Tuesday, December 28, 2010

South Padre Island

I just returned from a week's vacation at South Padre Island, Texas. The best parts of the trip were being able to spend a week away from home with my husband and son as well as my two sisters and their families. The weather was not the best, being quite windy for the most part. South Padre Island is just off the coast of Texas near the port city of Port Isabel. It has a rich history that includes Spanish shipwrecks and lost treasure.

Although a big tourist area, there miles and miles of undeveloped beach and dunes, a must see if you visit there. This is mostly the north end of the island. Plan on walking the beach and dunes for as long as you like.

Our condos were spacious and had a view of the gulf. The hot tubs were a highlight since the weather was a little cool.

As a big shrimping area be sure to eat shrimp. I advice buying fresh shrimp and other seafood at Dirty Al's market. The shrimp is large and inexpensive. For one dinner we boiled shrimp and fried flounder in our condo. It was better than any food we bought at the restaurants.

Sunset on the patio of one of the restaurants on the lagoon side is also worth doing.

We rode horses on the beach. Place like this should be sure to tell you that experienced riders need not go. There were over 30 people on the ride and they gave us a feeling of being 'herded' rather than going for a ride. Even though we were told that it was ok to trot the horses, I found that they meant for just a few short minutes. Much of the time was spent just sitting still on the horses while we waited for slower riders and picture taking.

December is a good time to visit South Padre because it is not crowded, but the weather is probably nicer later in winter. After the rush of the Christmas Season its great to enjoy some R & R before getting back to work though.

Happy New Year Everyone and thanks for a great year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Eggplant Pepper Pizza

Homemade pizza is probably my favorite thing to make for dinner. There are so many variations of toppings for pizza and its a pretty quick meal to make. The dough needs to rise awhile but you can be wrapping presents while it rises. Making pizza is a good way to get the whole family involved too and we often make several for different tastes.
The toppings here are roasted eggplant, sweet peppers and feta cheese. To do this, slice the eggplant about 1/4 inch thick, sprinkle with a little salt and let set for at least 15 minutes to 'sweat'. After 15-20 minutes you will see liquid bubbled up on the eggplant; blot this off with a paper towel, put eggplant on an oiled baking sheet and cook at 375 for about 15 minutes or until soft. Be careful not to overcook and char the eggplant. The peppers get roasted in the oven at the same time. Roast these a little longer until the skin chars a little. Remove from oven and let cool enough to peel the skin off the peppers. Slice both the eggplant and the peppers and top your pizza with them followed by some feta cheese. I put some banana pepper rings on this pizza too.

Pizza Dough Recipe

2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
3 cups white flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon honey or sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 teaspoons salt

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.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Do You Saponify?

Do you saponify? Some of my best friends do. And although it can be quite dangerous without proper precautions and can be addicting, it is still good clean fun. I am proud to be a professional soapmaker and keep company with other soapmakers; they are among the nicest people I know!

Saponification is the base promoted hydroysis of an ester to produce an alcohol and the sodium salt of that acid. What?? OK, lets break it down. The ester used in soapmaking is a triglyceride, also called a triacylglyerol. This is a type of fat consisting of a glycerol (3 carbon sugar) which is attached to 3 fatty acids through a ester bond. The fatty acids in the picture are the 3 tails sticking out to the left and the glycerol is the 3 carbon backbone running vertically on the right. There are many different types of fatty acids and the three fatty acids found in any triglyceride will vary. The ester bonds are between the O (oxygen) on the glycerol and the C=O on the fatty acid.

When soap is made this bond between the fatty acids and glycerol is broken by the presence of a strong base or alkali, this means something with a very high pH. This strong base is sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Yes, it is drain cleaner and a very dangerous substance when not handled properly. We soapmakers take proper precautions. And just to make sure you keep reading, I will tell you now that finished soap is completely safe because there is no lye left in the soap when done properly. We know alot today about this chemical reaction and can actually calculate the precise amount of lye necessary to react with various oils. Soapmakers generally use online calculators to determine the exact amount of lye to use in their individual recipe and then add little bit more oil to 'superfat' the soap making it more mild. Previous generations did not have this so many of 'Grandma's' soaps came out heavy on the lye and were quite harsh. Today handcrafted soaps are very mild and the soapmaker can vary characteristics of the soap by using different triglycerides or oils.

OK, back to the saponification reaction. The NaOH breaks the ester bond between the glycerol and fatty acids. The -OH (hydroxide) part of the NaOH chemically or covalently binds to the glycerol side while the Na (sodium) chemically binds to the fatty acids. Now instead of a triglyceride we have a free glycerol molecule and a sodium (Na) salt of the fatty acid. Wow! Chemistry in action. Small soapmakers will leave the glycerol (also called glycerin) in the soap and it makes a great moisturizer. Some large companies will remove the glycerin to use for other purposes. If you've never tried a bar of handcrafted soap, you don't know what you are missing. These are generally very mild and moisturizing cleansers compared to grocery store big brands, most of which are technically not soap.

Everybody makes soaps a little differently. Some people go for the latest bath and body scents, others go for the visual effect and make beautiful works of art from their soap. Being an herbalist, I am always looking for herbs that can benefit a bar of soap. Some of my favorites for soap include calendula, mint, lavender, rosemary.

While soapmaking has been around for sometime it recently has boomed as a cottage industry and soapmakers even have their own professional organization; the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild. If you are interested in soapmaking visit there to find out more. You can also find soapmakers there but you can also find plenty of handcrafted soap on my website. What is your favorite kind of soap?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pictures Around Here this Week

Rose Geranium Soap, Mountain Mist Hand and Body Lotion and a basket of dried calendula ready to put away.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Herbal Advent Wreath

After pulling my advent wreath out of the cupboard this weekend I realized it was time for a new one. I bought a clear glass bowl to display soaps in but it gave me the idea to use it to hold a fresh cut herb/greens wreath. After googling for ideas I realized it was not a completely unique idea but I did put my uniqueness to it. I put some florist's foam in the dish which is about 4 inches high. I pushed the 4 candles in the foam; it actually should be 3 purple to symbolize royalty and 1 pink that is lit the 3rd Sunday of Advent as a reminder that it is half over. For some reason I never seem to get the right candles. I then went outside to look for whatever I could find green or at least gray. I picked four small branches off a juniper bush, some thyme, rue, lavender, sage, hyssop and some beautiful red berries which I believe are from a cotoneaster bush. Following is the meaning of these herbs:

Lavender for purity, cleanliness and virtue
Sage branches represent immortality
Rue is an herb of grace used for driving away evil.
Thyme is an herb used for courage.
Hyssop is for purification

I started by putting the juniper branches into the foam and then filling in with the herbs. The berries worked great in the middle to hide the foam. I love the way it looks.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Food, Family, Thanks

As we prepare for our feasts tomorrow lets think about what is important to us in our lives and how this relates to farms and agriculture. The AgChat Foundation suggests that we take time out today to give thanks for food, #foodthanks. Some of my best childhood memories include gardening and cooking with my Mom as well as going to U-Pick farms for fruits. I hope that my children have developed similar experiences of food; both cooking and growing in their memories.

