Saturday, December 26, 2009

Grape Juice for Your Heart!

Concord grape juice contains high levels of flavonoids that have been shown to have antioxidant activity in the test tube. A study from the University of Texas compared the antioxidant power of concord grape juice to that of vitamin E and found both had similar antioxidant abilities within the body, specifically towards low density lipoprotein (LDL) also known as “bad cholesterol”. Oxidation of LDL is thought to be an early step in the formation of atherosclerosis.

A group of 36 patient volunteers participated in this study. To make sure all participants were on a standardized diet as far as dietary flavonoids were concerned, volunteers were first put on a low flavonoid diet for two weeks and remained on that diet for the duration of the study. After two weeks, volunteers were randomized to receive either 400 IU of alpha-tocopherol or 10 milliliters of concord grape juice per kilogram of body weight daily. This amounts to approximately 700 ml of grape juice per day for an average sized person or less than one quart (24 ounces). Since the authors of the study had already determined that 400 IU of vitamin E was enough to decrease LDL oxidation, they used that amount to compare with concord grape juice.

After two weeks of supplementation blood samples were taken for analysis. Both supplements were well absorbed which was demonstrated by significant increases in flavonoids in the blood of the grape juice group and significant increases in blood levels of vitamin E over baseline in the vitamin E group. Both groups showed significant decreases in the oxidation rate of LDL, by approximately 10%. This suggests a protective effect for both supplements in regards to atherosclerosis, something that has already been documented for vitamin E.

Grape juice had an additional antioxidant effect as well. Grape juice but not vitamin E demonstrated significant antioxidant protection in the plasma with a 20% decrease in oxidation of plasma proteins. The diverse nature of flavonoids allows them to dissolve in both water as well as an oil or lipid environment. Vitamin E on the other hand is only soluble in oil environments. This may give grape juice flavonoids an advantage to provide additional antioxidant protection to water environments such as the plasma.

One draw back, patients supplemented with grape juice also increased their triglyceride level during the two-week study. The authors suggest that this was a transient effect that would not be important in healthy individuals but may be a concern with diabetic patients or patients with already high triglyceride levels.

Flavonoids found in grape juice include catechin, epicatechin, quercetin and anthocyanins. Some of these flavonoids are readily found in other fruits, vegetables and herbs as well. This is good news for those who don’t drink wine and yet want the antioxidant benefits associated with it. However, if you do drink wine, you can get these benefits from red wine as well.

A version of this article was previously published in Herbs for Health Magazine.

Ref: O’Byrne DJ, Devaraj, S, Grundy SM, and Jialal, I., Comparison of the antioxidant effects of Concord grape juice flavonoids and alpha-tocopherol on markers of oxidative stress in healthy adults. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2002; 76:1367-74.

In general it is thought that high nutrition foods are better than supplements probably because they contain a wide variety of nutrients rather than one isolated in a supplement. With this being the season for thinking about what to grow come spring, perhaps grapes would be a good choice!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cookies with This and That

Its been hard to post lately because of the busy time of year. We have had successful markets in Boulder, Longmont and Denver recently. The Colorado Proud Directory just added our farm. They also put out a gift guide. The publication 'Yellow Scene' had a mention of us for local products.
We are hoping to do markets in both Denver and Ft. Collins this winter. All this while still working on remodeling and updating our workshop space. The extreme cold weather has made some things difficult though so hopefully it will pass soon. Unfortunately, some of the rose geraniums I was getting ready to cut for facial steams have been nipped in the greenhouse. They will survive but need time to put on more greenery. We just added smaller sizes for our knuckle balm and our sole pleasure foot butter which have been well received and are thinking ahead to summer to make sure we are growing enough herbs for demand.

I'll leave you with a recipe for Snickerdoodle Cookies. My son made these this week to take to work. Its always nice to have something baking in the oven when its cold outside. I've added lavender buds to sugar cookies before, but I bet they would work well in these cookies too. Try about a tablespoon of dried lavender buds or dried lemon balm leaves. The herbal aroma is a reminder of summer. Take time to sit down with a cup of tea and a cookie near the fire.

Mix together
1 c butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
Sift together and stir in:
2 3/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp salt
Chill dough slightly to make it easier to work with (optional)

Use hands to roll into small balls the size of walnuts. Roll in a mixture of 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Place 2" apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake until just beginning to brown on edges but still soft.
Temp: 400 degrees F
Time: about 8-10 min
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Herbal Aesthetics - Tree Ornament

Herbs are full of aesthetic properties that include color, texture and fragrance. It is a joy to find different ways to use them. If you love using herbs you are in luck because Cory Trusty at Aquarian Bath is hosting a blog party this month based on Herbal Aesthetics. So after you spend some time here, go over there to see the other blogs participating in this topic.

I don't consider myself a 'crafty' person so crafts that I do have to be simple, so that is what you will find here. Two of my favorite herbs are rose and lavender. They have amazing fragrances as well as textures. Lavender flowers are tiny flowers that range in color from gray to dark blue. Roses start as small buds and then blossom into large petaled flowers with colors that include yellow, pink, and red. All summer long I dry as many roses and lavender stems as I can. With roses I dry both the whole flowers and the small buds. I look forward to spending time with these herbs in the winter after the growing season ends.

A small bowl of dried lavender and rose buds looks beautiful in a bathroom. A drop or two of essential oil can add to the pleasure. Because both of these herbs are also good skin care herbs I use crumbled rose petals and lavender buds in a number of skin care products such as bath salts and scrubs. I also distill both of them for their aromatic waters or hydrosols.

