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Himalayan Explorations

Himalayan Explorations

Dear Friends-
Suzanne and I send out holiday greetings with hopes that all of you had a chance to visit with friend and family during the long weekend.

In the place of the in-depth newsletter I would to share several interesting bits of information that relate to the world of aromatics that has drawn us deep into its embrace.

As most of you know that have been reading the newseletters for some time, I have had the good fortune to work closely with one of India's finest researchers in natural essential oils since 1996. His name is Ramakant Harlalka. He continues to be an inspiration to me as his enthusiasm for the subject seems to have no end. In the natural course of his work he travels throughout India extensively helping set up projects concerning aromatic plants and their proper distillation. He works extensively with government sponsored organizations like CIMAP(Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants) which is based in Lucknow, as well as many people in the private sector.  India is increasing her involvement with the growing and distilling of aromatic and a new awareness is also arising regarding the importance of organic horticulture in this as part of the wholistic equation. Currently Ramakant spends 15-25 days a month traveling into remote regions of India meeting with farmers, researchers, scientists, distillers involved with the essential oil industry. As time permits he shares some of the fascinating discoveries going on in his work. He is a person possessed of both high technical and scientific training as well as a heart filled with the love, respect of veneration for nature so his insights are always deeply appreciated by me.(For those of you wishing to travel in India and get an in-depth exposure to India's aromatic wealth. Ramakant is periodically taking small groups to different parts of the country. In the past year he took one group from Singapore to the Himalayas and another group from Germany to Kerala. You can communicate with him directly about future trips. The very best thing is if you already have a small group of people that want to venture together into India's aromatic hinterlands. That way it is easiest for him to schedule a trip to accomodate your specific needs.
Be patient in waiting for a reply as he is often away on some essential oil related project.


This section concerns his recent trip to Uttaranchul Pradesh, a new state in India that was created a couple of years back when Uttar Pradesh was divided into two parts. You can see a general map of Uttaranchal at:
It begins at the base of the Himalayas and extends deep into this vast mountain range.
His involvement with essential oil related projects there began a year or two back. He has visited there several times since then and his involvement is going to increase significantly in the times to come. His notes to me regarding this area are paraphrased here. The purpose of sharing this information is so that a better understanding is gained by all of us as to how such projects evolve. Since we are mostly on the consumer side-we often do not realize how much work is required to evolve an aromatically related project in a practical way. It takes time, money, enthusiasm, dedication along with the proper natural resources in terms of people power, farming expertise, willingness to try new crops, etc.

1. Many people have this idea that every square foot of India is covered by human beings. Certainly in the large cities this is true. But rural India is something quite different and those who have had an opportunity to journey into her interior regions of often been delighted with the beauty and simplicity of rural life styles. Today over 700 million people still derive their living from the land and much of that is done by labor intensive techniques. The State of Uttaranchul is one of those relatively untouched regions of India where ancient lifestyles are preserved in many parts. It has been cut off from much of the country due to lack of extensive railroads sytems, airports, etc. Gradually better roads are being established through the main arteries of the state which in time to come will help create a better economic base for the people living there.

2. For growing any aromatic crop at a level that justifies distillation there is the necessity of having the proper climate for that specific crop, the people to grow the crop, the knowledge on how to grow it optimally, nurseries or research centers to procure the plants, water to grow them, equipment to distill them and finally a market for the manifested essence. It is an intricate system of interconnected parts that must exist to practically establish a local industry based on aromatic plants.