On Thanksgiving most of us will come together with family and/or friends to celebrate and give thanks for the things in our lives that are important. As I reflect on my life the things that come to mind that I am thankful for include:

Quality of life

My family, parents and siblings, had always come together at the dinner table over food. Family dinners are a tradition I have continued after I started my own family and something I hope has impacted my children. It is a way of teaching nutrition, spending time together and learning how to cook using real food rather than prepared packages. I am shocked when I hear that many families do not eat together.

When I spend time with friends, it is often over a meal where we can sit and talk. Health for each and everyone of us depends upon food. The less processed our food and closer to the farm it is the healthier it is. In fact the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests that we can decrease the risk of cancer significantly by eating more fruits and vegetables.

My work also centers on farming to a certain extent. I grow herbs on my farm that I use to make botanically based skin care products. Although most of us do realize that farms are necessary for our food, do we realize that farms also produce fiber, animal feed, fuel, medicines, vegetable oils used in body care and more.

So how we can both celebrate agriculture and thank those involved in agriculture. For me its supporting farmers markets and local food. A lot of fossil fuel is used in transporting produce from one part of the country to another, or even from other countries. Fossil fuels are also used to power farm equipment, produce pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Because of this I look for small farms that grow without the use of pesticides and herbicides and use limited fuels. I do not search for certified organic however because I know how costly and distracting it is to become certified.

Supporting small farmers can increase our sustainability as a nation. The more centralized our food system is the more devastating and debilitating it would be in case of a disaster caused either by terrorism or natural causes. Large factory farms can be the source of a lot of problems in our food system. Support smaller farms that practice crop diversity and seed saving for our future.

To decrease the carbon foot print of food you could also plant a garden in your yard. Some of our country’s best agricultural land is to be found in our housing subdivisions now. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt first encouraged home gardeners during WWII to plant home gardens to raise awareness of healthy food. 20 million victory gardens were planted during WWII producing 9-10 million tons of fruits and vegetables; enough to meet 50% of the county’s needs. The number of families doing canning also increased during this time. Unfortunately, food shortages occurred at the end of the war when citizens abandoned their victory gardens. First Lady Michelle Obama has once again drawn attention to food by planting a 1100 square foot Victory Garden on the White House lawn, the first since Eleanor Roosevelt planted one in World War II to raise awareness of healthy food.
You can view this video

This Thanksgiving, give thanks not only to the farmers who grow the food for our feasts but also for our natural resources that make it possible.

You can view this 1940's film put out by the Department of Agriculture to help teach people how to garden.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Product: Botanical Oat Face Cleanser

Since Colorado Aromatics has some new products out I thought I’d introduce them to you in a series of blogs.

Botanical Oats Face Cleanser

We’ve been working on this face cleanser for awhile. I wanted to formulate a mild cleanser that contained beneficial botanicals. One that was cleansing without being drying, and contained not only all vegetable derived ingredients but also was biodegradable and had no ethoxylated ingredients. And I think we formulated a winner here.

I started with oats. Oats have long been used in skin care and were probably used by Cleopatra in fact. Oats are soothing to the skin, can act as an anti inflammatory, anti irritant and antihistamine. They have been used to treat various types of dermatitis including psoriasis and rashes. I used hydrolyzed oat powder because it is very water soluble. Oats also contain beta glucan which can boost collagen.

For botanicals we chose willow bark, rose extract, mallow root, and cucumber.

Willow bark extract is anti inflammatory and soothing. It contains salicylic acid which can be slightly exfoliating and decrease the signs of aging. Rose extract is a great hydrator and astringent for skin. It is suitable for dry and sensitive skin. Mallow (Althea) grows prolifically on our farm. It has mucilaginous and soothing properties and is used as an anti-irritant to treat inflammations, irritations, and wounds. One type of mallow was found to inhibit hyaluronidase activity, resulting in improved skin hydration. Additionally, mallow has been found to inhibit pigmentation.



Cucumber extract is astringent and by using cucumber distillate it helps balance the pH of the cleanser.

We use organic olive oil which has been found to act as an anti-inflammatory agent and protect the skin barrier function. Jojoba oil offers improved skin barrier function and helps dissolve dirt trapped in the skins natural oils without stripping them. Shea is a nut from Africa that has become very popular in skin care because it contains a wide variety of phytosterols to provide antioxidants, antiimflammatory agents and moisturization.

Aloe juice is added for its nourishment and antiinflammtory properties.Honey acts as a humectant to help keep moisture in the skin.

Surfactants are ingredients that help to dissolve dirt and oils on the skin. We use decyl glucoside and sodium lauroyl lactylate as surfactants. These mild, natural surfactants are accepted in Europe as ECOCERT. Glyceryl Stearate, Cetearyl Alcohol, and Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate are emulsifiers and thickeners that hold the water and oil phase together. Added benefits are that stearoyl lactylate is a skin conditioner that helps moisturize the skin. These ingredients are all ECOCERT ingredients by European standards.

To use this cleanser pump one squirt into your hands and gently rub into the skin on the face. Rinse off. You can also use a washcloth to remove the cleanser to provide some exfoliation. You will find that this cleanser will leave your face well moisturized. You won’t get that ‘squeaky clean’ feeling which is actually an indication of skin being dry. You also will not get much foam from this product as high foaming surfactants are more drying. What you will get is a rich feeling cleanser that contains nutrient rich vegetable oils and botanicals. I think you will enjoy it.

You can purchase this from Colorado Aromatics website either alone or as part of our Face Spa Kit.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What is Digitalis?

Digitalis is a common drug used today to treat congestive heart disease; a condition in which the heart does not pump out the entire volume it should be pumping. These drugs were first isolated from the foxglove flower, Digitalis purpura. Dr. William Withering is given credit for discovering the use of this herb in treating congestive heart disease, called ‘dropsy’ at the time. However, it was his observation that a local herbalist was successfully treating dropsy patients that piqued his interest and he learned that she was treating them with the digitalis plant. This prompted him to begin studying her patients as well as treating his own patients this way. His data was collected and published as “An Account of the Foxglove and some of its Medical Uses With Practical Remarks on Dropsy and Other Diseases” in 1785. Because the therapeutic window for this herb was so narrow foxglove is difficult to use and has high toxicity. These cardiac glycosides have been purified and are now used as a drug, digoxin, which also has to be monitored carefully. Digitalis (and digoxin) inhibits the sodium-potassium ATPase which leads indirectly to increased intracellular calcium. Increased calcium increases strength of contraction.

I've never grown foxglove because although it is a beautiful flower, is considered toxic due to its effects on the heart. It is especially dangerous to children. This is one of those cases when it is best to use the purified drug rather than the whole herb I think.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cooking Pumpkin

Although it is convenient to use canned pumpkin, it really is easier than you may think to cook your own pumpkin to use in pies and breads. First you have to be able to identify the right kind of pumpkin. The typical ones you see at the supermarket before Halloween are not suited to eating, they are not sweet and tend to be tough or granular. They are good for soapmaking though and if you are cooking a pumpkin to use in soap you can cook it the same way. For eating be sure to get a pie or sweet pumpkin. These are usually (not always) smaller, darker orange, and the ribs are fewer and less emphasized. See the picture above; the one on the left is a pie pumpkin, the one on the right is a Jack-O-Lantern pumpkin.