But the aesthetic project I will show you here is how to use them as a Christmas tree decoration. I purchase the very inexpensive, clear, empty, hard plastic ornaments and simply fill them with either lavender or rose petals or buds. It is an inexpensive yet beautiful way to use herbs and is a great winter reminder of the beauty of the garden. These last quite a few years and every year you can liven them up with a drop or two of essential oil dropped in the ornament. You can either hang these on your tree or simply put them in a bowl to view. Herbs that work well for this should be ones that retain their color and scent well and do not fall apart. Rosemary might be another herb that works well for this, although I've never tried it.

Here are some older posts you might enjoy that deal with crafts and aesthetics:
I'd love to hear some of your ideas for using herbs aesthetically, please post them in the comments.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Digging Echinacea

I dug up some echinacea roots a couple weeks ago. This is not only an important immune stimulating herb but also has antiviral activity making it an important herb for cold season. Although the active principles may be more concentrated in the roots, you can certainly find them in the leaves and flowers too. In the summer if I have flowers that break off I will just dry them and mix them with roots that I dig in the fall. I usually wait until the plant is 3 years old before using to be sure it has a good root system. Echinacea will reseed rather freely so I typically have several clumps growing in various places, so digging up one clump still leaves me with other clumps.
To do this, I use a shovel to dig up the roots, shake and break off the excess dirt and cut off the dead stems. I then bring the roots into the house and use a vegetable brush to clean the dirt from the roots; cutting some apart as necessary. I then let the root clump dry and will store it in a glass jar until needed. A coffee grinder can then be used to grind the roots into smaller pieces that can then be used to make tinctures or teas. Echinacea is an important part of my Thyma-Flu product.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Parabens and this and that

A quick blog today with some news and links.

A new report just came out on parabens that I found interesting. Having read previous papers about parabens I have been skeptical of the bad press they have received supposedly because of them affecting the hormonal systems of the body which lead to cancer. This new study indicates that although parabens are well absorbed orally they are poorly absorbed through the skin and are well metabolized before they reach the blood stream. And the metabolite found in the blood, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, had no hormone (estrogen) action in the body.

This study was presented by Florian Schellauf at the Scandinavian Society of Cosmetic Chemists (SCANCOS) in Sweden and has not yet been published in a peer reviewed journal, so I will wait before making any definite conclusions.

In fact, parabens themselves are natural substances found in food and so we are exposed to them through food. Parabens is the name given to a group of p-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHBA) esters. Parabens are biodegradable and natural. A growing number of manufacturers are now using Japanese honeysuckle extract in their products. This is a source of parabens and by using it the manufacturers are getting around the negative public perception of using parabens. We may have done parabens a big disservice and could find that they are actually the best and most natural preservative we can use. Lets keep an open mind on this. Here is more reading on the subject.

Here is another interesting article on parabens, a copy of a Paper on Natural Parabens by Anthony C. Dweck

Colorado Aromatics will be at the Cornucopia of Local Saturday November 21 and at the Winter Farmers Market at the Boulder County Fairgrounds Saturday, December 5.

Check out Pamper yourself Denver's article about our natural spa gift sets:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Holiday Gift Sets

For holiday shopping we are putting to together several body spa gift sets that would make perfect Holiday presents for family or friends. These sets are packed in “Inspired by Nature” gift boxes made from 100% recycled material. No need for extra wrapping paper so we encourage you to decrease the waste. Add a bow if you like.

Facial Spa Kit – With herbs for a steam facial, one ounce botanical toner (lavender/rose, lavender/lemon balm or cucumber/mint all distilled on our farm), parsley eye serum for those fine lines and dark circles under the eyes and a small guest size bar of face quality, handcrafted soap. $19.20

This would also pair nicely with our Springtide Antiaging face cream.

Hand Spa kit – With herbal soak for softening and cleansing hands, one ounce tin of knuckle balm for cuticle massage and other areas needing special attention, and a 4 oz jar of hand lotion (citrus or lavender), Also comes with a cuticle stick, emery board, and a small guest size bar of soap. $16.95

Pedi Paradise Foot Spa Kit – With herbal foot soak (relaxing and antifungal herbs), sugar scrub to soften rough spots and calluses and to finish off, Sole Pleasure Foot Butter in a 2 ounce push up container to moisturize and protect the feet, especially the heels. Also comes with a small, guest size bar of soap. $18.15

Any of these spa kits would pair well with a 40 gram bag of our loose leaf tea. All teas are organic teas from flavorful leaves, not the stale ground stuff found in teabags. We make the tea blends from herbs grown on our farm. Choose from Black Assam (orange pekoe), Rose Black (black with rose geranium and rose petals), Chunmee green tea, Lemon Green (green with lemon verbena and lemon balm). $4.00 each.

Lavender Lovers Gift Set – For lavender lovers only, includes a 4 oz bottle of Mountain Mist Hand and Body Lotion with Bulgarian Lavender essential oil, an 8 ml purse size mister of lavender hydrosol distilled on our farm, a bar of lavender soap with lavender buds from our farm and 2 dream pillow tea bags with lavender and other herbs to help you sleep; just slip it in your pillow case. $19.95.

