Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Elul

Bountiful harvest
"Bountiful harvest" Jaimi Lammers 

The Lunar/Solar Jewish year is coming to a close. This is Elul, the 12th month, which means "grain harvest" in the Akkadian language (an ancient language which is the origin of the Semite languages, which served as the lingua franca of the Ancient Near East). It may also relate to the word "search", which alludes to the the soul-searching that happens during this month. Jews say special prayers of repentance, and ask forgiveness of one another in preparation for the new year to come. We want to start with a blank slate, without any heaviness in our hearts of feelings of regret. All accounts must be cleared and in order so we can have a fresh start.

As always, I look to nature and the seasons to find inspiration and guidance. To better understand the internal process I am going through I see how it is reflected in the natural cycle of birth, death and re-birth. At the end of the Eastern Mediterranean summer, death is the stage of life where most plants are at. After a long dry spell, the ruling colour is yellow and only the hardiest of plants remain green. All the annuals, except for a few weeds that irritate the gardeners and farmers, have dried up and come to seed long ago. This is a time of deep sleep and hibernation, awaiting the blessed rains of autumn to awaken the seeds and bring them back to life.

There are some exceptions of course - and these also teach us about tools for coping with the challenges of the season, and its gifts: 

The fruit-bearing trees which come to their peak this time of year - figs, carobs, pomegranates and grapes. Their sweetness comes out of this fertile albeit arid land, showing us that Earth's fertility is not forgotten, that it is eternally generous and giving. That it is never futile, even if on the surface it may seem dead and deserted.

A few very special "Autumn-Announcers" bulb plants are at a different stage of their life-cycle, and show us an original way to live life: bringing forth their flowers, their very best, first and before any leaf is to be seen. These flowers or resurrection are the first to bloom and remind us that fall is about to come, that there is life after death. Out of a pile of dead, dried leaves from the winter, the Beach Lily (AKA Sea Daffodil) springs out with impressive, large, bridal-white flowers and a scent so regal that intensifies in the afternoon and the evening, attracting night-pilots such as moths to pollinate it. It literally looks like coming out of a pile of dry bones. The Sea Squill (Urginea maritima, Drimia maritima) AKA Sea onion, in Hebrew: חצב מצוי, Arabic: عيصلان - brings the tall, white columns of flowers that bloom in order from bottom to top. The succulent leaves won't be seen till mid-Winter. Autumn crocus will also arrive in early fall, showing flowers first and leaves only later on. They all teach us to bring out our very best first, with full faith and trust. They teach us many other things that deserve a post on and of themselves, which I promise to write next.

Clary Sage Seeds
Sorting Clary Sage Seeds 

This is the time to separate the seed from the chaff, to sort and prepare for the winter time. To see what is in our stock after a summer of collecting seeds, of saving up potential for growth that is only waiting for the water from the rain to open it up. Seeds of ideas, plans, hopes, dreams and memories are all wrapped up in this compact little being of the seed stage. Some of the seed's potential and outmode is hidden, and some hints can be found in its previous stage of coming into seed and full maturity, the previous cycle. Be it your previous life stage, or previous generations, your people's history and your personal history as well. And just like those toy-capsules that expand in the bath to become fully blown dinosaurs - it is important to choose your seeds carefully before sewing. 

I would like to share a little prayer for the seeds I am hoping to find now while in the month of sorting, seeds I would like to sew before the blessed rains of nourishments and growth and action will arrive - blessings that I wish for myself and perhaps will also resonate with you:
- Being open to the knowledge, love and wisdom that comes to me in many shapes and forms. Sometimes it comes in strange ways and patterns, speaks strange languages and we need to read between the lines.
- Continue to share these gifts that come to me - of knowledge, wisdom, love and healing. This also takes many shapes and forms, from the basic care of my body and my family, plants, animals and nature around me, to what I share through making perfumes, writing this blog or in any other method of communication available.
- May this communication always be clear, honest and truthful, peaceful and conducive of positive change and growth.
- Mastery of the things I've taken upon myself, both personally, spiritually and professionally.
- Be devoted and dedicated to bringing more healing and peace to the world through whatever I do. First and foremost by inspiring deeper connection to oneself and to Nature.

