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Mullein Light

Wavyleaf Mullein (Verbascum sinuatum) בוצין מפורץ
Wavyleaf Mullein (Verbascum sinuatum), in Hebrew בוצין מפורץ (Butsin Meforatz) popped up in my yard in unusually high numbers and after two years of growing. It is not surprising because it favours disturbed soils, but at the same time - it chose to grow right outside my window, and I read it as a sign and a calling for me to study it, interact with it, and find its medicine.

It is now reaching its culmination with beautiful, tall candelabra-shaped inflorescence, lit with florescent-yellow candles scattered at different places each day. The plant at this stage is very impressive, and will bloom for a long period of the summer when many other plants don't bother trying to procreate, or are already dead and dry as a bone. Therefore, it provides important food source for various insects during the hostile summer months.

The flowers' intense colour and innate light, as well as the candelabra shape of the inflorescence are said to be the inspiration for the design of the Menorah, holder of the eternal light at the tabernacle and the temple in Jerusalem. But this is not the only connection this plant has to light: when it completes it cycle of life and the leaves are dry, their fuzzy hairs provide an excellent fire starter and could be rolled into the shape of a candle or used as a wick (dipped in fat or oil, of course). In fact, its Hebrew name comes from the Aramiac word for candle. The same word also was used to relate to the soul, or Neshama. Additionally, the foam-like core of the stem and branches can create fire without matches, using friction, and then keeps the fire in a slow, smouldering manner, allowing an easier keeping and transferring of fire. These can also be handy skills to have if you were to ever get stuck in the wilderness with no candles or matches.

Wavyleaf Mullein (Verbascum sinuatum) בוצין מפורץ
Waking up early every morning and seeing these flowers literally light my window at dawn was uplifting and magical, and felt like a message of encouragement despite the heavy heat that already started hitting us here around the Mediterranean. If SAD in the cold countries happens in the winter, in the hot-hot-hot ones it is the summertime when people have the hardest time, and it is not uncommon for people to be prone for depression during this time, even if simply because of the debilitating heat that makes one stupid for the majority of our waking hours. So I can relate to the interpretation of its signature being about standing tall and breathing deeply.

When the flower gets even slightly damaged (for example: if you brushed by it lightly), they will fall off the plant within a few seconds. This mechanism seems like a lesson of letting go, and feels almost magical to me. As is the stark contrast of the deep-purple stamens against the fluorescent yellow of the petals, like the complementary coloured robes of the healing archangel Raphael. It makes sense that the flower essence is used to clear and balance the psyche. But even without getting damaged, these flowers last less than a day before they wilt and fall off: the open around sunset, and begin to wilt and deteriorate  shortly after high noon.Wavyleaf Mullein (Verbascum sinuatum) בוצין מפורץ

Mullein is a bi-annual plant, growing a rosette of leathery-leaves, covered in tiny hairs. The circumference of which can be extremely large. According to the doctrine of signatures, the tiny hairs are a signature fo the lungs' cilium. And indeed, the plant has several medicinal uses to do with the bronchiole. The leaves can be rolled and then smoked like a cigar, but have medicinal properties that in fact reverse the adverse impact of tobacco-smoking. The leaves can be prepared into a strong tea or a tincture as well, and act as an expectorant to clear out the lungs from mucus and help expel a dry cough. The leaves in the Israeli varieties I met are very rough, but the European kind

Verbascum thapsus (which also spread to North America) has softer leaves which are also used instead of toilet paper, as well as for dressing wounds.

Wavyleaf Mullein (Verbascum sinuatum) harvest בוצין מפורץ
The tinctured flowers are useful for treating various respiratory ailments as well, including asthma. When infused in oil, they are used as a medicine for earaches that can be used on very small children as well.  And this is one of the things I've prepared from them early this season, having my young nieces and nephews in mind, who unfortunately one or another among them tends to suffer from ear ache almost every year.