You are also free to choose your own combination of products for your gift box as well. With every $30 or more order I will put it in an “Inspired by Nature” gift box made from 100% recycled material, along with tissue paper. Just put ‘gift’ in the box when checking out. Remember Colorado Aromatics products are all natural, botanical skin care products scientifically formulated and containing the best and most functional ingredients for your skin. You can buy any of these gift sets at Colorado Aromatics website: Happy Shopping.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Aromatic Toners

We are busy here getting some special products ready for the Holiday gift giving season. During the summer we distilled some wonderful herbs making aromatic waters. These distillates or hydrosols as they are sometimes called are great skin care products. They are rich in organic acids that help moisturize and keep the skin pH slightly acidic as it should be. This acid mantle is what helps protect the skin. They also contain microdroplets of essential oils making them wonderfully aromatic.

My favorite distillate of course is lavender or is it lemon balm, it’s hard to decide. I made three blends; lavender lemon balm, lavender rose, and cucumber mint all from herbs we grew on our farm this summer. These distillates alone are great to spray on the skin and face for hydration or to use as a body mist or spray in the hair before combing. I wanted to make them a little more special as a toner though so I added a small amount of glycerin as a humectant as well as extracts from raspberry leaf and plantago to soothe and tone the skin. I am selling these in both 1 ounce ($5.10) and 2 ounce ($7.70) spray bottles. You can also spray these on your neck and chest for toning, a place often overlooked when it comes to skin care. Products used in this area are sometimes refered to as décolleté products. The term also refers to a low neckline on a woman’s shirt and is certainly an area you want to look its best.

I love the feel of these toners on my skin and like the scents as a reminder of summer. All the ingredients were grown here on our farm. Distillates alone or with added ingredients are the best of natural skin care. These products can be purchased alone or as part of the gift bags I am putting together as well. These you will hear about soon.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Herbs for Winter Health

This is a good time of year to go over 'must-have' herbs for winter health. Since I am feeling "under the weather" today it also makes it a good time to review. Herbs that I have found most useful to treat and prevent colds and flu include elderberry, echinacea, thyme, sage and garlic. Infection is a combination of exposure to a critical number of bacteria or virus and the immune system not being able to handle the exposure. The herbs mentioned have both antiviral and antibacterial properties and several also have immune stimulating properties.

Elderberry is an important herb for flu and medical studies have found it to be effective. It contains neuraminidase activity, the same activity of the drug commonly used to treat the flu, Tamiflu. The best part is that elderberry tastes delicious. You can make a syrup from elderberry using these instructions. You can also make a liquor with elderberry by covering the elderberries with vodka, let set for two weeks and then add honey to taste. Alternatively, you can leave it with just vodka and use it as a tincture.

Thyme is a traditional herb used for bronchitis and upper respiratory tract infections. Thyme can be used in a number of ways; added directly to tea or make thyme honey to add to tea or use as a cough remedy.

Sage is a great herb to use for a sore throat. It too can be used to make a honey or as a tea itself. Echinacea is best used as a tincture; you can make this yourself (directions coming in another blog) or you can buy this. If you have Echinacea in your yard you want to harvest, this is the time of year to dig up the roots to make your tinctures; after the aerial parts of the plant have died back.

Garlic is a valuable herb that stimulates the immune system and has antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal activity. I like using garlic fresh as garlic toast. To do this first make a piece of toast from whole wheat bread. Then rub a garlic clove over the rough surface of the toast so that the garlic goes all over the surface of the toast. It may bite a little when you eat it, but it does great good!

For more information on what you can do for minor infections see my book "The Antibiotic Alternative". This month I am celebrating the 10th anniversary of its publication. You can see more about this book here.

Colorado Aromatics sells a product I call Thyma-Flu, a play on the drug name, Tamiflu. This product is a mix of immune stimulating herbs and antiviral herbs. You add drinking alcohol of your choice to the herbs to make a tincture. Take this at the first sign of cold or flu to prevent the symptoms from arising.
You can find this product here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Essential Oils and Aromatics, book review

Essential Oils and Aromatics: Step-by-Step Guide For Use in Massage and Aromatherapy
By Marge Clark
Silverleaf Press 2008

Marge Clark has recently been able to put some of her wisdom to paper in “Essential Oils and Aromatics: Step-by-Step Guide For Use in Massage and Aromatherapy”. This compact book is great for quick reference and filled with information. More than just a collection of essential oil monographs, this book starts with information on how to purchase essential oils and what to look for in an oil. It then continues to address the properties of carrier oils used for diluting the essential oils. Safety concerns are important to Marge and she addresses this as well.

You can of course find the typical information and blends for spa treatments, but this information goes much further. Aromatherapy is widely used for “mind and mood” and there are many suggestions for this use such as chamomile and jasmine for anger, or basil and clary sage for mental fatigue. Medical science has confirmed that many essential oils have antibacterial, antifungal or antiviral activities too. Marge’s recipe for a general germ killer blend takes this into account. The blend I am most interested in right now though is the tennis shoe freshener and am hoping that this might also work in my son’s gym bag!

You can purchase “Essential Oils and Aromatics” from her website at and she will autograph it if ordered from her. On her website you can also find a large variety of essential oils, blends and carrier oils. One product of particular interest may be the “Flu Foil Synergy” which may be quite useful this flu season. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in essential oils.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Protein Synthesis and the Nobel Prize

Proteins are by far the most important part of all cells. Their many functions include working as/in:
-enzymes that control all the chemical reactions that occur in the body
-immune function as antibodies
-cell membrane structure and carriers to regulate what goes in and out of a cell
-structural components of skin and muscle (eg. keratin, collagen, actin)
-cell communication in the form of hormones and other messengers.

