Friday, May 29, 2009

Rhubarb Season

Rhubarb is probably the first ‘fruit’ of the season; although it is not really a fruit but a stem and related to buckwheat. It is easy to grow and will spread some so that you will have plenty. The taste is both sweet and tart. Although my sons and husband will eat it raw from the garden, I prefer to have it cooked. In a crisp is probably my favorite way to have rhubarb, but this rhubarb bread is also delicious.

Rhubarb is high in vitamin K (40 mcg/diced cup) so limit its intake if you are on coumadin. Vitamin K is necessary for the synthesis of clotting proteins in the liver. Rhubarb is also high in potassium, magnesium, calcium and lutein. Of course its fibrous texture indicates that rhubarb is also high in fiber which is great for the digestive tract.

2 ¼ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup oil
2 eggs
1 ½ cup milk (or buttermilk)
1 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 ½ cup white flour
3 cups diced rhubarb
½ c chopped pecans

1 T soft butter
¼ c granulated sugar

Combine brown sugar and oil in a bowl until smooth. Add eggs milk, salt, baking soda, vanilla and flour and mix until moistened. Add rhubarb and nuts. Stir and pour into 3 greased bread pans. Combine butter and sugar and crumble over top of batter. Bake at 350° F for 50-55 minutes.


Another good thing to do with rhubarb is to make a syrup from it by boiling it with water and sugar. This is how my Mom used to prepare rhubarb and it is great on ice cream and on pancakes. And if you have an abundance of rhubarb and want to save it, it does freeze well.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ginger helps prevent nausea due to chemotherapy

It is unfortunate that side effects of cancer treatment can be so debilitating as to cause the patient to make the decision to stop taking treatment. A new study presented this week at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Scociety of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) shows that ginger is useful for treating chemotherapy associated nausea.

This study involved 644 patients who were already taking drugs (antiemetics) to help reduce nausea. These antiemetic drugs were 5-HT3 receptor antagonists including ondansetron and granisetron. In many patients these drugs are not effective enough. When ginger was taken in addition to these drugs ginger was able to further reduce nausea by 40%.

The study researchers (from the University of Rochester) suspect that ginger acts by reducing inflammation in the GI tract. This study is consistent with other smaller studies that have found ginger to be effective in reducing nausea. The lowest dose used was 0.5 g capsules which were found to be effective. This is equivalent to ¼ to ½ teaspoon of ground ginger.

Ginger is a spice often used in Indian and Chinese cuisine. It refers to the root of the plant. Ginger has been traditionally been used to treat nausea as well as colds and flu. It has antibacterial properties, antipyretic and analgesic properties and can sooth coughs and sore throats. It can be drank as a tea but its rather spicey taste can be too hot for some. Ginger can also be found in capsule form.

Ginger is probably most commonly ingested as ginger ale. The actual amount of ginger found in some ginger ales however may be too low to be effective as an anti nausea treatment. Researchers suggest that patients who are interested in trying ginger themselves to be sure they use real ginger and not just ginger flavoring that might be found in some foods.


Monday, May 18, 2009

The Scent of Lilacs

The lilacs have been blooming for over a week now and the scent as I walk out my back door is intoxicating. I love lilacs. As a child we had one next to the patio that I used to play around and had my kindergarten graduation picture taken next to it.

It seems a mystery why the scent of lilacs cannot be captured by distillation. When I distilled lilac the aroma was quite similar to my son's dirty socks; not something I'd like to elaborate on. I know the scent molecules are there since they enter my nose. I guess the boiling point of those molecules is just not compatible with the distillation process. I've been extracting lilacs in alcohol, but so far only have an alcohol scent. Perhaps a good way to do it is similar to enfleurage, or an oil extract. Maybe I still have time to try this before their blossoms fade.

I recently did a guest blog at Etsy Green and Clean as part of a series on herbs in skin care. You can read it here:

I have been participating in the Longmont Farmers Market and will continue to do so relatively regularly for the rest of the summer. Markets are Saturday morning from 8-2 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds. If you live near or are planning a Colorado vacation this summer stop by and say hi and try a tester of my new parsley eye serum!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Using Herbs in Skin Care

Botanicals and botanical extracts are big in skin care right now. But what are they, do they work and how do you use them? We’ll touch on these topics here in a series of blogs. One advantage to using botanicals and herbs as active ingredients is that they are a renewable resource and they support farmers and open space and thus promote sustainability. Take care though because sometimes botanicals can be unethically harvested from the wild in a way that damages the environment and that defeats the purpose. And the image of herbs or natural products as being safe has to be lost because it just isn’t true. Too much of anything is harmful; water is fatal if inhaled. On the flip side, not enough of something can have no effect at all and simply be used as filler or label appeal. Herbs are not only nutrients for us but also for bacteria and mold. So preserving and testing your product is important; unless of course it something to be used within a few days. Lotions are like food; you wouldn’t leave a sandwich on your bedside table to be eaten over a period of weeks and neither should you do so with a cosmetic that is not preserved properly.