Wavyleaf Mullein (Verbascum sinuatum) tincturing בוצין מפורץ
The main known constituents of mullein are: Mucilage, Gum, Saponins, Tanins, Volatile oil, Flavonoids (hesperidin, verbascoside), Coumarins, Iridoid glucosides (lateroside, harpagoside, ajugol, aucubin), Phenylethanoid glycosides, Phenylethanoid glycosides, Lignan glycosides, Polysaccharides.

Main medicinal actions: Mucus membrane trophorestorative (builds up and restores damaged membranes), demulcent (softening), Antitussive (stops coughing), Antiinflammatory, Antiulcerogenic (stops ulcers in the digestive tract), Vulnerary (speeds up the recovery of wounds), Expectorant, and indirectly Antialergenic (by ways of stabilizing the mucus membranes). Additionally, it is anti-viral, a mild diuretic and a mild astringent.

Caesarian Mullein (Verbascum caesareum) בוצין קיסריון
Last but not least: Here is a photo of the impressive and beautiful Caesarian Mullein בוצין קיסריון (Verbascum caesareum), overlooking the cliffs of Kziv creek - one of the most gorgeous nature reserves in Israel. This is a rare plant that is endemic to Syria and grows only on the cliffs and slopes of the northern-most regions of Israel. Israel is a very special place as it contains many different climate zones and diverse habitats. Out of the 120 species of mullein (not including 8 additional recognized hybrids), 16 were identified in Israel, and most of them are extremely rare. It is also a very clear message of "standing tall and speaking our truth".

 

Do you know more about mullein? I would love to learn more about this plant, albeit it having very little to offer in the way of aroma. Also, which kind grows where you live?

Do you know more about mullein? I would love to learn more about this plant, albeit it having very little to offer in the way of aroma. Also, which kind grows where you live?

Forest Medicine


Mini Witch Cauldron
Anywhere in nature, including deep in the woods, the trees teach us self-healing and the plant-teachers provide medicines for body and soul. I brought my little witch cauldron to burn incense (redcedar chips and Palo Santo) without risk of burning the forest with me.

Forest Medicine
There were so many witch-inspiring finds in the forest, from intimidating-looking fungi (of which I'm yet to know any medicinal properties, but I know some of them do have that gift). To saps dripping from trees' wounds. Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) is a famous one (it is NOT the one in the photograph!), which is used for protecting the liver, for anti-inflammatory conditions, boost the immune system, ureduces anxiety and depression, aids sleep and more. In Chinese it is called lingzhi mushroom, which literally means "mushroom of immortality" and is used by many TCMs. In any case, you should not be foraging it in the woods without getting proper training in mycology, and also use it responsibly with the guidance of an herbalist or trained TCM. 

Forest Medicine
Spruce pitch and sap, for example, can be infused into oil and made into a salve that can be rubbed on the chest and relieve coughs and respiratory infections, and massages onto aching muscles. 
Plant Medicine
This collection of plants grow side-by-side on Alouette Lake. Can you recognize them all?

Plant Medicine (Pearly Everlasting)
First, as seen clearly on the foreground, there is Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea). Although it is similar in appearance, and also from the Asteraceae family, it is not as closely related to immortelle (Helicrysum). It is not so much in use in Western herbalism or medicine, but was used by First Nations to treat mostly respiratory ailments, including asthma. This is because it has both antihistamine and expectorant qualities. It is also an anti-inflammatory, astringent, diaphoretic and a mild sedative. It is used for treating headaches, colds, fevers, sore throats, allergies and asthma. To read more about how to use it, visit Wildness Within and Natural Medicinal Herbs.  It can also be used as incense - preferably on a hot stone or Japanese Koh-Doh technique on a micah plate.