Proteins are polymers of amino acids and are made in the cell on structural units called ribosomes. This year the Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Ada Yonath of Israel, Thomas Steitz of the USA and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan of the UK for their work in understanding more about the structure and function of these ribosomes work that brings us closer to understanding how proteins are made.

The amino acid sequence of a protein is written in the DNA through various arrangements of four nucleotide bases (Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for describing the structure of DNA). This code is then copied into the messenger RNA which carries it out of the nucleus to the ribosomes where the protein is made. Three consecutive bases code for one amino acid in the protein sequence. If a mistake is made by the ribosomes in reading this base code then there is a mistake in the protein itself which could prevent it from doing its job. Amazingly, ribosomes rarely make mistakes; only once per every 100,000 amino acids. This has to do with the structure of the ribosome and its ability to measure the distance between the transfer RNA (tRNA) which carries the amino acid and the codon in the messenger RNA (mRNA). Interestingly, the number of different arrangements that 4 nucleotides can arrange themselves in triplets is 64. Since there are only 20 amino acids that occur in protein (many more that don't occur in proteins) some triplet sequences code for the same amino acids while others signal a stop or start to protein synthesis.

This diagram shows two amino acids on the top. The R refers to a variety of side chains an amino acid can have to differentiate it from others. The bottom shows the two amino acids bonding together to make a peptide bond - to make a protein this step is repeated many times with additional amino acids.

This links describes the findings and the background regarding the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for describing the atomic structure of the ribosome.

Thyme Honey

With the herbs mostly harvested now its time to make sure our winter medicine cabinet has all it needs. Thyme honey is one of the important parts of our medicine cabinet. It is used for colds/flu and sore throats. Thyme has strong antiseptic properties including activity against viruses, insects, bacteria and fungus. Traditionally, thyme was used to treat bronchitis. I find it to be useful in our house for treating winter illnesses such as colds. One nice way to use thyme is as honey and its very easy to make. You can still pick thyme now, it should withstand a mild frost just fine. Cut stems short and put them in a glass jar. Cover the thyme with honey. Put the jar in a pan of water to slightly heat the honey while pushing the thyme down and adding more thyme. Once the honey is fluid, put the lid on the jar and store the honey with the thyme still in it until needed. You can use this honey to add to tea or use it straight for a sore throat.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Triglycerides and Skin Care

I thought I would do a series of blog entries on chemistry concepts that are important to the cosmetics crafter. Cosmetics crafters as well as herbalists come from diverse backgrounds often with no training in chemistry. If you are a cosmetic crafter or herbalist and have found that you could do alot more with some chemistry knowledge, then I hope my blog helps in your line of work. But before we get started, if you are planning on making your products ‘chemical free’ I suggest you think otherwise. Our bodies themselves are composed of chemicals and everything we put in or on our body is composed of chemicals. With some knowledge of chemistry we can find out which of these chemicals are safe, effective and actually good for us.
Lipids could be considered the most important part of skin care products. They are able to protect the skin from water loss, helping the barrier function of the skin. Lipids are defined by their ability to be soluble in organic solvents. In general lipids are used by mammals like us for energy reserves and to form cell membranes. The main lipid category is a triglyceride, also called a triacylglycerol. Other lipids include phospholipids, steroids and essential oils (for lack of any other category to put them). We’ll focus on the triglycerides alone though.
The structure of a triglyceride is a glycerol molecule as a backbone with three fatty acids attached to that. Since glycerol is a three carbon sugar, each fatty acid can bond to one of the carbons. Glycerine is also an alcohol as defined by the –OH groups.


Below is a triglyceride. You can see the three carbon glycerin portion of the molecule on the left and the fatty acid chains to the right. Using this type of connotation each bend of the line represents a carbon atom.

Fatty acids are long chain hydrocarbons and identified by the number of carbons in their chain as well as by the number and placement of double bonds.
In this figure the first fatty acid from the top has16 carbons with no double bond. This fatty is abbreviated 16:0 and called palmitic acid. This fatty acid is saturated meaning that there are no double bonds in the chain. Each carbon atom is bonded to two hydrogen atoms (not shown) so the carbons are saturated with hydrogens.
The second fatty acid from the top has 18 carbons and one double bond. This is abbreviated 18:1 and is called oleic acid. Notice too that the double bond is at the ninth carbon.
The third fatty acid chain has 18 carbons again but three double bonds. This is abbreviated 18:3 and is refered to as alpha linolenic acid. This is an omega-3 fatty acid which refers to the fact that it has a double bond 3 carbons from the omega end of the chain.
So each different oil or fat you use in skin care is made up of triglycerides. Triglycerides found in different oils have different fatty acids associated with them which is referred to as the fatty acid profile. Various fatty acids can have different properties for skin care, a topic for another blog.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Herb Drying Rack

This time of year my workshop is taken over with herbs that are drying everywhere so I've been trying to come up with more compact ways of drying them. Here is one of them.
I took an old cloths drying rack that was actually broken and glued it back together. Unfortunately, this means it is no longer collapsible, but that is ok. By setting it up I am able to put a screen across the top as well as the bottom rods. Now I can lay herbs across these screens and they have plenty of airflow from above and below. I could also tie bundles of herbs to the rods. You can see I also have a grass woven bag hanging from the rack. The open weave of this bag allows airflow and I can have dry herbs inside of that as well.
In addition to this I have a few hooks on the backside of my bookshelves to hang herbs from as well as hooks under a cupboard.
Do you have any space saving ideas for drying herbs?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Simply Super Tomatoes

Here is a recipe that my Mom used to make alot that I just love. We had this tomato dish this week.
Simply Super Tomatoes
2/3 cup oilive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped chives
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1-2 cloves of garlic crushed and minced
1 teaspoon chopped dill weed
2 teaspoons chopped, fresh basil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
shake this together and pour over 6- 8 fresh tomatoes sliced.

