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SmellyBlog

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. 

Thunder and Berries

Lighthouse Park

Our evening walk in the woods turned into a little thunderstorm adventure. After many dry days and static humid air, the thunder started roaring and gotten nearer and nearer. The rain began to drop gently, tapping on a leaf here and there, and then tap-tap-tap it went on, chasing us from the forest back home and even though we ran part of the way, we got soaked to the socks.

Thunderstorms are a rare occurrence on the West Coast, and it always reminds me of home, because even though the smells are different -  there is always the excitement of the noise and the bolts of lightning. And there is still something familiar, even though the petrichor here was wrapped in luscious smells of salmon berries and blackberry leaves as we were meandering through the forest; and the wet earth mingled with the smell of white roses and the last indolic rhododendrons in the garden... And then the smell of wet pavement and concrete, wet hair and breathless warm skin of a child as we ran all the way home from the park. Strange as this may sounds, to me this smells like a prelude to a summer.

Cedrechor

Komorebi

Naming perfumes is no easy feat. And in the case of KOMOREBI I invited you to the brainstorm with me not only for finding an evocative name for my creation, but also attempt to coin a word that will describe the olfactory phenomenon that inspired the perfume.

I've contacted talented fragrance writer and fellow perfume lover Elena Vosnaki of Perfume Shrine to collaborate with me on coining a new word for describing the phenomenon that Komorebi was inspired by. Elena's knowledge of the Greek language was paramount to this process, and I've learned much from the process - similarities to other languages, myths and lore that encompass the entire globe, well beyond the Greek archipelago.

If petrichor is the scent of earth after rain, then this perfume accurately captured the wonderful cedrechor scent - "blood of the cedar" - the smell of the forest after the sun. Cedrechor can be experienced in late summer and early autumn in the Pacific Northwest rainforests: It emanates from the sun-dappled fragrant forest floor on those warm days when the sun brings out the sweet smells of redcedar, moss & Douglas fir…

The idea behind this ambitious act of smell-naming was to give fellow perfume lovers and writers another word for the scent that is as recognizable as petrichor - and I can only hope it will gain traction and be used well beyond the ad copy for my perfume. There are so few words unique to the realm of scent.

Komorebi is the first in a series of four perfumes dedicated to special places in the Pacific Northwest. Place of inspiration: Cathedral trail in Xwayxway (Stanley Park), which is pictured above.

Notes: Redcedar, Fir, Oakmoss, Black Cottonwood

Fragrance Families: Woody, Ambery, Chypre

Springtime in the Forest

On this beautiful Earth Day, I'd like to share with you the wonders of my part of the planet. Subtle scents permeates the air in the Pacific Northwest at this time of the year: Soft tassels of new growth fir and spruce trees - their scent reminiscent of citrus and fresh-cut grass. Fiddleheads emerge from the damp forest floor. They spiral towards the light and their shoots are tender and delicious. Miniature galaxies of elderflowers, with their blackcurrant-like aroma dot the forest like little fragrant stars. And last but not least: the balsamic sweetness of the budding black cottonwood trees, which envelop the forest trails with a promise of sweet, warm sunny days. 

All of these are nature's reminder to steer away from the floral cliches and celebrate spring with other plant-parts. If you are like me, spring is the time of year to rediscover the classic Fougeres in your wardrobe, and discover new plants that are coming to life, as well as discover new wild plants to forage and bring nature home, literally, after our long hibernation.

1. Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads are the budding, coiled “leaves” of ostrich ferns  (Matteuccia struthiopteris). The fiddleheads are present in early spring, and are considered a delicacy. They have a very similar to asparagus in both flavour and texture - but a lot more tart. 

Perhaps it's the fiddleheads - spring to me is the best season to enjoy fragrances from the Fougère (fern in French) family. Namely, l'Herbe Rouge. You might also want to try my idea for an Edible Fougère Recipe: Fiddleheads in Lavender Butter

2. Fir Buds & Violet Leaves

A wonderful way to enjoy the scents of the forest all day long is place a few of these conifer buds in your water bottle. Douglas Fir is the most delicious of all - and the needles can be used that way year-around. You'll stay hydrated and also benefit from the vitamin C that is naturally occurring in these leaves (the only local source of those until the summer berries ripen). They smell like a Christmas tree and have delicious, slightly tart lemon-tangerine aroma.   


Rainforest perfume captures the scent of the temperate Pacific Northwest forests - the largest of the temperate forests in the world, and with the most productive biomass. It combines the fragile, crisp cucumber notes of violet leaf with damp forest floor with sprucejuniper and pine
Rainforest also makes use of my very own wild-harvested elderflowers essence - which is our next topic! 

