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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?

Bergamot

Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) is one of the most important perfume materials, being a key component in almost all fragrance categories. Bergamot is more floral than any other raw material that comes from a citrus rind, and goes with anything and everything: You’ll find it in Citrus and Colognes (naturally) Florals, Florientals, Orientals, Fougère including Marine/Oceanic, and of course Chypre, where it is a key component including even the Chypre Leathery/Tobacco fragrances. Bergamot is diffusive, elegant, balanced and quite complex - a trait that is rarely found in the fleeting top notes. 

Please note that the “t” is pronounced at the end - bergamot is not French, but an Italian word, not French. And even the French, who like to eliminate the last sounds of letters with an invisible linguistic guillotine pronounce this name as “ber-ga-mott”. 

In the 18th Century, little papier-maché boxes called “Bergamotes” were made in Grasse. They were scented with pieces of bergamot peel, a custom that lasted only till about 1830. In Spain, bergamot peels are still used to make tabachieres (snuff boxes). In the process of making them, the peels are flipped inside out, so that the tobacco kept inside the box becomes flavoured with the cured bergamot’s aroma. 
Begramot essential oil is also important in flavour - especially to make Earl Grey tea, one of the most popular aromatized black tea blends (typically orange pekoe), sometimes with the addition of lavender, and even vanilla (in Cream Earl Grey). I wonder if this custom is related to keeping tea leaves inside similar orange boxes. In any case, such an experiment would be worth trying, and this practice is not foreign to the world of tea: There is a special type of Chinese white tea that is kept inside tiny dried mandarin orange “boxes” that were hollowed out of their pulp. 

Bergamot is not your usual citrus note. It is more floral, complex and warm than most citrus, not quite as tangy or fruity, and can be described as spicy-warm in comparison other typical citrus notes. Bergamot has a dry, floral, peppery, a little woody, more floral/lavender like than the rest of the citrus oils. There is also a green aspect to it, which is soft rather than sharp, and with hints of herbal and balsamic undertones, and tea-like qualities, which are not unlike Clary sage.

Around 300 molecules have been identified in this complex citrus oil! 30-60% Linalyl aceatate (30-60%), linalool (11-22%), Citral, alcohols, sesqueterpenes, alkanes, furanocoumarin (bergapten at 0.30-0.39%) the latter being the constituent that gives it its most distinct characteristic, and also creates the phototoxic risk. 

Bergamot is most frequently associated with tea, not just because it is used to flavour Earl Grey tea (an aromatized black tea infused with bergamot essential oil, and sometimes also lavender) — but also because of the high linalyl acetate content, which has a clear, elegant, floral-green tea-like quality (this molecule is also found in large amounts in lavender, petitgrain bigarade and clary sage oils). 

While bergamot shares some similarities with lemon, the latter is more acidic and fresh; and also even though both are top notes — bergamot is longer lasting than lemon, which evaporates rapidly. Bergamot develops into a bitter orange scent after an hour or so. The citrus aroma of lemon-orange (from limonene) does not reveal itself until the dry down (about 30 minutes or more after dipping the scent strip). Bergamot is softer, closer to neroli and petitgrain, and with an elegant, dry floralcy that is reminiscent of grapefruit as well (yet without the sulphurous qualities). 
Bergamot is one of the most sought-after citrus oil. It’s versatility and sparkle is invaluable. It is used in citrus eaux as well as a top note for floral, woody and oriental compositions. But perhaps its most intriguing role is in the original formulas of Chypre – where it was used to contrast the mossy, earthy-sweet notes of oakmoss and labdanum to create the many seamless compositions that this fragrance family includes. It is also a key component in the ambreine accord, where it is juxtaposed against vanilla, vanillin or ethyl vanillin. 

Bergamot blends well with almost all oils. Its citrusy and floral aroma makes it a very versatile note. It blends particularly well with: Black Pepper, Rose, Jasmine, Neroli, Orange Blossom Absolute, Orange Flower Water Absolute, Vanilla, Benzoin, Lavender, Juniper, Oakmoss, Labdanum. 


