Sunday, April 01, 2007

Acacia, Botanical Invasion and Leather

Mimosa, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

In the past two weeks, I’ve been traveling back and forth between Tel Aviv and my little village up north. In one of our rides together, my brother Yotam pointed out to me the dangerous abundance of Mimosas across the country, and the fact that they are now considered invasive species in Israel. Mimosas were sparse and almost exotic way back when, and I remember specific spots along the road where they could be found. When the blooming season arrived, we would pick them for my step-grandmother, who admired them greatly. Now, however, they can be found everywhere, not just in parks and city gardens or along the roads. They can be found in the middle of fields or on hillsides, where they are gradually taking over and use up resources such as space and water, therefore endangering the survival of the indigenous plants.

Now, in springtime, the view of mimosa is glorious and abundant, particularly in full bloom. Otherwise, these bushes embody the mood of desert and negligent greenery scattered in random places where it leaves no impression whatsoever except, perhaps, the gloom of heat and burning sunrays.

Mimosa is from the family of Fabaceae, which also includes the legumes. And indeed it has seeds that are arranged in elongated pods. It belongs to the subfamily of Mimosoideae, which includes also plants, shrubs and trees, some of which perform rapid movement like the “touch me not” plant (Mimosa Pudica).

The Acacia (commonly known as Mimosa) is an invasive species in other parts of the world. Although it is native to Australia, it is cultivated in countries such as Egypt, Morocco, France, Italy, Algiria, Lebanon an India. I suspect it was brought Israel at the turn of the century, along with Eucalpytus trees which exude an equally gloomy appearance where they remain as a statue to lost wetlands or malaria-beaten swamps and marshes that my Zionist ancestors fought vigorously and turned into depressing little forests instead.

The particular mimosa that is widespread in Israel is the Blue Leaf Wattle (Acacia cyanophylla). It is not extremely fragrant like the Acacia decurrens or the Acacia farnesiana (Cassie). But it does have a light, floral powdery sweet aroma wafting about it without making too much effort to leave an impression. I noticed that the scent is more apparent when smelled from distance, rather than sticking your nostrils amongst the pollen-laden wands decorated with the little yellow pompoms.

Mimosa has many uses in the leather industry. The bark as well as the pods are rich in tannins, and therefore make an excellent agent for preserving and tanning the leather. By way of fortune, I had the honour to get some information about the uses of mimosa from Stu Miller, a life long leather tanner and an expert in the field who consulted to leather tanneries across the world. mimosa bark. Mr. Miller’s daughter is known to some of you as Loukumi in Basenotes or Elizabeada in Perfume of Life forum. When she tried my mimosa soliflore, Les Nuages de Joie Jaune, she immediately recognized a familiar scent from her father’s tannery. She was intrigued and assisted me in finding out a little more about the use of mimosa in modern tanning industry, which, surprisingly, still uses many natural and locally grown materials in the tanning process. For instance: Cabracho from Argentina, chestnut extract, and sumac which used to come from Albania but is pretty rare today (sumac, in Hebrew, is called “Og Haburskaim”, which means “Plant of the Leather Tanners”, and grows wild in the mountains of Jerusalem), mangrove. Many tanneries use plants that are rich in tannin that are grown locally, for instance - some kinds of Eucalyptus in Australia, and unknown plants in South America, that are “used to tan fluffy curly white sheep skins that we sometimes see here”.

Mr. Miller’s tannery imported powdered mimosa pods from plantations in Africa and Brazil, which had 40-50% tannin. It was particularly used for tanning saddle leather, which tanned and dyed entirely with vegetable substances. At times, iron is added to mimosa powder to create a black dye: the tannin reacts to the iron and turns black. When asked if the mimosa pods had any smell, Mr. Miller said they just smelled like wood. He suggested that the scent his daughter smelled was a solvent – either butyl acetate (which smells a bit like bananas and is commonly used in the flavouring industry, particularly to create the scent of Granny Smith apples), or butyl alcohol.

The two species of mimosa that are of particular interest from perfumery as well as aromatherapy aspects are commonly called Cassie and Mimosa. Mimosa is the Acacia decurrens (Green Wattle) species. It is a middle to top note, with a scent that is at once watery, powdery, only slightly flowery and woody and very much cucumber-like. The absolute is a thick substance that tends to solidify once exposed to air and become brittle. This absolute is high in Palmic aldehyde, anisic acid, enanthic acid, acetic acid, phenols.
Because of its antiseptic and astringent properties, mimosa in aromatherapy, it is used as a muscle relaxant, skin conditioner, and for skincare of oily and sensitive skin. It also assists in nervous tension, anxiety, stress and insomnia.
Mimosa is mostly grown in Australia, Africa, France, Italy (based on HerbBee).

Acacia Farnesiana, AKA Sweet Acacia or Cassie absolute, is an unusual floral note: it is one of the most rare floral base notes. It has a far more intense, wet quality to it than the mimosa absolute has. It smells green, woody, wet, similar somewhat to violet leaf, yet floral with an intensity that is quite similar to that of jasmine. It is a valuable fixative in floral compositions.
According to the HerbBee, Cassie absolute contains Benzyl alcohol, methyl salicylate, farnesol, geraniol, linalool.
It is considered anti-rheumatic, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, aphrodisiac, balsamic, and can be also be an insecticide.
In aromatherapy, it is used for rheumatism, dry skin, sensitive skin, increases sexual desire, depression, nervous exhaustion, stress. It is also used in the flavour industry. Cassie is mostly grown in France, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Algeria and India.

Coming up next: reviews of mimosa perfumes.

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