The simplest herb preparation is simply dried herb which can remain whole or be ground. Herbs used like this are great added to your melt and pour or cold processed soaps. Herbs can also be processed in a number of ways from distilling for essential oils or essential waters (distillates/hydrolates) or a variety of different types of extracts. These processes concentrate certain aspects of the herb that are typically either water soluble components or oil soluble components but not both. Know what properties you are after.

Herbs are rich in flavonoids, polyphenolic plant pigments. These are useful to humans as antioxidants but are mainly found in the water soluble extracts. Fat soluble vitamins such as A, E and K are also common in herbs but are mainly found in the fat soluble extracts and not water soluble extracts. Essential oils and small molecular weight organic acids are extracted by distillation because they have a boiling point near that of water and so will vaporize with heat. However, after distillation they will separate out into oil soluble portions (essential oil) and water soluble portion which is the watery distillate also called a hydrolate or a hydrosol. Because essential oils are concentrated terpenes they can be toxic to the skin or cause sensitivities (immune response) so shouldn’t be used willy nilly. Essential waters distilled from herbs are more dilute and safer but keep in mind that anything can cause sensitivities be it natural or synthetic.

There is a lot of redundancy in the herb world so you may not need that exotic, hard to find, expensive botanical from far away. Those same properties you are after may exist in a weed in your back yard. Of course, label appeal may not be the same for that!

Shannon Thompson from The Bath Project and part of the blog team at the Etsy Green and Clean has asked me to contribute some posting on herbs for skin care. This blog is part of a series of blogs I will also be posting at

Friday, May 1, 2009

Swine Flu and You

Also called the swine flu, the influenza A strain H1N1 has gotten many people alarmed recently; possibly because of its similarities to the epidemic in 1918 that killed healthy people. Symptoms of this flu are similar to other strains of the flu so diagnosis can only be made by a respiratory swab. Results can take 1-5 days. It was just reported this morning however that a quick test has been developed in China that may come into popular use. The H1N1 flu strain is not one covered by the flu vaccine.

Becoming overly alarmed however will not keep you safe. The best thing to do is to work on prevention. The single most important thing you can do to decrease the spread of the flu is to wash your hands often. Contact is the primary method of transmitting the virus. It can be transmitted from one person’s hands to a doorknob where another person will pick it up and inadvertently touch their nose and infection will begin. Frequent washing of hands can prevent that transmission. Use soap and water to wash, rub your hands for 20-30 seconds, rinse and dry with a clean towel. Antibiotic containing soaps do not do a better job nor do hand sanitizers.
Drugs prescribed for swine flu include Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). Both of these drugs are neuraminidase inhibitors that prevents the assembly and release of newly made viruses from host cells. Neither of these are without side effects however which include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and headache. Rare side effects include hepatitis and elevated liver enzymes, rash, allergic reactions including anaphylaxis, and Stevens-Johnson syndrome. Also reported have been toxic epidermal necrolysis, cardiac arrhythmia, seizure, confusion, aggravation of diabetes, and hemorrhagic colitis. Viral resistance to these drugs is also a concern.

Keeping a healthy immune system is an important part of prevention. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Their high levels of flavonoids and vitamin C are a good combination for helping the immune system run optimally. They may also have antiviral activity. Many herbs have been found to be effective against viruses in general, but elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) have been shown to specifically have activity against the influenza virus. Elderberry neuraminidase activity, the same activity found in the drug Tamiflu. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has antiviral and antibacterial activity, is an expectorant, and has been traditionally used to treat respiratory infections successfully. Garlic is a wonderful herb for nearly any type of infection. If you start to feel sick, eating garlic toast is another good (and tasty) option.

You may also have heard some of the many theories about cytokine storm being a major problem with the swine flu and some herbalists recommending against immune stimulators because of that. Keep in mind that this is just a theory and we really do not know how the swine flu will play out. Personally, I think the key is in stimulating the immune system earlier rather than later; before the virus gains its stronghold.

A combination of antiviral, antibacterial and immune stimulating herbs can be found in Sagescript's Thymaflu product. This herb mixture comes in a small brown bottle. You add alcohol to the product in the form of brandy, rum, vodka or whiskey. Do this as soon as you get it so that it has time to steep to form a tincture - the longer the better. It keeps well with alcohol too. At the very first sign of a cold or flu (scratchy throat, runny nose, cough) begin taking 1 tablespoon of this tincture 2-3 times daily until symptoms pass. Yes, it tastes bad and you can add honey if you like. If you strain the herbs out it is easier but not necessary. Once used up you could add more alcohol to stretch it one time, but after that the tincture becomes too dilute. I've made plenty of these jars up to get us through this late flu season but get yours now. Once you add alcohol it can last until next year's flu season if you end up not using it. Order now at the $4.50 price before it goes to $4.75. Other cold/flu products we have include eucalyptus essential oil to clear the sinuses of congestion ($3.25), St. Blaise room and surface spray ($6.95) and Herbal VaporRub ($5.25) to rub on the chest and lymph nodes. We also have teas; yes, tea both black and green can stimulate the immune system and fight infections. The most important thing you can do to prevent the flu is to wash your hands often. Colorado Aromatics gives you a good choice of soaps to pick from! Shop at


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