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Marcia

President/CEO of Samara Botane/Nature Intelligence, importers of fine aromatic ingredients and manufacturers of natural spa and personal care products.

Feb 142014
 

"Why do bulls and horses turn up their nostrils when excited by love?" Darwin ponderedWhere_is_the_love deep in one of his unpublished notebooks.  Scientists long ago documented a rich array of animal pheromones, everything from seal, fox and civet, various rodents, boars, beavers, musk deer . . . even the effluence discharged by whales.  Discovering biochemical bouquets for attracting mates as well as marking territory and used for defense, as is the case with the noble skunk.  And, we took them as our own for exotic and sought after perfumes, not putting much thought into human scent, assuming our unique evolution and poor sense of smell lends to the idea that unique olfactory-challenged, sight-oriented hairless bipeds would be the species that conquers the Earth.  Hah! 

I don’t doubt that many of my readers here, like myself, dismiss the notion that we humans are bereft of scent-driven socializing.  That just because early scientists in autopsy couldn’t find the same hardware in humans, those two little pits, the VNO (vomeronasal organ) in each nostril, we had been left out of the savory realm of scent.  So, our olfactory prowess was dismissed and discarded, those early analysts  nodding their heads in agreement that humans simply did not rely on scent to any appreciable degree . . . and even physiologists declaring in the 1930’s that humans lacked the brain apparatus necessary to process VNO signals.  So, even if we had a VNO, the thinking was our brains wouldn’t be able to interpret its signals.

So it goes, the scientific dogma for most of the previous century that humans do not rely on scent to any appreciable degree.  I’m here to report that reports of our olfactory devolution have been greatly exaggerated!  And, it will come as no surprise to readers here that physiologists did discover a functioning vomeronasal organ inside the human nose. Using microscopes unavailable to early nasal explorers, discovering pits lined with receptor cells that fire like mad when presented with certain substances.  And probably less surprising that the discovery was prompted by a venture capitalist searching to cash in on manufactured human pheromones.  Tom Tykwer’s 2006 movie Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, featuring Jean-Baptiste Grenouille’s dark quest for the ultimate perfume ingredient and its exquisite period sets could have us fantasizing a clever 17th century feminine entrepreneur doing a brisk business selling handkerchiefs scented with her body odor.  Or, who knows, perhaps it is the next olfactory market evolution yet to come.

Getting back to smelling each other and our pleasure therein, it appears we are also profoundly equipped with attraction-beckoning pleasant odor-producing capability . . . human sweat, urine, saliva, breast milk, skin oils, breath and sexual secretions all contain scent-communicating chemical compounds.  Zoologist Michael Stoddart, author of The Scented Ape, points out that humans possessThe Lovers denser skin concentrations of scent glands than almost any other mammal.  We have long believed that humans don’t pay much attention to the fragrant or the rancid in their day-to-day lives.  Part of the confusion resides in the fact that not all smells register in our conscious minds and that they are rejected when we don’t want to think about them anymore.  In studying aromatherapy, we learn that our conscious mind can refuse to acknowledge the presence of odor, especially after prolonged periods of smelling it.  We are, therefore, advised to  diffuse in time periods according to other protocols and parameters not related to actively and consciously detecting the aromatic blend being diffused.

As we study and learn more about DNA, there is a segment called the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), codes which function as the immune system’s eyes for recognition.  This recognition triggers the immune system’s teeth – the killer T cells – who then swarm the intruders. Studies in mice have proven that females choose by evaluating males’ MHC profiles and choose those most dissimilar to their own to avoid inbreeding.  It was during early studies involving humans that we discovered we were capable of discerning small differences in the immune systems of mice. This led to further tests in which women rated men’s body odor and sexiness . . . exactly like mice do.  We much prefer men with scents that vary the most from our own. 

Although, even that is complicated in that there are still anomalies to the general rule of choice yet to be definitely ascertained. Doctors have known since the mid-1980s that couples suffering repeated spontaneous abortions tend to share more MHC similarities than couples who carry to term. And, if we don’t also know and accept same sex attraction by now, we might remain in those dark, dank ages.  Those who might be offended by the notion that animal senses play a role in their attraction to a partner need not worry. As the role of smell in human affairs yields to understanding, we see not that we are less human but that our tastes and emotions are far more complex and sophisticated than anyone ever imagined.

Perfume_Bottle_AntiqueWhile this ramble may give you something interesting you may not previously know, on this Valentines Day, you’re probably more interested in a simple bottle of perfume, rose-scented tea and the ever-beloved chocolate delight.  Just remember, if you haven’t developed an awareness yet, while you are nibbling on that lover’s ear, to sniff a bit . . . and judge for yourself whether he/she is the one. 

