Introduction: How to Resinate (clean Tree Resin)

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I am the kind of guy that sometimes wants to do things to see how they are done or whether he can. But you probably do not care to know that. You want to know what it means to resinate. Well, I have no idea since I just made that word up, but what I am referring to is the cleaning or refining of resin or tree gum, i.e. the natural product, tree slobber.

Why? See above. To see if I can. Actually, the main reason behind it is related to my endeavours of making flavored mead. There is a greek wine (Retsina) that is flavored with resin (stemming from the fact that back in the day they sealed amphores with resin and the taste stuck). So why not take the leap and make resin-flavored mead?

As a warning, this process can get messy. Resin is rather sticky, especially when it gets warm or melts, which it will if you do this. So keep that in mind when you try this out, and take precautions. Do not use any kitchen tools that you still want to use for anything else. And as usual, I am not responsible for the mess you make.

Update: a friend told me that this process would also remove all the essential oils (I believe they are called) as they will evaporate. But then he told me that the process to conserve them was a lot more complicated and potentially as messy (he's a pharmacist), so I think this is the approach for the less chemically inclined - although I would love to find a solution for that... The end product from this process still smells good in my opinion, though.

Step 1: Less Hunting, More Gathering

Tree gum is the stuff that leaks out of a tree when it is injured - a branch ripped off or the bark cut. If you are not of the arboreal inclination, you might know what resin can become - amber. I don't have to mention Jurassic Parc, do I?

Anyway, tree gum might run out of a tree, but it does so at a very slow pace. You can harvest it from living trees (for example and for another - this last page is in german, but the images are good), but that should not be necessary if you do not intend to get serious about it, and even then...

So, you will want to collect "natural" deposits. As far as materials go, you need

- a forest, preferrably older, larger coniferous trees. 
- a container, preferrably deposable. I'd recommend a plastic bag.
- a chisel or similar tool to pry things off. Use something old, it does not need to be sharp or anything. It does not have to be disposable either, but you should be comfortable not using it for anything else any time soon.
- another towel that will not suffer that much.
- patience and time.

Step 2: The Blob Marks the Spot

Resin comes into play wherever a tree gets hurt. In a forest, this usually happens when branches are broken off in a storm or falling trees damage standing ones. The tree gum will gather in a lump, possibly running for quite a while. Look for lines of resin running down the bark, or said lumps that look, well... it is hard to describe. If you think you found something take your chisel to it, but gently.

If it is solid, like, well, wood, then it probably is.  Leave it alone and move on. If it is softer then try breaking off a piece. If it is resin, it should look yellow, rose or white, each with an "-ish". The best way to check whether it is resin is to smell it. The smell is hard to desribe either but I think you will know.

So, pry off some more, but try not to hurt the tree. Keep in mind that the resin there to protect an injury, like scab on a wound, and if you remove too much - i.e. open uo the wound - infections might get in. I think it is a matter of common sense not to harm something that you are taking advantage of, and besides, I managed to gather a fair share of resin on the side while looking for mushrooms, and I did not have to look that hard. So, no point in being greedy.

Step 3: Getting Ready

The resin you collected will most likely be dirty - pieces of bark or leaf, twigs, insects, whatever. You need to clean the stuff up before you can thing about using it. If you are like me, you will learn the hard way that it is not a good idea to try and clean it by hand, even if you just want to remove the larger pieces of foreign materials. You will lose more tree gum that way, and have a jolly time cleaning it off your fingers.

I read that using oil or butter should help, and maybe it did, but at that point I had been scrubbing away at the resin on my fingertips that maybe it just gave up anyway. Try not to touch the stuff, at least not the pieces that are mushy and not brittle.

So, what you need to clean the resin is:
- a piece of cloth with not too fine a mesh, maybe an old towel. Keep in mind that you will not be using it for anything but resin afterwards.
- a stone as a weight
- a pot you do not mind soiling for good (you can still use it for more resin cleaning later, of course). It should not be too shallow, either.
- something hot to put the pot on. An oven works well, but keep in mind that this process can result in a complete and utter mess.
- a spoon for which goes the same as for the pot
- a bowl with cold water

Step 4: Preparing the Stew

Lay out the towel on a working surface and place the stone ontop of it in the center. Then take your resin - preferrably still in the collection bag - and dump it onto the stone. At least try to hit the towel. I found it easiest to turn the plastic bag inside out, maybe helping the contents along with the spoon you are going to soil anyway.

