As some of you know, I will be presenting the keynote speech and conducting a workshop at the Viridis Genii symposium beginning of June in Portland Oregon.
The premise of this gathering is dear to my heart and indicative of a growing Western culture that is actively weaving spirit and the sacred back into our relationship with nature.
Capitalism and industrialisation have brought us many gifts, but the price we have paid for our progress is a disconnection from nature and spirit. We wake each morning to a world focused on material goods, devoid of content, meaning, ethics or spirit. We look at our negative impact on the world, how we treat our food animals and forests, we see increasing global environmental degradation, loss of species, rampant new diseases and we wonder what we as individuals can do to change this.
There are facets of nature that we cannot understand through study or external sources. They represent knowledge that is esoteric, transmitted directly, purely experiential and deeply subjective. I believe the answers to our current disconnectedness are found here through deep, intimate and individual reconnecting with Nature. A path that is available to us all. Anytime. Anywhere.
Carefully veiled around us, is a world of ancestral knowledge and timeless wisdom. Within it we find ancient mysteries, lost sciences and arts, dormant magic and technology both forgotten and yet to be discovered. It is ours to draw from if we so choose.
One need not be a mystic, mage or super-spiritual person to dip into this well of mysteries, gifts and insights, to be initiated into a deeper understanding of nature, the cosmos and our place in it. There are no titles or certificates needed or given, no special invitations or secret handshakes. Entheogens are not mandatory and there is no age requirement. Come, open and willing as you are. Bring your passion. Nature turns no one away.
What awaits us on this path as plant people, herbalists, healers, apothecaries, alchemists, wizards, witches, wildcrafters and more, is a broadened understanding of cosmic and planetary intelligence and life, a sense of place and stewardship, a connectedness to nature and humanity as a whole and an ability to not only hear and understand the language of nature, plants and animals, but to communicate and forge mutually respectful relationships. Here we directly experience shamanism, animism, magic, mysticism and the healing arts of our collective ethnocultural pasts. Here we discover stewardship of our future.
When we connect deeply and intimately with nature and its plants, animals and minerals, align ourselves with its cycles and rhythms, we enter into the presence of the “other”, the genius, the intelligence, the spirit, that which speaks directly to us. With us. This is the Viridis Genii, the Spirit of the green, and we learn her secrets through Gnosis, experiential knowledge- Green Gnosis. She invites us each into deep intimacy with her in her world and her temple of mysteries, if we but ask.
Though radically personal and subjective, there is a commonality of experience that lends us a shared understanding and language. That shared language creates a community. A growing community . This growth could be deemed a movement. This movement can be discerned in other fields and human endeavours.
I believe when viewed from afar, this slow radical change in perception through individual personal experience can be seen as an evolution on a global scale.
The Viridis Genii Symposium is a call, a beacon to any and all who have experienced or seek to experience the mysteries, magic and medicine of nature beyond its physical form. All who have ever felt there was more in the forest than meets the eye.
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.
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?
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.
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send you updates on events, resins and other treasures as they happen along the way.
B. Neglecta-(White and black varieties)
C. Holtziana-(Hagar-Opoponax) Kenya
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 email@example.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!!
It is very easy to distill the essential oils from our local North American Pine, Spruce and Fir tree saps ourselves, but, to fully capture the exquisite qualities this type of small-scale distillation can offer us, a different approach and perspective is called for. Everything leading up to the distillation is as important to the quality of our oils as the physical process of distillation. The approach is simple.
We have to shift our perspective from being product oriented to relationship oriented. From getting to giving, and change our role of consumers to that of stewards. We each exist in a relationship with nature, the planet, and much more than is visible to the eye. We are part of a vast dynamic living matrix linking and coordinating all life in its many forms, from beyond the planets and stars to the very atoms within all things. Severed from it but for a moment we would cease to exist. Literally. I know, it’s a big statement to open with, but for now, keep an open mind, and I will I will try to keep this to one post of readable length, and address these concepts in upcoming posts.
We have put a lot of stress on the planet’s systems the past few hundred years. We have excelled at taking and making, and most definitely gained a lot. We have progressed and evolved as a civilization. As we see the negative impact on the health of the planet and our bodies, we struggle to understand what we are doing wrong. Skyrocketing cancers and other diseases. What are we missing? How can we do this differently so nature thrives along with us? Lucky for us Nature sees us as part of her, not the enemy, or we would have been disposed of and reabsorbed into the planet a long time ago. Dominant species or not, our behaviour has been abhorrent towards each other and the planet. Dominant Shmominant. We have intellectualized our role here, separating ourselves from nature as beings superior to all others. Crowned ourselves kings of the planet without assuming the responsibilities of rulership.
Here are some simple methods of extracting essential oils from conifers
Though more sophisticated methods areinvented daily, let’s hope, ethics and sustainability are an important part of them.
Needles, smaller branches and twigs can be mindfully trimmed, sent through a “mulcher”, then hydro/steam distilled. This is done easily in a home-made pot still. (See the post on distilling Frankincense). The chopped material will float on the water in the pot, avoiding the danger of material burning on the bottom. This allows us to distill the essential oils of evergreens that do not exude their saps such as White Cedar and the Junipers. They can also be set atop the boiling still pot and steam distilled.
The trees can be tapped, and the essential oils distilled from their sap in a process similar to the preparation of Maple syrup. (Tapping spiles can be purchased, (Stainless steel), or made from Elder branches as these shown below). If I had a choice between a cold metal tube, or a body temperature tube made of the same material as my body, inserted into me, I know which I would choose.
In the turpentine industry, Pine bark is cut, stripped or slashed, using methods similar to the extraction methods of Frankincense and Myrrh trees. The ensuing exudate of oleoresin, (essential oils and resins), collected and processed in copper stills. The vapours from the heated oleoresins are condensed for turpentine and essential oils, while the leftover resin is drained and filtered to make the rosin we use on the bows of violins and other stringed instruments, and other applications where increased friction and contact is needed. With a little love and ingenuity, you can make your own beautiful crystal clear amber Rosin from Pine, Spruce or Fir saps. You can get creative and cast this rosin in any shape you can envision. It makes a lovely incense even after separation from its essential oils.