Next to it also grows St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), the world one and only incredible medicinal plant that can actually treat depression. It is why it is so heavily regulated in the USA, because it's properties would threaten the existence of fluoxetine (or in its famously known brand name, Prozac) and other very profitable antidepressants. Additionally, St. John's Wort oil extract (an oil infusion that has a deep red colour) is used for treating skin diseases such as eczema and also joint pains. This is a powerful plant, and must only be used with the guidance and supervision of a licensed Herbal Medicine practitioner. Some of the side effects known for St. John's Wort are photo-toxicity (burns upon exposure to sun), and counter-acting certain drugs.

Last but not least, the shiny green leaves (more at the bottom of the pic) are those of Black Cottonwood, AKA Western Balsam Poplar (Populus trichocarpa), which contains salicin (the aspirin compound that also present in willowbark). The buds' extract (either in oil or alcohol) is also used medicinally, mostly as an anti-infalmmaroty, especially for joint and muscle pain. A salve can also be prepared from the oil infusion. Also it smells great - sweet-balsamic and ambery, which makes it a good medicine for the soul. I used it in Komorebi perfume to create the beautiful amber-like scent of the rain forest in autumn. 

Curcuma (Turmeric)


Dried Turmeric Root
Turmeric (Curcuma longa/C. domestica), also known as Curcuma, Indian Saffron, Indian Yellow Root (not to be focused with American "Yellowroot", which is also sometimes called "Indian Turmeric" but is actually Hydrastis canadensis) or Amomoum Curcuma is a note not often found in Western perfumery, but it has such an important role in herbal medicine (particularly Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine), and it's hard to imagine many cuisines without its earthy flavour and bright yellow colour. All in all, turmeric's distinctive aroma is worth exploring on this blog.

Guess the plant! #plantriddle
The plant belongs to the ginger, galangal and cardamom family, and like all of these, it has beautiful foliage and showy red-pink flowers that are arranged in an inflorescence, that grow wild in the jungles of Southeast Asia - and where cultivated, can make a garden look lusciously tropical. It can even grow in my home village - although with the nasty eastern winds that blow here many days feel bone dry here and the land is particularly parched this fall, many tropical plants and trees can grow here and produce delicious fruit and fragrant flowers. It does get a bit too cold in the winter, so it may be better for it to grow in a potted plant and be brought into a hothouse during the cooler months (November through March) and of course it will require plenty of watering to make up for the lack of monsoons in our region. I'm certainly going to add it to my little perfumer's botanical garden that I'm dreaming up these days...

#hint: Guess the plant! #plantriddle

Constituents: 
Turmeric is known for its high content of vitamin C and is rich in minerals [1]. It is especially valued for its effective anti-inflammatory properties of its unique constituent curcumin (diferuloylmethane), which also provides its distinctve  deep golden-yellow colour. A word of caution: watch out for turmeric that has an orange-red colour (or more of a red hue after coming into contact with liquid) - it is probably adulterated with lead oxide (!), and some turmeric powders are mixed with metanil yellow - AKA acid yellow 36, even though both are toxic and illegal.

Besides curcumin, turmeric contains two other curcuminoids: demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin, as well as the constituents turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberene, which gives it an earthy, mellow, warm flavour.

Southern Seas Trading Co. in Vancouver sells a turmeric powder that claims to have 5% curcumin, and is really incomparable to the what you'd commonly find on the spice racks in most supermarkets or even in the souks. Too often, turmeric powder has a light yellow, almost sulfur-like colour, and has very little aroma, and taste almost like dust. That is usually a sign that it is probably too old. This is true, by the way, to many spices - if they've lost their vibrancy and "bite", they should be replaced by a fresh batch that has the characteristics you're after. Otherwise - what is the point of adding spices in the first place?!

Turmeric essential oil is clear orange-amber or "a yellowy-orange liquor with a faint blue fluorescence and a fresh spicy-woody odour" [1] with about 60% turmerone, ar-turmerone, atlantone, zingiberone, channel, borneo, sabinene, phellandrene and more. It's important to note that turmerone is a ketone, and is "moderately toxic and irritant in high concentration. Possible sensitization problems". [1]. Becomes semi-viscous over time.

turmeric

Turmeric as a dye and food colouring:
You've probably ate turmeric without even knowing it in your mustard paste and cucumber pickles (it is used to mask the unsightly fading that is inevitable on pickles that were sitting on the shelf too long). It also gives cauliflower pickles an exotic colour, and brings out the best in mango chutneys and pickles.

