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Resurrection Incense

Myrrh Resin Enfleurage with Hyacinth Blossoms
When the hyacinths were at their peak, I had enough flowers to make a dry enfleurage of Ethiopian Commiphora myrrha resin. Just as it seemed intuitively appropriate to pair the sunny brightness of frankincense with that of grapefruit blossoms, there was something about the contrast between the cave-like depth and catacomb-like mustiness of myrrh with the energy of a spring bulb flower. It smells like such a strong metaphor for spring's deep spiritual meaning rebirth, that is so strongly apparent in the natural world.

In winter, the bulbs are dormant in the ground. In spring they spring forth with a life force and push through the frozen earth towards the sun. Yet, I had an anterior motive for doing so. I made this very special incense as a spirit medicine for a young mother I know, who lost her baby only a few days after giving birth to her. The immense joy at the end of a difficult labour, the hope and happiness of becoming parents for just a few days all cut off so abruptly inspired me to create this incense medicine, as a reminder that even from the depth of myrrh's deathly grip one can emerge with a renewed life and bloom again like the hyacinth.

Happy Easter!

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.

Sweet Breath

Illusioned by Diana Pinto
Illusioned, a photo by Diana Pinto on Flickr.
Anima Dulcis (Sweet Soul in Latin) was one of those rare things in the perfume world: love at first sniff. And that first sniff began intriguingly with cumin, a note so rarely used in perfume, and when it does is considered a daring choice. It's not-always favourable association with sweat is precisely what makes cumin compelling to me. It makes it more human and accessible on a personal level.
The love at first whiff is not so much because of the cumin, but more so with how it is orchestrated with iris and earthy-ambery base that brings to mind non other than the reformulated Femme de Rocahs (1989). In the latter, there is something audaciously over-the-top and a tad plastic-y.
Anima Dulcis, however, is everything I could hope that version of Femme would transform to on my skin and better. The cocoa plays greater role in the ad copy (a Mexican theme of chocolate and chilli) than in the perfume: it's merely in the background, creating a layer of soft-focused dusting to complement the powdery orris, indolic jasmine and liberating hedione, and leading to a sensual, earthy finale of dark patchouli of the best kind and the bitterness of arcane myrrh resin.
Discovering it was like meeting an old friend I was searching for a long time. A consoling moment. And to me the name is more of a suggestion that there is an echo to our soul somewhere, whether or not we're aware of it.

Top notes: Cumin, Black Pepper, Ylang Ylang
Heart notes: Jasmine, Cinnamon, Orris Root
Base notes: Vanilla, Patchouli, Benzoin, Myrrh, Cacao

Who Needs a Boyfriend?!

When Boyfriend perfume came out, the story behind it as I recall was that Kate Walsh (not sure who she is - Comedian? Actress? Singer? All of the above?) longed for a long gone boyfriend's smell and thus created a perfume that will remind her of the shirt he leaves behind.

It's comforting to know that not only I sniff old boyfriend's sweaters (blush); and also, unlike the endless possibilities of cheesy videos that a perfume with such name could have rendered - I think it has a brilliant marketing campaign: It walks the tightrope of being nostalgic and emotional to a fault yet laughs at oneself while at it. Which is a healthy balance when delving into the dangerous world of romance. Even the packaging is well done - the bottle, engraved with a long list of popular Anglo-Saxone names (if you haven't dated them all, please circle the one that best applies). The only thing they overlooked in that regard is a big red marker to circle around the boyf's name/s that apply to you... I suppose I will have to source mine elsewhere.  But either way - the bottom line is that the whole campaign made me have a good laugh. Which is most welcome when it comes to the most "serious" matters of the heart... 

I guess all in all, I was the perfect target for this product: endlessly single gal in her 30's, career oriented, pretty hopeless when it comes to romance, and pathetically smelling old boyfriend's t-shirt when nobody's watching... Well, mine has gone stale long ago. I was so worried that the perfume will disappoint me that it took me another year to come closer to it (responding with a big smiling recoil at the daring dose of patchouli). And remembering that, I had to come back for a real try this week to complete my patchouli series.

Boyfriend begins with a robust fruity notes of dark plum, underscored with massive amounts of resinous benzoin - a sheer foundation for the most popular amber personality of the decade - "crystalline amber"*, whose sweetness can only be forgiven as it's anchored in a woody, dry, musky notes: bitter myrrh, reminiscent of the tears of sacrificial love that every woman worth her salt has put into a relationship only to find out that yet again, it isn't working; patchouli, to reminisce after his patchouli-lade Eau Sauvage aftershave (I'm just making things up... If I met a man who uses Eau Sauvage aftershave I would be single no more!). Vanilla kicks in shortly after the myrrh, but it's rather full-bodied and thick, bringing to mind real vanilla extract with a powdery heliotropin finish.

And lastly, Boyfriend dries into a clean patchouli and musk cocktail, that is not too uncommon for present day, but quite nicely done - a clean skin scent that is not unlike Pure Turquoise, though with a much warmer beginnings.

Boyfriend is surprisingly well-done, not just in comparison to other celebrity scents, but even just as it is. It's refreshing to see a celebrity taking her scent so seriously and bringing so much humour to a rather sore subject - kudos to her! Please don't kill it with meaningless flankers! (too late...?).  

*Crystalline amber is the kind that is light on the sweet resinous animalic aspects of labdanum, rendering its amberiness from fraction distillation of labdanum, which are more transparent, woody and clear in colour as well - plus some synthetics that I won't get into right now)
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