Rosin, Make your own high quality Rosin from the saps of trees that grow around you
By far the simplest and gentlest method for distilling essential oils from local conifers, especially if one lives in the city, is from the sap already present from the trimming of lower branches. This requires no further damage to the trees, while giving us the opportunity to produce our own exquisite essential oils and rosins for perfume, medicine and many other products.
Even in the middle of the city, you will find a connection to the trees that grow in your sphere. I would say you already have a relationship with them whether you recognize it or not. To notice a tree, acknowledges the existence of a relationship between you. Life is full of subtle truths. The quality of that relationship is mostly in your hands. The quality of the products you make with the trees in your sphere is completely in your hands. A little piece of the planet’s well-being is yours to watch over and nurture. These are the seeds of stewardship.
Today some large-scale operations distill essential oils from pulp, sawdust and foliage left over from milling and processing trees for lumber and paper industries. The quality of the essential oils produced by these large industries can not compare to those you can distill in small quantities on your own. The chemical and fragrance industry is vast, and many of these factory produced essential oils, especially those distilled from coniferous trees are used as starting materials for other chemicals and essential oils utilized in our everyday products.
On the bright side, Small scale “Artisan” Distillers of essential oils, made from hand collected plant materials, by craftspeople that have personal and intimate relationships with their local flora, people who practice ethical and sustainable methods due to their philosophies and convictions, are becoming recognized in commerce. They are increasingly in demand by “bespoke” and small-scale perfumers, naturopaths and alternative healers around the world. This, I believe, is how change on a global scale is slowly unfolding.
We need these small-scale producers and artisans in as many fields as possible, and we need to support them whenever, wherever and however possible. They represent a new paradigm and model of how we can live in harmony and balance with the planet instead of our current destructive model of impersonal mass production which is taking a growing toll on our health and wellbeing , and that of the planet.
Small scale farmers, conscientious and ethical animal husbandry operations, local dairy and artisan cheese producers, private-label vineyards and cottage industries, ethical wildcrafting homesteads and collectives, and small-scale distillers, all allow this type of rich, intimate, respectful relationship with nature to flourish. Supporting them enriches our communities, nurtures an ethical and sustainable relationship with the planet and provides us with high quality products that help reintegrate us on an individual and societal level with nature. They are the vanguard of change and evolution.
In the production of essential oils, I believe this is the only practical way to keep the integrity of the fresh plant, the nuances and depth, their healing potential, and the metaphorical “heartbeat” of the plant intact through the process. Something not achievable on an “Industrial scale”. Though each batch may differ slightly in complexities of fragrance, I believe these small distillations using planet friendly and non destructive practices, built on intimate personal relationships with nature, from the tapped or exposed saps of the trees, yield perfume and therapeutic ingredients of the highest quality
Distilling essential oils from tree sap. An opportunity for Stewardship.
As mentioned above there are 3 materials we can extract essential oils from in a non destructive and responsible way.
Needles and twigs,
Sap from tapping the trunks
Sap collected from the exterior of the trees.
I am going to focus on the external sap we can collect. If there is interest, leave a comment below, I will write about the other methods in future posts.
One obvious difference is that we are working with a very specific product the tree has produced in response to an injury. One can safely assume this is not the regular sap that flows within the tree due to the unique role of these self-produced “Bandages”. These oleoresins are exuded by the tree as a barrier against opportunistic organisms and microorganisms, and to heal an injury to itself. Their composition differs from the essential oils distilled from the tapped tree and from the needles. They are higher in resins, and in my opinion, the essential oils they yield, are richer and more complex in fragrance.
For this reason, it is thought, that these saps and their essential oils have a greater healing potential, and are especially suited to managing skin ailments, aging skin, wrinkles and scarring. Healing our own “bark”. The affinity is obvious. The Pinenes in these saps are considered anti inflammatory and broad spectrum antibiotics. They open bronchial passages, stimulate surface blood flow, stimulate brain function and memory. These are only a few of the therapeutic properties and beneficial traits they offer us.
Each and every species of Pine, Spruce and Fir has its own unique chemical compounds, characteristics and fragrance
Learn to differentiate between the different species and types of trees. Always collect and distill Pine, Spruce and Fir sap separately. If you like, you can start by collecting unidentified Pine, Spruce and Fir saps, and distill a more generic essential oil from each tree type, until you can discern between them. For most medicinal purposes this works well. If you invest some time in study, you will learn to tell the difference between the various species in each of these families. Your relationships with the trees will grow and deepen, leading you to consistent and higher quality essential oils. This is a craft and an art that calls for mastery.
A simple way to tell the difference between the three families, is that pine needles are “almost always” multiple, and are joined at the base in a sheath. Spruce and Fir needles are attached to the branch individually, a Spruce needle will roll easily between thumb and forefinger, while a Fir needle is flat and will not roll. Spruce needles are often more rigid and have sharp skin penetrating tips, Fir needles are softer. Spruce cones grow downward while Fir, as far as I know has upward growing cones that do not last the whole season. Someone once said “Loving someone is knowing them”. It is so with Nature, you will find that love and knowledge will grow hand in hand.
We raise our children detached from Nature. Shamans, elders, Priests and priestesses, medicine men and women, those who have traditionally kept the spirit and connection with nature alive in our communities, have lost their roles in modern society. It is up to us to address this void. There is no one else. Our natural “resources” are much more than just chemical compounds we can take and process into useful products, there is a unique life force within each plant, animal and mineral woven through the universe. Can we keep this energetic vitality alive from harvest to finished product?
Sustainable and Ethical Harvesting or Wildcrafting
The laws of Nature, Physics and Karma work flawlessly, whether we can see them or not. For every action there is a reaction, no energy invested ever disappears, and we reap what we sow. There is an intelligence of Nature that exists everywhere around us. Just because we have not yet invented the instruments to measure it, does not mean it does not exist or does not react to every action we impose upon it. More than this, we are innately and intimately involved in this dance, as individuals and societies. The intelligence of trees, and those intelligences that take care of our trees and woods and every other individual species in plant, animal and mineral world exist to my satisfaction. We too are part of this living tapestry, regardless of all attempts to intellectualize our superiority, and see ourselves as separate from the rest of life on the planet.
Do no harm, should be in the forefront of our minds whatever we occupy ourselves with. Especially with Nature. And if you can help out natures citizens while you are out in the woods, it is important you do so.There is no better use or service for our so-called “superior intellects”.
