Monday, August 14, 2017

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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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Soapmaking

Soapmaking in the planning
My idea of a perfect (summer) includes a lot of R & D (research and development) in the lab. Earlier this summer, before humidity got out of hand, I got my act together and created my first batch of soap, ever. It was the exact same formula that Open Source Soap used for creating all my fragrance 3-in-1 soap bars. I decided on an unscented soap for my first batch, because I really wanted to see and experience the soap in its pure form  - and also avoid painful loss of precious fragrant materials in case I screw up.
Pouring my first batch of soap ever
The process is a tad tedious and time consuming, requiring one to be precise with the temperatures and also extra cautious with the lye's caustic properties. It was a rather humid day when I made it, so I realized pretty fast that it is very uncomfortable to work with goggles and gloves when the air is so slippery and moist; and also there is that feeling that the air would cary the caustic fumes far too easily into my system. No harm was done, but I am now convinced that winter is the best time for this kind of production (or R & D, for that matter).
Cured soap
I've used stainless steel loaf pans as molds. I made a mistake of not putting any linings (I didn't want them to have wrinkles at the bottom). Turns out it was near impossible to get the soap out after the 24 hour hardening period. But I managed to do it anyway.
Soap slicing
The result I'm very pleased with as far as the soap consistency, properties (lathering, moisturizing) albeit its messy look. I know that if it was possible to take it out of the mold easily they would have been beautiful, so for next time I'm going to use a different procedure for the pouring process and probably use a different mold - probably will reuse 1L milk cartons. The bars will have a different size than they did under Schuyler's hands (he used 2L juice cartons, and than cut them in the middle to create a long shaped rectangle). Mine will be more on the squarish side.
Post-Soapmking Mess
I ended up with a lot of soap shavings, from which I can make a liquid soap or just use for hand washing clothes etc.
Post-Soapmking Mess - Cleanup
Cleanup time!
(Which is super easy, by the way - especially with my designated sink and stainless steel surfaces - yay!).

Infusions

I am now waiting at least for a dry weather to proceed with more experiments. In the meantime, I'm creating oil infusions of herbs that could be incorporated into the soap, from wild herbs that grow here - for example Varthemia and Sage. Having appropriate space makes all the difference - I have room for large- mouthed jars that can sit around for months if needed and still not take up much of my ongoing workspace. It is so refreshing to have a studio built especially for the purpose I need it for. I can't even begin to tell you how thrilled I am about that and all the possibilities of what I can do next.

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Thursday, August 03, 2017

Burning through the Desert

Dan Rielger & Ayala Moriel

A few months ago (the last day of April, to be exact, which was also the first day of my Orientals week-long course), I had the pleasure and honour to host a special guest throughout the day: Dan Riegler of Apothecary's Garden - a purveyor of fair trade resins from around the world - especially frankincense and myrrh that are wild crafted in the traditional methods in countries such as Somalia, Yemen and Kenya. He also sources Cretan labdanum, and other rare raw materials, and sells resin-centrered products that he concocts himself, which you can find on his online shop. One of them being a highly fragrant moustache wax which basically surrounded him with a cloud of frankincense - so obviously he made an instant good impression on me!

We started the day at the Baha'i Gardens in Akko (which deserve a full post dedicated to them) and then went to my studio to make incense - and burn a bunch too. Little did I know what I was signing up for. On top of the usual things I burn for this class (palo santo chips, sandalwood incense sticks, one type of myrrh and frankincense resins and my own rendition of Egyptian Kyphi) - Dan had a trunk-load of resins that he just imported from Africa, and was immensely kind and generous to share with us the most incredible incense resins with me and my class. We spent the afternoon burning rare myrrh, olibanum, and also some gums I never knew existed, namely Sandarac and Ammoniacum, the latter of which totally blew my mind.