Additionally, turmeric can be used as a dye for clothing, although it has very poor lightfast qualities (it fades easily). The saffron-coloured robes that Buddhist monks wear are customarily dyed with turmeric powder. Turmeric is also used in various pastes and unguents that are used in religious rituals to decorate the buddha sculptures and mark the place of the "third eye".

Turmeric in savoury dishes:
In areas where turmeric is a native, fresh leaves are also used to wrap food with and impart their unique flavour to the dish. But in most of the world, it is the dried rhizomes (often referred to as "roots") that are used. In this form, turmeric found its way first through the spice caravans into Arabic cuisine, North Africa and Europe - and later on also to the Americas who in return contributed the heat of chilli peppers to spice blends and cooking traditions the world over.

It's hard to recall many East Indian dishes without turmeric, and indeed you'll find this amount or another in countless East Indian recipes, and in dishes alongside garam masala blends and also in the various blends that are called "curry powder" (mostly these are Western interpretations of various Southeast Asian spice blends) where it is mixed with fenugreek, cumin, coriander seed, and chilli pepper. Other ingredients are used to give it nuances and distinctive style that is usually proprietary, i.e.: dry ginger roots, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, asafoetida, various peppers (long, black...), cardamom (green or black), mustard, and more. Turmeric can be found in other spice blends, such as Ras El Hanout, hawaij (a Yemeni spice mixed usually created with turmeric, cumin, black pepper and cardamom - and in more complex styles also may include cloves, caraway, coriander, fenugreek, etc.).

Turmeric is an essential component of the famous Thai Massaman curry (Muslim-inspired curry), which gives it both its golden colour and mild, earthy note that complements beautifully vegetables such as cauliflower and potato. It is used to colour and flavour banh xao (Vietnamese savoury rice-flour crepes).

Cooking with fresh turmeric is one of the most sensually satisfying culinary encounters, taking off the dusty aspect of working with the ground, dried herb. I was fortunate to procure the mango-coloured root that was at the same exotic produce store I mentioned earlier in Granville Island at the time. The ones I've seen grown in Israel are pale in comparison, but still I recommend experimenting with them. they can be grated as they are to add to curry pastes, or peeled and minced or sliced and be added to stews, soups and even teas. Some swear it is even more effective than ginger in chasing away the season's flu.

TurmericFresh

Turmeric in sweets, confections and pastries: 
Turmeric leaves are used in preparations of sweets from the west coasts of India called patoleo, patoley or Pan Mori - turmeric-scented cakes of rice and grated coconut. These are offered to several Hindu feminine deities (Parvati, Ganesh) and are eaten in Hindu feasts, India's Independence Day (August 15) and also the Assumption of Mary which falls on the same day and is celebrated by the Catholics in the region.

The Lebanese semolina cake Sfouf has an interesting play on savoury and sweet, and imaginative playful texture. Its fine semolina dough is highly fragrant with powdered turmeric rhizome and incorporates savoury fenugreek seeds and decorated with pine nuts. And if this isn't making you curious yet - it is also  layered with tahini (sesame paste) on the bottom and drenched in honey syrup on the top, creating by default a layer of halva at the base.

Another interesting East-Meets-West fusion I've discovered in the souk of Akko, was no other than a very Eastern-European pastry of poppy seed roll, in which the sweet yeast dough was coloured and flavoured with turmeric. After many searches for a poppy seed roll that will satisfy our homesickness (there was a killer poppyseed roll in non other than the seemingly generic Maple Leaf bakery on Davie Street) - this is the closest thing to what we were after, and also great on its own right.