The beginning of all endeavours starts with our intent. What is your vision?
The laws of nature and physics dictate you will receive as you give.
As in many aboriginal traditions we communicate our intent, listen carefully, and give before we take.
Nature isn’t picky about what you give. Lucky for us She is not hung up on material things.
Learn to listen to Nature and to yourself. Just as in any important relationship.
There are no coincidences. Nurture your relationships.
Secrets are never shouted. They are whispered.
Be quiet and still, and Nature can teach you everything you need to know.
Let it be a devotion.
Deepen your relationships with the plants you engage, develop your own personal ethics, and methods of sustainable and mutually beneficial harvesting in the wild. Engage with the spirit of your harvest, respond to their needs there is much more to be reaped than meets the eye.
On to the harvest
Our Northern American evergreens have been suffering from an infestation of Borers that have decimated huge tracts of our forests. I always carry a long wire with me when I harvest sap. Whenever I see a hole under a patch of sap, I insert the wire to the depth of the hole, and destroy the grub therein. Not a planet saving move on its own, but if we all held the well being of the trees and all nature’s citizens in mind while we were taking what we wanted from them, it would, I believe, make a difference. Not only in the world, but in the products we create from nature.
In the winter the tree is dormant, the cold weather inhibits the growth of organisms and micro organisms that could attack an exposed area of the tree. This is when it is ideal to harvest our sap.
Try not to scrape the sap down to the bare wood. There is plenty for you and the tree.
If you get ahead of me, and try to distill these saps before the next post, please be very careful! They are extremely volatile! Keep vapours away from open flames and perform a hydro or steam distillation. Don’t heat the saps directly!
For part 2 and instructions for making your own pot still and distilling essential oils with it, please see my post, “How to build and use an essential oil still.- http://apothecarysgarden.com/2014/09/20/how-to-build-and-use-an-essential-oil-still/
I could not in good conscience, write a post about distilling from the wild, without first laying down some clear directions for ethical and sustainable wildcrafting. I apologize for the length and any excess meandering. It is obvious where my passion lies. I would feel terrible if I found that someone was hacking at trees after reading this post. Especially with that disturbing photo of turpentine collection….
If you do not have these trees in your area, or if you would like to buy ethically and sustainably harvested saps from someone who is passionately involved with the ethics and sustainability of wildcrafting, I have some beautiful fresh White Pine and Spruce saps for sale in my Etsy store. Click on the photo below or any of the Etsy badges in the sidebar to find out more.
Disclaimer- This post does in no way imply one should harvest from city or private property, or if in the Hamilton/Burlington area, stray from the marked trails on RBG property.
Collecting the last of this seasons Spruce and Pine saps while the weather is cold,
reminds me that there are some perennial questions that come through this blog from the search engines, inquiring how to use local saps for perfume and incense. Now is a perfect time to address these questions before the weather warms up and the busyness begins.
Many of our local North America evergreen saps can be used as incense in exactly the same way as Frankincense and Myrrh, Mastic and Copal oleoresins.
They provide high quality aromatic material for perfume, incense and medicine.
For perfume applications, These oleoresins are distilled via steam or water to extract their essential oils. They yield a high percent of good quality essential oils, and a much greater proportion of essential oil to raw material than when distilling essential oils from the tree’s needles. I will get a post and a video up on this blog in the next couple of weeks showing how to distill your own essential oils from these wonderfully fragrant local tree saps. Promise.
An alcohol tincture can also easily be produced for use as a perfume ingredient. Unlike Frankincense Myrrh and some other traditional fragrant incense resins, these oleoresins contain little or no water-soluble gum. This means a tincture must be made with pure alcohol, without water, as is required in many other tinctures.
This tincture can also be used to impregnate “incense papers”, an ancient and cool type of incense one does not often see.
Alcohol is used as a solvent for our resinous tree saps, then evaporated, to create a resinoid or an absolute for the making of perfumes and incense
As ready to use incense materials, these fragrant saps are burned from fresh or in their aged and crystalized form, they keep for years if stored properly.
These tree saps can be used as incense in all the traditional ways-on a hot coal, an electric incense burner, or used as ingredients when making stick, powder and cone incense, as a stand alone fragrance, or combined with other fragrant materials..
The sawdust from the trees can be used as a base for making cone, stick or powder incense. A material to give the incense form without detracting too much from the fragrance of its smoke.
Most cultures around the world and over the many millennia of man’s existence have burned fragrant materials as offerings to gods, spirit entities and deities. Smoke is widely associated with the element of air and considered an agent of communication, in particular communication between realms such as the physical and spirit realms. Traditionally the smoke of burning incense carries one’s prayers to the spirit realm, cleanse homes physically and energetically, to purify and prepare sacred places and participants in religious ceremonies. This seems a universal and genetically hardwired imperative of human cultures as a whole, regardless of time, space and cultural differences. The use of fragrance and burnt offerings in both our mundane , and our sacred lives, is rooted deeply in our collective consciousness, and is a common thread that binds us all since the beginning of time. Here, in the Americas, our native cultures traditionally use combinations of White Cedar leaf, Sage, Tobacco and Sweet grass among other ingredients, as “Smudging” materials, burned in a variety of ceremonies, and their smoke used to purify, prepare and cleanse the ritual space. Sometimes they are cut, loosely mixed and burnt in a seashell, while a feather is used to fan the smouldering incense and energetically cleanse those attending.
Make your own incense from Spruce, Pine or Fir sap
While all these materials can be burned on their own, they can also be combined as ingredients in different types of solid incense. This is a variation of a recipe I make with children during “Oceans of Potions” both at Under the Willows and in my studio. These incense balls can be pressed into different shapes, such as pea sized balls, sticks, discs, cubes or cones. When dried, and if stored in tightly closed tins, they will keep for decades. With the addition of “Punk” wood, and/or Saltpeter to the recipe, they could be made to burn on their own, without needing an electric incense burner or charcoal, but for now I will share this simple and easy to make recipe for incense pellets.
A RECIPE for “SMUDGE BALLS” and INCENSE PELLETS
A simple compound incense recipe using local tree saps and other fragrant materials.
Dry fragrant materials. to make “Smudge Balls” one would use the same materials found in native North American smudge mixes such as, dried Prairie Sage, Tobacco, White Cedar leaves, Sweet grass, etc. This will smell and function like a traditional native smudge.