We've grown quite a few different tomatoes this summer but the one's that have really taken off are the cherry tomatoes. Unfortunately, we did not do a good job at staking them and they are laying on the ground alot. One winter project will be to build sturdy tomato cages.

The weather here is becoming a bit chillier and tomorrow night may dip close to freezing. We will keep a close watch on it and pick and cover where necessary. Although I've been able to cut quite a bit of calendula from my garden to use in products over the winter, Jason at Aspen Moon Organic Farm has allowed me to pick some of the calendula from his farm as well. Its nice to be well stocked with this important herb.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Harvest Pizza

I love going out to the garden in the afternoon and deciding what to make for dinner when I see what is out there. This week we had a harvest pizza that was loaded with zucchini, fresh onion, and lots of roma tomatoes. Its good to have a basic pizza crust recipe because this can be used for a number of things including frittata. Here is my recipe:
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
3 cups white flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoons salt
First mix the water and yeast together, then add the rest and mix. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or so (times are only a guideline). Knead, split in two (or more) and roll dough out on a floured surface to the size/shape pizza you want. Top as you wish!
I made this dough one time and covered it with onions that had been stir fried and topped that with feta cheese and herbs. Yum!
Wish I'd remembered to take a picture. But try going out to your garden to find something to top a pizza crust with. Let me know what you find.

Friday, September 4, 2009

15 Flowers/Herbs in 15 Minutes

As I was thinking of what to blog about I was glad to see I was tagged for this exercise which sounded fun. Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen flowers or herbs you've worked with or been touched by that will always stick with you. You don't have to have used the plant medicinally (heck, you don't even have to like it), you just have to have been deeply impacted by it in some way. First fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.

1. Daisy – this was my Mothers favorite flower

2. Lilac – I love the smell. I fell in love with lilacs as a young child, we had one near our back door.

3. Rose – The thorny beauty, a beautiful flower and a beautiful smell.

4. Lavender – has been one of my favorite herbs for its aroma, appearance and hardiness. I have planted significant numbers of lavender here on our farm.

4. Calendula – a medicinal flower that has become an important part of many of my skin care products.

5. Chamomile – first loved this from Celestial Seasonings Sleepy Time tea, well actually before that in Mo’s 24. I now grow it and distill it for its anti-inflammatory and soothing properties.

6. Rosemary – although it never blooms in my climate when I once saw a rosemary bush in full bloom it was quite impressive. I use rosemary extract for its antioxidants.

7. Grass – Since I live on the prairie grass flowers are common. Very unobtrusive yet most grasses can only be identified by their flower. Of course many grasses such as wheat are used as food and having a pasture I need to pay attention to what grasses are there.

8. Strawberry – again, a small flower but I know that each of those flowers will yield a juicy fruit.

9. Lemon balm – I love how eager it is to grow and use it in many of my products as well as distill it.

10. Basil – its spicy taste has to be my favorite. Recently I am learning of other varieties of basil as well as its medicinal benefits in helping with stress.

11. Echinacea – a beautiful, easy to grow flower and a must when it comes to cold/flu prevention. A picture of this flower also graced the cover of my book “The Antibiotic Alternative”

12. Hollyhocks – I was pleased to see this flower coming up in the garden at my first house. I love its tall stature in the garden and its old fashioned appearance.

13. Yarrow – this is native here in the west so it is easy to grow and it has great medicinal properties.

14. Linden – the aroma of the Linden tree flower is overwhelming in the spring and certainly brightens a mood.

15. Pine – I love the peacefulness of being in a pine forest. The aroma reminds me of living in Flagstaff, Arizona. These trees also remind me of this song we sang in Girl Scouts called Canadian Wilderness:

Smoke rising from the fire
Up through the trees in a stately spire
All is well as evening lows
Sun goes down as north wind blows

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Garden Pictures for Wordless Wed

This time of year is when all the hard work pays off and we are harvesting all we can. Here are some tomatoes rippening on the vine, a large zucchini plant, purple sage, echinacea, and of course Longs and Meeker Peaks that we enjoy seeing almost everyday. I hope you too are enjoying this time of year.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

ChokeCherry Find

My husband came home from work with a bagful of chokecherries he picked so we had to figure out something to do with them. The most obvious use of chokecherry is as a syrup to be used in the winter for coughs (as well as being delicious on ice cream, pancakes, drinks or anywhere else you would use a syrup). Typically choke cherries are very bitter and astringent in taste, but these are actually very sweet; possibly because they were growing by a stream and getting more water. Chokecherries are very high in ellagic acid. Since I have been reading lately of the benefits of ellagic acid in skin care I wanted to find some use for these fruits for skin, perhaps a face mask.

Face Mask


3 tablespoons chokecherry juice

1 tablespoon bentonite clay

2 teaspoons avocado oil

Mix to a nice consistency and smear on your face. Now enjoy a cup of tea while the mask sets on your face. After 10 minutes or so use a wet washcloth to wipe the mask off your face.

