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Autumn Leaves Nerikoh

Autumn Leaves Nerikoh
Incense is occupying my mind a lot these days, as well as most of my creative endeavours. I'm working on different techniques, and also adaptations of some of my perfumes into incense form. The Japanese art of incense is poetic and technically versatile in a way that sparks my imagination.

Today I've tried my hand at crafting Nerikoh (kneaded incense) using dried fruit instead of honey. I notice apricot used in several of the Nerikoh offerings from Shoyeido, so I decided to give it a try. It seemed especially befitting for an adaptation of Autumn perfume that I wanted to make. It's akin to translating an idea from perfume into incense format.
Autumn Leaves Nerikoh
Autumn was a perfect candidate, as Nerikoh is traditionally used in tea ceremonies in the fall season.  Additionally, it being a Chypre Fruity with spicy notes and labdanum gave it an extra advantage over most of my other perfumes. Labdanum is one of the classic notes in Japanese Neirkoh, and along with the sticky dried apricot fruit, that would have been a great way to bring both worlds together. Other traditional incense materials are sandalwood, cinnamon and cloves, which are also in the perfume. Of course it has some oakmoss too! An early burn over a tea light smells promising already. Sweet yet earthy, complex yet brings on a feeling of serenity of fallen leaves. I even went as far as molding some into maple leaf shapes. And now I regret not doing it with the rest. The experiment seems to have gone well, so there will be more shaped incense pellets to come.  I just have to be sure they don't get suck inside the mold or break once they dried, before meticulously shaping an entire batch. And then there is also the question of packaging...

The Autumn Leaves Nerikoh won't be ready till fall, as they need at least six months to cure or age - and this is a shortcut: traditionally they will be buried in the ground in a clay vessel for 3-4 years! That means they will be ready around Halloween. I can't wait to smell them then, when the temperatures here will finally become cooler again after a long summer.

Neroli Tincture

Bitter Orange Flower Tincture
Often I'm asked if it is possible to make orange blossoms tincture. My snarky response is that you can tincture anything. Can't guarantee the results though... Fresh flowers, generally speaking, don't let themselves well to alcoholic tincturing. That is why enfleurage and solvent extraction techniques were invented in the first place. Otherwise why bother with such sophisticated process if it is possible to make such an easy homemade extraction with alcohol?
There are a few problems at play. One is the water content in the flowers. Once the flowers sit in the alcohol, it dries them up completely, which means it sucks all the moisture out of them. That's what alcohol does. It readily bonds with the water. This dilutes the alcohol's solvent powers. 
The other problem is that the alcohol dissolves also less desirable aspects of the plant matter, resulting in a very vegetal smelling tincture. It may be fine for medicinal purposes (which is the the main objective of most fresh plant matter tinctures). For fine perfumery - not so much. 
Bitter Orange Flower Tincture
Either way, one needs to watch out for over-steeping when preparing tinctures. Less is often more. Meaning, it is better to recharge the alcohol several times with the flowers until the desired odour strength is achieved. This is akin to steeping tea: Steeping the same amount of tea over a longer period of time will definitely give you a stronger tea, but not as fragrant and delicious as one that you've paid attention to preparing according to the appropriate steeping time and amount of tea leaf. When wishing you prepare a stronger tea, there is no way around using more tea. This is not the time or place to be thrifty with your raw materials. Remember the time and effort taken to grow, harvest, clean and infuse your plants. Remember how much you paid for that 96% alcohol. Don't waste these resources. 
So, with all that being said, the neroli tincture (bitter orange blossoms steeped in alcohol) smelled nice enough. I was smart enough to strain it before turning vegetable. It wears ok on the skin. But needs another recharge or two. In my opinion, aside from the cache of using something from my own orchard in my perfume, it does not offer anything more than what my high quality neroli oil and orange blossom absolutes have to offer. But we shall see once I use it within a composition. I will include some in my upcoming batch of Zohar (my orange blossom soliflore). Maybe it will transform into something more WOW inducing then. Either way, the process was fun. But I a more inclined to stick to traditional raw materials with these flowers and get a still ASAP to make my own orchard hydrosoles and perhaps even oils some day soon. 