To make a more “Oriental style of incense, one would forgo the above 4 dry materials, and incorporate materials such as the resins of different types of Frankincense, Myrrh, Copal, Dragon’s Blood and Mastic, shavings or powders of Sandalwood, Oud, (Aloes wood), any other traditional incense ingredient one desires. I am fond of Saffron for instance.
If you like you can keep it local and add some dried, finely chopped or powdered Lavender flowers, Rosemary or Thyme, or any other fragrant herb that inspires you. You can make an incense that smells quite different by simply using different ingredients. It is up to you.
Powdered natural resin incense such as Frankincense, Myrrh, Copal, or Mastic, or any other material that can be powdered and will burn fragrant. They should be ground at least to the consistency of fine sand in a mortar and pestle. Or if first frozen, a coffee grinder could speed up the process a bit. (See-How to grind Frankincense and Myrrh). If you roll your sticky incense ball in the powder of these resins, it will seal them, keep them from sticking to everything, and will help them harden and cure.
Essential oils of your choice. I find Benzoin a classic fragrance addition to any incense blend and helps hold all your ingredients together, especially if you have inadvertently added too many dry materials for the sap to keep it all together. Essential oils can add great depth and endless fragrance possibilities to your incense blend! You can easily make this same type of incense without the local saps if you like, and replace the Pine, Spruce or Fir saps in the recipe with thick, sticky Benzoin essential oil for a very different fragrance.
Essential oils can be added at the beginning of the process to the semi liquid saps, or worked in to the semi-firm product after the chopped dry material has been added. Note that not all fragrant materials smell good when they are burned! Experiment first, and if you are happy with how an ingredient smells when it is “smoking”, good chance it will add to your mix, not detract from it.
You will need a bowl large enough to easily mix all your ingredients. A cookie sheet to lay out your incense balls to dry, and a mortar and pestle to powder your resins or dry plant materials if needed..
Clean your fresh sap from twigs and other foreign materials, place saps,(s), in a bowl, if it is too thick to work with, you can warm it up a bit and this should make it more liquid and pliable. If you can place the bowl with the sap in a larger bowl filled halfway with hot water, (or use a double boiler as shown in this recipe for solid mustache wax), this is the safest way to make your sap more pliable.
DO NOT heat your sap in a microwave oven! Though it is possible, with great care to do this, these saps are EXTREMELY flammable, and if left unsupervised even briefly in a working microwave, could cause a serious fire or explosion! Best to do things safe and slow.
Coarsely grind, or finely chop the fragrant materials you plan to use. Use scissors to finely chop fibrous stems and grasses. Keep them separate in piles or their own containers.
You will need a least one fragrant material that is ground to a fine powder to serve as your final coating and drying material. Make sure you have kept enough of it till the very end of the process, enough of it to coat all your incense pellets. If you want to stick to local materials and reproduce the fragrance of “Smudging” as closely as possible,Tobacco leaf powders very easily and will work well, but anything else will do just fine.
Start adding your dry fragrant incense materials to the sap. You can knead it all together with the back of a spoon or some other tool to keep your hands clean.
If you pre-mix all your dry powdered ingredients, you will spend less time kneading your incense to achieve a homogenous distribution of aromatic materiels within it.
You can clean everything at the end of the process with olive oil, then warm soapy water, but try to wait till you are finished, DO NOT get olive oil mixed into your incense. It does not smell good at all when burned!
If it starts getting too thick and difficult to mix before you have added all the materials you have chosen, you can either put it back on the water bath to warm and soften it, or add some of your essential oils.
When you have added all your incense ingredients and are happy with your formula and consistency, it is time to shape your incense.
Now take your reserved, powdered incense ingredient, and make a pile of it on your cookie sheet. Powdered frankincense or any other oleoresin work well for this, or Tobacco as mentioned above.You can also use any other incense ingredient you have, as long as it is finely powdered.
Pinch off small uniform amounts and form them into whatever shape you like. It could be little balls, (The size of a pea seems to be the ideal quantity for burning in one session, much more than this can often be too much smoke for a small space. Having smaller units of incense allows you to pace the burning and better control the amount of smoke you are generating.
You can shape them into pea sized balls, roll them into sticks no thicker than 1/4″, you could make longer sticks and indent them deeply every 1/4 inch, so when they are dry and hard, small sections can be broken off easily. You can use your imagination, press them out into very thin wafers and press the back of a knife into them to create pie shaped wedges, or roll it thin and slice narrow strips.There are many possibilities.
Lay the shaped incense pieces in the pile of powdered incense material and cover it evenly with the powder so each unit is completely and evenly coated.
As you work the powdered fragrant material into them on he cookie sheet, they will lose their stickiness, get harder and less pliable till they no longer stick to each other or pick up any more powder.
Put them to the side of your cookie sheet and keep your loose powder in one area for rolling and coating the rest of the pieces.
When they are all shaped and coated, check if they have absorbed all the powdered coating already. If so, feel free to sprinkle the rest of the powder on them and let them sit another 1/2 hour to absorb as much as they can.
Spread them out evenly and set the cookie sheet on top of the fridge, or in a warm place with good circulation. I find if you can set them in the sun for a few hours it does the trick quite well.
Within a couple or few hours, they should be firm and dry to the touch and ready to be packaged.
If they are not yet dry and firm, either leave them longer, or set the cookie tray in an oven on the lowest temperature setting with the door cracked open until they are ready. If you have a food dehydrator it might also be an option. I have not tried this method, but it might be ideal for slow even drying with no risk of burning them. (Please leave me a comment below if you have tried this method successfully!).
Only when they have cooled to room temperature can you test their consistency accurately.
At this point you can put them in a container. Store in a relatively cool place. Your incense will keep for many years.
They can be packaged in attractive tins or some other attractive container, and make unique gifts.
If you are harvesting your own saps, please, please be considerate of the trees and of Nature!!For the sake of not wanting to write too long a post, I cut out a section on ethical and sustainable harvesting from nature. I may just add it as a separate post. Until then, please feel free to click on the tag “Wildcrafting” in the sidebar and check out some posts that talk about how to properly harvest from nature. Ethical and sustainable harvesting methods are critical!