Now make sure that the resin forms a heap on top of the stone and pick up the towel's corners to make it a bag. Pull the corners together above the stone and - this is awkward to describe and much easier to do - hold it right above the resin with your fingers wrapped around the cloth. You are going to tie this bag with a string, so make sure that when you do, there will not be any holes, say, from a fold that escaped your grasp. I hope the pictures I took will make it clearer.

Anyway, go ahead and tie a good knot. 

Step 5: Heating It Up

Place the resin-and-stone-bag into the pot and fill the pot with water. It should at least cover the bag, but the higher you can fill it the better - although too high would mean spills, so do not go overboard with it, literally. Keep in mind that the bag most likely contains air bubbles which will make it go up higher once submerged and cooking. That is also the point of the stone - to keep the bag submerged.

Now place it on the oven (or an appropriate replacement) and turn up the heat. The water needs to boil, so do not be shy about it. You can help it along with a lid if your pot has one. 

Step 6: Skimming

What happens now is that the boiling water will melt the resin, and it will seep through the cloth. Neither is true for bark, needles, leafs, insects and the like, so what floats to the surface is fairly pure resin. 

Let it boil for a while, and more and more resin will accumulate at the surface. The boiling water should gather the stuff for you - you can see it in the picture, the yellow spots "dancing on the waves".

Take the spoon and let it rest in the boiling water for a moment to heat it up, it will make the following steps easier - although it will heat up all the same anyway. Now, carefully scoop up one of these spots. Try not to touch it with the spoon - it is not a problem if you do, but it does not hurt to do it carefully. Actually, the worst that might happen is that you soil your spoon a little more, and technically, the hot water should melt the stuff from the spoon, but...

Oh what the heck, just scoop it up. And read the next step before doing so, otherwise you will be balancing a spoon full of hot water and molten sticky stuff while reading and possibly setting stuff up.

Step 7: Cool Down

But you already have the bowl full of cold water set up, right? 

So, drop the contents of the spoon into the cold water - do not dip the spoon into it, this will make the resin stick to the spoon. Nothing that hot water will not melt off, but kinda pointless shaving to melt the same resin twice.

Once you drop the resin, it will find itself cooled down and (next to) solid in the cold water. You can do that for quite a while with a batch of cold water, even though it is bound to warm up slightly from what you pour into it. 

Step 8: Let It Dry

Every now and then dive into the bown and take out the pieces. They should not be that sticky at this point, so go ahead and drop it onto another towel in order to dry.

Keep boiling and scooping and taking it out to dry.

At some point - for you to decide - all or most of the resin will have melted and it will stop coming to the surface. You can take the pot off the heat at this point and set it aside to cool off. Take the last of the resin out of the cold water bowl and, if you are like me and do not want to wase anything, pour the water through a fine strainer. It probably will not soil it, but you might want to use a (coffee) filter instead. It will take longer to run through, though.

Step 9: Clean Up

Clean up after yourself - that is, take out the bundle and empty the pot after it has cooled and remove larger clumps of clean resin and add it to your drying towel. If you are feeling brave, cut the string that holds the bundle closed - it will probably be coated with resin and rather stiff.

The same will be true for the towel, but you should be able to pry it open. You can extract the stone from the refuse for reuse, and dump the dirt, bark, etc. I could understand if you just dumped the whole bag, but I cannot condone such a waste, at least not officially.

Step 10: Mash-up

You might have noticed already that the resin does not only look cleaner, but that it can also be mashed together at this point, forming solid balls with a little work. It is only mildly sticky unless you crunch it too hard, and it is slightly viscous, meaning that a ball you make will flatten over time if left alone.

So, mash your clean tree gum together and put it into a container. I would recommend a plastic one, and it does (to my current knowledge) not need to be air-tight.

Step 11: And Now?

Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a batch of clean tree gum. Smell it, it really does smell good. Come on, do not be shy, smell it again, Third time is a charm, smell ot one more time.

There are many things you can do with resin, or so I have been told, and I have yet to try most of them. I read about making glue or using it to coat wood, and of course, flavoring stuff. A bottle of home-made mead is sitting on my shelf soaking up a bit of resin, and the first tasting was promising..

I home you enjoyed this instructable and if you try it yourself please let me know. Also, if you have any idea what to do with resin - I mean to actually use it for - drop me a note, too. Thanks!