Caution: Please note that bergamot is highly phototoxic! If you are using this oil for skincare or body care (leave-on products such as body oil, massage oil, creams, lotions, etc.) please opt for bergapten free oils, labeled as “FCF” (which stands for “furano-coumarin-free”). However, the FCF oil loses a lot of the character, and is best avoided for fine perfumery. It really does not do bergamot any justice… Because bergamot is so common in so many fragrance categories, it would be best advised to never wear perfume of any kind on areas that will be exposed to the sun or tanning lights. Perfume should be worn on pulse-points that don't typically see the day of lights - behind the ears, on the wrists. Think twice if you apply perfume to any other area (i.e.: bend of the elbows and knees, on the chest, etc.) and hit the beach or the pool. You may get a burn if you do so. So either cover up those areas or avoid wearing fragrance before getting out sunbathing.

Examples for perfumes with dominant bergamot note: Shalimar, Chypre, MitsoukoCharismaEspionage, Moon Breath, ArbitRary, Fetish and more. 

My (Imaginary) Orchid Collection

Wild Ride
A couple of weeks ago we went to hunt for wild peonies, and found many new orchids along the trail. I also spotted a few tall orchids that weren't in bloom yet, so today I went back to spot them. And I present to you the whole series. Perhaps this is not the place for this post, as non of them is fragrant. Amon gate Israeli orchids, only the Holy Orchid (Orchis sancta) that is extremely rare (and I didn't meet yet) and the Scented Orchid (which smells like dung) have smell. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

I'll start with the first orchid I met on the trail (note the many Anatolian Orchids behind it):
Cephalanthera longifolia סחלבן החורש
Cephalanthera longifolia סחלבן החורש
Orchis punctulata סחלב נקוד
Orchis galilaea סחלב הגליל
סחלב  שלוש-השיניים Orchis tridentata
Orchis tridentata סחלב  שלוש-השיניים 
Orchis anatolica סחלב אנטולי
Orchis anatolica סחלב אנטולי
This small yet impressively coloured orchid rules the slopes of Mt. Meron but still manages to look special and impressive. 
Orchis papilionacea ? סחלב פרפרני
Orchis papilionacea  סחלב פרפרני
Orchis sancta ?
Orchis papilionacea  סחלב פרפרני
This is the same as above but perhaps older and therefore less vibrant in colour.
Limodorum abortivum (Violet Limodore) שנק החורש
Limodorum abortivum (Violet Limodore) שנק החורש
This is the one I spotted about to bloom a couple of weeks ago, and came back to see today. It was already starting to dry out, but still - you can get the picture. It's a very tall orchid. Note how it compares to the rockrose (cistus) and blood helichrysum next to it:
Limodorum abortivum (Violet Limodore) שנק החורש
Ophrys umblicata דבורנית דינסמור
Ophrys umblicata דבורנית דינסמור
This last photo was not photographed on Mt. Hillel but I found another one and didn't bother to take a photo (was saving camera space for the peonies!). There are several other kinds of bee orchids in Israel, here is another one just for fun:
Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys transhyrcana) דבורנית הקטיפה
Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys transhyrcana) דבורנית הקטיפה
Ophrys holosericea (Great Bee Orchid) דבורנית גדולה
Ophrys holosericea (Great Bee Orchid) דבורנית גדולה

The following are also not found on the same site, but are part of my imaginary orchid collection nevertheless.
Anacamptis pyramidalis ?? בן-סחלב צריפי
Anacamptis pyramidalis בן-סחלב צריפי

This one is relatively common in our area (lower altitude). I think this its rhizomes are the original ingredient of the Sahleb pudding.
Mystery Orchid
This lovely one I could not for the life of me identified. Spotted in Kziv Creek reserve, along the same trail that has the Wild Lilies. I would love to learn which one it is!

