor sacs Grade1 aged about a year and a half.

In general, Beaver Castors need to dry for one year before they are ready to be used for perfumery. After a year they will continue to age and their scent will soften further with time, both when dry and as a tincture.
If after a year of drying, the plump #1 Castors are not completely dried, they may, at that point, be sliced and exposed to the air to dry further.  Only when completely dry and free of moisture should they be processed for a tincture or absolute.

Instructions for making a tincture of Castoreum.

    • Take-1 part dried and minced Beaver Castors. It can be processed in a blender with a measured amount of alcohol which will be deducted from the total amount of alcohol in the tincture, or simply finely diced with a knife.
    • 10 parts 95% alcohol.    (Some prefer a more dilute tincture and opt for a 1:20 ratio of mark to menstruum, and this is an option. 1:20 will yield a less concentrated and lighter coloured product. If for your own perfume use, this is fine as long as you know the ratio and exactly how much of the original material is in the perfume. Keeping clear notes allows us to duplicate a formula precisely.)
    • Combine the 2 in a wide mouthed airtight jar. Leave headroom in the jar, at least 1/3 of the space above the liquid should stay empty for circulation. (Evaporation and condensation). 1/2 is closer to ideal.
    • Store in a relatively warm place.
    • Shake at least once daily.
    • After 4 to 6 moon cycles, When the menstruum is no longer darkening and the material no longer lightens in colour-
    • Filter your tincture through a fine filtering medium. This could be as simple as pouring it through an unbleached paper coffee filter and the funnel-shaped holder these filters are invariably built for.
    • When all the material, including solids have departed the maceration vessel and the last drips have exited the fiter-
    • Fold over the sides of the paper filter to cover the wet material and press down upon them with the back of a clean spoon or utensil till no more liquid drips down. Take care to press gently but firmly and avoid tearing the wet paper which could allow solids into your already filtered tincture.
    • Leave your jar to sit undisturbed for a few days so fine particles can settle to the bottom.
    •  You can either-Syphon or Pour off the clear liquid and store it in an airtight bottle.
    • Keep in a cool dark place. This will keep for many years and even age and develop in subtleties of scent as time goes by. As it does..
    •   On your vessel of finished tincture, or in your workbook/formulary, (or both), mark down the date your tincture was made and any other particulars pertinent to the tincture, Moon phase,  planetary associations and considerations, how long it sat macerating, ratio of alcohol to castor, where the castors were from, etc.. Don’t leave anything to memory. Take clear notes!!

Castoreum. Tincture of Castor sacs
Castoreum. Tincture of Castor sacs

I personally often skip the filtering process and when the tincture is ready simply let the solids sink to the bottom. When I need some tincture, I gently draw it off the top of the menstruum without disturbing the sediment. This method gives me a clear tincture and allows the material to continue maturing with the menstruum. This may make no difference at all to the finished product, but I enjoy the thought of it continuing to age, develop, and impart itself to the liquid over the years. If I have no pressing need to separate the mark from the menstruum, I usually won’t. Perhaps I suffer from a bit of laziness, or maybe it reflects a subliminal hope that I too will continue to age, mature and develop gracefully with time…

Castor sacs Grade1 aged 1year+, coarsley diced for tincture
Castor sacs Grade #1 aged 1 year+, coarsley diced for further drying and a tincture

Dried Beaver Castor lends itself well to oil based perfumes, and will infuse Jojoba oil with its scent for use in a non-alcoholic perfume. Instructions are identical to those above, just replace the alcohol with an enduring oil such as Jojoba which has a very long shelf life and little odor of its own.

There is a growing number of suppliers online that cater to a growing community of natural perfumers, aromatherapists, apothecaries and small independent perfume houses. Most households have a few favourite essential oils in their medicine cabinets.The market for essential oils and natural fragrance materials is booming. With this growth in the industry, one unfortunately also finds an increase in adulterants and sub-standard products.  Fixed oils are the usual adulterants to essential oils and can be exposed by their reluctance to evaporate from blotting paper, leaving behind an oily residue.  Over time, I have also sniffed some appalling absolutes of both Castor and Civet that obviously contain little if any of these precious materials.

That being said, there is also material of excellent quality to be found, and some very conscientious, usually small scale producers of perfume ingredients. One needs to learn, and develop a sense of discernment which will only come with time and experience.  As a general rule, if the price seems too good to be true, it usually is.