Chokecherry Juice

To make a juice put chokecherries in a saucepan to fill about 2/3 full. Fill with water almost to the level of the top of the cherries. Bring water to a gentle boil for 30 minutes or so. Put cherries through some type of press such as used to make jam. I use a device used to make applesauce. Allow juice to drain into a separate bowl while skins and seeds remain behind.

Chokecherry Syrup

For chokecherry syrup I mixed 3 cups of juice with about 3 cups of sugar and simmered that for about 30 minutes. This produced a very thick syrup that would work great for pancakes. For a cough syrup I will use 3 cups of juice with 1 1/2 sugar and also add a few tablespoons of vodka to that as well. The lower amount of sugar might not be enough of a preservative. You could also freeze this until you want to use it.

The seeds however contain poisonous glycosides (hydrocyanic acid) and should not be eaten by humans or animals; unless cooked or dried first.

Chokecherries are native to much of the US and were used extensively by Native Americans for a number of health complaints. These include as a poultice to stop bleeding and to treat skin sores and burns, as a tea or infusion for stomach cramps, fever, diarrhea and dysentery. Both the fruit and the bark are used medicinally. The cherries also a a good food source for both humans and animals. Chokecherry jam and pies are quite common and chokecherries were an important ingredient of the pemmican made by many Native Americans as a dried food for winter.

The purple color of the cherries is said to make a good purple-red dye. This is something I might save some berries for to try dying some mohair. Last summer I planted quite a few chokecherry bushes so by next summer I may be loaded with cherries.

Here is a good write up on chokecherries for more information.

Monday, August 3, 2009

My New Rock Garden

Over the past year we have dug into the raised bed against the back of the house to put in a hot tub and a deck. This left a large area of weeds - one of those "I'll get to it someday" areas. Well, my brother and his family visited us last week and my hard working sister in law wanted a project we could do together. Now when someone makes an offer like that I am smart enough not to suggest scrapbooking or going through old photos. Yes, I suggested moving heavy rocks around which worked well since she is younger than I.

First we (or rather she) pulled out all the weeds and moved some rock out of the area. We then put in the cut flagstone path that goes up to the water faucet on the back of the house. We already had the flagstone as well as the other flatter "moss" rock (its really lichen, not moss) from taking down a water fall by the garden pond that we had filled in earlier. We laid the various flatter stones into the ground leaving spaces for plants between them. This is an area I do not want to think about watering so that was taken into account when selecting plants. I also only wanted low growing plants.
Several types of sedum were transplanted from other areas in the yard. A trip to the neighbors yielded some violas and garlic chives. Then from the garden center I bought creeping thyme and Roman chamomile.

Some sand was used to fill in the spaces in the walk to keep the flagstone from shifting too much. Since this area is close to the faucet we put a stand to hold the hoses in the front.

I'm hoping these plants set down good roots and not too many weeds grow. It rained heavily after we finished and I'll make sure the new plants get a good amount of water for the next few weeks. I have a few other flat rocks laying around that I can use to fill in more of the spaces too.

Well, you'd think this would be enough for one person to do, but she insisted on weeding some of my other beds too. Thanks Angela, it was great to see you (and Kelly, Kyle, Emi)!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Today's Harvest

I walked through my garden today looking for what to harvest. Savory, oregano, zucchini, basil, chamomile, feverfew, sage, calendula, arugula and roses were among the gifts I found growing. The herbs will be dried and put into herb blends later. The arugula we had as a salad for dinner tonight with a honey balsamic dressing. Not too many roses are growing right now so I am glad I cut alot of them earlier in the summer. I pick flowers from the chamomile daily to dry and use in a variety of products. Feverfew (next to the bowl) will become a tincture as well as an infused oil. Calendula is an important herb that I use alot of in skin care products. I'm trying to keep up on what I have dried to make sure I harvest enough culinary, medicinal and skin care herbs to last over the next year.

Chamomile blossoms

I have decided to 'remodel' the garden bed right in front of my door. It has become overgrown and is filled with plants I don't necessarily use. We have cut out several bushes and through FreeCycle I have been able to find homes for many of the plants in that bed. If you have plants that need a new home be sure to check to see if there is a FreeCycle in your town. Once there is enough room I'll put a path going through the garden space and then fill it primarily with culinary herbs. Having these herbs concentrated in one place rather than scattered throughout the gardens will make things easier for harvesting. I'll post some pictures in future blogs of the progress.

On another note, Kelly Bloom at Southern Soapers posted a blog last week that has been getting alot of discussion attention among skin care makers. It discusses the definition of a 'cosmetic' versus a 'drug' and suggests that many of us who make skin care products are actually making and selling drugs illegally by FDA standards. You can read it here:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Summer is well underway and between visitors, vacation and farm work I haven't had much time for posting! Plants are growing strong and everyday I am picking chamomile blossoms and calendula blossoms for drying as well as a variety of culinary herbs that will go into blends later. It is parsley however that has aroused new interests in me recently. Not only are its virtues excellent as a food, but parsley is also good as a skin care herb.