In more specific terms, I would like to fill all my perfumery courses this year, master the art of incense (an ongoing challenge!), to finish writing and to publish my second book, and to continue to make an honest living by creating the beautiful perfumes and incense that I love, and share them with you, all over the world! I hope that my clients will continue to feel a strong connection to what comes from under my hands,  and find in it a portal or a passage to deeper and more meaningful connection to yourselves and to the beautiful world around you.

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Thursday, July 11, 2019

Neriko Collection

Hanami Nerikoh
Nerikoh is a traditional Japanese kneaded incense that is hardly known in the West. Neriko is unique in its aroma and method of burning. The aroma develops because of its intensive and laborious process that is required for its creation: Precious woods, herbs and spices are finely ground and bound together with honey and dried fruit, then rolled into tiny balls. Probably this method was first used to compound edible and less foul-tasting medicines, before capsules were invented. But the most lengthy part of the process is the aging of nerikoh: they are left to ferment underground in a clay vessel for several months or even years.

Nerikoh incense is not meant to be burnt, but rather warmed in traditional Koh-Doh cup, or for more convieneinct and accessible technique - place on top of an electric incense heater or aromatherapy lamp/diffuser. You'll only need a tiny pinch of each ball to scent a room for hours on end, releasing  gentle yet enveloping and exotic aroma.

In Japan, Nerikoh is most typically burnt during the tea ceremony because they are a refined and smoke-free form of incense and beautifully complement this occasion. The scents are generally most suitable for fall, when their warm, spicy and honeyed aroma.

I am thrilled to share with you the following kneaded incense creations. I've been playing with shaping my nerikoh into seasonally-appropriate shapes such as leaves, sakura and seashells, but this process takes f o r e v e r -  so keep in mind most of them are rolled into balls the traditional way.
Autumn Leaves Nerikoh
Autumn Leaves Nerikoh
Precious woods, spices and moss in a base of organic, uncultured apricots and wild honey.
Hanami Nerikoh
Hanami Nerikoh
Delicate woods, iris, botanical musks and precious woods kneaded together with honey and apricots produce a unique floral-almond aroma that evoke the season of sakura and ume (Japanese plum) blossoms.
Ras El Hanout Incense, Three Ways
Oasis Nerikoh
Exotic Ras El Hanout spices and precious resins blneded with dates and wild summer honey to evoke the era of the spice caravans camping in a desert oasis.
Fireflies (Summer Neriko)
Dragonfly (Summer) Nerikoh
Classical Japanese scent evoking the ephemeral moment of a blue dragonfly touching the water in a temple's garden pond on a hot summer day. Borneol camphor creates the feel of shimmering light on the dragonfly's wings and the calm water.

Handful of Nerikoh
Saturn Nerikoh
Sophisticated planetary incense that is deep with dark myrrh resin, cedar, cypress, patchouli, cassia, vetiver, agarwood and a touch of honey to balance its heaviness.
Burn on Saturdays, or when you require grounding, material wealth, support as well as discipline to achieve your goals.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

New Incense

Ras El Hanout Incense, Three Ways
After close to twenty years in development and perfection, I'm excited to announce that my alchemical incense blends are finally available for sale! Check out the new section in my shop for Original Kyphi and Kyphi Galilee; Planetary incense pastilles, herbal incense cones and seasonal Nerikoh (traditional Japanese kneaded incense that is meant for warming on a mica plate Koh-Doh style; or more conveniently - on an aromatherapy lamp or incense electric heater).

More details about each incense type in the upcoming posts!

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Friday, June 21, 2019

Hypericum

St John's Wort (Hypericum triquetrifolium) פרע מסולסל
For most of the year, Hypericum looks like a dried-up, reddish-brown and brittle bundle of shrivelled tendrils that resemble a fragile nervous system. It will remain dead-looking for many months, the only hint for its liveliness are the round fruit from which the next generation will come. Suddenly it comes to life in late spring and early summer, first with tiny leaves, elegantly and tightly organized alongside all sides of its branches; then tiny golden buds, and by the time the Summer Solstice rolls in, the yellow flowers have already began to open.