Turmeric in Flavouring Work:
Turmeric essential oil has rather limited use as a favouring agent, because the powder is usually used. Turmeric oil is bitter and slightly pungent, except in extreme dilutions.
The Japanese turmeric has a flavour that is more spicy, bitter and slightly burning.

Turmeric in Folk Medicine:
Turmeric was used by the Jews of India ground turmeric into powder and made a medicinal porridge with sugar to treat diarrhea. Yemeni Jews used curcuma to treat jaundice, headaches stomach aches and digestive complaints. Moroccan Jews made a remedy for jaundice by mixing parts of the plant with honey and consuming it. Persian Jews prepared a paste for massaging the feet by mixing curcuma powder with Arak (an anise liquor). The Jews of Babylon believed that eating dishes heavily seasonsed with curcuma will lift the spirits of anyone who is suffering from depression. [2]

Turmeric in Herbal Medicine and Aromatherapy: 
Used for treatment of liver disease, stomach ulcers. For gustatory and digestive disturbances, brew 1 tsp of turmeric powder in boiled water for 5 minutes and sweeten with honey or sugar. For treatment of boils and severe warts, a paste of 50 g of turmeric powder blended with 15 mL (3 Tbs) of olive oil can be spread on the affected area.

Turmeric oil is used to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism as well muscular aches and pains. It is also helpful in anorexia, liver convention and sluggish digestion.

Tuberose Massaman

Odour Profile: 
Earthy, mineral, vibrant, subtle, spicy, fresh, with strong association to baked vegetables and potato and cauliflower curries. Has a certain sourness to it, tangy with hints of sweet orange, ginger and galangal notes. Root-like qualities, with some woody notes and slightly green note (this aspect has reminiscence to the sesame plant).

Japanese turmeric oil is more warm, dry-woody, powdery, camphoreous and with a slightly pepper-spicy note that brings to mind Atlas cedar wood [3].

Turmeric in Perfumery:
Turmeric is an exotic and unusual note that can be used in Oriental fragrances and imaginative Chypre fragrances. It works particularly well with Atlas cedar wood, rose, tuberose, ylang ylang, elecampane, violet, sandalwood, labdanum, orris resin, clary sage, mimosa, cassie, ginger, galangal, ginger lily, saffron and other spices, as well as ionones, musks,  heliotropine, etc [3]

As mentioned earlier, the use of turmeric is rather limited. Aside from my own work with it, I can't recall smelling it in too many perfumes, and I can only guess it may be a note in Santal de Mysore, as well as some natural perfumes I've experienced such as the now defunct Rose by Scent Systems and Aftelier's Parfum de Maroc. I've incorporated it in successfully in my "Massaman Curry" accord, which I've used in Tuberose Massaman OOAK perfume. There is also a hint of turmeric in another OOAK perfume titled "Curry Rose". I got to admit it worked well with these florals, echoing the buttery mystery of tuberose that is underlined but tuberous moistness; and also giving an earthiness for the rose to grow on.
Some of you may have also experienced some of my trials for an oud perfume that includes copious amounts of it - Assam Oud. In the latter, I've been greatly struggling with finding the balance between the elements, and the turmeric seemed to create a problem - constantly bringing out a sourness from the tagetes (marigold) which I was not fond of. It was a frustrating experience, but not one I am giving up on. There will be an Assam Oud perfume eventually for more of you to enjoy, and I am determined to find a way for the turmeric to work in there. There simply is something haunting and earthy about turmeric that I really want to mingle with agarwood's musty earthiness.

[1] Lawless, Julia, "The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils",  Elements Books, Australia, 1992, pp. 182-183
[2] Krispil, Nissim "Medicinal Plants in Israel and Throughout The World - The Complete Guide", Hed Artzi, Or Yehuda, Israel 2000, p. 132.
[3] Arctander, Steffen, "Perfume and Flavour Materials of Natural Origin", Allured Publishing, 1994, pp. 203-205

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