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New Soap: Za'atar

Steeping Za'atar for Soap

At long last, a new soap is made, and is available online: Za'atar - a melange of wild thyme and oregano from the mountain behind my home, and my garden. Properties; cleansing, disinfectant, anti fungal.

The za'atar soap I've been dreaming of making for 8 months now underwent many obstacles, including me not paying attention and charring the wild za'atar decoction meant for the lye (see image below). Moreover, when I finally made a decoction and that didn't scorch, it was a cold day, ad it took too long to trace and once added the essential oils it congealed too fast. The bars turned out fine but visually are not as consistent and pretty as they should have been - with a texture that shows pockets of oil. It has a fine za'atar smell, and works wonderfully like all my other soaps though.

Charred Za'atar

This limited edition soap bar is made from olive-oil and water infusions of various types of Za'atar - thymol and carvacrol rich plants that grow wild on the mountains around the southeast Mediterranean basin: Ezov/hyssop/wild oregano (Origanum syriacum), Winter Savory/Satureja (Satureja montana), Israeli Thyme (Corydothymus capitatus) and Mediterranean Thyme (Thymbra spicata), with the addition of cultivars grown in my garden, such as common oregano, marjoram and thyme. These infusions are used in all of the soap's phases, then supercharged with the aroma of wild oregano essential oil.

The result beautiful bar of soap, superfatted - which means it has wonderful moisturizing qualities due to high content of unsaponified oils within the formula. It is the same rich-lathering formula we've always had for our soaps, plus the healing properties of the wildcrafted herbs.
Summer Za'atar on the border with Lebanon
Among the locals, all the wild herbs mentioned above are called "za'atar interchangeably, even though the Origanum syriacum is the "real" za'atar. Because they are all rich in thymol and carvacrol, they have similar healing properties, strongly antiseptic (antibacterial and anti-fungal), and also help with various skin ailments (eczema in particular). And in other (non-skin-related) uses - most is drank as tea, primarily for digestive issues such as stomach aches, parasites and queasiness; generally used in oral hygiene, as well as curing headaches, earaches, colds and flu and respiratory complaints.

We're using olive oil that was cold-pressed from olive which were organically grown in a Druze village near Mt. Meron; Oganic virgin coconut oil (both are food grade), palm oil and castor oil for that extra emollient quality. The result is a hard, long-lasting bar with rich lather that is very moisturizing - a real treat for your skin, hair and even for shaving; and with the funky but lovable elecampane scent.

Za'atar Soap Bars
Ingredients: Saponified vegetable oils (coconut, olive, palm, castor), water, Za'atar (Origanum suriacum, Satureja montana, Corydothymus capitatus, Thymbra spicata), Thyme, Oregano and Marjoram infusions , Oil of Wild Oregano (Origanum vulgare)


Olive Harvest

Black Syrian Olives

All members of the family take part in this annual tradition: Harvesting the blessing of olive fruit from our very own olive grove. We have about 60 olive trees in various ages (from several hundred years old transplants that were kicked off an avocado plantation about 20 years ago; trees we planted and grafted almost 40 years ago, and newer ones that don't even bear fruit yet).

We take a week off our real jobs and work harder than ever getting all the olives picked between the first rainfall (which washes the dust) and the second. Too much rain will spoil the olives rapidly and make them useless for olive oil. It is more of a regional family tradition than it is a profitable endeavour.

This year I'm especially excited to harvest the olives (a very tedious task, which I never particularly liked) because I've been using a lot of olive oil in my soaps and it's important for me to really experience the connection between the earth, plants and finished products - from start to finish. This is one of the main reasons I moved back to the village, and I hope to also grow and produce my own essential oils eventually.
Olive Harvest 2017

We grow the "Syrian" varietal, which is very sharp in favour and yields a lot of oil. We press most of them for oil, and set a side a little bit for pickling and eating.
Green Olives for Pickling
These green olives I set aside for pickling...

Olive Tree Acrobatics
Cirque de Huile:
Some olive harvest acrobatics performed by my sister-in-law.
Tools of the Trade
This little rake looks like a toy, but it's actually the most important tool of the trade... We use it to "brush" the olives off the branches. It saves a lot of fine manual labour and does not harm the tree as much as beating it with sticks.
Olive Harvest 2017
Okay... Time for a coffee break! I will post more pics as the harvest progresses. This year I also plan to go to the olive press myself to make the oil. Going to be fun!

Yoreh

Yoreh

It rained for the first time, all day and all night. Peeling steadily through the layers of arid earth, the raindrops activated and supercharged with fresh water, permeated by the intoxicating scent of new rain. It was so pure and fresh, new and familiar that I could not sleep all night, waking up every hour or so to the changing scent, releasing nuanced versions of petrichor into the air, crawling into my bedroom window like trails of smoke from a Japanese incense clock.

The thought that went through my mind: maybe, just maybe, it was worth all the suffering of summer to arrive at that special day and experience this outburst of watery blessing.

Looking forward to a few months break from the heat, dust and constant race against the harsh sun clock... Being able to exercise without my head exploding, walking outdoors any time I wish, and hanging out with this creature, who is the epitome of Hygge (don't you agree?).

Cozy Cat

Varthemia

כתלה חריפה Chiliadenus iphionoides

Sharp Varthemia (Chiliadenus iphionoides), or in Hebrew Ktela Harifa (כתלה חריפה) likes to grow inside rocks and has the most incredibly resinous, rustic, complex aroma. It truly is like a complete perfume all of its own, exemplifying what Garriague and Chypre are all about.

Sharp Vartehmia

I've stumbled upon this plant by chance, first near Keshet Cave in Park Adamit near the Lebanese border. A beautiful place with gorgeous view. It was one of two aromatic plants i was unable to identify, but intuitively knew they are both of medicinal and aesthetic value. I later found Varthemia on the mountain above my house. But it wasn't until I saw Yonat HaMidbar post about it and rave about its lovely perfume that I was able to identify the plant (it was never in bloom when I saw it, and it's near impossible to ID plants when they are not in bloom).

Vartehmia Incense Cones

Shortly after I was not only inspired to finally make incense cones out of it, but also studied some of the medicinal properties of it. Among others, it is good for heart problems and diabetes - and seems like a very gentle herb to enjoy in tea (as long as it's not overly done). I picked some for a friend who just had a heart attack, and figured my own heart could benefit from it too. So I've been sipping a lot of vartehmia. marrubium and white mint tea. A lovely combination, and feels to be soothing both the heart and the soul.

Heart Soothing Tea

Infusions

My next adventure with vartehmia is infusing it in both alcohol and olive oil. From the olive oil I will make a single-note vartehmia soap (I will also have it brewed into tea for the water component of the soap making process, so that it is as naturally fragrant as possible). From the alcohol infusion, which turned out beautifully resinous and rich, I've created a rustic, garrigue-inspired amber perfume, which I am debating if you launch this fall or not. It's a further development of an old, old, old formula that was almost sickeningly sweet because the amber base in it wasn't my own and I am quite certain contained some artificial molecules. Frankly, that base smelled more like an ambreine accord. The perfume I made with it included a touch oregano that balanced this sweetness to some degree, but not enough. I want the new perfume to be more authentic and local, and use my own herbal infusions in it - but without taking away from the luxurious character of the perfume. It is very different from the original, and surprisingly has a bit of the Espionage DNA to it - even there is nothing smoky about it. Must be the ambreine accord (which, FYI, is the core of Shalimar, Emeraude and the like). 

Inbar


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