Saturday, March 29, 2008

Basil Benefits

Basil is one of my favorite herbs and I hope to have a good supply of it this summer. Enough to be able to distill, make pesto, and eat fresh with garden tomatoes and mozzarella. I sometimes don’t do well getting basil started from seed because I don’t water enough. I’ve been more successful at this by putting seeds in a large pot, watering and covering that pot with plastic wrap. This helps keep the moisture in and the seed soon sprouts. This year I have dug a small ditch, filled that ditch with horse manure, planted seed there. I covered that with a small plastic covered hoop until the weather warms up. I am hoping that this will allow me some early basil before I start my larger garden.

While I was researching basil (Ocimum) for an Herb Companion article I came across some interesting information on this aromatic herb.

1. Basil has been found to attenuate the stress response to excess noise in rats. This ability to help the body respond to stress is probably due to the wide variety of antioxidants found in basil which inclde flavonoids, phenols and carotenoids.

2. Human hair as well as sheep hair (wool) can fertilize basil increasing its growth. Next time you get a hair cut, work a little of the hair into your soil. Hair is a protein and so it is high in nitrogen. I’m wondering if my horse’s hair will also be beneficial.

3. Basil protects against harmful effects of ionizing radiation. This may provide protection to healthy, non-cancerous cells during radiation treatment for cancer or protect your skin from the sun.
4. Basil can help normalize blood glucose levels and thus prevent insulin resistance for borderline diabetics. Eat basil with high protein mozzarella cheese and whole grain bread and that’s even better for diabetics.
5. The shelf life of high protein food such as tofu can be extended with basil. This study was done in India where refrigeration is not as common in rural areas.
6. Basil contains antioxidants that can protect against damage to DNA resulting in mutations. It also protects against oxidative stress from a variety of sources. This important benefit protects us from free radicals that arise from environmental sources as well as within our own body. In this way it acts as an ‘adaptogenic’ herb.
7. Basil can help the skin in wound healing and may prevent formation of scars. Go ahead, rub it on!
8. Basil is anti-inflammatory agent and can decrease heat and swelling of an injured area making it a potential treatment for arthritis.
9. Basil has potential applications to lower blood pressure.
10. Basil is both antibacterial and anti-parasitic having action against Staph aureus and Giardia. It may also be active against mosquitoes.
11. Basil can inhibit growth of breast cancer cells in the lab and thus may provide anticancer activity in the diet. Is that enough reason to plant extra basil?

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Pat's Day and mint syrup

We woke up to a few inches of snow on St. Patrick’s Day today. It should be just what those dormant plants need to get started though. We’ve just desodded a small area for our vegetable garden so as soon as this snow melts I will be planting my peas and lettuce.

A few weeks ago I bought a small mint plant from my local nursery so that I could have something green in the house. Now it’s grown to a usable size. Last night we made a mint syrup by first mixing a simple syrup (2 parts sugar, 1 part water) and put about a tablespoon of fresh chopped mint leaves into the syrup after it boiled; leaving them there while it cooled. This made a very nice syrup to use in a drink. We mixed about one part syrup with 3 parts soda water and lots of ice. Its also good with a squirt of lemon juice. This is our St. Patricks Day drink this year; well at least for the morning because I am sure we will have some Irish whiskey come evening!

In honor of St. Patrick’s day here is one of my favorite blessings:

Deep peace of the running waves to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the smiling stars to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the watching shepherds to you.
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.
Old Irish Prayer

May Saints. Brighid, Brendan and Patrick guide you on your way.

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Bacteria Found in Toiletries

If you are a small (or large) producer of skin care or toiletries products here are examples of why it is important to test cosmetic samples for the presence of bacteria and fungus.

Researchers in Japan recently identified a new species of bacteria that was isolated from hairspray. The new bacteria is named Microbacterium hatanonis. This bacteria is related to another bacterium, Microbacterium oxydans previously isolated from hospital material. Scientists do not have enough information to know if this new bacteria species is pathogenic, but similar bacteria have not been found to infect humans. It is however a gram-positive, rod shaped bacterium. The original research was published this month in the International Journal of Systemic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

Another more serious case of a contaminated cosmetic product occurred in 2006 in the intensive care unit of a Barcelona hospital. Five patients there developed infections of Burkholderia cepacia that were traced to a moisturizing lotion used in patient care. In this case the infections ranged from bacteremia, lower respiratory tract infection and urinary tract infection. Infections of this type can be life threatening for severely ill patients.

It is not common for cosmetics to be contaminated with bacteria or fungus but it does happen. This contamination at times can be a threat to human health as well as damage the product integrity. Microbes can be introduced into a product during manufacturing from the air or equipment that comes in contact with the product, it can be present in one of the ingredients of the product, or it can be introduced into the product by the consumer. Preservatives used in a product should be able to inhibit bacteria or fungus that do occur naturally in a product as well as those introduced by the consumer.

In 1989 the FDA randomly tested department store cosmetics products and found that over 5% were seriously contaminated with a variety of microorganisms. Don’t let your product be one of them. Sagescript Institute offers microbiology testing.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Spring Kick Off & Herb Talk

Are you wondering what herbs to plant this year? I will be talking at Echter’s Garden Center and Greenhouse this Saturday from 10:30-11:00 on growing and using herbs. Echter’s will kick off spring with their annual Echxpo on March 7, 8, & 9. There will be continuous talks given by plant and gardening experts Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Representatives from a variety of gardening and plant companies as well as special interest groups including the Herb Society of America will also be on hand to answer questions.

My talk is entitled “Making the Most of Herbs”. I will focus on some common herbs and introduce you to a variety of uses for them including culinary, skin care, medicinal and crafting. I will include information on Calendula, herb of the year as well as chamomile, oregano, thyme and more. After attending Echxpo you will be ready to get your hands dirty! It may be too early to plant, but its never too early to plan.

Echter’s is located at 52nd and Garrison in Arvada, Colorado. For more information visit


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