Using a large, sharp knife, cut the pumpkin in half longways - just next to the stem. Scoop out all those seeds and give them to your chickens; they will love them. If you don't have chickens you can cook them for yourself or save the seeds to plant next summer. Put each half of the pumpkin open side down on a cookie sheet or in a baking dish. If you use a baking dish you can add about a cup of water to it so the pumpkin steams. I find it easiest to just roast the pumpkin face down though.

Put the pumpkin in the oven at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes or until soft. The time is not too important as it can overcook some and still come out good. I love doing this on a cool autumn afternoon because it warms the house and smells wonderful. Roasting enhances the natural flavor of most any vegetable, including pumpkin and make it sweeter.

Once the pumpkin is soft, take it out of the oven and let it cool. Using a large spoon begin to scrape the pumpkin flesh from the skin and put that into a bowl. Then using a stick blender, whiz the pumpkin flesh so that it is smooth. At this point you can go ahead and make your favorite pie or bread recipe or you can freeze it for use later. Or, if you are cooking this for use in soap, just substitute about a third of your water for pumpkin flesh in your favorite soap recipe. If you are looking for soap head over to my website. Pumpkin soap is seasonal though so it doesn't always make it to the website. If you don't see it there, email me.

Farmers markets should still have a good supply of pumpkins at this time of year so look for them if you have fall or winter markets.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Summer's End Sorrel Soup

Although my basil and tomatoes were hit by the frost this week, I noticed a large bundle of sorrel still growing nicely. I’ve always wanted to make sorrel soup so I thought I'd cut them and have the last of the summer’s dishes. Here is the recipe I used:

Sorrel Soup

2 tablespoons butter

1 chopped onion

2 cloves garlic chopped

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs of thyme

3 - 4 potatoes, chopped

4 cups vegetable broth

1 bunch of chopped sorrel with stems cut out (about 4-5 cups loosely packed)

Cook the onion in butter until clear, add garlic and continue cooking a few minutes. Add broth and potatoes along with bay leaf and thyme and cook until potatoes are soft (30 minutes or more). Add chopped sorrel and heat briefly. Blend with either a stick blender or by putting in a blender bowl. Return to cooking pot and add milk or cream to taste, about 1 cup. Heat through and serve.

I hope yo have enjoyed cooking with fresh vegetables this summer.

The Healthy Beauty Project Blog had a very nice piece on Colorado Aromatics products this week. Check it out.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nighttime Light and Cancer

Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine)

Research Links Nocturnal Light, Melatonin, and Malignancy

Can sleepless nights in front of the TV increase your risk of cancer? What about that streetlight that shines through your bedroom window every night? Could something so familiar and seemingly innocent really contribute to cancer?

We don’t know for sure, but increasing evidence suggests that chronic exposure to light during the night can alter biologic rhythms and interfere with the production of a key hormone. That hormone – melatonin – influences a wide range of physiologic functions, including sleep-wake cycles, fertility, and production of certain chemical messengers and hormones.

Of special importance to women, nighttime release of melatonin may dampen some effects of estrogen, possibly providing protection from breast cancer and other estrogen-related cancers. Some researchers, in turn, suspect that nighttime light’s disruption of melatonin production may increase the risk of these cancers.

Light Pollution

Throughout the ages, humans have sought ways to keep the darkness at bay. But our ability to manipulate the earth’s natural light-dark cycles with artificial light has led to what we now call “light pollution.” Today we are exposed to many more hours of light in a day than our ancestors were.

According to Russel Reiter, Ph.D., a professor of neuroendocrinology at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio and author of Melatonin: Your Body’s Natural Wonder Drug (Bantam Books, 1995), light is a powerful entity – one that promotes good health but also can compromise health if abused. Staying up late in artificially lighted houses and sleeping in bedrooms continually invaded by stray light can rob us of the restorative powers of total darkness, most of which are mediated by melatonin.

Melatonin is secreted from the pineal gland in the brain. Blood levels of the hormone are nearly undetectable during the day but peak at night during darkness. The pineal gland and the eye are functionally linked by neurons. When light enters the eye, melatonin secretion stops. In the absence of light, it increases to up to 10 times its daytime levels.

Nighttime light exposure can alter this normal cycle of melatonin production. Disrupted sleep patterns are an obvious consequence, with potentially negative effects on mood, cognitive abilities, and immunity. An increased vulnerability to cancer, though not yet proven, may be a more insidious problem.

The Cancer Connection

Animal experiments conducted in Germany in the 1930’s turned up the first link between melatonin and cancer. In those studies, giving tumor-bearing mice extracts from the pineal gland (which presumably contained melatonin) slowed tumor growth. In studies conducted in the 1960’s, rodents whose pineal glands were removed grew larger tumors than did animals with intact glands.

Later laboratory experiments confirmed that melatonin could inhibit the growth of human cancer cells. In some experiments, melatonin specifically inhibited the stimulatory effects of estrogen on some cancers, much as tamoxifen does.

Nighttime light’s ability to interfere with melatonin’s anti-cancer properties has been shown in a series of experiments conducted at the Bassett Research Institute in Cooperstown, N.Y. A team led by David Blask, M.D., Ph.D., a research scientist in experimental neuroendocrinology/oncology, implanted liver tumors in rats and then exposed the animals to different lighting conditions. Tumors grew nearly twice as rapidly among rats exposed to stray light at night as among those kept in total darkness.

Epidemiologic studies suggest a similar light-melatonin-cancer connection in humans. A study published in The Lancet found that female flight attendants have a twofold increase in breast cancer risk. The researchers speculated that chronic disruptions in the women’s sleep-wake cycles (jet lag) led to melatonin deficiency and, in turn, to breast cancer.

In a study published in the journal Epidemiology in 1991, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that blind women were half as likely to develop breast cancer as were similar women who could see. (Because profoundly blind people don’t perceive light, their melatonin cycles persist.)

More recent studies have confirmed and expanded these results. In a Swedish study published in Epidemiology, researchers compared cancer rates among profoundly blind individuals and people with severe vision loss but the ability to perceive light. Study participants who could still perceive light had cancer rates equivalent to those of the general population. The profoundly blind individuals, in contrast, were 30% less likely to develop cancer.

Finally, Dr. Blask notes that early clinical studies suggest that adding melatonin to standard cancer therapy may slow the growth of some tumors. So far, these studies have involved very small numbers of patients – all in the most advanced stages of cancer.

Enhance Your Melatonin Production

Dr. Reiter offers a number of suggestions to help you live a melatonin-friendly lifestyle:

  • Get enough sleep to wake fully refreshed
  • Increase your exposure to natural sunlight or use a full-spectrum light box. (Morning exposure is best)
  • Decrease exposure to bright light at night (Use red or yellow light, which appear to interfere less with melatonin production.)
  • Light-proof your bedroom. Install light-blocking curtains o use eye shades.
  • Curb alcohol intake. Alcohol is associated with decreased melatonin levels.
  • Eat melatonin-rich foods (oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas), especially at night.
  • Eat foods rich in calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and niacinamide or take supplements of these nutrients.
  • Spend time each day in meditation or prayer.
  • Practice stress-reduction techniques, which can enhance melatonin production.

