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.


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