Back to the Roots, Part 1 Galangal Root

This year Possets will be releasing fragrance blends which feature the ingredient(s) highlighted in blogposts like this one on galangal. Those blends can be found here.

Back to the Roots Pt. 1: Galangal

Awhile ago I wrote a about an essential oil that comes from an organic matter that is not a plant. This week I’ve decided to literally get back to the root of plant-based oils. This post marks the first in a series of spotlights on essential oils that are extracted from the roots of plants.

Act 1—galangal.

I have a friend who is getting her masters in art. Sometimes she likes to describe pieces by saying that they “look good/don’t look good to most people’s eyeballs,” implying that the subjectivity of perception interferes with the ability to actually determine anything as good, bad, or something in between. Discussing anything involving a person’s individual perception is like that, including perfumes and their ingredients. Citruses are generally citrusy, woods are generally woodsy, but beyond those obvious descriptors it’s so up to the individual to connect the scent with their own library of memories and associations, to find in it something meaningful and tangible to them.

For instance, when I smell galangal root, for some odd reason it reminds me of the scent of my grandpa, which I always noted when I would hug him. He was big and burly and chewed gum whenever he wasn’t eating. He’d buy packs of Extra gum by the box from Bigg’s, sometimes in Bubblemint but usually in Peppermint. He kept the packs of gum in his breast pocket, where he also kept the two one-dollar bills he was planning to give me and my brother at our departure. The minty smell was mixed with some ambiguous scent I can only picture as strong-old-man smell, probably a mixture of male-marketed bath products and the stubborn scent of old cigar smoke.

I have seen some people describe galangal root as being candy like and extra sweet, so I suppose it makes sense, then, that it reminds me essentially of a gum brand. It’s a spicy sort of sweet, so maybe the spicy notes are what correlate with the “masculine” part of my nostalgic scent.

Galangal root is in the same family as ginger and cardamon, known as Zingiberaceae, and it blends well with these oils and other deep, spicy scents like cinnamon. Like its sibling plants, galangal root is often used in cooking, particularly in Asia cuisines like Thai and Indonesian. It’s great in curries and spicy soups, and, like ginger, is good for digestion—just one of its many health benefits touted by some herbalists.

If you’re planning to cook with galangal, you’ll find that it looks almost identical to ginger root, but with a slightly paler skin. Maybe you’ll grab one instead of the other by mistake. The good news is that they usually work well as stand-ins for one another—though they’re certainly not identical in taste. Galangal is rather citrusy in comparison to ginger, the latter of which has more heat and pungency to its spice.

Fortunately there’s no real chance of mixing up galangal and ginger when you’re using their essential oils in neatly labeled bottles. As with ginger, galangal root is uplifting and pairs well with other bright scents too, like grapefruit. It’s an affordable essential oil that does well on its own whether on the skin or in a diffuser, but also blends nicely into many different perfume oils. I recommend trying it from all angles—in the kitchen, as a solo oil, or in a blend. Grab some galangal root from the store or order a little galangal essential oil and see where it takes you. Keep it around for a side-by-side comparison with the next root of this blog series. Possets has created two blends featuring Galangal Root. Kha Perfume Oil and Khulanjan Perfume Oil feature galangal root essential oil and can be found here: Kha and Khulanjan. Enjoy!

by Katrina Eresman

A Smokey New Year

A new year calls to mind new goals, new traditions, fresh starts. Maybe you’ve given your 2019 resolutions a new-age twist and have made it your goal to clean out bad energies, to meditate more, or to set intentions. Or maybe you just want you home to smell better. Any goal akin to these could inspire you to learn about the aromatic plants praised for their ability to do things like cleanse and ground. Many of these are burned as loose incense atop a hot coal or bound together to be burnt freely.

Please Burn Respectfully

There are many traditions that involve scent and smoke released through the burning of dried plants. Most of these traditions are much older than any of us, and belong to cultures and peoples with whom most of us have no relations. With that in mind, we can acknowledge that in trying to copy these traditions or claim to know them intimately we are at risk of cultural appropriation.

But that is not to say that there’s anything disrespectful in connecting with scent personally in whatever way is meaningful for you. The key is to avoid any action that intends to take ownership over the traditions. Claiming knowledge or connection that you don’t actually have, even in something as casual as dropping a term like “smudging,” is what can be seen as disrespectful.

Burn your herbs in a way that makes the experience a tradition of your own. Find the scents, the oils, and the herbs that feel right for you. You could even make an entire ritual out of foraging for your own local cedar or sweet grass to dry and burn as an incense.

There are lots of plants that you can find at stores or in nature that will release lovely, natural smells when burnt. Here are some that have become popular ingredients in loose incense blends. Try these out as you seek to build your own scented ritual for the new year.

Lavender

Lavender is applauded for its ability to promote relaxation. If part of your goals for 2019 is to let go of stress, using a lavender essential oil or burning dried lavender buds on hot charcoal could be a valuable ritual.

Mugwort

Lots of sources have said that mugwort—a name used for several different plant species in the genus Artemisia—can cause vivid dreaming. You’ll find mugwort in many teas marketed as dream teas. Mugwort can be bought in dried bundles, as well, and burned just as you would with sage. Such an aromatic experience could make for a good evening routine, or would be fit for any use that resonates with the individual.

Palo Santo

This delightful wood comes from trees in the same family as the aromatic resins frankincense and myrrh. But palo santo has a sweeter smell to it, with nutty, almost tropical undertones. The heavy, sweet smoke—so long as you find it agreeable—creates a nice space for any purpose, whether you’re getting set to do yoga, write, read, or host a dinner party. You’ll find palo santo sticks in most places that sell incense, but if you want more you can grab some essential oil or look for a perfume that highlights this note.

Sweet Grass

When sweet grass is burning, it gives off a sweet, vanilla-like scent. This aromatic option is one that you might even be able to forage responsibly in your own neck of the woods, especially if you live in the northwest or northeast states, near the Rocky Mountains, or in southern Canada. You can buy braided sweet grass that’s intended to burn for its sweet scent, but you’ll also find use of the essential oil in mosquito repellents and in perfumes. Sweet grass contains a chemical compound called Coumarin, which is known as the scent of fresh-cut hay, and is used in all kinds of perfumes and scented products.

Burning aromatic plants is certainly not the simplest method of enjoying smells, nor is it at all mobile. But the intentions that have to go into safely burning the dried leaves of your favorite plant are what makes this process a nice supplement to a new routine.

 

Katrina Eresman