Parsley is very rich in vitamin K which has been shown to reduce dark circles under the eyes. It is also high in vitamin C which is necessary for collagen production and vitamin A which is necessary for skin cell regeneration. Essential oils are also found in parsley as well as flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants. You can reap alot of benefits from eating parsley in your salads and on your potatoes, including heart and joint health but also try it for skin care. Put a few tablespoons of ground parsley in some full fat yogurt and apply that to your face as a mask. Leave on for 10 minutes while you drink a cup of tea. Wipe off and rinse with water. Your face will feel great.

Colorado Aromatics newest product is a Parsley Eye Serum. This is a light oil to be used on the sensitive skin around the eyes. It is a very nourishing oil to help with fine lines and dark circles. You might also use it around the lips. You can find Parsley Eye Serum At Colorado Aromatics.

I hope your gardens are bountiful too!

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Walk in the Mountains

I love living close to the mountains but having a farm and a business leaves little time for hiking and other activities. But since this week my cousin, Pam, was visiting from Ohio, a scenic drive through the mountains with stops was a must. We stopped the car alongside this small stream and walked the trail along it a ways. The smells were fresh water and pine mixed with moss and flowers. I took pictures of these wild orchids and what I think is arnica (let me know if you agree); but we also saw wild roses, geraniums, grapes, choke cherries and clematis growing.

Its nice to have visitors here at our new place; visits from family especially help to bring blessings to a new home. My cousin will leave tomorrow and we will be back at the Longmont Farmers Market. Be sure to come visit us and tell your friends in Colorado to do so.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Calendula in Skin Care

Calendula (Calendula officinalis), the pot marigold, is a great herb for skin care, and has perhaps the longest history of use of any herb in skin care. Even though its name is marigold, do not confuse it with the common ornamental marigold which is the genus Tagetes. Calendula is most widely used for skin and digestive issues, but also for menstrual symptoms.

The useful components of calendula include a volatile oil, carotenoids, flavonoids, mucilage, resin, polysachharides, aromatic plant acids as well as saponins, glycosides and sterols. Extracts of calendula can include an infused oil, alcohol tincture, water soluble tea, or distilled and used as essential oil or watery distillate (hydrolate).

The water soluble polysaccharides and saponins have been used as a tea to heal stomach ulcers as well as in a compress for various types of skin damage. These benefits can be reaped by using calendula as a tea to drink or to use as a skin wash. A poultice of calendula flower can be applied to a wound to help stop bleeding and promote healing.

Calendula is probably best used for chapped and otherwise irritated skin. The oil soluble components including the essential oil seem especially good at stimulating wound healing. Scientific studies find that extracts of calendula can speed the healing of skin wounds and burns. Calendula ointment has also been used to decrease dermatitis following skin irradiation for breast cancer.

The hydrolate or watery distillate of calendula can help with skin irritations and rashes. Used as a distillate it can be sprayed directly on the skin or can be substituted for any or all of the water portion of a cream or lotion. You can also use it for mouth sores and hemorrhoids. This distillate contains minute amounts of essential oil as well as organic acids.

Dried calendula petals are a great addition to soap because they maintain their color imparting an orange color to the soap. The petals are antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and immune stimulating. These properties are useful for treating various types of dermatitis such as eczema.

Much of the healing properties of calendula are because of its high levels of carotenoids (vitamin A like compounds). Because these compounds are oil soluble, an infused oil is a good way to go. Calendula also contains oil soluble sterols that help plump the skin and keep it thick. An infused oil is easily made by filling a jar with dried calendula flowers and covering the flowers with a carrier oil of some type; almond oil, olive oil, etc. You can get more out of the flowers by macerating the mixture in a blender. Let this oil set (infuse) for two weeks or more shaking it periodically to help extract the properties from the flowers. When ready to use filter the oil through cheesecloth. You can use this oil directly in a balm or as part of the oil portion of a cream or lotion. This infused oil can help with skin regeneration, diaper rash, sunburn, bed sores and various inflammatory conditions. Do make sure that your calendula is dry and that the oil completely covers the plant material to prevent mold growth.

As an edible flower the fresh petals can be used in a salad, dip or rice. I find the flavor a little too resinous though. Although rare, there are cases of people having allergy to calendula when used in skin care. Always be aware that a person can have an allergy or sensitivity to anything and usage should be stopped immediately if any reaction occurs.

I use calendula in several of my products. I have a calendula/plantain balm that I call "Knuckle Balm" and I also use calendula infused oil in my Mountain Mist hand lotion and Springtide face cream. I hear testimonials of our calendula oatmeal soap as being great for eczema.


Duran, V., et al. Results of the clinical examination of an ointment with marigold (Calendula officinalis) extract in the treatment of venous leg ulcers. Int. J. Tissue React. 2005 27(3):101-6.

Pommier, P., et al. Phase III randomized trial of Calendula officinalis compared to trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis during irradiation for breast cancer. J. Clin. Oncol. 2004 22(8):1447-53.

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

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Planting

This is by far my favorite time of year, filled with hope and aspiration (and inspiration). This week was largely spent planting; strawberries, raspberries, and fruit trees. The next few weeks will be vegetables and herbs and a few more fruit trees. Unfortunately we won't have fruit to speak of this year, but next year we'll be making fruit crisps, drying fruit for use in tea and just plain eating fruit! And possibly distilling fruit tree blossoms.

Strawberries were purchased from Johnny's seeds and are Earliglow (early), Jewel (mid-late) and Seascape (day-neutral). This combination should allow us to be able to harvest strawberries from early summer to early fall.

Raspberries include Polana (everbearing), Nova (summer bearing) and a black raspberry, Jewel (summer bearing). The stick of a plant is barely visible planted here in compost. It will soon start to bear green leaves though.