I learned so much from Dan, about the resins (and the other raw materials he curates and sells), how they are harvested and collected, the chemical makeup of the resins and how it affects the stages of burning (it turns out that incense resins also have top, heart and base notes) - and this post is just a little taste of all the beautiful resins we burnt when he was here. I'm looking forward to meeting him again on his next visits in Israel on the way to the African continent.

Boswellia carterii
Frankincense usually comes in "tears" shape as this Boswellia carterii - but not always. Below is a specimen of the less known B. neglecta that look more like a chunk of resinous granules. B. carterii has the characteristic, most unmistakable scent of frankincense - beginning with sweet citrus notes of lemon drops and orange candy and continuing into more resinous, woody and even balsamic, caramel-like nuances as the incense burns on the charcoal.

While looking pretty much the same, other frankincense species provide further nuances and a whole frankincense burning comparative study (or incense games a-la Japenese Koh-Doh) can easily occupy half a day. Compare this to Maydi (Boswellia frereana) which albeit its slightly herbaceous (sage-like) opening, is more subtle, woody and perfumey. In fact, it smells almost powdery like violet and iris. Ethiopian frakincince (Boswellia papyrifea) is even finer with its suave, light perfume notes, slightly sweet and with notes of burnt sugar at the end of the charcoal burning process.

Boswellia negoecta - black and white

Boswellia neglecta is endemic to north Kenya and comes in white and black forms (as you can see in the photo) and is not widely known. The white and the black smell significantly different. The white begins resinous-green, piney and mysterious, surprisingly juice like crushed leaves with hints of parsley, galbanum and ammonia (smells a lot like amoniacum).  It has a hint of sweaty note, a little like coriander seed. The final burning moments bring to mind the smoke coming out of autumnal piles of fall leaves.

The black neglecta smells completely different - you wouldn't think it came from the same plant: it smells dark and looming, like moss, mushrooms, decaying fall leaves, peat, forest floor and hints of campfire. It's surprising and magical that a resin can possess so many different facets.

Sandarac
Sandarac (tetraclllyris) comes from Malta and just like its pure milky appearance, burns clean with a woody-balsamic-resinous scent that is fine and very pleasant. It's a little bit like elemi, a little like mastic but not quite. There is a tiny hint of seashore to it that I only detected after many times of burning. It is quite lovely, even if underwhelming at first impression.

Ammoniacum
Ammoniacum is intense and pungent, like a mixture of galbanum, asafoetida, sulphur, greens. It it a very interesting odour but I suspect it would have better effect in magic and exorcism ceremonies rather than contemplative incense rituals.

Commiphora confusa

Commiphora confusa, as the name suggests, is a type of myrrh that is hard to identify, and for several reasons: the flowers look different on each plant, the resin looks different as well - and the most surprising of all: it smells more like frankincense than myrrh.

Commiphora myrrha

Commiphora myrrha (from Ethiopea) has the characteristic bitter, rubbery scent when burnt, and is what I'd imagine the Queen of Sheba to wear on her neck when seducing King Solomon.

Commiphora karat

Commiphora kataf (from Kenya) has pieces of wood in it (which would change the smell of the smoke depending on which chunk you burn). It has a strange, sulphuric-sweaty odour. I guess you could call it spicy, as it has a hint of cumin in it too. Overall it reminds me more of the smell of food than incense - barbecuing kebabs comes to mind.

Commiphira holziana
Commiphora holtziana does not smell like myrrh at all to me. It's more woody than C. myrrha, and a tad fresh to start with. Dan describes it as briny and sea-like but I'm not getting it.

Arabian/Yemeni Myrrh
Arabian/Yemeni Myrrh is by far the most incredibly beautiful myrrh resin I've ever burnt. Although it came in a strange looking chunk, containing pieces of the plastic bags used by the collectors, and even a piece of wool yarn, it has the most fantastic scent, like a perfume on its own accord. It reminds me of the unique "version" of frankincense that B. papyrifea offers. I would love to have this as an essential oil and create a perfume with it.

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