Blue Lotus & Mandrake

Blue Waterlily AKA Blue Lotus

What do blue lotus and mandrake have in common?
For one thing, I spotted both growing wild in Ein Afek nature reserve, the remnants of the wetlands of the Na'aman river, whose origin springs are just southeast of the beautiful city of Akko. Secondly, both have hallucinogenic properties, and were valued by herbalists, magicians, shamans and witches for thousands of years.

Blue Waterlily
Blue Lotus (Nymphea caerulea) is truly a blue waterlily, highly prized by the Egyptians, who treated this plant that grew in abundance along the Nile Valley. Nowadays, it is a scarce plant that grows in marshes and ponds in that area. The flower blooms only for 3 days, in which it rises 20-30cm above the water, opening around sunrise, between 7:30-8:00am and closing around noon, a cycle that echoes the solar rising and setting.

To the ancient Egyptian imagination, the yellow centre with its shooting yellow stamens set agains the blue flower symbolized the sun set in the azure Egyptian skies, and associated the "sacred lily of the Nile" with the sun god Ra. Blue lotus plays a role in an even earlier Egyptian myth - a myth of creation, which tells how the flower rose from "Nun" - the chaos - even before the sun itself was created.

"I am the pure Lotus which springeth up from the divine splendor that belongeth to the nostrils of Ra. I have made--my way--, and I follow on seeking for him who is Horus. I am the pure one who cometh forth out of the Field." (The Papyrus of Nu).

Garlands of blue lotus were found in tombs and are portrayed and mentioned in the Book of Coming Forth by Day (AKA Egyptian Book of the Dead) - the guide for the soul in the afterlife.  "Transformation Into Lotus" is described in both in the papyrus of Nu and the papyrus of Paqrer. Blue lotus was also found in countless frescos and decorations on various ritual chalices. The priests would steep  the flowers in wine and harness its narcotic and hallucinogenic properties in their rituals to reach a state of ecstasy.  The flower's naturally occurring amorphine, nuciferine and nornufcferine are what give it hallucinogenic properties.

The Egyptians would steep the flowers in wine, thus creating a narcotic concoction that was used for ritual by their priests. Additional ancient mention of lotus' hallucinogenic properties are the Lotophagi ("Lotus Easters") in Homer's Odyssey.

Mandrake Flowers
Few plants are as intriguing as the Mandrake - a highly poisonous plant from the nightshade family that is native to the Mediterranean and most of Europe. The species that grows in Isarel is the Mandragora autumnalis, and it's been mentioned twice in the bible:
“The mandrakes send out their fragrance; and at our door is every delicacy; both new and old; that I have stored up for you, my beloved.” - Song of Songs 7:13

And in the book of Genesis an elaborate story of jealousy and seduction takes place, involving the two sisters (and wives of Jacob) Rachel and Leah. Reuben finds mandrakes in the field and gives them to his mother, Leah. She has been neglected by Jacob for quite some time in favour of her barren sister. And so she trades the mandrakes with Rachel for a night with their shared husband. Rachel agrees, in hopes that the aphrodisiac power of the mandrakes will open her womb. From that night with Jacob, Leah's fifth child is conceived.

It is unclear from the story which part of the mandrake was used. The elaborate root systems of mandrakes, which often looks like a human, has a folklore reputation of solving infertility. There has been much myth about uprooting the mandrakes, without disturbing the little demon underground. A renown technique has been to tie a dog to the plant so that the dog would absorb the plant's curse once uprooted. Reuben must have gone through a lot of trouble to help his mother!

The fruit, on the other hand, have an intoxicating aroma that supposedly is enough to arouse the most frigid person on earth. I am yet to see this golden fruit or smell it in person, but I've been told it smells like pineapple. The fruit is the most edible part of this toxic plant, although one must be careful not to consume any of its peel or seeds. It is for a reason that it's Arabic name is "Tufah el Majnun" - Apples of the Insane.

Finding the mandrakes in such close proximity to the rare blue lotus was inspirational to me and sparks the imagination. Whether if it its their colour or the myth surrounding them, this is a theme I intend to go back to when I'm next brewing in my lab.


Friday Noir

Nope, I still don't feel comfortable with the "Black Friday" phenomenon, which has crept even to the most remote areas of the planet, without any connection to anything besides pure consumerism. It has even pushed aside Canadian Boxing Day, which used to be kind of fun but became an extremely stressing compulsive-shopping event with lineups and even (polite) fights over merchandize.

It's essentially the anti-thesis of what I'm trying to create with my business: inspire people to connect to their senses and to each other through fragrance.

Thanksgiving resonates with me much more than the stressful consumerism that follows it, but whether or not I feel comfortable with the "Black Friday" phenomenon, it has dominated the buying patterns of the holiday season and customers rarely plan in advance, but rather wait for the last minute and all the great deals.

To help you prepare for the holidays and reduce the stress, I'm offering a little 20% discount of you shop now instead of last minute (!). All orders will be shipped via EMS, the most affordable and reliable method at this point of time, trackable, insured and most importantly - delivers within less than a week.

I don't like using you to over-spend. And also, I could never compete with all the other big brands offering deep cuts to their products. This is simply not feasible for a brand like mine. , I would rather encourage you to shop responsibly, both from financial point of view, and ecologically. If you are giving presents this holiday season, please support artisanal, local and green businesses.