The fruit trees shown in the picture below are a row of sour cherries; Montmorency. We did get several other trees including apples, pears and peaches, some of which haven't arrived yet.

Other fruit we already have includes rhubarb, Nanking cherries and choke cherries, a few plums, an apricot (which would seldom if ever bear fruit here in our climate) and some type of apple. We may remove a decorative crabapple to make room for something else. The choke cherries will be used to make cough medicine. Oh, and I nearly forgot there are a few gooseberries here and I planted currants in the fall. I've recently read about gooseberry extracted being tauted for use in skin care.

After all this planting our muscles and joints are sore. Yes, spring is a time when we appreciate a hot tub!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Signs of Spring for Wordless Wed

Hyssop, Comfrey and Chives are all starting to grow. We are expecting snow the end of the week though! Hopefully it brings needed moisture.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Will Spring ever Come?

We are finally getting much needed precipitation here in Colorado, in the form of snow which is accompanied by cold, cold weather. After several weeks of warm, spring-like weather that forced me outside to plant seeds in my raised beds I am now hoping that their plastic covering is enough to keep them warm. I do have tomatoes growing in my greenhouse though and have just planted squash and cucumber seeds too. I rub my hands across the tiny tomatoe seedlings daily to stengthen their stems. Fruit trees, strawberry plants and raspberry bushes are on order. Am hoping that the next few weeks we will be above freezing and outdoor work can again resume. In the meantime, reading and learning more about the plants I grow or want to grow is what feeds the the soul. The Essential Herbal Magazine is where much of that reading is. You can download a free copy of "The Essential Herbal Magazine" yourself to help in your spring planning. This particular issue (March 2008) includes information on growing a Victory Garden. Click here to download this copy, its sure to stimulate thoughts for your soon to be planted garden:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why Do We Need Antioxidants?

Antioxidants have been found to be very important in preventing or decreasing the incidence of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration and aging in general. Antioxidants are also known to be important for maintaining healthy skin and immunity. Antioxidants are found naturally in foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and include vitamin C, polyphenols such as flavonoids, vitamin E, alpha lipoic acid and carotenoids.

"Lipid peroxidation" by Tim Vickers, after Young IS, McEneny J (2001).

What exactly do antioxidants do though? Antioxidants prevent or slow oxidative damage to molecules in the body’s tissues. This includes damage to lipids that make up the cell membrane, proteins that form the structure of skin and carry out metabolic processes, and DNA that carries the genes of the cell.

As any beginning student of biology has learned, oxidation reduction reactions are necessary for producing energy in the body. This chemical reaction transfers electrons from an oxidant to a reductant. These oxidation reactions can produce free radicals (or reactive oxygen species) that start a chain reaction that damages cells.

These oxidants are formed naturally by the body but are also formed from various environmental factors such as pollution and cigarette smoke and UV light as well as through some foods such as high fat and fried foods.

The only way to stop these series of oxidation reactions is with an antioxidant. The body does make some of its own antioxidants that include glutathione and superoxide dismutase. But antioxidants are naturally taken into the body through food, at least through healthy food such as fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Antioxidant strength can be measured in a number of ways including the ORAC test, DPPH radical scavenging assay and the ABTS assay.

Besides orally, antioxidants are also important topically. Some vegetable oils are high in antioxidants such as vitamin E and phytosterols. Infusing an oil with herbs can also add antioxidants to it. For instance, calendula which is high in carotenoids can release some of these carotenoids into an oil when it is infused. Various herbal extracts, green tea and cocoa can also provide antioxidants to skin care products used topically. Antioxidants are also added to food to help prevent deterioration of that food that occurs with exposure to air and sunlight. Oxidation of oils is what causes them to become rancid.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gallic Acid Chemistry

Gallic acid is a plant chemical found in most plants but especially abundant in tea, grapes and oak. It is in a group of chemicals called phenolics. Phenolics are chemicals based on the structure of phenol which is a molecule with a ring structure containing 6 carbons with a –OH (hydroxyl group) attached to one of the carbons. A molecule with more than one phenol ring is called a polyphenol. These phenols and polyphenols are known as powerful antioxidants and found in many plants.

phenol can be written either way

gallic acid

Interestingly, this 6 member ring structure also referred to as an aromatic nucleus is only synthesized by plants and microorganisms, not animals or humans. Generally speaking phenolics are acidic meaning their pH is low (from 1-7).

Gallic acid has 3 –OH groups and one –COOH (carboxylic acid) group attached to the ring. Note that in these abbreviated structures shown that each of the 6 corners represents a carbon atom, so there are 6 carbon atoms in phenol.

Gallic acid can be found either alone or as part of plant tannins. Tannins are a family of high molecular weight, water soluble plant molecules. Another definition of tannin is a natural product containing phenolic structures that can precipitate proteins. They have an astringent taste (think tea) and have the ability to tan leather. When gallic acid becomes linked to a sugar such as glucose it can form a polygalloyl ester which is a simple type of tannin.

Gallic acid itself is an antifungal agent, antiviral, astringent and antioxidant. Some studies have indicated that it has anticancer activity and that it can relax blood vessels. Gallic acid isjust one of many polyphenols found in tea and grape seed that provide health benefits. Gallic acid is soluble in water and has a boiling point of 251 degrees C. This is a low enough temperature that it can be found in the distilled products of herbs.



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