I know I do go on about what a bountiful year it is this time round. It is true though. I,m fairly certain I am not the only one to notice that the wild fruit are begging for a bowl or blanket under their branches,and that one literally stumbles over wild Mushrooms to get to them!
I have had a passion for wild mushrooms since the early 80’s. Most of my successful mushroom hunts have been far outside the city. The further from metropolitan Hamilton, the better it has seemed. This year is proving to be an exception.
This year, I can’t harvest wild herbs without encountering wild mushrooms along the way. Not just encountering them, but coming across a surprising variety of fabulous Funghi. 5 or 6 different types of sponge pored Boletes, some edible and delicious, some I have never met. Lovely healing shelf mushrooms galore, Coral mushrooms, puffballs and earth stars. Amanitas and more Amanitas. Besides the story book and fairy tale yellow, red or orange capped and white speckled Amanita Muscaria that has become a symbol of wild mushrooms one should not eat, I have come across quite a few other types of Amanitas that could very well be delectable. Yet knowing the deadly toxicity of some Amanitas, it is simply not worth the risk consuming even a nibble without a thorough and proven examination of mushroom” keys”, discerning differences including spore prints and if possible microscopic analysis of spores.
Though I feel a bit of a loss that so many beautiful specimens will not meet my taste buds, there are some reliable types that abound in quantities that would make the collection worthwhile and provide enough of a harvest to share with others and even save for a snowy winter day.
Chantrelles abound this year in most wooded areas around Hamilton, and should keep coming till the fall in mixed woods. These are easily recognized, do not have many, if any deadly lookalikes, they stay awhile on the forest floor, keep well in the fridge and lend themselves to many dishes. A good line up all round.
Most mushrooms fall into one of 3 cooking categories ,
Firm and lasting like most mushroom types we can purchase fresh at the supermarket.
Too tough to eat, as most shelf mushrooms are.
Though this may seem to eliminate shelf mushrooms from any kind of collection, the opposite is actually the truth. Many shelf mushrooms are full of incredible healing potential. They release their medicinal constituents readily into the hot water of a soup stock or a tea, an alcohol/water tincture, or an extract, often along with a wonderful flavour, and there are not a lot of really poisonous shelf mushrooms. You should still be very careful and make sure you have done a thorough identification of any mushroom before you ingest it or imply someone else should. Or, get the input and guidance of someone who has knowledge and experience you can trust.
Reishi mushrooms, A.K.A. Lingh Zhi, or Ganoderma, ( G. “Lucidum” in the Orient and G. “Tsuga” in our area), are some of the healthiest and most famous medicinal mushrooms that exist in the forest. They have been held in the highest esteem for centuries in the east and their medicinal properties are well researched, (See links above). If you are lucky enough to come across our eastern north American variety which grows only on trees of the Tsuga species, you have found a treasure. This is especially the case if you get to them just as they are fruiting and know them well enough to harvest their tender flesh before they mature into their familiar glossy red-painted, (woody/hard), shape. If you get to them early enough, you will be able to reap their extensive health promoting benefits in a succulent form that has the consistency and taste of tender chicken or pork! Really! It is quite a remarkable and rare delicacy!!
However, that being said, at the time of writing this post, the Reishi mushrooms have already passed that tender delicate stage and are well on their way to declining, having for the most part dispersed their spores. Mushrooms are the fruit of the species and spreading spores is their function and purpose in life. This leaves us with an abundance of Chantrelles that we can collect, cook, pickle and share without worrying too much about poisoning ourselves and others.
Chantrelles are firm enough to pickle. There is no great secret to pickling mushrooms, though it would not be a true pickle via fermentation and lactic acid like cucumbers to pickles and cabbage to sauerkraut, with salt, but more of a marinade in vinegar. The key is to give them long enough of a blanching to kill any organisms that may be present, but not so long to lose their firmness.
Personally, my recipes for Chantrelles are pretty predictable. I tend to explore and experiment with recipes, never repeating a recipe twice, so I am probably not the best person to pass on a really good recipe. However, the number of recipes online is boggling!!,( and I am sure most are great). I would just look up “recipes for Chantrelles” online and pick out the ones that seem most straight forward and appropriate for my needs. I suggest you consider doing the same. I can tell you they are great sauteed, with garlic, butter and white wine, wonderful in or with rice and pasta dishes. They are excellent baked, in a broth or with meat, usually a light or white meat. Chantrelles go well with light to medium ripe cheeses, are great in stuffings and if the mushrooms are fresh and tender, they make a nice addition to salads for their slightly peppery taste and their yellow colour. Before or after marinating!
A marinade with whole Allspice, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper and fresh herbs never lasts long in our house. Chantrelles can be sautéed, added to soups and sauces and pickled or canned. They do not dry well, as they can become tough when dried and slow to regain tenderness with reconstitution in warm water. If dried thoroughly, they can be powdered in a coffee grinder and added to soups and sauces, dressings and kept for years if stored in an airtight container in a relatively cool and dark place.
Pickled mushrooms can keep for a year if canned hot in sterile jars, or for a few weeks if kept in the fridge and not canned. Pickling or canning mushrooms is an ideal way to preserve your harvest especially if you have a variety of mushrooms that you are familiar with, but do not have an abundance of any one kind in particular, or if you have many smaller specimens or broken pieces.
There are many good books and reference guides to identifying and using mushrooms as food and as medicine, both in the digital online world and the physical world. Our children would benefit from an early introduction to this fascinating and mysterious part of nature. Mushrooms are beautiful too!! There is so much more to be learned from mushrooms and so much more that needs to be studied, it will be our children that add that knowledge to our common mind in the near future. Let’s open that door for them, and get them started now.
So happy foraging, there are many more weeks left to find, learn, share and enjoy the bounty of wild mushrooms that awaits us this year all over Ontario. So gird yourselves with baskets and books, kids and cars, and make sure you take advantage of this years gifts from Nature.
And remember,” when in doubt, throw it out” and of course, always take notes,(and photos!), your future self will thank you.