A look from above on these tiny bushes reveals a cross-like pattern (as pictured above), which is what inspired the crusaders to relate it to Christianity. St. John the Baptist was Jesus cousin, and six months older than him. Therefore, it is befitting to relate this healing plant that blooms six months prior to Christmas (Jesus' birthday, which occurs shortly after the Winter Solstice), specifically to St. John, who was also a healer.

The plant pictured above and which is in bloom at the moment is Hypericum triquetrifolium, native to Israel; while the species commonly used in herbal medicine is Hypericum perforatum, and is considered the most potent medicinally. The small yellow flowers of both plants present with the unique signature of turning the oil they're steeped into a blood-red liquid. This alone makes it a signature for healing wounds. Additionally, the H. perforatum also appears to be punctured with tiny holes in its leaves, as if it was pricked by a thousand needles.  These tiny dots are in fact clear, see-through glands that cover the leaves of this species, and through which the light can pass making them appear like holes. The holey appearance again relates it to punctures and wounds; but more importantly makes it a protective plants against evil spells such as those practiced in Voodoo; as well as more metaphorically speaking against punctures in one's psyche, phantasms, etc. As does the cross-like pattern of its branches. Not only in Christianity, but also magically in other cultures and traditions, the cross is considered a protective and sacred shape. In fact the name for Hypericum comes from Greek and means "Above the Icon", which alludes to this use of this special plant from time immemorial.

The magic of hypericum does not stop there. It is also known for being strongly connected to the fairy realm, a realm of invisible beings that have a history of revealing plant medicine to the Herbalists, Wise Women and Shamans. Those who go searching for it need to be extra cautious about getting lost in their foraging expeditions, especially of this plant, in order to not get lost. There are species of Hypericum that are native to North America, but they are not considered medicinally effective. The European plant (H. perforatum), which immigrated along with the European invaders of North America, has become naturalized and recognized by the First Nation healers as well. It is also told that the European "Little People" told the First Nations "Little People" about the healing properties of Hypericum, and that is how the First Nations learned about it.
St John's Wort (Hypericum triquetrifolium) פרע מסולסל
A few curious facts about hypericum: it favours disturbed soils such as abandoned fields and cows' pastures, and is considered an invasive species in North America. Farmers consider it to be a real pest, especially because there is a serious health hazard to livestock from over-consumption of the plant: they will develop phototoxicity and get burns from the sun as a result. This is especially prevalent among livestock with white or other lightly coloured coats. For humans there is no such danger, especially because even when taken as medicine the dose is way too low for any phytotoxicity to develop.

To summarize the uses of hypericum: In herbal medicine, the whole plant may be brewed as tea or prepared into a tincture, which is considered to be the most effective way to receive the maximum benefit of the plant. Additionally, the fresh flowers are used to prepare an oil infusion. The oil infusion can be used as is or further processed into a balm (simply prepared by adding melted beeswax to the oil infusion), in order to treat skin conditions such as cuts, wounds as well as eczema, atopic dermatitis, and for pain relief (especially joint pain, rheumatism, etc). The tincture, decoction and tea can be used to treat depression and nerve pain, solar-plexus pain as well as digestive issues such as indigestion, inflammation of the digestive tract, heartburn, etc.

As a wound healer it also has a reputation of preventing inflammation and infection in wounds, including tetanus. There are even case studies of it curing tetanus that has already set in!
"Hypericum has been used in homeopathy and herbalism externally as a soothing anti-inflammatory for fresh, bleeding wounds, sores, burns (in all degrees), bed-sores, chaps, folliculitis, abrasions and injuries from work or cleaning agents, bumps, boils, furuncles, dry and wet eczemas and insect-stings. It is also useful as a cosmetic skin-care cream fro scaly, dry or unclean skin and very effective as a massage oil for muscle spasm (remember the tetanus), cramps, stiffness, ache, overuse, sprains, bruises, articular ache and back ache, rheumatism, gout, sciatica, neuralgia and poor circulation to the extremities. The oil can also be massaged into the gums for inflammation and atrophy".  (Matthew Wood, "The Book of Herbal Wisdom", 1997, pp. 312-313)

