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Bois d'Encens

Notre Dame

Frankincense essential oil only presents certain aspects of the resin, reminiscent of citrus zest (lemon, orange) and sharp turpentine qualities in various degrees of harshness, depending on the oil's quality. The dry down of frankincense oils is typically powdery and faint, leaving much to be desired in both longevity and the scent itself. All in all, frankincense distillations generally pale in comparison to the rich experience of smouldering resin smoke that Church-goers and incense addicts are so fond of.

The reason for all this is rather technical: frankincense resin (and resins in general) are made of essential oils, gum and resin. The gum is water soluble, often creating a plasticity (this is especially apparent in mastic, the resin from Pistachia lentiscus).

Bois d'Encens is one of the most realistic frankincense scents I've ever smelled, which, given the above factors, is not an easy feat. Rather than smelling like the oil, it brings to mind the burst of citrus and dust that occurs when you place a tear of frankincense on a hot charcoal, followed by an explosion of essential oils released in thick smoke. So far, this is the only Armani that ever spoke to me (the rest of the Armani Privé collection seemed mediocre, or at best pretentious - a trend that is sadly saturated the faux niche market from its very conception).

Frankincense Tears

But, as common with modern niche fragrances, there is a culprit. And that shows itself in the dry down, which often with the incense genre falls into the disinfectant-soap basin, with musk molecules or iso-E-super that break down the illusion of authenticity. Thankfully with this number, it happens later into the game (then, in, say Kyoto by Commes de Garcons).

Summer Sage & Honey Soap

Summer Sage Harvest
In the harsh summer conditions, certain plants developed a defence mechanism that prevents them from complete dehydration in the long drought conditions. The Three-Lobed Sage (Salvia fruticosa) is one of them. Naturally, the leaves in the summer produce a different aroma, and seem more concentrated to me. When not covered totally in desert dust, the leaves have a beautiful silvery-yellow-green colour, and are crinkly and "closed". They open in the winter after they get a few gulps of rain; and then will become larger and greener, with the texture turning from dry suede into fresh velvet.

Sage harvest and olive oil infusion (for use in handmade soapmaking)

This particular sage (in Hebrew it can be translated literally into "Triangular Sage" because of its leaf made of three sections), shares many similar actions and properties with the garden/common/culinary sage, or as we call it in Hebrew, מרווה רפואית - literally translated as "medicinal sage" (Salvia officinalis), which is native to Europe. Our sage is actually gentler and safer than the latter, especially because of the lower thujone levels. Thujone interfers with the hormonal activity in the female body especially; and also has neorotixic and hallucinogenic influences when used in high dose.  Thujone in the wormwood plant is what gives the liquor absinthe its hallucinogenic properties.

Sage infusion in olive oil
Sage (S. fruticosa) is one of the most valued plants in the region, and so it is only natural that I wanted to include it in one of my concoctions. It is used for myriads of ailments, mostly using its antiseptic, expectorant and "drying" properties to treat colds, and is also an aid for women who wish to wean their babies from nursing - it dries the milk and saves the agony of breast infection in the process. It also helps with menstrual cramps and pain, and in all matter of indigestion. It also helps to clear and prevent Nephrolithiasis (kidney stones) and to fight fungal infections. It helps to calm the nerves, and used to treat headaches (especially as synergy with other local cure-alls such as za'atar and mint, in an oil infusion rubbed onto the temples). It is also used for anxiety and depression - the latter treated by the flowers, a less-known use of the plant.
As for its skin-related properties - it's a valued antimicrobial, astringent, cleansing and purifying plant, which is good against fungal and bacterial infections, but also eczema and psoriasis. Sage tea is excellent rinse for the scalp and will improve colour for dark hair, as well as give a shine and body to it if used instead of a mainstream conditioner.

Spent Sage Leaf
After I infused the leaves for one month in organic, local, cold-pressed olive oil, I strained the leaves (and composted them, of course).
Late Summer Sage
Another batch of leaves I brewed into a very strong tea, and made into ice cubes. If I didn't do that, all the nutrients and plant matter in the tea would get scorched by the caustic soda in the process of making the lye water.
Sage Tea Ice Cubes

Sage Tea Ice Cubes

Bringing on the Lye!
Once the caustic soda comes in contact with the water, a chemical reaction begins to take place, which generates heat very fast, and melts the ice cubes. Because i used only ice cubes, this lowered the temperature of the lye dramatically, which also results in less damage to the oil phase (once these two are mixed together).
Sage Lye Ice Tea...
The other oils I used in this particular soap are the same as all my soaps - a winning formula of olive oil, coconut, palm and castor oils. To this I added oil-infusion of myrrh and frankincense resins (added at the very end of the saponification process, which prevents their demolition by the lye), and honey. This was left for 48 hours before unwrapping the moulds (I use 1L milk cartons as my moulds - a great way to reuse something that would have otherwise be thrown directly to the trash; an also saves me miles of wax paper and rinsing and washing).
Sage & Honey Soap
I panicked at first because of the white crystals that formed on the top. I was certain that they were lye flakes that didn't melt. After consulting with my soap mentor, and testing, I was much relieved to learn that they are just soap crystals.