3. Uttaranchal has a strong agricultural community whose people are simple, straight forward and eager to take on new projects if there is some market for their crops. The valleys through which Ramakant has moved in assessing the potential for aromatic crops are surrounded by the natural beauty of the snow covered Himalayas.
The spiritual influence of the mountains and a culture that is thousands of years old is felt on every level. Beautiful small farms exist everywhere and the countryside is graced with many ancient temples that help preserve the rich traditions of a land that has been the home of many noble souls throughout its long history. The whole ambiance in which an aromatic crop grows has its own effect on the miracle of the oil that is distilled. Each and every part of the journey of an oil from seed, to growing plant, to the nurturing of the plant by the people on whose land it is growing, the sun and all of natures daily gifts, the life in the soil in the form of micro organisms and earthworms, the quality of the lives of the people, the proper time of collecting the plant, the attention to disitillation etc all play their part in this incredible work. One of the main problems that people have faced in this idyllic setting is lack of sufficient income to support their simple lifestyle. Many times people living in these remote areas have to leave their homes and go to live in cities like Calcutta, New Delhi and Bombay so that they can make ends meet. It is like going from heaven to hell. Part of this is due to lack of interaction with people who have an awareness of what types of crops to grow that will bring them better income. Fortunately there has been a great resurgence in the demand for natural essential oils but even then it is important that the crops selected for planting are ones that are in demand. Again this requires a lively interaction by people working in the commercial segment of the industry with the farmers, agricultural universities, research centers, etc. Fortunately with improved modes of communication a whole new world of practical interactions has arisen in countries like India that is helping everyone focus their attention on improving lives in rural areas by assuring the farmers that their will be a market for their crops. It is hoped that more and more people will be able to remain in their own villages and farms as this type of interaction increases. Ramakant has been deeply active in implanting such planning. With his vast experience of the rural areas of India he has helped the government, private sector entreprenuers, farmers and distillers realize that the only way to make this whole the work is through communication.

4. Uttaranchal's remotest has helped preserve its natural beauty and has allowed the state to escape from the excessive pollution that has occurred in more accessible parts of India. This is important to consider from the plants perspective. If a plant can receive pure water, light and air and be nourished with the care and consideration of people living simple and honest lives it proves very good from an overall therapeutic perspective. Now there is more awareness in India of the importance of preserving more of the ecological balance as in places where concentrated population is to be found there is a lot of problems. Increased interest in and demand for aromatic plants has led to a decrease in naturally occurring wild harvested flora. Research institutes involved with aromatic plants and become more active in helping restore populations of plants both in the wild and under cultivation.

5. There are many micro climates existing in Uttaranchal which can allow the growing of a great diversity of aromatic crops taking advantage of soil types varying elevations etc. Now the idea of EcoTourism is starting to manifest in India, it will be possible to help plan diversified farming where aromatic crops like geranium, lavander, rosa damascena, champaka, bakul, and chamomile can be woven into the botanical tapestry of a small farm along with fruits, vegetables and legumes already being grown. More and more people in Indian cities are feeling the longing for contact with their own aromatic roots. To illustrate this a practical example is given. Ramakant and his family started a modest enterprise called Sugandhim-the ancient Sanskrit word for "Sacred Fragrance" in Bombay. They opened up a very charming outlet near where his brother and family stays. The shop was tastefully decorated with enlarged illuminated images of the sacred flowers of India.
His wife, Urmilla, has for many years had a lively interest in natural cosmetics because it is an inherent part of Indian culture. Because of the wealth of natural essential oils that were available to her through the family business and increased contact with perfumers and other fragrance artists from abroad who came as part of an ongoing series of fragrant tours that Ramakant led- she began to evolve some recipes using clay, essential oils, henna, etc. She also started an entire enterprise focused on infusing sacred flowers in coconut oil-a contemporary form of enfluerage. Many books on natural cosmetics, perfumes, hydrosols and other blends were brought from the West and she also began to incorporate some of those ideas into her work. From the Suganhim outlet they began offering these natural products.
Now that enterprise is growing to such and extent that franchises will come up in different parts of Bombay and eventually in other parts of India. One of the main focuses of their business is education of the sources of natural Indian essential oils-how they are grown, where they are grown, the people that grow them etc. One of his sons, Nikunj has been very active in creating CDs on the subject which are shown on the computer in the store. So all of this is helping create the natural longing of city dwellers to experience their own ancient roots. It is just a simple illustration of what can be done with a bit of creative inspiration. It is a relatively small seed now but the whole idea is that through such enterprises many new positive markets for aromatic essences will come up in India which benefits people living in the cities and the farmers and distillers as well.