I had to be patient, waiting till it had finished flowering and seeding itself, it seemed the polite, considerate thing to do. No one likes to be disturbed while procreating. So Friday I went out and spent three hours on my hands and knees harvesting fresh wild Ginger for our recipe. Did I mention I turned 59 last Saturday?!! I know it’s just a number, but allow me a little moaning and groaning. I have earned at least that for being in this body for so long. Harvesting, visiting my old friends was a lovely and of course fragrant experience, but after a winter in front of the computer, blogging, I am paying the price the past couple of days. My body aches, my butt hurts, my legs & lower back feel tender. A sudden, and extended sprint of, down on your knees bent over and reaching using both hands to cut and collect roots with the occasional elbow for support, has left me a little tender and sore days later. Thank God for St. John’s Wort Oil.
I harvested about 5 kg per hour or 15 kg of fresh wild Ginger which after drying would be about 4 Kg. Enough for a couple of good shareable batches of confection and syrup, while building up some stock for the extraction of essential oil. I need about 15 Kg. of dry wild ginger to properly charge my essential oil still and do an efficient extraction of this truly amazing and versatile essential oil. I sometimes feel I couldn’t make perfume or mens products without it.
I must admitthe resulting candied recipe from fresh Wild Ginger is a little different. A little more succulent and tender than the same product from dry. They both have the same level of yumminess, taste and fragrance, but the winter version from dried is a tad, well, drier. Chewier. (I may try modifying the recipe a bit and see if I can get it to reconstitute a bit more when cooking.)
Candied Wild Ginger, from dried rhizomes-2013
If you have already identified Asarum Canadense, know where to find some, or have a proven patch of Wild Ginger and have made its acquaintance, then you are almost ready to harvest. If you are new to this and have not yet identified Wild Ginger, then be aware there are some challenges, mostly along the lines of look-alikes . Luckily, in our area, none are harmful, and the worst experience you might have is mounting frustration from being misdirected by Colt’s foot, Wild Violets, or young Garlic Mustard. Don’t be surprised if you do not find it the first year of seeking. It took me a few years till I finally was granted an audience.
So, if you have
a decent photo,
a basic knowledge of where Wild Ginger does and does not grow,
and a functioning olfactory member,( nose), then it is only a matter of time before you find Wild Ginger.
Wild Ginger ONLY grows in the woods and forests, often on slopes, NEVER in the open, or on roadsides, stream banks, fields or deserted waste places. Coltsfoot will grow in all these places and will even penetrate somewhat into the woods. Coltsfoot will be your first imposter and will mislead you as long as you let it. They both grow in shaded areas, though Coltsfoot will tolerate sun, they both grow to about 8 inches in height and have 6-12 inch wide heart-shaped leaves. The similarities end there.
Coltsfoot has a scalloped edge to its leaf, a fine fur or fuzz on stalk and underside, has a stalk bearing multiple yellow compound flowers in very early spring before the leaf comes out, ( why it is also called son before father), and has an odd smell. Not a bad smell, but not fragrant or reminiscent of Ginger in the slightest way.
Wild Ginger has a smooth-edged leaf, smooth on top and bottom, has almost a reflective sheen to it, as if it was embedded with tiny glass beads that shimmered a bit but only at the right angle. It unfurls its leaves in the spring before it flowers a dark purple, often downward facing flower which is completely hidden unless one lifts a leaf and exposes it. And of course, Wild Ginger is intensely and unmistakably fragrant!
When you meet a plant for the first time, it is always courteous to greet it, introduce yourself, leave an offering or gift of some sort. Perhaps to state your intent. Many cultures ask permission to harvest. It is at the very least a relationship. What kind, or how rewarding a relationship it becomes often is up to us. I usually find one patch that is separate from the rest and I place an offering. I introduce myself if it’s a new patch that I never been to, or I simply say hello to an old friend and I usually leave something. It doesn’t matter what you give as long as you give something that has meaning to you. It could be some food it could be some tobacco or a symbolic offering. It could be Money or coins, or even something personal like spit or urine that is applied in a reverent and respectful manner. It’s symbolic of giving and taking, balance and harmony, of your intent. As in life in general, we get what we give. Once the introductions and gift exchange is done, I excluded that spot from harvesting.
One of the most important things about harvesting in the wild, or “Wildcrafting“, is keeping the well-being of the plants in mind, harvesting in a way that will be beneficial to the plants as well as to yourself. We don’t want to leave the patch struggling for years to recuperate from the effects of our harvesting or over harvesting.
For this reason I harvest patches that aren’t too noticeable, will grow in quickly over the course of two or three years and I also try to collect the older roots, the “Nexus” where there is a heavier concentration of older roots and old-growth. This way I collect from a richer area, spend less time harvesting, and facilitate the vigorous growth of younger shoots that will fill in the area quickly. I should point out here, since there have been questions about which part of the plant is used, that I remove all the leaves when I am harvesting, pinching them off with my thumbnail or harvesting tool. The rootlets are not the fragrant or useable part, but since there is so much soil clinging to them, I leave them on till I can wash out all the soil with water. It is the rhizome that is of interest to us.
As I mentioned in my earlier post on wild Ginger I enjoy harvesting with bone tools. I find that using metal for harvesting plants just doesn’t feel right. With my background of sculptor and craftsman, specializing in natural materials, I make my own simple bone harvesting tools. If anyone is interested I can probably provide bone “blanks” to carve or shape your own tools, or a ready to use bone or antler harvesting tool. I should have them displayed in my web-shop by July.
There is an abundance of information available on traditions and methods of harvesting plants in the wild from cultures all over the world. I could and should write a page on the subject because it is simply too much to add here and so very very important, it deserves its own page. Identifying and finding the plants we are looking for is only a small part of the path. In reality it only leads us to the door. What will you do once you enter Natures door? How will you behave? Will you behave as the best a human can be? And what does that mean? Treat others as you would be treated? What kind of relationship will you have with her? What quality of relationship will you have and what quality of products will you be able to make with Natures bounty? Is there a connection between the two? We are shifting away from quantity based agriculture and mass production. There is only one other and opposing path, and that is the path of the individual, not the masses. The path of depth, not breadth, intuition and not one size fits all generalized solutions . We are at the brink of, and being forced over the cliff into a new way of thinking and behaving in the world. Rethinking. Individual responsibility. Yes, well, perhaps a few pages will be needed to address methods and approach to Wildcrafting and our relationship with nature!
There are mixed opinions as far as what planet rules Wild Ginger. Her heart-shaped leaves and delightful fragrance indicate that she is ruled by Venus, her spiciness seems an indication of Mars being her ruler. I lean towards Venus, especially after working with the essential oil of Wild Ginger in perfumery. It adds a beautiful, depth and richness to a perfume. nothing like the sharpness or heat a Martian scent would share. Thus, the hours and days of Venus are when I harvest this fragrant herb.