Wild Peonies

Wild Peonies (Paeonia mascula)
We went hunting for coral peonies (Paeonia mascula) in their natural habitat. I discovered so much more than I expected on the way, including about 7 kinds of orchids - so not everything will fit in this post. These impressive flowers are native to a large area surrounding the Mediterranean: Spain, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, Croatia, Serbia, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel. Here in Israel they only grow in one area in Israel, in the Mount Meron reserve. And even there it is not widely spread, but is found only in one specific area of the forest on Mount Hillel (near the Druze village Beit Jann).  In Arabic they are called "Bear Foot" because of the shape of their fruit. The origin for this name is a legend about lovers whose parents opposed their marriage. They ran away to the mountain, and were caught in a snow storm. The search party from the village lost hope for them when they saw brea footprints in the snow. Yet they followed the bear's trail and found the couple in a cave, and learned that the bear saved their lives by bringing them food. In the spring, peonies appeared on the bear's trail.
Jerusalem sage in bloom
(Jerusalem sage - מרוות ירושלים Salvia hierosolymitana - in bloom)
Mandrake fruit
(Mandrake fruit, unripe)
Cephalanthera longifolia סחלבן החורש
(Cephalanthera longifolia סחלבן החורש)

To get to the actual trail where the peonies live, one needs to walk on a pretty uneventful gravel road in an agricultural land that is abundant with olive grove, cherries and other stone fruit. There are of course some interesting plants along the way - but nothing that you won't see elsewhere: Jerusalem sage (which was in bloom when we visited), and white orchids here and there. I even stumbled across mandrake fruit (still green and not fragrant yet).
Arbutus and oak forest
Then there was a nice little trail going uphill, distributed again by a gravel road, and shortly after plunging into a rather steep and slipper downhill trail, which is where we were about to meet the peonies for the first time.

It was an unusually cold, windy and rainy day. So not so many people were there to spot the flowers. This is unusual for the week-long holiday of Passover, in which the country's parks are overflowing with noisy Israelis littering nature to their heart's content. The few people who were there were very nice and helpful, and we just happened to start the trail with two couples, who were relatives of someone from my village. Not only were they not loud and evidently curious about plants (so I couldn't help myself telling them everything I know about plants we met along the trail) but they also invited us for a coffee which they brewed right there next to the first peonies we found. It was nice to be the guest of an outdoors picnic like that.

More importantly: If it wasn't for these companions,  we probably would have turned on my heels right after meeting the first few bushes. They were located at the start of this downhill trail, which was immensely slippery and my daughter was a bit hesitant to continue with the trail. Having more people around gave us more confidence.
Wild peonies in an arbutus and oak forest
I've seen peonies countless times in gardens in British Columbia, but nothing compares to finding them like this (even though it was to be expected that I'll find them, of course). Their presence in this quiet oak and arbutus forest is nothing short of magical!
Wild Peonies (Paeonia mascula)

Wild Peonies (Paeonia mascula)
The wild peony (Hebrew: אדמונית החורש) are considered the first medicine plant by the Greek. They are named after Paeon (AKA Paean), the Greek God of Healing. And indeed their leaves and roots were used to heal a number of conditions, epically for night terrors, to treat the neural diseases, epilepsy, headaches and liver complaints, digestive issues and clearing the womb after childbirth or during mensuration. Dioscorides account in his Herbal (Materia Medica) mentions specific preparations for treating those conditions, as well as clearing the womb after childbirth, and how different parts of the plant are used:

"III. 140. Paeonia or glycyside which some name pentorobon, dactylos idaeos, the root paeonia, others aglaophotida. The stem grows two spans high and has many branches. The male has leaves like walnut, the female much divided leaves like smyrnium. At the top of the stem it produces pods like almonds, in which when opened are found many small red grains like the seeds of pomegranate and in the middle five or six purplish black ones. The root of the male is about the thickness of a finger and a span long, with an astringent taste, white, the root of the female has seven or eight swellings like acorns as in asphodel. The dried root is given to women who have not been cleansed (internally) after childbirth. It promotes menstruation (a dose containing root) the size of an almond being drunk; it lessens abdominal pains when drunk in wine. It helps those who have jaundice and kidney and bladder troubles. Soaked in wine and drunk it stops diarrhoea. Ten to twelve red grains from the fruit taken in dark rough (dry) wine slop menstrual flow and being eaten they ease stomach pains. Drunk and eaten by children they remove the beginnings of stone. The black seeds are good against nightmares, hysteria and pains of the womb when up to fifteen are drunk in mead or wine. It grows on high mountains and foothills."
Wild Peonies (Paeonia mascula)
Last but not least: Their scent, of course!
Wild peonies have a robust, sweet-spicy scent that is at least ten times better than the garden variety. I find that more often than not, the multi-layers of cultivated petals reek of something green and nasty, best described as the scent of the water in the vase after flowers have been sitting in it for a week. White peonies (and some light pink ones) tend to be better smelling, with a scent spicy yet cool, peppery and green and only a tad rosy and clove or carnation like. The are sharp and their vibration resonates around the head and the nose. These were all around sweet, warm and heavenly. Inhaling their scent created a feeling similar to smelling roses, a warmth and soothing around the heart and solar plexus. And most of all, so surprising to smell this kind of scent on a mountaintop surrounded by oak and arbutus trees!
Wild Peonies (Paeonia mascula) and Ayala Moriel

