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 http://www.naturesgift.com/specbook.htm#Marges and she will autograph it if ordered from her. On her website http://www.naturesgift.com 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.


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