Astrological Glyphs- Planets and Asteroids Chaldean. Though Planets and their dynamics with each other and our world are one element at the core of Astrodynamics and Plant Alchemy. Each Plant is associated with an astrological sign, planet or both. They are said to resonate on similar frequencies, to share characteristics. Plants are at their peak energetically when their ruler is well aspected or exalted in the current natal chart
So pay attention to the stars. Some things you have to experience for your self, study yourself, and only you can say if it does or does not make a difference to the end product. Some wisdom cannot be given us, taught to us. Perhaps knowledge can be passed down, but wisdom we must earn from life and personal experience.
On a more mundane level.
There really is no way to clean Wild Ginger rhizomes of soil while you’re harvesting. A large quantity of water is necessary anyway you look at it, so I take my harvest home, and I put it in a very large container filled with water.
Never try to clean Wild Ginger in the sink in the house. It will eventually if not immediately clog your trap with silt and mud and add a lot of extra labor to your endeavor. Just because you managed to do this once with no apparent consequences, don’t be fooled, ( as I was).
It usually takes me two or three good washes in deep water scrubbing and stirring the roots and dumping out the dirty water or removing the clean rhizomes from the dirty water before washing them again.
Wild Ginger-Asarum Canadense, scrubbing clean and keep changing the water till nothing more can be removed.
A Recipe for making Candied Wild Ginger using fresh rhizomes
-250 Grams, or 1 heaping cup of washed and cleaned Wild Ginger roots cut to 1/2 to 2 inch lengths
-500 Ml. or 2 cups water
-500 Grams or 2 cups white sugar
-extra sugar for coating
-This recipe can be doubled or tripled easily. It yields in its basic form, about 2 cups or 500 grams of candied treats.
-Bring water and sugar to a boil
-add cleaned and cut Wild Ginger rhizomes
-bring to a boil
-reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour
-When cooled to room temperature pour syrup mix and Wild Ginger into a glass jar.
-let sit closed for 3 days.
-Pour off syrup and boil till it reaches 125 degrees Celcius.
-Add Wild Ginger and boil for 15 minutes.
-When room temperature, remove Wild Ginger to a rack and allow to drip dry.
-When no more syrup is dripping from the rhizomes roll the pieces in sugar, making sure they are thoroughly coated.
-Let Ginger pieces sit in sugar overnight or for 8 hours.
-Shake off excess sugar and put your candied Wild Ginger in a sealed jar.
– It will keep for years if it does not get consumed first.
Recipe for Wild Ginger Pancake Syrup
Add the sugar from coating the Ginger to the syrup and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Bottle it in sterile jars or decorative bottles where it should keep for a couple of months in a cool dark place. If not using sterile vessels it will keep in the fridge for an equal length of time.
I am almost at the final stage of changing over from wordpress.com to wordpress.org on a self hosted site, incorporating a storefront in the native layout. I will not go into too many details, but the past few weeks have been quite challenging and presented a few steep learning curves with all the expected frustrations and roadblocks. Now for the juggling act, to try to seamlessly transfer everyone over to my new site without anyone,( or googlebots), noticing. Or at least I hope it is not too jarring a transfer. So, sometime over the next few days I hope to do this, be prepared and bear with me while I switch moving vehicles on the highway! I will see you on the other side.
After writing the post on Candied Wild Ginger, I couldn’t help but make some for myself. Partly because I am a perfectionist, and had to make sure the recipe worked properly, but also because the thought of making another mouth-watering batch was too hard to resist.
I also wanted to see exactly how much I would end up with if I used a 50 gram package like the standard size I sell in my shop. It wouldn’t hurt sales to show folks the result. What these dry but fragrant sticks can transform into with a bit of kitchen Alchemy. It does yield more than one would assume.
Basically 50 grams dried Wild Ginger gave me 250 grams of reconstituted material, and once candied, the quantity increased further. I also made a batch from 100 grams dried Wild ginger. Unfortunately I didn’t hide it well enough, it slowly diminished, a bit, daily, almost hourly, so I couldn’t get an accurate photo of how much Candied Wild Ginger 100 grams gave me.
I don’t begrudge anyone in the house,(Currently 5 roommates), it really is a challenge to walk by and not take just one little piece that no one will notice.
If you figure everyone does it a couple of times a day,,, well you can guess the result. I am happy it is such a success and that I at least got an exact photo record of how much one gets from 50 grams. Needless to say the recipes were perfect. It takes about one full cup of white sugar to coat each 50 grams, and after packing all the Candied Wild Ginger in a nice jar, you add the leftover sugar to your syrup and give it a 10 minute boil before bottling it up. There is an elegance there that appeals to me.
P.S. For all of you in the physical ,(Hamilton Ontario Canada) neighborhood, tomorrow (Saturday), morning from 9:00 AM till Noon I will be at the Apothecary’s Garden at the Teaching Gardens in Churchill Park, along with anyone who can make it for our first Saturday Workparty of the season. We will be opening the gardens for the season, preparing for the plant giveaway, and making plans for how to best take care of the “Plant Lovers Garden” till we can organize an official renovation with the city. Hope to see you all there.
A Wood Sprite told me last week it was almost Friday, and she had spied some Violets open and ready, suggested it might be time to make some Violet flower syrup. Unfortunately it rained most of that day, so visiting the Violets was postponed. I hope this coming Friday the weather will be better suited for harvesting Violet flowers.
It is a simple recipe and provides the most gorgeous purple cooling and refreshing summer drink. Though it is a bit of a delicate procedure, temperature being critical to colour, it is well worth the effort. It is the prettiest and the most refreshing summer drink I have ever made! One other cool thing about Violet flower syrup, is that when you mix it in water it transforms to a translucent Lavender colour, and if you decide to “tarten” it up a bit with an acid like lemon juice, it transforms to magenta! But if you add an alkaline to it, it will turn Green! (Mineral water??). Historically it was used a one of the first “Litmus” papers, before there were Litmus papers.
You can mix it with water or club soda/Perrier and still get the lovely colour changes and superb refreshment. Medicinally it is great for cooling down heated conditions, physically and emotionally,(anger etc.). Similarly, the leaves are traditionally used to treat “hot” tumors, boils, inflammations etc.