Wisteria Enfleurage

Wisteria Enfleurage
Wisteria is one of my favourite plants. In all season, it has grace and character. The delicate, fragrant and decorative racemes of purple flowers in the spring against the grey branches, followed by copious green and shade-giving foliage it the summertime, changing leaves in the autumn, and even in the winter, when it's dormant, it manages to keep its beauty with the sparse grey branches and trunk that curl around whatever it's climbing on.
Wisteria Harvest
I planted my wisteria in the summer, to give shade to my eastern window, which is bringing in too much heat in the summer months into the Pilates studio (and there are plenty of those where I am now). In the winter, when it's barren, it will allow the gentle winter sunrays to get through the east window and bring light and warmth to the room.
Wisteria
I was thrilled when the first clusters of buds started showing - but soon enough, there were nasty black beetles with white dots, the same ones that munched away at my roses last year - literally feasting on this and wrecking havoc! To top that damage off, a couple of days of dry east wind, and most of the flowers were gone. I was able to set up about two recharges of enfleurage trays, and it looked promising, but then turned kinda sour and musty smelling. My only consolation is that next year there will be more. And also there is still an abundance of sweet pea flowers to enfleurage, as well as broom. So I will have lots fo sweet smells to play with very soon. Not all is lost!
Wisteria Enfleurage
Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) belongs to the Fabaceae/Leguminosae family, and has flowers like all the other legumes, resembling butterflies and often fragrant, and even edible.

Please note that wisteria contains a toxic glycoside in all parts to he plant - wisterin. It will causes all fun digestive nightmares, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach ache. So don't eat it and make sure children don't get tempted to taste it!

The flowers are often purple (though white varieties also exist), with a yellow and white "landing strip" for guiding the insects to the reproductive organs.

Wisteria Enfleurage
As for the scent itself, it is hard to describe, and in my opinion also not exactly as distinctive as, say, sweet pea. I find  the one growing this year at my garden it to be extremely similar to ylang ylang, with pronounced clove-like scent. It has a lovely creaminess, however I am lost for words describing exactly what is special about it. I remember the ones growing in Vancouver as having a soft-focus personality, more powdery yet also heady. I do not recall them being so clove-like at all. Bo Jensen describes the wisteria scent being "a pleasant, mild, warm and creamy sweetness with rosy, peppery and spicy nuances", and cites Joulain et al. research with the key molecules as being beta-chromenes 7-hydroxy-6-methoxy-4H-1-benzopyran and 6,7-dimethoxy-4H-1-benzopyran, as well as 3-hydroxy-4-phenyl-2-butanone or phenylacetoin.

Poucher's one and only formula for Glycine, No. 1086 (Wistaria) from the rather archaic 1959  edition is spelled with an "a" instead of "e" and includes:
180 Hawthorn, Synthetic
50 Eugenol
100 Methyl iphone
100 Hydroxy citronallal 
70 Ylang oil, Bourbon
80 Rose centifolia, synthetic
190 Jasmine, synthetic
100 Terpineol
40 Coumarin
60 Heliotropin
30 Musk ketone
--------
1000

Best Smelling Garbage in the World
Here you see my post-enfleurage flowers of both sweet peat and wisteria. In other words: Trash. I have not only the best smelling garbage but also the best looking!
Enfleurage Tray
Next year is a blank slate... And I hope I get a better, more robust and abundant harvest, and also that it wouldn't turn on the tray. In the meantime, I'm actually feeling inspired to try and recreate it myself with my current arsenal of extraits from enfleurage. Wish me luck...

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!
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