Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Plant life

There's NOTHING in the world like the smell of the desert after a rain. It will knock your boots off. That enigmatic smell of geosmin and petrichor is probably impossible to replicate, but when a friend expressed a desire to capture it in incense, I heard a challenge.

Part of the rain smell is an accumulation of plant resins in the sand activated by water. Some of the smell must be due in part to the cyanobacteria in the crypto-biotic soil crust. But then there are the plants - sun-baked and fragrant, just waiting for moisture to open their leaves and release their scent. 

Last weekend I gathered leaves - the tiniest bits since there aren't many yet. I gathered brittle bush (encelia farinosa, or what the Spanish called incensio) and burrobush (ambrosia dumosa or white bursage). This was the most fragrant and will be the most dear as the leaves are tiny and few and you may only gather the tiniest amount before imperiling the health of the plant. I also gathered desert lavendar (hyptis emoryi), white sage (which I omitted as it is overpowering) and creosote (larrea tridentata or in the Pima language shogoi).

I chopped this and mixed it with sand (for geosmin) and mesquite gum, spread it on a plate and left it in the sun to dry.

The mesquite gum worked perfectly as a binder. I haven't burned it yet. It feels really special and I don't want to do it alone in an experimental sense. It seems like it should be shared.

If this works, I'll start working on more combinations and sources for domesticated plant materials so I don't stress the fragile environment of the arid forest by foraging.

So what was I drinking while cauldroning? An elderberry oxymel - a sipping vinegar I made and mixed with club soda. We planted an elderberry at the cabin and if it takes off I will be in seventh heaven as I love every part of the elderberry plant.

If you want the adult feel of a cocktail, but want to avoid alcohol and the cloying sweetness of soda, an oxymel might be the drink for you. Cheers, to all my plant companions!