More often than not, paying more for a good quality product is immeasurably better than getting the cheapest essential oil we can find and ending up tainting the quality of our own product with an inferior or adulterated essential oil, absolute or tincture. Bearing this in mind, it is equally true that some larger companies that loudly tout their essential oils as “special”, or “Therapeutic Quality”‘, while charging exorbitant above-market prices for them are often equally guilty of robbery and fraud.

Working with artisan distillers and smaller companies allows us to build a sense of trust and a relationship with the supplier/distiller that can only add to our experience, enhance our ability to discern between excellent and poor quality while making the world a slightly better place. We all need to support the little guys if we want to see a change in our world and break away from impersonal and faceless corporations whom we rightly blame for many of the ills and injustices in our world. We must also keep in mind they are there by our own choice, fulfilling our needs and unless we make different choices, seek to fulfill different needs, little in the world will change.

So, when you find a supplier, merchant, artisan or craftsperson you trust, make sure to show your appreciation, and support them any way you can. The world will not change for the better without them.

And remember,

Always take clear notes!!!

Your future self will thank you.


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

Civet Perfume Tincture 2014

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

Fire in the lab
Fire in the lab

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

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

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

White Spruce essential oil

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

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

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

Harvesting Spruce sap
Harvesting Spruce sap

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

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

The tincture of Civet

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

Civet Perfume Tincture 2014
Mmmmm  Civet Perfume Tincture 2014

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

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

I’m a very lucky guy.


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Wild Ginger, Flavorful, Fragrant Northern Treasure

Wild-Ginger-Ontario- Hidden medicine and gourmet spice14-06-2013-

Wild Ginger- Asarum Canadense

Not many people are familiar with Wild Ginger.
It is one of those unique, well hidden treasures of the deep woods that some Canadians or Northeastern Americans might come across, but most would not recognize. This may be a good thing. I believe it is on the protected list in Maine as a threatened plant, and I wouldn’t want to see a trend.

Wild Ginger, HiddenTreasure of our Northern Woods
Wild Ginger, Asarum Canadense.  Hidden treasure of our Northern Woods. Used in the Medicinal, Culinary and  Fragrant “Arts”. Photo courtesy of Chris S. Packard

Shade loving and often found on north facing slopes under mixed hardwoods, It clings to humus, wends around rocks, clutching at the surface of the soil and more often than not does a good job stopping soil erosion.

Sleeping Wild Ginger, Asarum Canadense Ancaster Ontatio. Like the rest of us, patiently waiting for Spring. April 2013
Sleeping Wild Ginger Ancaster Ontatio. Like the rest of us, patiently waiting for Spring. April 2013

I would put it in a similar category of useful and highly valuable native plants as our Lady Slipper Orchid , which is almost extinct from encroachment of  roads and cities and from over-harvesting.

Wild Ginger
Wild Ginger (Photo credit: BlueRidgeKitties)

Beautiful large green heart-shaped leaves glow & glimmer with an almost iridescent depth. In the spring they shyly hide beautiful purplish flowers, making them almost invisible. As if they were doing everything they could to not be found or recognized, to hide themselves from prying eyes and greedy hands. Leaves are similar in size, shape, colour and height to the Coltsfoot that grows almost everywhere here. Making it even harder to make a first acquaintance. It took me almost 2  years of false starts,  impulsive roadside pullovers, dashes across  fields, into woods, across streams, being so sure I had, finally, found it, …… and each time, catching myself a little sooner,  my initial excitement tempered with a little more skepticism, as I sought out the telltale’s of those impostors,  Coltsfoot and Wild Violets, blatantly impersonating Wild Ginger. Finally, I assume because the time was right, I was granted a personal audience. Deep in the woods, one on one, while hunting wild Mushrooms. I wasn’t even looking for it at the time!! 

 It’s Latin name is Asarum Canadense. Distinguishing it from its European cousin Asarum Europeaum, which has a little to no aroma and a general resemblance only on the surface. I believe the European version is in general toxic and medicinally acts as an  emetic and Cathartic so beware. Also an abortifacient if I am not mistaken. Though it makes a pretty good shade loving ground cover in Northern climates if anyone.

A dense colony of European wild ginger (Asarum...
A dense colony of European wild ginger (Asarum europaeum) at the Botanical Gardens in Münster, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ahhhh Wild Ginger what can I say? You really have to smell it, taste it to know what I’m talking about. Scientifically it does not belong to the ginger family at all, But once you meet it you’ll know immediately why it got its name. Not quite as “hot” as Asian Ginger, but more than makes up for bite in its complex spicy flavour. It has an aroma and taste that gives it extensive possibilities in an infinite number of dishes

In the field of Natural Perfumery, its essential oil is exquisite! There’s nothing like it. I use it  in perfumes, colognes, aftershaves and room sprays. Basically wherever I can. It blends well with Citrus, Woody and Balsamic essential oils, made easily into a  perfume tincture.  It has a high percent of volatile oils so it is worth the effort of distilling the essential oil, and I would love to extract a resinoid or concrete someday soon. I have a feeling it would add even more potential to its use in perfumery.