Astrodynamically, like Friday, it is Ruled by Venus, Planet of beauty and Love among other things, and is cooling and moist in its nature. (As opposed to Saturns energy which can be cold and dry.
As with most other flower wines, we want as much of the coloured petals and the least amount of green stem or leaf possible. When you find a nice thick carpet of flowering Violets in all their royal Spring purpleness, you will often be able slide your slightly parted fingers under the flowers, close the gaps between your fingers as you withdraw your hand, and harvest quite a few flowers at a time. Then just keep skimming them with your fingers, popping off the flowers till your hand can hold no more and you start picking more off the ground than you are collecting. Put them in your bag or basket and keep on skimming, moving over the more thickly populated areas till you have the required amount. Don’t be fooled by how simple the process is, it does take time to accumulate any significant quantity. Especially since they need to be compacted before they are measured for your syrup. I usually use a large paper liqueur store bag to collect them, keeping them always in the shade and cool. Then, off to home to do a final cleaning, separating as much green as I can, discarding any leaf, stem, substandard, dried or aged flowers.
In our area we can find purple Violets, White Violets, white Violet flowers with purple speckles and various combinations of the three. For Violet Syrup we only want Purple flowered Violets. The deeper the colour, the better. Don’t be surprised if you find they don’t have much of a fragrance. At least in our area of North America. For many years I assumed that being a perfume ingredient, Violet flowers would have a fragrance worth capturing, they don’t. In perfume Violet leaf absolute is used, it has a sweet, green, floral earthy scent and imparts a beautiful green hue to your perfume. I know that Pansies, which are cousins of Viola Odorata, ( and edible in reasonable quantities), do sometimes have a lovely scent, and someday I will try making a Violet syrup from a purple fragrant strain.
Violet flowers do not dry very easily. Well, they dry easily enough but also lose their colour very easily. Perhaps pressed in the leaves of a book, safe from any moisture and absolutely no heat or UV rays they might keep longer. In general they fade quickly with exposure to light. So something to keep in mind, is to store your dried Violets and your violet flower syrup in as dark a place as possible, cool is good too, so a fridge does come to mind.
One difference between making Violet Syrup and Dandelion Wine, is that it is best if the Violet flowers are dry. Not so much because of spoilage, but because we want to avoid anything that might dilute their beautiful colour such as a higher water content in the recipe..
Violets proliferate and propagate themselves by seed and root, and though they are extremely resilient, please be considerate of the plants.
Don’t harvest them all. If there is an abundance of them, spread your “footprint” out so your harvest is not too obvious.
Leave some for others to enjoy. Good Wild crafting etiquette.
Always give something back, Nature loves balance and will always find a way to keep it. Whether it is at your expense or not.
Paper bag, an open bucket or basket kept in the shade, are the rule for harvesting most herbs and mushrooms in the wild. Plastic does not allow air circulation, holds in moisture, can be a breeding ground for bacteria, especially if you don’t get to process your herbs immediately as can often happen with the complexities of life. Plastic containers can accelerate decomposition, especially if it is warm out,. It can cause them to wilt, and age before you even get your harvest to the kitchen. With Violet flowers, I find sometimes it is a good idea to fluff them up occasionally, allowing fresh air to the ones that are getting packed into the bottom of your collection. This also helps disperse any dew or rain that might be lingering on them. They are a more delicate harvest than most.
A RECIPE FOR WILD VIOLET FLOWER SYRUP
4 cups, or a one liter container, of cleaned, very tightly packed fresh Violet flowers.
6 cups, or 1-1/2 liters of boiling water
16 cups, or approximately 4 Kilograms of white sugar.
Do NOT add lemon juice! Though someone I very much respect calls for this in a violet flower syrup recipe, it will turn your beautiful purple to a magenta, which, though nice, is something you can do later in a glass with your purple syrup. If you add it while making your syrup, you will immediately lose the purple of the Violet.
Put Violet flowers in a glass or enameled pot with lid. Only use stainless steel if you have to.
Bring water to a boil.
Pour the water over the Violet Flowers, cover tightly.
Let sit overnight at room temperature or slightly above it. On top of the fridge sometimes works.
Measure out your purple liquid and put it through a very clean paper, (or mesh), coffee filter. (Make sure to enjoy the colour!).
Add your liquid to the now washed and clean pot.
For every 1 Cup, of liquid, add 2-1/4 cups white granulated sugar.
Bring slowly to a boil on medium heat stirring till sugar dissolves.
Skim of the scum as it collects, (It will be a beautiful purple colour), but DO NOT LET IT COME TO A FULL BOIL!
Take it off the heat,
Wait for 5 minutes and repeat the process. Again, stirring, but do not let it actually boil.
Take it off the heat. Put the lid back on and let it cool till it can be handled or poured into vessels without cracking them.
If you have hot sterile bottles or jars to store it in, then use them. (You can pour it in hot). Personally, I love having it sit in a cut glass decanter. Beautiful to behold! I find it will keep for a few weeks, (or longer) in a decanter, months if I sterilize it first. (With Sodium Metabisulphite,make sure to follow the instructions that come with it.) If you don’t have sterile canning jars or bottles, keeping it in the fridge will preserve it for weeks if not months.
Because of the lack, (and the expectation), of a sweet fragrance, I will often add one drop per two cups syrup, of essential oil of Neroli, distilled from the flowers of the bitter orange, right before I bottle the syrup. Feel free to explore this path of enhancing the Violet flower syrup, but keep in mind to only use real essential oils, never fragrance oils or chemically identical substitutes. Another point to keep in mind is that some fragrances are much stronger than Neroli essential oil, such as Jasmine Absolute. So use them accordingly.
Have fun. And remember to always keep notes. Your future self will thank you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 apothecarysgarden.com 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.
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.
Herbal Apothecary, Wildcrafter, Sculptor, Craftsman.
Owner of Apothecary's Garden and Fairtrade Frankincense LTD. Providing a selection of fresh & fair trade, ethical and sustainably harvested Frankincense and Myrrh species, local and exotic fragrance materials, unusual essential oils, Natural perfume ingredients and animal essences. Astrodynamic plant Preparations, Herbal salves, cremes, tinctures and oils.
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