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I dream of Gum Trees.

March 29, 2019

Lots of  people talking, many words, so much is spoken,

Bottled, traded, commoditised, disconnected, chain is broken.

We focus on the profit and the ego that we gain

Construct our own reality and distract ourself from pain.

But out there stand the gum trees, their real names long unspoken

Turning sunlight into liquid gold

To soothe that which is broken.

The Land

I’m not from this land, my bones come from the northern hemisphere at least for as long as I remember or can trace.  But that doesn’t stop me from feeling my spirit in this Wiradjuri soil and from celebrating the fruits of its toil.

Last Friday I was lucky enough to be able to attend a Eucalyptus Identification Day with my local Land Care group – Central Tablelands.  Well, I say ‘local’  it sort of is, the land in this picture is actually just slipping over into the Central West Slopes and Plains region which means our land is a sort of mash-up of two types of vegetative habitats, that makes is even more interesting in my eyes. In any case,  the boundaries are ‘white people’ stuff which of course I understand but I really shouldn’t get too hung up on.

The reason I’m so keen to get to know the Eucalypts in my area (and all areas to be honest) is because these trees really exude Australia from every fibre of their being. They look like Australia, smell like Australia and give us a range of resources of a quality and strength that could only ever be Australian!  I love this country and of course I want to reflect it back in everything I do and say so what better way to do that than to get to know its trees. Once known, they can be celebrated to their fullest potential rather than just seen as ‘just another bottle of oil’.

So there are hundreds of species of Eucalyptus here in Australia and as such it can be very difficult to work out what is what.  The take-home tip I took from the workshop was to be careful to gather lots of pieces of evidence from the trees including a big picture of the whole tree,  notes on the bark appearance including whether the bark changes throughout the growth of the tree (a substantial number of Eucalypts have bark that is rough in parts then smooth in others),  young leaf shape, older leaf shape and size, fruit shape and size (young and old) plus flowers.  It can he hard to get all of that in one go but the more that can be gathered, the better.  I was interested to find that a Eucalyptus tree’s leaves can go through lots of changes in shape and even orientation during their life-cycle with baby leaves often looking nothing like their future adult selves – I guess you could say the same about us humans…  Anyway, once that data has been gathered you can go to one of a number of online tools to pop in your data using a Dichotomous key:

A dichotomous key is a tool that allows the user to determine the identity of items in the natural world, such as trees, wildflowers, mammals, reptiles, rocks, and fish. Keys consist of a series of choices that lead the user to the correct name of a given item. “Dichotomous” means “divided into two parts”.

Sourced here. 

The actual key that I’ve been using for my Eucalyptus Tree ID is called Euclid and you can pop straight into the database by clicking here. 

A note on using the key.

Full Disclosure here, the key sounds simple, it’s either a choice between this or that, but it is not that simple to implement.  The key uses plant part names that may be unfamiliar to you (they still are to me) and as such it can be easy to get confused and put the wrong data into the key.  That’s no big deal, you can always start again but it can feel quite stressful when you narrow it down to 2-3 trees and none of them look anything like what you have seen.   I took four tries and several more visits to one of my trees to narrow it down to a positive ID and even then I was still a little un-confident in my final answer until I’d double and triple checked it.  I assume it’s just like anything else new, it takes experience and practice to get right.

The Oily Stuff.

Pictures I took of my Eucalyptus leaves under the microscope.

I am a complete tree lover to be honest so there is nothing about these trees that I don’t want to learn about but one of the most interesting and relevant initial focuses has to be their oil.  As I mentioned above, you only have to step out off the plane in Australia to smell the magic of these trees in the air.  The essential oil doesn’t require extensive processing to access either, the oil glands can be broken, at least partly, by crushing the leaves under thumb and finger and unlike crops like Lavender (which can also be smelled in this way), the oil is available all year around.