How this soap bar smells was a big surprise to me: it smells almost edible, in an earthy, wholesome kind of way. Not like candy but a little bit like honey cake. If you love a bar of soap that smells sweet and spicy but not in a conventional Christmas candle or cinnamon bun style - this is definitely for you!
Sage & Honey Soap Bar with Frankincense & Myrrh Resins
The soaps are hand-sliced and left to cure for a month. They will be ready a month later, on November 10th. You can pre-order them online though - I only have 16 bars so if you love sage and honey and incense, you want to make sure you got one set aside for you!

Burning through the Desert

Dan Rielger & Ayala Moriel

A few months ago (the last day of April, to be exact, which was also the first day of my Orientals week-long course), I had the pleasure and honour to host a special guest throughout the day: Dan Riegler of Apothecary's Garden - a purveyor of fair trade resins from around the world - especially frankincense and myrrh that are wild crafted in the traditional methods in countries such as Somalia, Yemen and Kenya. He also sources Cretan labdanum, and other rare raw materials, and sells resin-centrered products that he concocts himself, which you can find on his online shop. One of them being a highly fragrant moustache wax which basically surrounded him with a cloud of frankincense - so obviously he made an instant good impression on me!

We started the day at the Baha'i Gardens in Akko (which deserve a full post dedicated to them) and then went to my studio to make incense - and burn a bunch too. Little did I know what I was signing up for. On top of the usual things I burn for this class (palo santo chips, sandalwood incense sticks, one type of myrrh and frankincense resins and my own rendition of Egyptian Kyphi) - Dan had a trunk-load of resins that he just imported from Africa, and was immensely kind and generous to share with us the most incredible incense resins with me and my class. We spent the afternoon burning rare myrrh, olibanum, and also some gums I never knew existed, namely Sandarac and Ammoniacum, the latter of which totally blew my mind.

I learned so much from Dan, about the resins (and the other raw materials he curates and sells), how they are harvested and collected, the chemical makeup of the resins and how it affects the stages of burning (it turns out that incense resins also have top, heart and base notes) - and this post is just a little taste of all the beautiful resins we burnt when he was here. I'm looking forward to meeting him again on his next visits in Israel on the way to the African continent.

Boswellia carterii
Frankincense usually comes in "tears" shape as this Boswellia carterii - but not always. Below is a specimen of the less known B. neglecta that look more like a chunk of resinous granules. B. carterii has the characteristic, most unmistakable scent of frankincense - beginning with sweet citrus notes of lemon drops and orange candy and continuing into more resinous, woody and even balsamic, caramel-like nuances as the incense burns on the charcoal.

While looking pretty much the same, other frankincense species provide further nuances and a whole frankincense burning comparative study (or incense games a-la Japenese Koh-Doh) can easily occupy half a day. Compare this to Maydi (Boswellia frereana) which albeit its slightly herbaceous (sage-like) opening, is more subtle, woody and perfumey. In fact, it smells almost powdery like violet and iris. Ethiopian frakincince (Boswellia papyrifea) is even finer with its suave, light perfume notes, slightly sweet and with notes of burnt sugar at the end of the charcoal burning process.

Boswellia negoecta - black and white

Boswellia neglecta is endemic to north Kenya and comes in white and black forms (as you can see in the photo) and is not widely known. The white and the black smell significantly different. The white begins resinous-green, piney and mysterious, surprisingly juice like crushed leaves with hints of parsley, galbanum and ammonia (smells a lot like amoniacum).  It has a hint of sweaty note, a little like coriander seed. The final burning moments bring to mind the smoke coming out of autumnal piles of fall leaves.

The black neglecta smells completely different - you wouldn't think it came from the same plant: it smells dark and looming, like moss, mushrooms, decaying fall leaves, peat, forest floor and hints of campfire. It's surprising and magical that a resin can possess so many different facets.

Sandarac
Sandarac (tetraclllyris) comes from Malta and just like its pure milky appearance, burns clean with a woody-balsamic-resinous scent that is fine and very pleasant. It's a little bit like elemi, a little like mastic but not quite. There is a tiny hint of seashore to it that I only detected after many times of burning. It is quite lovely, even if underwhelming at first impression.

Ammoniacum
Ammoniacum is intense and pungent, like a mixture of galbanum, asafoetida, sulphur, greens. It it a very interesting odour but I suspect it would have better effect in magic and exorcism ceremonies rather than contemplative incense rituals.