    An interesting characteristic, is that when steam distilling the essential oil of Wild Ginger, the oil comes over a beautiful Emerald green, but over the course of a few weeks it changes permanently to a rich Amber colour. I know of no other essential oils that behave this way.

My first Distillation of Wild Ginger essential oil, (2004?)
My first Distillation of Wild Ginger essential oil, (2004?). Gorgeous Green, after a few weeks mellows to a rich Amber colour. Just one more thing that makes it unique.

As a tea, the ground rhizomes  are delicious, help ease a sore throat, mix well with other stimulating and spicy tea herbs, fruit or Citrus peels. It is warming and rejuvenating, lovely in the winter and like regular Ginger it encourages good digestion and discourages flatulence. Native North American tribes have historically used it for medicine and ceremony. In the summer I add it to iced tea and Lemonade. As a base for an alcoholic or non-alcoholic brewed Ginger Ale or beer, there is nothing like it!

Wild Ginger complements rice dishes, wild mushrooms, (and regular ones), fowl, Venison, Beef, Lamb, Chicken etc., etc., anything really!! Roasts and stir frys, Casseroles and pasta dishes. Sauces and Salad Dressings. Coarsely grind some  with Mortar and Pestle and throw it in a pot of rice. It will transform it. Each little piece will turn into a flavorful chewy delicious tidbit by the time your rice is cooked, adding not only fragrance and flavor but a unique texture to your rice pot. Though I would not suggest completely replacing Ginger in the kitchen with Wild Ginger*, it creates delightful results anywhere regular Ginger is called for.

Candies, cakes, cookies and confections are a very exiting area to explore with Wild Ginger.  The rhizomes make a wicked candied treat when boiled in sugar-water, then rolled in sugar, keeping unrefrigerated till it is gone, (which I promise you is never long), and the fragrant syrup from this process is perfect as a pancake or ice cream Syrup. If this Candied Wild Ginger is dipped in chocolate, I know of no other home-made confection that could compare. I add ground wild Ginger to fruit and herbal wines, Fruit cocktails and salads. I Have used it as a flavour component in a distilled liqueur, in Elderberry and Dandelion wines. There might be culinary applications it is not suited to at least experiment with. But honestly, I can’t think of even one! I usually add about 1 1/2 times more Wild Ginger to a recipe than regular dried Ginger.

A treat for the senses, Wild Ginger, Asarum Canadenses offers infinite delights in the kitchen and Perfume studio.
A treat for the senses, Wild Ginger, Asarum Canadenses offers infinite possibilities and delights in the kitchen.

If the dried rhizomes are properly stored, whole, not ground, they can keep for up to 8  years without losing their fragrance and potency. (as has been my experience). When Wild Ginger is ground and properly stored, three years is about the length of time before the flavor starts fading. I dare anyone that reads this to keep Wild Ginger in any amount till such time as the fragrance fades!! If you have it, you will use it till it is all gone!

One of my "secret" plots of Wild Ginger is under the cover of this gorgeous fall scene. Another reason fall harvesting is different than Spring.
One of my “secret” plots of Wild Ginger is under the cover of this gorgeous fall scene. Another reason fall harvesting is different than Spring. I can almost smell it!

For the past 14 years I have taken care of some plots of Wild Ginger growing “untended” in our area. (Locations I keep secret and share with only a handful of trusted friends). I harvest yearly in the fall and sometimes in the spring, experiencing the subtle differences each season lends it as I rotate between plots. After much trial and error I have come up with a couple of good harvesting methods that strike a balance between bringing home a bountiful harvest, and leaving behind happy thriving plants. This allows me to harvest every other year or so, and come back to vibrant vigorous growth that shows barely a sign of my presence. A very satisfying feeling. Win win, like good business we all benefit and do well from our relationship. Give and take. Honesty. A happy relationship. 

Bone Harvesting tool for Wild Ginger
Bone Harvesting tool made specifically for Wild Ginger. With a long, very sharp edge, it slides between rhizome and soil, cleanly and quickly slicing it from rootlets. Painless, smooth, and somehow not as obtrusive or discordant as a steel tool. The angled handle and sharpened tip make the design even more functional. It is a joy to work with.