Additional Notes:

Other foods/herbs that contain melatonin-like molecules are: barley, walnuts.

Tryptophan is a precursor of the sleep-inducing substances serotonin and melatonin.

These are foods high in the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan:
• Dairy products: cottage cheese, cheese, milk
• Soy products: soy milk, tofu, soybean nuts
• Seafood
• Meats
• Poultry
• Whole grains
• Beans
• Rice
• Hummus
• Lentils
• Hazelnuts, Peanuts, walnuts, almonds
• Eggs
• Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds

Foods rich in melatonin include: Oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, cherries and barley. There are several herbs that contain even higher amounts of melatonin that could be used as an evening tincture; feverfew, St. John’s wort, mustard seed, fennel seed, lemon verbena and balm mint. Wine, both red and white contain melatonin also.

And don't neglect your intake of B-6. In animal studies, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6) also appears to be necessary for the production of serotonin from tryptophan.

Although I wrote this article quite a few years ago, a quick search of the literature finds that the link between melatonin and cancer prevention is stronger. Melatonin has also been found to be important to the nervous system and skeletal system.

Previously Published in “Women’s Health Advocate”, February 1999

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Phytochemicals - what are they?

Phytochemicals are literally defined as any chemical that occurs in plants ('phyto' referring to plant). But the term is generally used to refer to micronutrients contained in plants that can have a benefit to our health. Almost daily new phytochemicals are discovered or new roles for already identified phytochemicals are discovered.

As animals do, plants also contain macromolecules that include proteins that for both structural roles and as enzymes, lipids that make up cell membranes, carbohydrates that store energy and nucleic acids that serve as hereditary molecules. But plants have another large category called secondary metabolites that are not involved in these essential rolls of cell metabolism.

It is difficult to categorize these chemicals as many fall into more than one class and others don’t fit neatly into any. For this reason you will find different categories by different authors. Generally though, besides the main 4 classes of biochemicals (proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and nucleic acids), you can also find find phenols, tannins, alkaloids, glycosides, volatile oils, resins, and mucilages as important classes of phytochemicals.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Catechin and Epicatechin



We’ve all heard of these two phytochemicals as beneficial components of our favorite foods: tea, wine and chocolate! These molecules are part of a large family called flavonoids. Notice the 3 ring structures in the diagram; this is what makes these two molecules a flavonoid. More specifically, they are flavanols. The -ol just refers to OH group that you see on the lower right portion of the molecule. Anything that has an OH group is considered an alcohol and the name of the molecule typically ends with –ol as does flavanol. The most common alcohol, ethanol, also ends with –ol and catechin can more correctly be called catechol.

Catechin and epicatechin are isomers which mean they have the same molecular formula (count the number of carbons, hydrogens and oxygens!) but have a different structure or arrangement of those atoms. With catechin and epicatechin the difference lies in the OH group we just spoke of. It is below the plane in epicatechin and above the plane in catechin which is indicated by either the dashed or solid line.

The more correct name for catechin is: 3,3’,4’,5,7-pentahydroxyflavan. Another example of why the phrase 'if you can’t pronounce something it isn’t good for you' just isn't true!
Oftentimes catechins will be attached to a sugar molecule and are referred to as O-glycosides. Products that are high in catechins and epicatechins have been found to have protective effects toward heart disease. Newer research has shown that these compounds are protective for the skin, providing photoprotection and improving the appearance and hydration of skin. Tea, both green and black, may also protect against skin cancer. Apparently, flavonoids have the ability to absorb UV light which may make them a useful ingredient in sun screens and other skin care products. These chemicals are a great addition to a skin care product to protect skin.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Do you know this herb? Horsetail

I was asked to make an herb blend that was rich in minerals so of course my first thought went to horsetail (Equisetum). I don't grow horsetail but remembered seeing it once when walking along the irrigation ditch road here. There it is, growing in the grass alongside the road.
Horsetail is rich in a number of minerals including silicon, manganese, magnesium, iron, and copper. Besides minerals it is rich in saponins and flavons (a flavonoid). Horsetail has been said to increase circulation and strengthen connective tissue. One study found that a plant complex containing horsetail inhibited elastase enzymes (in vitro) and when it was applied to the skin at 5% as part of a cream, wrinkles on the face were reduced.

Silicon is thought to be important in development of connective tissue and play a structural role in these tissues which include bone, tendons, skin, hair and nails. Because of this it may also be important in preventing osteoporosis. Although horsetail contains more silicon than any other plant it can also be found in grains, hops (beer), cucumber and tomatoes.

Well, I cut enough horsetail to make quite a bit of extract and when I got home I found this horsetail!
Come on, you know you want to laugh!
I'll tell you about the other herbs in this mineral complex later.

Benaiges A, Marcet P, Armengol R, Betes C, Gironés E., Study of the refirming effect of a plant complex. Int J Cosmet Sci. 1998 Aug;20(4):223-33.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Joys of Summer; Elderberries

Its hard this time of year to find time to blog. We are bringing in the harvest and enjoying good meals filled with fresh foods. This week we had gazpacho, pesto, grilled vegetables, squash soup and baked apples as well as many fresh Colorado peaches. We are also trying to make sure we have enough herbs harvested and dried for the winter; plantain, mint, comfrey, red clover, feverfew and calendula are herbs I am focused on now.

Today I just picked the first of the elderberries and wow, this plant is loaded with berries this year. Did you know elderberries contain a chemical that inhibits viral neuraminidase, the same activity found in the antiviral drug Tamiflu? Neuraminidase is a viral enzyme that is essential for viral replication so by inhibiting this enzyme elderberries can inhibit replication of viruses that cause colds and flu. In my opinion it is the best anti flu medicine available - whats more - it actually tastes good. I'll make both a syrup of elderberry to use as a cough medicine and I'll make a tincture of elderberry to take during the winter if I come down with a cold or flu. I also use elderberries in my ThymaFlu product for colds and flu. You can also make a nice cordial from elderberry to sip on (for medicinal purposes). Elderberries and other fruits are rich in anthocyanins, a great antioxidant. Ingestion of berries in general has been linked to decreased rates of cancer and heart disease. Topically elderberries have been used in wound healing, to promote skin health and to lighten and brighten the skin. I hope you are enjoying the gifts of your harvest whether you've grown it yourself, wildcrafted it or bought it at your local farmers market.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What is a Carcinogen?

I know cancer has probably touched everyone’s life (as it has mine) and prevention is certainly easier than a cure. I spent many years of my life studying cancer and the process of carcinogenesis and even have a few papers to show for it. The intense interest that the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and Environmental Working Group have in banning carcinogens brings up the question as to what exactly is a carcinogen and how dangerous are they? Even though we of course want to protect ourselves as much as possible from cancer, it is not correct to think that anything that is a carcinogen causes cancer. Many of the damaging effects of carcinogens are actually countered by anticarcinogens that might occur side by side especially in fruits and vegetables. As a farmer and herbalist I need to speak up when someone says they want to ban all carcinogens.