After the workshop I went back to our property and collected up some fresh-growth leaves from our junior Eucalyptus bushes.  The new leaves are lighter in colour and much more malleable to the touch than the older leaves which seem to take on a stiffer structure.  In addition, the leaves are smaller so every handful of branch contains more leaf matter than you get from picking an older branch.

I have a 30 litre essential oil still that I use for educational purposes and in that I can produce anything from 10-30ml of essential oil at a time (so not really enough to turn into a business venture).   It takes roughly one of those re-usable shopping bag lots full of small twigs and leaves to pack the vessel which is then filled up with cold water. The water is then boiled along with the plant matter with the Alembic still attached.  Once the mixture reaches a temperature of around 80C the essential oil starts to flow and by 98C the oil and condensed hydrosol flows freely for around 40 minutes before the whole thing starts to slow down again.

My Own Essential Oil Research Method.

Leaves

My professional interest in this is for me to have a deeper appreciation of all of the things that make a difference when processing essential oils in general and Eucalyptus oils specifically.  My aim is to then use this research to write papers, teach and empower communities and brand owners to develop their own boutique batch ingredients as a way of building a better connection to their materials.

My own approach is to take this in two stages, I’m currently in the first stage which is ‘discovery and play’.

I feel that science and scientists are often too quick to jump into the proper method of things and keep notes, change one thing at once and be super organised. Of  course, I see the massive benefits in that and there is no doubt that you can’t draw proper conclusions without a proper method but there is also so much to be gained through play and yes, adult scientists can play too!

My playing revolves around me letting what I feel about the process dictate the process rather than letting what I think is right form my method- so it’s more intuitive than academic.  What I mean by that is that I will make sure I’m 100% present in choosing the leaves, that I observe the whole plant and how happy it looks and feels (to the touch).  It’s all a bit abstract and ‘soft’ compared to how I’ve been trained but it helps me to keep my head up and feel on the floor.  When packing the still I think about bathing the leaves and about how they will interact with the water. I use pure observation to dictate when the process is finished – smell and appearance – rather than focusing on times, temperatures and yields.  It all feels like so much more fun and has been instrumental in my noticing more about what matters in this process.   The final step has been to use my other eyes (my microscope) to look closer at the product and the leaves in different stages to ‘see’ at a closer level, what’s happened.

The Spent Leaves.

spent-leaf.jpg

The Point for me and you. 

I’ve been in the cosmetics industry for 22 years now and I feel that the best thing I can do for my future enjoyment, engagement and professional development is to go deeper both psychologically and physically.  The process that I’m undergoing here with Eucalyptus is taking me in all sorts of interesting directions and on many different journeys both inside and out.

I don’t see me becoming an essential oil producer anytime soon although I’m enjoying the oils that I’m creating.  Neither do I feel that I’ll be able to become a Eucalyptus expert, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day of cells in my brain for that. What I do see me becoming is someone who has got deeper roots, many more bountiful and welcoming branches and a crown that’s grown out of my striving towards the light.  I think that should all prove worthwhile,  extremely fulfilling and totally scalable don’t you?

I dream of gum trees.

 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Melissa Thomas permalink
    March 29, 2019 11:55 am

    I agree that going deeper is more satisfying and wish we lived closer to share some of our experimentation. I have a lovely bed of pelargoniums and lemon verbena that have been nurtured through the drought (my herb and botanical garden got priority) that I’d love to process in your 30L still before the frosts. I find it such a shame that cosmetic makers find themselves feeling locked into producing consistent ingredient profiles to maintain continuity and wish we could be more seasonal in our offerings, more like a traditional veggie shop. I hanker for hand written labels and the flexibility to capture seasonal bounty and variability. I wonder if it’s possible to be flexible and viable at the same time?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      March 29, 2019 12:27 pm

      HI Melissa, I’m sure there would be a way of popping that into my still, I’ll have a think! With regards to seasonality that’s something we absolutely should and can bring back! I see no reason why you can’t use the wonders of social media to muster up enough customers for a quick sale of a special edition or ‘in season’ batch of a limited edition something. Sounds like a wonderful way to proceed to me!

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