 

Jupiter Incense Pastilles

Jupiter Incense Pastilles
Today being Thursday is a perfect day to finally complete my Jupiter planetary incense pastilles!
This special incense does not have the exact same formula like I had created originally (due to some limits on import of certain botanicals outside of North America). But it has lots of great new ingredients that keep it in the same spirit. The main components are piñon pine resin, juniper berries, spruce pitch, fir needles from Canada and other forest treasures. It is very forest-like in line with the character of Jupiter and it being so closely aligned with plant medicine and teaching, hunting and forests.
Jupiter Incense Pastilles
After pounding and compounding all the materials, which was a process that was stretched out over a month or even more - it was time to finally put them all together. They smelled much better after marring for a while!
Jupiter Incense Pastilles
I decided to add some colour to these pastilles, even though I like to usually keep my incense very natural and real looking. It's been a while since I've made coloured incense and I finally got some colourful minerals on my hand. This shimmering blue is just the perfect colour for this planet.
Jupiter Incense Pastilles
Here is a shimmering filet of incense, all ready to get cut into pieces...
Jupiter Incense Pastilles
Except it is still very sticky incense "dough". So I had to wait 24hrs between cutting the two sets of lines (note my attempt at the very bottom left corner).
Jupiter Incense Pastilles
Here it is finally cut up into its final pieces, and waiting to be dried completely before being packaged. It is meant to be burnt on hot charcoal, or warmed gently in an aromatherapy diffuser (I recommend placing a tiny piece of aluminum foil because it will otherwise stick to your vessel and create a mess).

Planetary Prescription Incense

Incense As Medicine
Today is an especially magical day, being the midway point between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. So that's a great timing to work on new incense and share with you what I've been brewing these past nine months (there has been plenty of incensing happening lately!).

It's been my life-long mission to create incense for the seven ancient planets. I am finally coming close to completing this series to my satisfaction. So far, I only liked the Jupiter incense I've created many years ago, in the very beginning of my incense path. I made a few other incense pastilles but I have taken a break from this technique for many years.

This year I've been catching up and refining my incense-making skills big time. Partly because the space allows it, and partly because I find the actual making of incense very calming, centring, sensual and magical all around. Incense to me is the purest form of perfume. Its most natural state. The manipulation of the raw materials is minimal. The ingredients may be exotic or simple. Lastly there is the actual use of incense, which is healing and transformative on so many planes - physical, psychological and spiritual.

The planetary incense is mostly botanical (except the lunar one, which has a tiny bit of ambergris in it). They are resin-based incense with added herbs, spices and essential oils, and are formed into small candy-like resin crystals. The Saturn ones are Nerikoh - a Japanese style soft-candy incense that is mostly wood and spice based, and glued together with honey or dried plums. Nerikoh were originally compounded as edible medicine - the honey there to preserve as well as ease the consumption of these remedies' rather bitter, acrid and hot flavours.

Solar Incense Pastilles:
Heart opening, sweet, warm and healing.
Includes: Frankincense, Gold Copal, Chamomile, Saffron

Moon Drops Incense Pastilles:
Mysterious, watery, dark womb, new beginnings.
Black copal, Sandalwood, Ambergris, Jasmine, Artemisia

Mercury Incense Pastilles:
Swift, uplifting, communication, ideas, mental clarity, intellectual connection. 
Mastic, Elemi, Mimosa, Yuzu, Sandarac, Sandalwood

Noga (Venus) Incense Pastilles:
Inspires love, beauty and harmony. 
Includes: Galbanum, Benzoin, Roses, Labdanum, Myrtle, Tonka Bean

Mars Incense Pastilles:
Protective, powerful, transformative, healing that comes from destruction and breaking down of old and unnecessary things/thoughts/desires. 
Dragon's Blood, Ponderosa Pine, Tobacco, Palo Santo 

Jupiter Incense Pastilles:  
The teacher, especially plant teachings, healing, cleansing, brings luck and abundance. 
Pinon Pine, Star Anise, Juniper, Sage 

Saturn Nerikoh (Soft Incense Pastilles):
Discipline, analogue to the world and the physical world's lessons, Gives form and manifestation to ideas, Wisdom. 
Myrrh, Patchouli, Cypress, Spices, Vetiver, Agarwood

As if closing a circle, I'm now running very low on the Jupiter incense, so will have to make some more (it's been in the planning for about a month, with all the ingredients measured and set up, just waiting to be pounded, compounded and formed into a very special kind of incense candy!). More on that in the next post! 

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