Cancer is a little understood and complicated process that occurs in a multistep progression taking 20 years or more, which explains why it is more common as we age. It is a disease of cell growth. The normal mechanisms that stimulate and inhibit cell growth are changed in a way as to allow the cell to grow uncontrollably.

There are four definable phases of carcinogenesis (cancer development); initiation, promotion, progression and malignant conversion; each stage lasting years. Testing for carcinogens is just as complicated because different cellular changes occur during each stage.

The first stage, initiation, involves a change in the genetic makeup of a cell. This change can and does occur randomly or when a given chemical interacts with DNA causing a mutation in the genetic code. Chemicals that cause mutations are known as genotoxins. One important test done to determine if a chemical is a genotoxin is the Ames test. The Ames test, developed by Dr. Bruce Ames in the early 1970’s, is used because it is a rapid and fairly easy screen for DNA mutation. The test uses a single celled bacteria as the indicator organism; an already a mutated strain of Salmonella typhimurium. Chemicals being tested are incubated with the bacteria in petri dishes. If the bacteria shows growth in a certain selected media, then this is evidence of DNA mutation or genotoxicity and the chemical can be classified as a carcinogen.

What are some problems with this? Well, lets name just a few:
1. Bacterial cells and human cells are quite different. If you remember back to high school biology; bacteria are prokaryotes and human cells are eukaryotes.
2. Human organisms have enzymes that work to detoxify and eliminate mutagens before they can cause damage to the DNA. These enzymes are particularly prevalent in the liver and skin.
3. The nuclei of human cells have in place mechanisms for repairing DNA that is mutated; proofreading mechanisms.
4. For cancer to occur there must be more than one mutation occurring in the DNA. Mutations must occur in specific classes of genes that regulate cell growth (or death) and multiple mutations must occur over a period of many years.
5. When and if cancer cells develop as a result of multiple mutations, they express an antigen that is recognizable by the immune system so they can be removed and destroyed.
6. The doses used in the Ames test are very high doses that might never occur in humans.
7. As explained above, cancer requires multiple mutations in specific classes of genes before a cell actually transforms into a cancer cell; not just one mutation.

Everyone has mutated and transformed cells in our body at all times. When DNA becomes mutated, the cell first tries to correct that mutation. Because there are many genes that affect cell growth; those that speed up growth and those that inhibit growth, there are many safeguards in place to prevent a cell from growing uncontrollably and becoming cancer. If those safety mechanisms do fail there are mechanisms in place to cause death in a transformed cell. In other words, that one cell is sacrificed for the good of the entire organism. This process is called apoptosis.

Dr. Ames himself sought to ban many synthetic substances in the 70's because they were mutagenic in the Ames test. However, he later reversed his position saying that there is no scientific evidence that small doses of these synthetic chemicals cause human cancers. Part of his reversed opinion was the finding that many plants (fruits, vegetables, and herbs) also contain chemicals that are mutagenic. He said "There are over 1,000 natural chemicals in a cup of coffee, and only 22 have been tested. Of these, 17 are carcinogens."

Ames realized that regardless of whether chemicals are synthetic or naturally occuring they cause cancer when fed to laboratory animals at extremely high doses. He also found that this was a very politically incorrect conclusion. The environmentalist activists, Ames said "have a religion" that says that corporations are behind an exploding epidemic of cancer. This religion was promoted by handful of doctors (Samuel Epstein of the University of Illinois at Chicago), by a media looking for headlines, and by celebrity spokespeople such as Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep. "The idea that chemical companies are giving consumers cancer just isn’t true," he said. The main cause of cancer is old age. EPA allows for synthetic pesticides."

Dr. Ames also does not think that low levels of pesticide residues eaten by consumers are harmful. However, the amounts farmhands are exposed to are different and strict rules should be in place to reduce exposure for them and for chemical workers. With only 9% of Americans eating the amounts of fruits and vegetables they should the cost of eliminating synthetic pesticides would further decrease the amount of fruits and vegetables ingested. Since fruits and vegetables are one proven way to decrease cancer risks this would increase the risk of cancer. Dr. Ames is a well known and well respected scientist and even at the age of 82 he is still Professor of Biochemistry at UC Berkley doing nutrition and aging research.

Information about Bruce Ames came from Michael Fumento's site:


For more information on the Ames test see:


Perhaps in another blog I will address other tests used to identify carcinogens.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Top 10 things not to say

Top 10 things NOT to say to those affected by The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010
Adapted from Whimsical Walney

While people may not know what to say to you when you tell them about the Safe Cosmetics Act recently introduced to Congress (HR5786) and how it may affect your business, some people seem to forget to think before they speak.

People unaware of the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 may not understand what to say because they don’t know how it affects our business. Here is a list of the top 10 things not to say to small businesses who will affected by this bill if passed.

1. The Safe Cosmetics police will never come after you, you’re too small-fry. (Response: The lawyers may though.)
2. …but we need more laws to protect people.
3. Only Procter & Gamble needs to care about this law since it’s their fault.
4. Oh don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll fix it in time.
5. Don’t worry, it wasn’t intended for you.
6. You’re smart, you’ll figure out how to comply.
7. So sorry to hear you closed (accompanied by a tsk, tsk look that says, ‘then your products must have not been safe.)
8. But it will make our cosmetics safer. Why would you be against a bill that will make cosmetics safer?
9. Why not just do all the paperwork and be done with it.
10. This all the fault of the ______ (enter friend's opposing political party here.

After you regain your composure, politely remind them to educate themselves before speaking and suggest they check out the OpposeSCA site and Personal Care Truth sites for information about the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010.

Those of us in the cosmetics business that already produce safe, non toxic products will continue to talk about the truth behind the Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. You can read about the Environmental Working Group and their 'reign of error' here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cucumber Blog Party

Last week it was zucchini, this week its cucumbers! Don't you just love harvest time, basing dinner on what's growing in the garden? Although cucumbers are great for slicing and eating plain as well as putting on sandwiches, Maryanne decided to have a cucumber blog party. So here are some recipes from my favorite herbalists that you can try now while you've got plenty of cucumbers to harvest.

Becky's Cucumber Cocktails

Beth's Cucumber/Watermelon Salad

Cindy's Tzatziki

Janiece's Tomato Cucumber Salad

Karen's Cucumber Dill Sauce

Maryanne's Creamy Cucumber Salad

Nancy's Chilled Cucumber Soup

Tina's Cucumber Lime Salsa

Gazpacho is also a great way to use cucumber as well as slicing them to put on cream cheese and bread. I've also distilled cucumbers, the distillate makes a great face spritzer especially when its hot. You can also use the distillate or hydrosol in various cosmetic products including toners and serums. Do you have a favorite way to use cucumbers?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Award Winning Herbs at the Fair

At the coaxing of a fellow farmer I went ahead and entered my herbs in the county fair this year for the first time. I am sure glad I did as I came away with 15 ribbons (including reserve champion for chocolate mint) and my husband and son also took away a few. Now I can tell my customers that my herbs are 'award winning herbs'!
I have always loved fairs and their historic importance. They celebrate agriculture and are a chance for people to come together to show their wares. Some county fairs are more extensive than others and the Boulder County Fair is just the right size with a small midway, several food vendors (including the 4H ice cream bar)and the typical animal, plant and project displays.