6. In places like Uttarpradesh there are many ancient temples. Often these are surrounded by temple properties which in the olden times contained fine aromatic and medicinal gardens. There was a deep knowledge of the profound role played by aromatic plants on the human heart and mind and in the temple precincts special plants were grown that helped those engaged in simple devotional practices to focus their attention on the deeper dimensions of like.
Plants like Mimusops elengi(Bakul), Nycanthes arbortristis(Parijata/Harshinagar), Michelia champaca(Sona champa), Jasminum sambac(Bela/Motia), Lawsonia inermis(Gulhina), Ocimum basilicum(Tulsi), etc were planted as hedges, specimen trees, climbers, etc to help create this devotional atmosphere. It is hoped that once again this type of sacred garden might come up in the pristine environments of places like Uttaranchal which would inspire people from India and abroad to seek tranquil repose in the precincts of such charged places.

Here is a recent excerpt from an e-mail from Ramakant that gives some feeling for this subject:
"On Bakul/Mimusops elengi we have very deep interest as we noticed a minimum of one or two trees in most of sacred complexes in India. It is seen in practically all Lord Shiva temples which are renowned for there positive feeling.
The other day when we went to Triambakeshwar Temple in Nashik we saw a few trees next to the main temple giving lot of flowers and beautiful odor in whole complex. Also same was noticed in practically all Masjids like in Hydrabad, Madras, etc., where there is place for plantation in main court yard where people read Namaj. We feel plantation of same helps through there intoxicating odor in meditation when they read Namaj. Similarly in Kurukshetra near Arjun-Krishna Chariot in Jyotisar in Haryana or in Jwalamukhi temple in Himachal Pradesh or many other places we saw Bakul and noticed that places are having unique attraction which inspires many thousands of visitors every day. In institutes like IIT(Indian Institute of Technology) we noticed many hundreds of trees during our past visit. We even requested some people there on the possibility of utilizing these trees for flower collection which falls as soon as it achieve high concentration of strength of odor (Bakul trees are covered with thousands of tiny starlike flowers which naturally fall to the ground each day).We came to know that these trees were planted by people who set up IIT who had deep vision as they knew that odor plays very important roll in concentration for higher studies which are conducted in IIT(when of the most esteemed educational institutions in India). They have at least one Bakul tree outside classroom and have a long road full of systematically planted Bakul trees.

We observed that flower is creamish in color as it falls or on tree but same turns brown with in few hrs. Odor strength also goes down. We have tried to understand it's component profile and felt that only when fresh flower which falls and are immediately collected are useful for solvent extraction as dried flower which is available from later collections has some odor but it really misses all the top notes.

With increased interest of many state like Himachal and Uttaranchal which have many sacred places we are recommending to them Champaka and Bakul for plantation as they are long term crop. In the meantime we are active in collecting literature on it which gives it's component detail.

There is a lot of literature on Bakul and it's sacred uses but there is very little on it's extract as same is not made commonly. In 1992 a Malaysian author, K.C.Wong and Y.E. Teng, did some work on it's aroma in the School of Chemical Sciences, Pennang, Malaysia and published their results in Journal of Essential oil research,6,453-458(sept/oct.1994).They identified 74 components in same flowers head space analysis.
In Malaysia it is known as "bunga tanjung." It is planted there in garden and road side as Aura of same improves atmosphere. There garland of same is worn on hair or strung into necklaces. Dried flowers are used in snuff. They extracted flower with aqueous solution of 50% ethanol for 36 hrs. at room temperature which gave yield of 167 mg./kg. (i.e.0.0167%). On head space extraction of flowers after harvesting after 30 min. gave 4 mg. /kg flower.(i.e.0.0004%). Major component in both extract is Phenyl ethyl alcohol(37-39%) which is mainly responsible for sweet roseaceous odor. Other than this, the components differ totally in two extracts with many of the components present in headspace are totally absent in solvent extracts. Sweet component like Methyl Benzoate, P-methyl anisol, phenyl ethyl acetate reduces by 4 to 6 fold in solvent extract where as balsamic component like Cinnamic alcohol increases by 18-20 times in solvent extract. Powerful green component like Cis -3 hexenyl acetate which is present in head space is absent in solvent extract.
Thus it can be seen that only 0.0001% aroma chemicals which may be consisting of many trace element are responsible for characteristic aroma of these sacred flowers. These trace components when captured on Sandalwood gives lingering odor of flower which cannot be even detected by GCMS.(Christopher's note-In several past articles I have tried to share the mysterious effect of sandalwood on any sacred flower. In the traditional process the flowers are placed in a copper still and then heated. The aroma laden steam rises through an insulated bamboo pipe and descends into the receiving vessel which contains pure sandalwood. The sandalwood has a very cooling effect on the aromatic vapors and is able to quickly absorb into itself very precious headspace aromas. This is a very special attribute of the true attars. There is no other process which can do this that we know of. Those precious components which come in the sandalwood oil are present in infinitesimal amounts but the sandalwood captures them so they do not escape from the attar. It takes a minimum of 15 days to complete the process of saturating the sandalwood oil with any essence of a sacred flower. Yet these precious attars carry within them a world of subtle healing etheric vibrations that deserves exploring. They are much quieter and subtle than the absolutes or the essential oils but do capture the very spirit of the flower in a most refined way.)