Although mild in aroma (once steeped in oil it develops a subtle scent reminiscent of helicrysum) and inconspicuous in appearance, it is a potent medicine! Be sure to use this with medical supervision, especially if taking other antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. As overdosing may occur from the interaction of conventional psychiatric drugs and this particular plant, and could cause what is called Serotonin Syndrom.

Hypericum in homeopathy (an extremely diluted remedy) is mostly known for its use for pain caused by nerve damage, and can be found in many health food stores that sell homeopathic remedies, as well home remedy kits - which is fine to use for treating an acute condition such as nerve pain.  But it has many other holistic influences, so it is always best to use these remedies with the guidance and supervision of a trained homeopathy practitioner who will know exactly how to adjust your remedy and dosage.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Bay Watch

Solar Incense
There is a significant number of similarities between Bay Leaf (AKA Bay Laurel), West Indian Bay, Bayberry, Bay Rum, California Bay, and aromatically related there is also Allspice which naturally fits into this mix quite nicely. Let's explore these plants and raw materials, and clear this confusion once and for all. 

These plants have a few things in common, one that they are evergreen and either a tall bush. But they come from three distinguished families: The Myricaceae family, the Laureaceae (Laurel) family and the Myrtaceae (Myrtle) family. Besides myrtle, you probably know more members of this family than you may realize: eucalyptus, cloves, tea tree and guava are other highly fragrant members of this family.

But the botanical families are not the only common element. They also share a similar chemical makeup which causes greater confusion and the similar common names they've received doesn't help in the matter either.

Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) This evergreen tree from the Laureaceae family is native to the Mediterranean region, where it inhabits moist habitats such as creekside and the canyons of dry creeks. The essential oil from the very same bay leaf we are familiar with in cooking, has a sharp, spicy medicinal aroma. In ancient Greece and Rome the leaves used to crown war heroes. The root of this custom is the legend of Daphne and Apollo: Apollo fell in love with the river nymph. She was chased by him, and truly feared to lose her virginity - which was very important to her because she took the Vow of Artemis. So she asker her father, the river god Ladon, to save her. He turned her into the beautiful laurel tree. Apollo promised to keep her leaves green forever, and wear them on his head and decorate his lute with. In Ancient Greece and up till this day in modern day magick and Pagan rituals, bay leaf is associated with sun and can be burnt as incense, either alone or with frankincense - the most important solar incense. 

Solar Incense

Here is a simple and beautiful loose incense recipe incorporating Bay Leaf: 12 parts frankincense resin, ground coarsely in a mortar and pestle 1 part bay leaf, folded several times by hand and cut into small pieces 4 parts cinnamon bark, broken into small bits (use hands to crumble if using thin bark, or a mortar and pestle) Break, grind and cut all pieces to a similar size, mix well and sprinkle on hot charcoal in the morning to bring the solar energy into your home. Bay Leaf essential oil is used in perfumery is mostly for aftershaves, perhaps because of its anti-bacterial properties, due to the presence of phenolic compounds. It is a little underrated in my opinion - and can be used very much like allspice, except it has more pronounced leafy-green character. Can be used in Chypre, Fougere, and Woody or Spicy Orientals to impart these spicy-green warm yet clean qualities.



California Bay (Umbellularia californica)
This handsome tree also goes by other names, such as Oregon myrtle, spicebush, pepper wood, cinnamon bush and more. This is also a member of the Lauraceae family, so the closest relation in this post to the Bay Laurel that grows naturally where I live now. I will never forget my first encounter with it, while hiking in Northern California with Hall Newbegin of Juniper Ridge. He was too late to warn me of its potency when I brought it to my nose. This pungent aroma was already piercing my nostrils with this hyper-manifestation of sharp spicy medicinal notes. It is that particular effect that makes it both peculiar and unbearable to the unsuspecting smeller as I was. 