Although I take good care of my herbs all summer, the only special thing I did for the fair was to give them a good watering and trimming a week before the fair. There are categories for most culinary types of herbs as well as several 'other' classes. Requirements are to have 6 stems of each in a glass jar. Judging is based on condition, presentation, aroma and taste when appropriate. I realized after the fact that the Herb Society of America of which I am a member publishes a guide to showing/judging herbs. You can find that here.
Besides entering herbs in the fair, we also purchased a few chickens after the 4H judging. They seem to be settling in just fine.
Since I support agriculture county fairs are very important to me. Colorado has some good ones too including Adams County, Larimer County, and Elbert County (besides Boulder County). Jefferson county has more of a 4H day than a fair, but we were involved in that some when we lived in Lakewood. I hope that county fairs continue to do well in our country. If you have one in your county you can support it both by attending and by entering.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Calibacitas: Blog Party

My friend Rebekah Bailey had a great idea to do a blog party on zucchini recipes. Most people have more zucchini than they know what to do with but I never tend to tire of it. I like to blacken them in a pan and add to just about anything ; especially as a pizza topping or in burritos.

One of my favorite recipes for zucchini though is Calabacitas, a Southwestern dish. I make them like this:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
2 cups chopped zucchini squash
2 cups chopped yellow squash
1 ear of corn, already cooked w corn scraped off(leftover from last night)
1 Anaheim chili or 1 small can of green chilis chopped.
splash of milk
1 cup grated colby/jack cheese

Heat olive oil in a skillet and onion. Stir until soft, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and yellow squash. If you have fresh chili pepper such as Anaheim, chop that too and add it. Cook for about 5 minutes until just getting soft. Add can of chopped green chili at this point if you did not add fresh chili earlier. Add corn and a splash of milk and continue cooking a few minutes. Add cheese, salt and pepper to taste, stir and enjoy.

Here is Rebekahs zucchini blog party post on Birdworms & Buttermilk.

Here are links to the other zucchini recipe blogs:
Becky - Zucchini Fritters

Tina - Zucchini Bread Recipes

Maryanne – Zucchini and Orzo Salad with Basil

Patricia – Stuffed Zucchini

Karen – Zucchini Pizza

Beth – Zucchini Brownies

Sunday, July 25, 2010

How the Safe Cosmetics Bill will Affect Natural Cosmetics

Vitamin K

Caffeic Acid

As you may have heard, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has recently introduced the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, HR 5786. I’m sure you want safe cosmetics as everyone does so this bill probably sounds good. However, it has nothing to do with safe cosmetics and you can read this bill here .

I wanted to address what this bill would mean for the many small scale cosmetics companies like myself that already make safe, non-toxic and natural cosmetics; many of whom initially signed and now regret signing the Safe Cosmetics Pledge.

Plants such as herbs are tiny chemical factories making hundreds or thousands of biochemicals; many of which are beneficial to us, many others that have little or no effect on us, and a few that are toxic to us. Plants however have the tendency to balance these characteristics of toxic and non-toxic and tend not to be so black and white about it as we are.

Take for instance caffeic acid. This molecule is made in most plants including herbs such as rosemary, sage, and parsley. Caffeic acid and caffeic acid phenethyl ester are part of the shikimic acid pathway of plants that forms flavonoids, tannins, and lignin (wood). Caffeic acid is considered a carcinogen by the International Agency for Cancer Research appearing on its list 2B of “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. This is because of a few small studies showing that ingestion of high amounts of caffeic acid caused stomach and kidney papillomas (pre-cancer) in rodents. There is no data available regarding cancer in humans. You can read the summary from IARC here.

With just this information you may say, "of course, I do not want this chemical in my skin care products or in my food as I'd rather be safe". However, further investigation shows that caffeic acid is also considered an anti-carcinogen, an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory. As an anticancer agent it modulates many aspects of carcinogenesis including stimulating phase II enzymes to detoxify carcinogens entering the body and it stimulates cancer cell death, Topically, it can protect cells from damage caused by UV radiation (such as skin cancer). Many research labs are now studying its effectiveness as an anticancer agent.

Also found on the IARC list 1A of ‘known human carcinogens’ are things like jet fuel, gasoline, radioactivity and aflatoxins; things that would never go into cosmetics in the first place and are already prohibited as being toxic substances. However, there are other chemicals commonly found in natural cosmetics that are on various IARC lists of carcinogens. Here are some, followed by which list they are on:

coffee (2B), alcohol (1), eugenol a constituent of many essential oils (3), mate (Peruvian tea), kojic acid (3), d-limonene (3), microcystin (2B), microcystis extracts (3), progestins (and estrogens) (2B), quercetin (3), tannic acid and tannins (3), tea (3), theobromine (3), theophylline (3), vitamin K (3), stress and titanium dioxide (2B). Estrogen such as in birth control pills is ranked on the 1A list of ‘known human carcinogens”. Keep in mind that use of birth control pills is the number one contributor to the build up of estrogens in the waterways.

A few of these chemicals that I am personally quite fond of in my products include tea, tannic acid, theobromine, theophylline, vitamin K and eugenol. Tea such as green tea is rich in tannic acid, quercetin, theobromine and theophylline. Studies have found that the flavonoids in green tea can prevent signs of aging, inhibit formation of skin cancer and block damaging effects of UV light.

Vitamin K (phylloquinone) is of course an essential chemical necessary for human life and is necessary for blood clotting. Because one study showed that when injected into the peritoneal cavity it caused cancer it is on the list of 'carcinogens'. Vitamin K is found in many herbs and oils including parsley, basil and sea buckthorn oil.

Quercitin, a flavonoid found in many herbs, has been found to be anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It is found in a wide variety of plants including tea, red wine, berries and herbs.

Microcystis is a blue green algae that produces microcystin. Although it is indeed toxic, it also contaminates some blue green algae extracts making it necessary to test these ingredients.

Kojic acid is derived from a mushroom and used in many products as a natural way to lighten age spots. Eugenol is found in many essential oils including clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, basil and bay leaf. These oils are commonly used in natural perfumery. Many herbs and vegetable oils are rich in phytoestrogens and progestins that are good for moisturizing the skin, providing antioxidants and giving skin that youthful look. Oftentimes these phytoestrogens are referred to as ‘nonsaponifiables’. Oils rich in phytoestrogens include olive oil, rice bran oil, soy oil, wheat germ oil, pumpkin oil, pomegranate oil, sea buckthorn oil, raspberry seed oil and the list goes on and on. If you use vegetable oils in your skin care products, regardless of whether or not they are organic, they may be prohibited by this bill because they contain phytoestrogens.

Because ingredients of vegetable origin are more complex than synthetic ingredients all of their components could not possibly be tested for safety leaving the only ingredients allowable in cosmetics to be highly processed and purified synthetic chemicals unfortunately.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Do You Put Chemicals on Your Face? I Hope So.

Recent stories have circulated the web about the average woman using more than 515 chemicals on her face daily implying that this was quite dangerous. This number sounded quite low to me so I thought I'd count what I use.