There are many myths, anthropological, cultural and hard to prove theories about not using “Cold Steel” to harvest plants. whether it disturbs the plants energy, or the energies that are exterior to the plant. Mostly theories that are very difficult to prove even with advanced tools. Some things we just have to study or try for ourselves or we will never find out what is fact, what is fiction, what works and what doesn’t.

 I must admit, using bone tools feels like I am working from the inside out, if that makes any sense. As if I am a part of the plant or process, not intruding, disrupting, invading.  Feels more like sharing than taking. Sometimes I can only tell if something really works by how it “feels” to me, or by the results I get, like using Astrodynamics and Astrology to work in harmony with the plants. (As I do with Wild Ginger as well). The resulting products look, smell, and work better, last longer than the mass harvested and processed products I gauge them against. The whole process, in all it’s parts, just “feels” right, so that’s what I do. I also keep a thumbnail or two, extra long, from late Spring into Late fall, specifically for harvesting semi soft stems of flowers and medicinal plants. It’s just what works for me. No one else is obligated to follow suit.

Wild Ginger, Fall 2012 harvest hanging from rafters for essential oil medicinal and culinary applications.
Wild Ginger, Fall 2012 harvest hanging from rafters curing.

I finally took down a few kilograms of fall 2012 harvest Wild Ginger that has hung from my rafters since the fall. I will distill a few Kilograms into essential oil this week, and keep the rest to sell locally and in my online shop.  If anyone is interested in making the acquaintance of my fragrant friend. I’d be happy to grind some up for you, or ship you whole   pieces.

Fall harvest of 2012 is cured, it always seems to mellow in the loveliest way when I make myself wait at least till spring to bring it down and use it

It is ready now to use for all the above mentioned purposes and pleasures, and I will have it set up for sale in my web-store at  once I get this blog posted and have a break! Here is a link to the Apothecary’s garden shop, Have a look. If you like you can order some for yourself and try it in your own dishes, and please let me know what you think.

Wild Ginger 2012 Harvest. Whole, ground and in pieces. Fresh, fragrant and flavorful, waiting to inspire and share itself.
Wild Ginger 2012 Harvest. Whole, ground and in pieces. Fresh, fragrant and flavorful, waiting to inspire and be shared.

I will post some of my favourite Wild Ginger recipes on my Recipe Page, but please be patient, it may take me a few days to get that organized. So check back if you don’t find anything new. Everything seems to take time!!!

* Wild Ginger belongs to a very large family of plants found around the world. Some of its distant relatives, especially in northern Asia have been found to contain amounts of aristolochic acid which is a carcinogen. As far as I know our Asarum species does not contain these acids in any but trace amounts, if at all. I have not been able to find any information or studies done specifically on our Wild Ginger in this regard, but I do suggest not replacing your use of Ginger completely with Wild Ginger. Everything in moderation.  And educate yourself… Here is a link to the Wikipedia site for Asarum Canadense, if anyone would like to edify themselves further.



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Magical Mythical Marvelous Myrrh


Natures perfect gift for Oral care & first aid   

Heartache or toothache, which is the worst?  I still don’t have an answer for that one. At least for a toothache there is an obvious  and effective way to address the source of the pain. Winter is the time I experience the most discomfort and pain with teeth and gums. (And heartache :-(. ), If something is going to go wrong in my mouth, it will, without a doubt, go wrong during the winter months.

The one consistent help and comfort has been the oleo-resin from Commiphora Myrrha.  Myrrh. It is the only thing that has given me a naturally sourced reprieve from  pain and misery of toothache, sore, infected or inflamed gums and loose teeth. Over the years I have found that the essential oil and tincture of Myrrh have done some amazing things for my teeth. (I have had many problems with them). I have had teeth that were so loose I was sure they would simply fall out within hours. Though it seemed obvious it was too late to reverse the damage, a couple of days of diligently swooshing with the salt water Myrrh mix, tightened them back up and saved them for a few more years.

English: Somali man collecting incense
English: Somali man collecting incense (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Add 1 or 2 ML. of tincture of Myrrh to a salt water “gargle”, (1/4 teaspoon salt  to 1 cup of warm water). Swoosh in mouth over gums and teeth as many times as you can or need  per day.  It works like a charm.