The First Nation people in the area where this plant grows (CahuillaChumashPomoMiwokYukiCoos, and Salinan) used the fruits and their pits for food (the fruit can be eaten raw in a specific stage,  can be dried and partly consumed later on, while the pit needs to be processed first, usually roasted). The leaves were used medicinally. It is used in many forms, such as poultices to treat rheumatism, nerve pain. Infusions that were applied topically primarily for its disinfectant properties. And drank as tisane for the treatment of colds, stomach aches, sore throat and for its expectorant qualities. 

Curiously, the tree is also called "headache tree", because of the experience I described earlier which can often cause headache. This is due to the chemical umbellulone. And even more curious is that the Uki and Pomo tribes used this leaf to cure headache - a true case of "Like Cures Like" which is the key principle of homeopathy. 

Because these leaves are so strong-headed, their modern use is limited, though some use them in food (but in far smaller quantities than other fragrant leaves). The wood itself proves to be an excellent raw material for 

Bayberry (Myrica genus)
This fragrant plant genus belongs to the Myricaceae family, and also goes by the name of bayberry, bay-rum tree, candleberry, sweet gale and wax-myrtle, among others. The name Myrica comes from the Greek myrike (μυρικη), meaning "fragrance". Their fruit has a waxy coating that is indigestible by most animals. From it was produced a material called bayberry wax, which was used for making candles (hence the name "candleberry"). Myrica gale in particular is native to Europe and North America, and its leaves are excellent insect repellent. It was used in wedding bouquets for its fragrance, and as spice for condiments and pickling. Since the Middle Ages and until the 16th century, myrica was an important ingredients in the production of Belgian beer, as the flavouring and preserving agent, until the usage of hops has become wide-spread. Another species, Myrica faya, is native to the Canary Islands and Madeira, and has become an invasive species in Hawaii.

Allspice AKA Pimento Berry (Pimenta diciosa)
Pimento (from the myrtle family) is a key ingredient of the Bay Rum aftershave/scent, and is also very often used in pumpkin pie spice mixes. It smells like a combination of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, and is sweet and dry all at once. The essential oil is a heart note, while the absolute is deeper than the oil. Allspice is used in oriental spicy perfumes, and also to spice up other composition such as Chypre.

Berries of an evergreen tropical tree in Jamaica, Cuba and the West Indies. Other names for it are Jamaica Pimenta and Myrtle Pepper.
In its native Jamaica, the pimento wood is used to smoke jerk, or the berries are used as a substitute. The phenols (such as eugenol) are beneficial for preserving meats, so it is not surprising that allspice is used throughout the world in sausage making and other methods of preserving or marinating meats.

Allspice smells like a combination of spices (hence the name "allspice"). In Arabic cuisine it is simply called "Baher", and the spice mixture "Baharat" which is characteristics to Arab cuisine simply means "Spices", and typically has allspice as a dominant ingredient alongside cardamom, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, etc.
Allspice (Pimenta dioica)
Allspice is also key ingredient in Pumpkin Spice (alongside cinnamon, ginger and cloves); used for pickling, marinades, sauces and stews, much like bay leaf is. Also popular in desserts, especially the traditional winter holiday cakes and cookies (i.e.: honey cake and cookies, spice cake, gingerbread, pfeffernusse and the like), for poaching fruit (pear, quince, etc.).
Principle Constituents: Eugenol (60-80%), Methyl eugenol, Phellandrene, Caryophyllene
West Indian Bay (Pimenta racemosa)
Another tropical plant, this time from the Caribbean is what's used for making Bay Rum eau de cologne or aftershave lotion (more on that later). It has many uses, both culinary and cosmetic as you can see in this video.
Similarly to the bay laurel leaves, these also can be used in cooking.
P. racemosa is often mistakenly labelled as Bayberry or Bay Rum when sold as an essential oil, and like allspice, it also belongs to the Myrteaceae (myrtle) family. As far as the scent goes it is very similar to bay leaf, with the charming green leaf and spicy elements all strewn in together.