It is known as"Moulshree" in northern India and is not very common flower in market place due to it's short shelf life for top notes. It contains lot of Farnesene and it's isomers which make it like some components of apples so when same is harvested as soon as same comes in contact with air it starts turning brown. Many people may like it's fresh flower due to color and odor but they may not like the flowers in the market due to it's brown color and odor from dried flower. In spite of this draw back it is one of most expensive garland which are sold in India in places like Mumbai at selected spots. The wholesale flower market like Dadar(near Ramakant's house) is having at least 10 flower vendors who sell this precious Garlands which are so small that it can be only be concealed in the hair. At many other places there are fresh flower vendors who specialize in aromatic flowers only sell such garlands based on flower grown at outskirts of Mumbai. Knowingly or unknowingly many women especially from Maharastra purchase these unique Garlands and put often in their hair.

One very special character of these flower is lingering odor of these flower for very long period (may be few weeks).This odor gets regenerated by sprinkling water every day on them.Accordind to Stephen Arctander.

Bakul (Mimusops Elengi) has a very delicate ,sweet and extremely tenacious floral odor, somewhat reminiscent of orange and tuberose flower with Gardenia under tone. The honey like, heavy-sweet undertone is quite persistent.

There is a beautiful book written by Mother-the famous French woman who was one of Shri Auribindo of Pondicherry's most advanced disciples. In that book she illuminates the spiritual language of flowers. She gives the spiritual quality of Patience to Bakul. She rightly deciphered the meaning of this humble flower if one goes into the subject carefully.

However maximum no. of flower can be seen falling in the evening time in natural way which can be finally collected from plastic sheet which is spread below the tree. These flowers are taken immediately for hydrodistillation in Copper deg distillation unit. Due to delicate nature of these flower very slow heat is given to deg and vapor emerging from same can be only collected by adsorbing on Sandalwood oil. In past solvent extraction and CO2 extraction was also tried but it was felt that this flower has unique synergetic action with water so it released many high boiling component in very slow mode as heat is applied. These slow releasing components are main reason for it's lingering odor for which last for many days. Fragrance is regenerated again when fresh water is sprinkled on them.

This unique property enables Indian women to use same flower for almost 1 to 2 weeks till odor start getting less. Then same Garlands are put in between the clothes so that they can generate nice odor for many days. Thus we see that "PATIENCE" is most appropriate name for this flower which release it's Aura in very "patient" manner. Even flower blooming also starts after lot of patience which can be from 5 to 15 years.(Trees are very slow to produce flowers requiring the above amount of time to come into the flower bearing phase)

I hope this small presentation will give you some idea of the complexities of initiating and aromatic project be it in India or any other place. Other dear colleagues well known to me in Ethiopia, South Africa, Madagascar, Italy, etc have taken on similar works with unbounded zeal and enthusiasm. It is because of the efforts of such dear souls that we are able to enjoy precious aromatic treasures that benefit us body, mind and soul. If we in turn infuse the oils coming into our hands with respect, appreciation and love for each and every part of the process, then we too become part of this grand process of bringing beauty, kindness, and joy into the lives of others.

With kindest regards-