First thing in the morning I take a shower and wash my face with soap and water. Water is dihydrogen monoxide, the first chemical. My handcrafted vegetable oil soap will include the following oils that have been reacted with lye:
Palm oil
coconut oil
shea butter
olive oil
rice bran oil
These oils are made up of many triglycerides and their fatty acids. Fatty acids in palm oil include laurate, myristate, palmitatte, stearate, oleate, linoleate and linolinate. Coconut oil contains similar ones plus caprylic, capric, caproic and arachidic. Olive oil contains similar fatty acids plus many non fatty acid chemicals including squalene, a variety of sterols, esters of tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol, vitamin E (tocopherols), carotenoids and oleuropein. Besides the similar fatty acids listed above, shea butter also contains quite a few non fatty acid components collectively called unsaponifiables. According to wikipedia shea butter contains at least 10 phenolics including catechins. It also includes vitamins A and E. Rice bran oil again contains many phytoestrogens such as the gamma oryzanols. It also contains a unique fatty acid; behenic.

Typically I use lavender soap which contains lavender buds and lavender essential oil. According to Dr. Duke's Phytochemical database, 76 different chemicals have been identified in lavender including nerol, linalol and limonene.

Adding all those up, I've applied over 107 chemicals to my face before even getting out of the shower.

What I put on my face after that can vary. But lets say I then use my parsley eye serum. The ingredient list is: organic macadamia nut oil, olive oil, meadowfoam oil, parsley extract, seabuckthorn oil and rosemary extract.

According to Dr. Dukes Phytochemical database, 204 chemicals have been identified in parsley including petroselinic acid and a mucilage (which identifies a class of chemicals rather than a specific chemical). Macadamia nut oil has many similar fatty acids as were already counted above but also contains palmitoleic acid as well as unique phenolics. Seabuckthorn oil has a wealth of chemicals including a variety of carotenoids. Some sites boast that sea buckthorn has over 30 different carotenoid types. Sea buckthorn also has vitamin K and a variety of phytosterols including beta sitosterol.

Dr. Duke's database again helped me with rosemary showing that there are 240 identified chemicals in rosemary including cineole, betulin and carbone. Meadowfoam oil has a few fatty acids not found in the previous oils including brassic, erucic and gadoleic acids.

So this simple face treatments includes a conservative count of 581 to make a total of 688 chemicals just in the first 30 minutes of waking. I must so above average! Am I worried about applying these chemicals to my face? No. Some use the word 'chemical' to scare people implying that chemicals are bad. I however, know better. Yes, there are some chemicals that are toxic and should not be used.

You might notice that all of the ingredients I have put on my face are considered all natural by most people. All natural products contain more chemicals than any other products because they are so complex. If fact, the numbers stated above are much lower than they are in reality because all the chemicals found in plants have not been completely identified. Its not bad to use chemicals on your face although it may be bad to use toxic chemicals on your face.

Can you imagine using the precautionary principle and testing all the 240 chemicals found in rosemary? It could not be done. But I will not allow alarmist groups to scare me from using my skin care products and I have suffered no ill effects from this.
I'll continue to take my chances and continue to use these safe and beneficial chemicals on my face. What about you??

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Taking Time: Hollyhock Dolls

This time of year can go by pretty quick so be sure to take some time out for silliness. We made these hollyhock dolls this morning just for fun and here they are all together playing. All you do is attach the full bloomed flower to a flower bud with a toothpick. Using them in this way also helps keep them from spreading so much as hollyhocks like to do. I'm thinking of tying them together somehow to make a mobile to hang at the farmer market.
Another fun garden craft to is making lavender wands. I'm not going to tell you how to make those because my friend Tina Sams already has the best description here. I hope next summer to have enough lavender to have a wand making workshop here.
As a kid one activity I always enjoyed in the yard is just tying clover flower stems together to make necklaces and crowns. If you still have roses budding you can also thread them together for a necklace.
We have branches that fall out of our willow trees with every wind. These are flexible enough to be woven together to make small decorative fences (although I do have to save some for extracts for my skin care products). There are probably other trees or shrubs that are also flexible enough to weave. Iris leaves can be woven to make place mats to use for a possible tea party with the fairies.
What are some of your garden craft pass times?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Regional Fauna (Ohio and Colorado)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
When traveling I can't help but notice the different plants from one place to another. My first experience in this was moving from Ohio to Northern Arizona for college (yes, ages ago). What a difference it was for me moving from lush, almost jungle like growth to the sparsity of plants growing from rocky soil. It took awhile to appreciate the beauty of those tiny mustards growing out of rock.

After spending this week in Ohio it again makes me realize how different Ohio plants are from those of my new Colorado home. Native plants of Ohio include far more trees than Colorado (much of which is considered grassland) such as maples, birch, buckeyes and oaks. Herbacous plants include meadow rue, rose mallow, black eyed Susans, and milkweed. One of my favorites is wild ginger.

Native Colorado plants I am used to include blue columbine, geranium, blue flax, yarrow, penstemon and grape holly. I'll be sure to plant some of these in my new flower bed next year.

Many of the plants we consider wild however are not natives but plants that have become acclimatized and in some cases are considered noxious because they drive out the native plants changing the ecology of the environment. For instance, burdock grows rampant in the fields in Ohio, but it is not native. It was transplanted from Europe centuries ago. Plantain and red clover, both growing in Ohio and Colorado again were brought over by European settlers probably for their medicinal qualities. Its good to know about native plants in your area so you can help preserve them by doing plantings that include them. Do you try to plant natives in your landscape?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What am I harvesting? Feverfew

Once established Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium or Chrysanthemum parthenium (L.) Bernh. and Pyrethrum parthenium (L.) is somewhat invasive so you need to keep an eye on it, but I like those types of herbs that don't need to be babied. The flowers are delicate, producing alot of pollen. This herb is most well known as a relief for migraine headaches but can also be used to decrease blood clotting and help with arthritis. It is also very useful as a skin care herb both because it is an an antiinflammatory agent and has been shown to decrease the risk of skin cancer following UV exposure. It is used to calm red and irritated skin. The active ingredient of feverfew is parthenolide, a sesquiterpene lactone derived from its leaves and flowers. Unfortunately, some people do show skin sensitivity to feverfew.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rue: Do you know this herb?

I'd forgotten how nice and spicy Rue (Ruta graveolens) smells when rubbed, although some plant descriptions describe this as a negative smell. I have this plant in my front garden by the door. It just started blooming but its blooms are rather humble compared to my peony plant that has a place next to Rue. Its a very strong herb that is toxic in large amounts so I've yet to find a good use for it, but I do love the way it looks and stays somewhat green during the winter. It is said to be good for some neuological pain, headache, arthritis and as an insect repellent. Scientists from UC Davis are looking at compounds in rue to make drugs for rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.