Bay Rum
Although related to all of the above, is not a particular plant, but a rum-based cosmetic, which is the Caribbean answer to the European Aqua Mirabillis of yore. Bay Rum is a fragrant, alcohol-based preparation that was first made by sailors in the 16th and 17th Centuries as a way to improve their overall hygiene (which sounds a bit hard to believe for a population that was predominantly male, even if in confined quarters of ships). From what I could gather, shaving didn't become widely spread in this culture till the 19th Century. So let's perhaps they used it instead of bathing and for its disinfectant properties.

The history of Bay Rum is a bit hazy, but it is clear that it originates among sweaty, stinky sailors in the Caribbean, using readily available spirits and spices to counter balance the stench that the tropical climate triggered in their closed quarters. 

The most primitive Bay Rum preparations Pimenta racemosa leaves were steeped in rum and this simple tincture was applied for multiple uses by the above mentioned sailors: as a deodorant, disinfectant and perhaps also as an aftershave (though I have little information about the grooming habits of sailors and whether or not they actually bothered shaving while at sea). In the 19th Century, it has become a fully-fledged commercial product manufactured primarily in the Virgin Islands. Other ingredients added to it were citrus oil (especially that of lime), pimento berry (from Pimenta diciosa), and cinnamon. Another bit of history is found in the book "Perfumes of Yesterday" by David G. Williams, pages 142-143. Here we learn that the Bay Rum preparation was actually a hair-growth product, with the stimulating property of the bay leaf from P. racemosa of increasing blood flow (and therefore nutrients, via the blood stream) to the area it is applied (in this case scalp). From this ensued a variety of "Hair Tonics" and the barbershop connection becomes even clearer than the aftershave usage. A historical formula is provided, using surgical spirit, because in wartime (I'm assuming WWI or WWII), because other types of alcohol were either unavailable or prohibited (for example: industrial methylated alcohol). The surgical alcohol was a solution of castor oil and methyl salicylate and ethyl phthalate, diluted in industrial spirit. For this reason, talcum powder was added to the formulate, as it absorbed the fatty oil from the preparation, and result in a clear liquid. Although the talc will also absorb some of the components of the essential oils (particularly that of the lemon), it was mostly the terpenes, which was considered advantageous in the formula. Another curious addition was a solution of burt sugar as a colouring agent, giving the finished product a dark rum-like colour. The formula provided in that book contains oil of bay, clove, lemon, menthol, tincture of capsicum (what gives chilli peppers their hotness!), acetic acid (the active ingredient in vendors), surgical spirit, water and talc. So we see this is a functional fragrance, with ingredient that are acting as a stimulants for the skin.

Dozens of Bay Rum formulations ensued throughout the years, and it is in fact a concoction that can be very easily prepared at home using minimal equipment and readily available raw materials. Although not labeled as Bay Rum, the popular and iconic scent Old Spice is very much based on this historic preparation.

Many recipes for Bay Rum call for infusing the whole spices in rum and then adding other alcohols (such as vodka or grain alcohol), as well as other ingredients that may be beneficial to the skin, such as witch hazel and glycerin. This method is fine as long as no essential oils are added to the recipe. Often times the bay leaf (or leaves) would be kept as decoration within the finished product, which will also continue to release scent well after the bottling stage. 

Keep in mind, that if your alcohol base is only one of those beverages, their alcohol content is not high enough to dissolve essential oils, and they will be floating on the surface of the product instead, and burn the skin. I wouldn't put such a product on my wrists, let alone a face that has just been clean-shaven! So before choosing a recipe, use your common sense please... While most recipes online (which linked above) were very specific about using P. racemosa, it is a bit hazy from the recipes that I have found in literature which bay leaf is actually used. Having no access to this particular bay, I am unable to prepare an authentic formula for you to try. But I am curious to improvised with local ingredients I have on hand. And once I am satisfied with a result I promise I will post here an original recipe of my own.

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Saturday, May 11, 2019

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?

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Wednesday, May 08, 2019

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. 

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