In the past I used essential oil of Myrrh for this purpose, smearing the bitter tar on my teeth and gums, or trying to infuse what I could of the thick essential oil into the water. It worked, however I have found that using the alcohol/water tincture in salt water greatly accelerates the process. I am continually surprised how quickly it brings my teeth and gums back to normal, reducing swelling, pain and discomfort.  Adding tincture to the water immediately creates an emulsion and turns the water white.This is a sign you got it right. (See below)Fresh Myrrh Resin Chunks

Fresh Myrrh Resin Chunks, essential oil and emulsion of Myrrh tincture with salt water.

Also, it doesn’t hurt if you swallow some. The bitter principal in Myrrh is good for you. Especially considering how in our western diet we avoid the bitter principal and flavour as much as possible, and we overdo it with the sweet instead. Some attribute many of our western ills to this imbalance in our diets. Bitter flavours are usually associated with stimulating and toning Liver, spleen or gall bladder.

There is simply nothing as effective for healing oral distress than Myrrh. Canker sores, spongy gums, sore, inflamed, infected gums, toothache, (Make sure to get it looked at by a dentist!), Gingivitis, bad breath, loose teeth, sore throat, post extraction swelling and pain, Denture discomfort, irritation and soreness of any kind.  A short video tutorial….

The name Myrrh is rooted in The Aramaic word for bitter. Mar, Mor, Myrrh. Some associate the name Mary, Miriam, Mariam to meaning the bitter of the sea, froth of the sea?(Sometimes associated with the Goddess Astarte, Ashtoreth).

Foliage of myrrh (Commiphora sp.)
Foliage of myrrh (Commiphora sp.) (Photo credit: Joel Abroad)

Either way a feminine principle which is appropriate since Myrrh is said to be ruled astrologically by the Moon. ( Frankincense by the Sun). There are many more valuable medicinal and spiritual/energetic attributes to Myrrh, but I will leave those for another post.

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Yang to Yin, the Shift

October 13 dawn, Fall is still falling, and notably I feel an internal shift unfolding.
From planting, working outdoors, harvesting, to indoor, laboratory work, insight and intuition, subtle processes and study.
Perfume is on my mind again. All the raw materials I collected, purchased, researched during the year are now ready to use. Tinctures of Ambergris, honey bee hive, angora musk, Beaver Castoreum. Extracts of Muskrat musks all bottled and on the shelf ready to dance together, marry in polyamourus combinations choreographed by intuition, memories current and Karmic, vision and inspiration. When I think of it it seems daunting!! But I trust the natural process that I can already feel creeping into my perception.
Time for the Alchemical processes to rise and be followed, reveal themselves.
Alchemy. Many say the root of the word is from Arabic, “Al Chem”, The black earth. But lately I have wondered if it is not rather “From the black, or dark of the year”
For these mysteries, we as a civilization have explored, and recorded in our collective subconscious, seem to call in the dark of the year while we huddle around our fires and furnaces,while the daylight diminishes and the nights get longer. When we naturally withdraw.
Much as the dark of the moon, the new moon, seems to bring the darker feelings and fears we would rather not wear on our sleeves to prominence, so does this yearly decline into darkness bring us closer to the deeper mysteries and memories that are antithetical to our busy bright 9 to 5 extroverted bustling, building and restructuring of reality to our wills.
Stillness, reflected in that muted quiet a blanket of snow forces upon us. Leaves and signs of life stripped from trees, rotting on the ground to decompose, nourish and sustain next springs leap to life. The minor cycle, decay and death that winter brings, a reflection and microcosm of larger and longer cycles of birth, life and death in which we do our best in the short time allotted us and make our unique mark, our one chicken scratch among billions.
A little morbid? But each part of a cycle different from the others. If it were not so there would be no cycles, no change, no growth, nor even birth or death. Without hills there could be no valleys. And this is the nature of Nature.
This is what we have been given to work with. As above, so below some philosophers have said.
Perhaps there is a part of us that is not from here, timeless, unaffected by birth, death or any other boundaries and laws of this world, but in the tangible reality we do exist in and perceive, we are just as much a part of this world, just as affected as any other physical being in this world.
So,,, Alchemy,, for me it is a rising within of the subtle light when the brightness and warmth outside have receded. Perhaps it is simply more visible when the brightness of the external Sun has diminished. Like the Hermit card in Tarot holding his lantern on the mountaintop and illuminating the path for those who would ascend.
Transformation, transmutation, sublimation and the other “ations” that draw us higher up the intangible mountain within us.
If reality is perception as some folk claim, then the dark of the year is a great time to explore perception, climb the heights for a better and more complete view of the terrain below where we plod along worrying about what lies beyond each turn in our path.