If you are not planning to spend any money on presents this holiday season, plant a tree or cook a meal with your loved ones - or: cook a tree and plant a meal somewhere where there was no food before. I've been sharing plenty of fragrant recipes over the years on my SmellyBlog.

If you've read this far and enjoy shopping - I'm very grateful to you for choosing my perfumes and for that I'm giving you a 20% off any purchase on my entire stock, with coupon code Holidaze17. Valid thru November 27.

Wishing you all a cozy and stress-free holiday season!

XO
Ayala

Elecampane Soap Bar

Elecampane Meadow
Elecampane meadow at sunset. This is where me and my mom harvested younger leaves and flowering tops of this Astaraceae plant for my soap making and oil infusions.
Elecampane (Innula viscosa/Dittrichia viscosa (L.) W. Greuter/ Cupularia viscosa (L.) Gren. & Godr.) is a plant with many herbal medicine attributions and healing powers, at least forty different ailments according to the folk medicine of Palestine, chief among them hypertension, relief of swollen feet and legs (common during pregnancy), bruises, diabetes, herpes and rheumatism, infertility and for treating dry skin and for its anti-aging properties.

Modern medicinal uses include: treating intestinal worms, cracked skin, athlete's foot, blood coagulation, topical disinfectant for wounds, and more.

Additional uses: The woody twigs and branches from this perennial bush can be used for bonfires, primarily for baking flatbread. Another useful application is in deterring insects. In Spain entire branches are hang to keep flies at bay. I will have to try this because they tend to get out of control at this time of the year. Extracts of the plant are also used to treat various plant diseases (especially of bacterial or fungal origin), and also the plant itself has a tendency to stop the growth of other weeds around it. Last but not least: Elecampane is what is considered a "pioneer plant": It is the first one to show up in new habitats (for example: areas that recently were devastated by invasive human behaviour such as bulldozers, etc.). It was originally a marsh plant, and likes muddy areas, which is why it is now so commonly found on the sides of the road (where the water tends to build up), the areas around creeks or rivers, and in areas that got flooded in the winter rains.

The young leaves are pickled in vinegar and can be eaten. I'm still trying to find out what this strange flavour and brought texture could go with.

Elecampane
Oil infusion of elecampane flowering tops and fresh leaves. The smell was strong, resinous and true to the plant. It has a bit of a funk to it, very much like marijuana, but different.
Elecampane (Inula helenium) Soapmaking Process
The spent elecampane branches after steeping them to make a very strong decoction.
Elecampane (Inula helenium) Soapmaking Process
Frozen elecampane decoction. If not frozen, the various materials within the water will scorch upon contact with the sodium hydroxide (AKA lye).
Elecampane (Inula helenium) Soapmaking Process
Melting the solid fats along with the oils over very low heat.

Elecampane (Inula helenium) Soapmaking Process
The oils are all melted nicely now! They include an oil infusion of elecampane, by the way. It was very strong smelling, with that funky resinous odour that is typical for this plant; but the scent got completely lost during the soaping process. Next time I will be infusing a lot more elecampane leaves into the entire oil/fat mixture (and this way, by using a gentle heating method, I will also skip the step of aging the infused oil).
Elecampane (Inula helenium) Soapmaking Process
Elecampane ice cubes
Elecampane (Inula helenium) Soapmaking Process
Weighing the lye
Elecampane (Inula helenium) Soapmaking Process
Sprinkle lye over ice cubes
Elecampane (Inula helenium) Soapmaking Process
Waiting for the ice to melt...
Elecampane (Inula helenium) Soapmaking Process
Elecampane decoction lye - don't let this honeyed look fool you. This will burn like hell if you touch it!
There are few missing photos from the process, because when mixing the oils with the lye it's a bit of a time sensitive and very hands-on process. It looks similar to making icing, and the soap mixture looks very much like custard when it's ready for pouring into the moulds.
Elecampane (Inula helenium) Soapmaking Process
The soap bars I got lined up that day. It was a very productive soaping day! Elecampane at the bottom, Mastic at the centre, and Absinthe & Lavender at the top. All of them will be ready November 26th.
Elecampane Soap Logs
Logs of elecampane soaps which were very soft for pulling out of the Mold. I had to wait for ten days to do it!
Elecampane Soap Bar Logs
Elecampean soap logs gradually losing their golden look and turning olive-brown.
Elecampane Soap Bars -Slicing Time!
Elecampane soap logs are finally getting sliced!

Notice the "rind" - it will disappear once the soap is cured, due to oxidation and the gelling process.
Srapping & Labeling Soap Bars
Here is a glimpse into the packing and labeling step. Even though I won't get to wrap the Elecampane soap until November 26th, when they would be fully cured and ready for you to enjoy!
You can, however, pre-order them online already.

Wild Soap Bars

Yolk Flower (Sternbergia)

Sternbergia
Just a few pics from my second sternbergia pilgrimage... This time we actually found the big patch of gold where they are growing! We saw a lot of other kinds of crocus on the way before we got to the golden meadow pictured above.
Crocus Triad
Crocus pallasii 

Crocus ochroleucus
Crocus ochroleucus

Crocus hermoneus?
Crocus hermoneus?

Sternbergia
Sternbergia clusiana

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