3. Elderflowers

If you've ever visit my studio in April and May, you'll be served the fragrant and refreshing elderflower"champagne" - effervescent soda infused with wild-foraged elderflowers that I make at home. You can create your own by following my recipe on SmellyBlog. Also, you may enjoy a subtle nuance of elderflowers in Sandal Ale - where it adds a fruity aroma to balance the sweet apricot and funky hops notes.

4. Cottonwood & Balsam Poplar Buds

I'm yet to try this Cottonwood Bud Oil Recipe, an infusion that has healing properties for muscle aches and damaged skin; but I've been inspired to capture this scent in a perfume by tincturing it. 
Etrog Oy de Cologne, however, uses a different part of a tree from the same family: balsam poplar buds absolute. It gives it a unique, honeyed aroma that echoes the sweetness of the rare citron fruit. And speaking of citrus - have you heard about the Citrus & Cologne Week-long Course (May 4-8)? It's perfect for beginner students of perfumery, and there are 2 spots available. 

For more ideas on how to celebrate the beauty and diversity of this planet with local, handcrafted perfumes made with wild-harvested botanicals, visit ayalamoriel.com

Marriage of Life and Death

Earlier this winter, as I went deeper into the forest trails, my eyes met with a devastating sight. After several days of rain and wind storms, two beautiful, tall and rather ancient Douglas fir trees (well over 200 years in my estimate, although this is probably young in fir years) were uprooted and simply flipped over. It's a sad sight, and one that literally pierced my heart and brought tears to my eyes. The air around the trees was filled with their tragedy, and I heard their screams and shrieks of pain from being uprooted and losing their life-giving connection to the earth.

Here is the strange thing about an ancient fallen tree: it dies a slow painful death. Perhaps even move the course of several weeks when in such moist conditions that as the rainforest. Maybe it's not that slow in tree years, but it sure seemed prolonged to me, as I was walking by the same trail several weeks in a row, and still saw signs of life in these two fierce yet fallen giants.

First the roots alone feel the change: they are accustomed to life of darkness and the cold yet nutritious moisture of the earth. All of a sudden they are exposed to the foreign presence of air and light. The tree's equivalent of nervous system must have felt the pain of the roots as they leave the ground and disconnect from the smaller rootlets, and the shock along the tree's spine as it hit the ground. Over the next few days, if not weeks, the tree's storage of moisture will get used up, perhaps slower than before. The roots will attempt to cling to any moisture they reach from the damp rainforest air, but circumstances are largely not in their favour.

I get closer to the tree. Touch its rain-soaked bark. Feel the tremendous pain its in. The tree that once had stood so proud and high above all creatures is now lying horizontally. I can feel its pulse, weak, trembling but still there. I pat the damp moss on the base of its bark and on the formerly superficial portion of its root system. What about all the lesser life forms on the tree? Did they notice the change? Are they worried about their future? Perhaps not. The tree's body will nourish these fungi, fern, lichens and moss strands for countless years to come. And water is present in abundance for these plants from prehistoric kingdoms.

And this is how life meets death. Or perhaps the other way around - death is the one that greets life and reaches out to it. In the rainforest the coexistence of these two opposites is the most obvious, natural. And if it weren't for the drama and tragedy of the storm, those two states of being just weave in and out of each other seamlessly. The trees took about four weeks to use up their water, shut down their entire systems of livelihood, and say their farewells to the world as they lay horizontally and stare at the barren skies through the space their missing canopy left behind. After checking their plus this weekend, I am pretty sure that they are now among the dead. Not only are the needles no longer green, many have already began falling to the ground. And there is something you cannot see, but only feel, that tells me they are now just inanimate objects, vegetal corpses providing nutrients to the new generation of trees, bushes, housing birds and squirrels, bugs and microorganisms that will take many years to penetrate the strong essential oils in the heartwood to completely break it down. It will become, eventually, part of the soil and part of the root system of those new plants and create an intricate piece of the rainforest ever changing landscape. 


We humans are strange creatures. Life should be life; and death should be plain and simple, cut and dry. But how many of us live in a state of a dream (or a nightmare) and constantly attempt to escape the present moment? How much of our lives we wish we were somewhere else than where we are, and be someone else - or be with somebody else than the people and creatures that are present in our lives? I am beginning to think that constant discontent with the present moment is the root of all illnesses. That and the lack of gratitude to what IS in our lives, what is present, what we "have" so to speak (at the end of the day, I don't believe ownership truly amounts to much). That obsession of what would happen next - after we finish work, or after we finish resting; after we finish living, or once we stop dying. This mindset is so futile, counter-productive and ultimately shows very little gratitude. We should be thankful every moment that we are alive, and literally, live up to what that entails. 

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