There are some recipes for Four Thieves vinegar (said to be effective against the plague) that include Rue although modern recipes rarely have Rue. It is also edible and used to spice cheeses at one time, though again, is rarely used today. It can have an irritating effect on skin and so not used there. Yet I keep it in my garden and enjoy it none the less.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Salad Burnett (Sanguisorba minor)

Cucumber flavored herb. Add leaves to salads and drinks. If you have it, be sure to eat it now as it gets bitter as the summer progresses. I'll have to give it a try in soap and see how it behaves.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Antiaging ingredients: Vitamin C

Antiaging ingredients are hot in skin care right now and there are many to be found. Lets go over vitamin C now.

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is essential for healthy skin and necessary for the synthesis of collagen in the skin. Collagen is a fibrous protein that not only makes up a good portion of the dermis of the skin but also the bones. Scurvy, a rare disease now, occurs with vitamin C deficiencies. Because vitamin C is part of the skin's dermis a deficiency can also show up as increased bruising.

Ascorbic acid is a cofactor for the enzyme prolyl hydroxylase and lysyl hydroxylase. These enzymes are used to add a hydroxyl group (OH) to the amino acids proline and lysine which are found in collagen in high amounts. Once hydroxylated, these amino acids in collagen function to stabilize the three dimensional structure of collagen by cross linking its peptide strands. This is needed to form its fibril structure which is very strong and so gives tissues their strength.

Most plants and animals are able to make their own vitamin C from glucose but not humans. So ingestion of vitamin C is of utmost importance, but topical use is also good. The trouble is that ascorbic acid is not very stable; upon exposure to air it oxidizes rapidly to become not only ineffective but also potentially dangerous. Because of this there have been attempts to alter the molecule somewhat to make it more stable for cosmetic use. Some of these vitamin C derivatives include:

1. Ascorbyl palmitate. This is also referred to as vitamin C ester as it is an ester formed from ascorbic acid and the fatty acid palmitate. This also makes it fat soluble - a useful thing for many cosmetic formulations.

2. Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate and sodium ascorbyl phosphate. These are both water soluble forms of ascorbic acid that are very similar to vitamin C.

Besides using vitamin C to boost collagen production in skin, several synthetic peptides have recently come to market that have the ability to affect transcription of the collagen gene and stimulate collagen production. But we'll talk about those another time.

Foods and herbs high in vitamin C include of course citrus, but also rosehips, parsley, strawberry and elderberry. Any of these could be used to do a fresh facial for the skin. But if you formulate a cosmetic product you will want to use one of the more stable forms of vitamin C. A fruit mask is also good because of the alpha hydroxy acid content and this is the time of year to enjoy masks.

Strawberry Yogurt Face Mask
2-4 tablespoons full fat yogurt
2-3 fresh strawberries
Mash together or put in a small blender until pureed. Apply to face and relax for 5-10 minutes then wash off. Your face should feel great afterward.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Prunella vulgaris (Self Heal)

This low growing weed is commonly found in lawns in the Eastern US but less so in the Western US. It is commonly called Self-Heal and being in the mint family will grow prolifically. It may be more common in Chinese Medicine where it is used for cardiovascular problems than in Western Herbalism. It is not native to North America but has of course become naturalized and grows mainly as a weed, but has its place in my garden. Prunella is antioxidant rich and contains rosmarinic acid. This phenylpropanoid is an antioxidant and has been show to inhibit cancer. Prunella has also been found to have activity against the Herpes virus that causes cold sores as well as antiinflammatory activity, pain relieving activity and wound healing activity; hence its nickname Self Heal. To me this says it has a place in healing balms and I use it in my healing lip balm. You could also use it as a poultice for various wounds or as a tea to relieve mouth pain from various sores.

The small purple flowers of the plant are edible and can be used in salads, soups or in a tea. Use it as a diuretic, liver stimulant,astringent and antispasmodic. Its nutritional value includes vitamin C, K and B1 as well as antioxidants. Its always great to know how important some of our 'weeds' are.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

CrabApple Blossoms

Wordless Wednesday: looks like a wedding, but these are crabapple blossoms blown off the tree, beautiful.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Using Herbs in Skin Care - an Interview

I was recently interviewed by Beth Byrne about using botanicals in soaps for an article in The Saponifier. This is a summary of that interview.

1. Name, location, business name, any other background info.

My name is Cindy Jones. My business name is Sagescript Institute and I've recently started calling my line of products "Colorado Aromatics". We moved to a 9 acre property in Longmont CO (45 min north of Denver) almost 3 years ago after spending several years on a large lot in one of Denver's older suburbs. It was my love of herbs that played a big role in my interest in skin care products. It started off as a hobby making products for friends and family and eventually grew into a business when I realized it really encompassed most of my loves including chemistry and physiology.

2. What are some of the botanicals you use most in soapmaking?
Calendula is my favorite and I use it in soap to give a nice color. I use the petals either whole or ground added at trace. Calendula is a wonderful herb that contains a variety of carotenoids. Calendula has been found to improve wound healing so is great for regenerating epithelial cells of the skin. The calendula soap I make also has oatmeal in it and customers have told me it helps their eczema. It makes a very mild soap. Other herbs I use in soap include mint, rosemary, lavender and rosehips. Actually I also just made a chocolate soap with choke cherry skins in it, sort of a Black Forest Soap! I love thinking of herbs to put in soap.

3. Why do you use them?
The main reason I use herbs is because I love them and love growing them! My business has evolved as an agricultural business and to be part of my local farmers market requires that my products be agricultural and so they all contain herbs that I grow. Since herbs have many beneficial properties for skin this has been easy. Of course the benefits of herbs in a wash off product like soap is not going to be as much as a leave on product. But the idea of herbs in soap is definitely aesthetically pleasing and we all know that is important with skin care. Herbs are high in antioxidant flavonoids which are water soluble and extracted in a tea. Flavonoids are stable in high pH like lye so their benefits should come through in a soap. You can use a tea to replace any or all of the water in your soap. Ground herbs used in soap is slightly exfoliating.

Extracts of herbs can also be used in leave on products where they provide more benefits. I sometimes use tinctures because that way I know any microbials have been destroyed. Green tea and rosemary are two that I use frequently as tinctures. Infused oils and water extracts can also be used. When using herbs in skin care though its important to remember that whatever is good for your skin is also good for bacterial or fungal growth so preservation is important. And of course, you know that microbiology testing is another thing Sagescript does!

4. Where do you get your botanicals?
The reason we moved to our farm was so that we could grow plenty of herbs. I am working towards growing all my own herbs but am not there yet. It takes a few years to get good growth on many herbs so patience is important. I am also limited by the amount of time and energy I have and trying to fit everything else in. I grow calendula, mint, comfrey, yarrow, lemon balm, clary sage, plantago, parsely, lavender, fennel, feverfew, sage, thyme, oregano, rose, artemisia, raspberry, rosemary, prunella, hops, chamomile, and others I'm sure I've forgotten. I also grow rose geranium but not alot since it is one that has to go in my sunroom/shed/greenhouse during the winter. I also use these herbs to distill. I love to use the aromatic distillates alone or with added herbs as a toner or haircare product, or in a lotion/cream. When I don't have enough of something I first search for someone local who will let me harvest and if that doesn't work I purchase it from a supplier.

Information from this interview (and others) was published in the May/June 2010 issue of The Saponifier in the article "How You Can Use Botanicals in Soap and Cosmetics" by Beth Byrne.


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