Commiphora confusa

Commiphora confusa, as the name suggests, is a type of myrrh that is hard to identify, and for several reasons: the flowers look different on each plant, the resin looks different as well - and the most surprising of all: it smells more like frankincense than myrrh.

Commiphora myrrha

Commiphora myrrha (from Ethiopea) has the characteristic bitter, rubbery scent when burnt, and is what I'd imagine the Queen of Sheba to wear on her neck when seducing King Solomon.

Commiphora karat

Commiphora kataf (from Kenya) has pieces of wood in it (which would change the smell of the smoke depending on which chunk you burn). It has a strange, sulphuric-sweaty odour. I guess you could call it spicy, as it has a hint of cumin in it too. Overall it reminds me more of the smell of food than incense - barbecuing kebabs comes to mind.

Commiphira holziana
Commiphora holtziana does not smell like myrrh at all to me. It's more woody than C. myrrha, and a tad fresh to start with. Dan describes it as briny and sea-like but I'm not getting it.

Arabian/Yemeni Myrrh
Arabian/Yemeni Myrrh is by far the most incredibly beautiful myrrh resin I've ever burnt. Although it came in a strange looking chunk, containing pieces of the plastic bags used by the collectors, and even a piece of wool yarn, it has the most fantastic scent, like a perfume on its own accord. It reminds me of the unique "version" of frankincense that B. papyrifea offers. I would love to have this as an essential oil and create a perfume with it.

Perfume for Peace

Back in the day, Escents Aromatherapy in Vancouver sold a blend called "Peace" with lavender and vanilla. It was lovely, and was a diffuser oil blend and also in a variety of scented body products. There was something truly luxurious and peace-invoking about it. Lavender to me really is a very peaceful scent. It brings a sense of well-being, calm and is at the same time also uplifting rather than sedative or narcotic. The healing properties of lavender are wide and well known, both emotionally and physically. But it is not the only essential oil that promotes such state of mind.

I spent most of yesterday morning uncorking vials in my perfumer's organ, in search for scents that will inspire and induce peace through the sense of smell. I've decided to go by intuition alone in my selection process, but then also researched the aromatherapeutic and spiritual uses of these oils and cross-reference my choices with some of the known traditions.

Lavender:
Inspires peace and calm. Very uplifting, gentle, soothing...

Frankincense:
Spiritually, frankincense is connected to the heart. On a biochemical and psychoactive level, frankincense smoke brings a heightened spiritual awareness and helps the mind to enter a meditative state.

Sandalwood:
Grounding, centering, very spiritual, and also goes with everything and anything.

Olive essences:
1. Olive tree resin that I prepared from resin my brothers picked from our family's trees. 
2. Olive fruit absolute
3. Olive leaf absolute - grassy, leafy, bitter essence. A little similar to tobacco and tomato leaf, actually but not as harsh.
These are unusual raw materials, and are not commonly used in aromatherapy, healing or ritual. But the choice of olive is obvious, since a dove carrying an olive branch is a biblical symbol of peace.

Tobacco:
The association with Peace pipe was inevitable. Tobacco is a sacred plant to the First Nations and was used for healing and for the famous "Peace Pipe" to seal deals and peace treaties between tribes.

I'm still unsure about how these essences will come together in a perfume. I feel as if this process can take one of two directions:
1) A harmonious continuum of peaceful aromas. That sounds kinda boring actually. But sometimes what's necessary is a good example...
or:
2) My perfume is going to be like a peace process between clashing elements that are an unlikely partner for any collaboration whatsoever...

Amaluna

Untitled by kivellotephotography
Untitled, a photo by kivellotephotography on Flickr.
Every once in a while, I owe myself a visit to the circus. It doesn't only wake up the sleepy towns in Carnivale, but also the soul: bringing unsurfaced fantasies into the mundane and awakening the never-ending quest for more. And so I found myself at Cirque de Soleil's newest performance Amaluna last night, amazed at the commitment and dedication that each moment of the show requires from a host of artists - off and on stage.

The show surrounds the moon and it's fluctuating cycles, battles between fire and water, and the constant quest for love despite obstacles. One of my favourite scenes was the balancing act of sticks shaped like prehistorical bones, floating in space in a breath-stopping, slow-motion spin (pictured above).

The morning after, I pulled out my sample of Eva Luna that Charna from Providence Perfume Company kindly sent me at the end of 2012: a sheer concoction surrounding two unlikely partners: carrot seed and jasmine. Both related to the moon (as most aromatic seeds and white flowers are), it just seemed befitting to wear after the show.

Eva Luna begins with the jasmine being far more prominent than the carrot, paired with watery spearmint note. Bright, sheer and beautiful, it soars above the skin like a seagull from the water. The carrot seed whispers in the background with warmth anchored by the muskiness of ambrette seeds. Chased with a fresh yet sweet amber and frankincense accord, Eva Luna is unexpectedly easy to wear, more of a summery daylight scent than a lunar orchestra.
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