Monday, May 19, 2008

Mountain Misery

Chamaebatia foliolosa, supposedly a member of the rose family, is a scent once sniffed is never forgotten.

Mountain Misery, it's common name, or Kit Kit Dizze, it's less common- common name, is the scent of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Deeply green and resinous with earthy tones typified by the breath-catching vapor of fresh cilantro.

I have no idea why it was given the name 'Mountain Misery'. Some cite old-timer's references that during the high summer season, getting the resin on your skin and clothes made one miserable based on the pungent scent it left behind. Or perhaps it was because the plant blooms with little flowers that closely resemble strawberry blossoms, and subsequently produces small reddish berries which are inedible, though not poisonous. I can imagine a hungry mountain man thinking he'd found a wild strawberry patch (though he'd have to be completely delusional, mind you) and biting into one of the small, dry, bitter, earth-worm flavored berries. Misery?

Mountain Misery is also a natural insect repellent, and it repels some animals too. After the rains begin in the Sierras, the resins wash off the plant and deer begin munching on them. Mountain Misery comprise approximately 30% of a deer's winter diet.

But it is the scent of Mountain Misery which captivates me. I grew up in these mountains, and this particular scent brings back many happy memories.


  1. Have you found anyone who sells this resin distilled to an oil? I'd like to get some,...



  2. As far as I am aware, no one has attempted to distill this plant. I made a small tincture of the leaves and it's a dead on match to the actual scent of the plant in the wild.

    I am curious enough about it, however, to attempt to distill a bit in my little home distillery, I just need to get back up the hill and gather more raw material. I will post on this blog if anything comes of it.

  3. Anonymous9:33 AM

    I was wondering whether you ever attempted to distill this plant. I just found your blog after a pretty disastrous attempt at it myself last night. It smelled so nauseatingly bad it chased our guests out of the house, and I really wanted to go with them. The cat didn't want to come in for the night, either. Some of the residual nastiness of the smell is still on my skin today, even after a shower. I'm wondering whether there is hope out there, since I love - or used to love - the smell of the actual plant. Maybe a lower temperature distillation?

  4. I was planning to wait until next May to gather more for distillation. I will be distilling it outdoors as the scent of the plant itself can be overwhelming all on its own -- distilled has to be miserable. Perhaps a slower, lower temp distillation done outside, if possible, will work. Or a really good ventilation system. The tincture turned out amazingly well and thus far I am pleased with its tenacity and scent character -- very true to nature. I'll report back on the blog after I attempt distillation of this plant. Thank you for this question :D



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