Love and Smelly Kisses,
Marcia

Feb 112014
 

In this age of over-privatization, it is politically healthy to see an honest fight to keep something that belongs in the realm of the commons, to remind ourselves that not everything should be made to hoard for personal monetary profit. Most especially something made from the plants that grow abundantly in all of our gardens and orchards. I, like many herbal practitioners, have been making fire cider since I first began following the excellent herbal work of Rosemary Gladstar, who coined the name in the 1970’s. It is not something our company currently sells, but something bottled up for family wellness and given to new friends along the way, the recipe always evolving and expanding, but based on the tried and true core ingredients Rosemary taught. You may not be aware of the story that recently prompted herbalists across the globe to revolt against the move by three young people to trademark the name ‘fire cider’. To take it for themselves, exclusively, with the threat of legal action that ‘registered trademark’ implies. Enthusiastic, perhaps well meaning, young people who have somehow missed the traditional spirit of self-care and empowerment through herbalism and the wise woman way handed down for centuries. These three young people, Dana, Amy and Brian, are aware that they have sent ripples of displeasure throughout the greater herbal community, but have drawn a line in the sand and refuse to withdraw their registered trademark which restricts any other company from using the name in the marketplace. Instead, they foolishly inflate and see themselves as heroes "bringing visibility to the general public" oblivious [perhaps by choice] to decades of early published herbal work and education provided by Gladstar, Susun Weed, Jeanne Rose, Michael Moore, Paul Bergner, Mindy Green, Colleen Dodt, Cascade Anderson Geller, Howie Brounstein and countless others upon whose backs they deem to build their empire . . . advertising themselves as willing mentors to a seeming new breed of "business-minded herbalists".  Methinks they don’t understand the collective but mostly unspoken pride that probably won’t stop any of us from making and, yes, marketing, fire cider and honoring those who came before us as we continue tradition in the manner intended. Long Live Fire Cider!

 

shaking hand with branch2 432x242And so went my fb post of fierce resistance in response to the definitive gauntlet thrown . . . then Tina Sams from The Essential Herbal Magazine suggested we expand on the idea and genesis of the herbal tradition.  It was then that I realized perhaps I, personally, maybe hadn’t been doing enough to educate young people growing up with fewer and fewer community traditions that represented gathering and openly sharing that occurs without underpinning the necessity for the exchange of money as a prerequisite.  That my personal experience, and that of others like me, both in creating and participating in venues for Agora in the traditional meaning as a gathering place had not taken root and might be lost to future generations with respect to the greater purpose and importance of freely sharing.  And, now if you Google ‘Agora’, you get everything from a Washington D.C. Turkish restaurant to an online charter school, to an art gallery, to an incorporated consumer newsletter,  a ballroom in Cleveland, financial forecasts, and even a movie starring Rachel Weisz.  So much for an ancient word that might have led us to understanding the concept of the commons, and indeed, the very meaning of commonwealth.  Tina calls us to the greater task of defining the greater good as it now applies in our technologically advanced society in which the individual reigns supreme over all he can patent, trademark and profit from.  Where, in the harshest manifestation,  the John Galts appear poised to separate themselves from the rest of humanity in ivory towers and the word ‘inequality’ has risen to prominence in the political discourse. 

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the concept of business, I can read financial reports and complex comparative analyses.  I’ve certainly been rewarded generously for my participation in market economics and the ability to incorporate and insure my endeavors for the best possible outcome and security into the future.  The same as those walking before me and beside me, we didn’t just fall off the sunflower-covered hippie VW bus.  Most of us either have experience and education in community planning and public events [a long forgotten professional pursuit, it seems], or specialized study and apprenticeship that prepared us.  Or we discovered a book listing resources or stumbled upon public gatherings of people excited about and anxious to share what they’ve learned – in this particular case, herbs, but the same can apply to music [especially folk and alternative], organic gardening and food politics, and a long list of environmental and human rights activist endeavors . . . those that embrace the idea that there is good reason to make certain knowledge accessible to all, that idea that this will serve and help evolve humanity -  that some information was not meant to be hoarded and privatized.   The idea that this won’t impede an ability to create our own individual design and artistry surrounding products and services that originate in early folklore and have now evolved to include sophisticated science – that we can be rewarded financially without restricting anyone else from marketing their own endeavor rooted in those same traditions.   That idea that claiming a name from the commons as our own to restrict its long shared use is repulsive and antithetical to the herbal tradition.  

I’ve interviewed people who have inspired, entertained and delighted  here on my blog in the past.  It’s time to renew the effort to spotlight those I believe best represent the shared values of a strong and enduring community.  Watch this space.

In the meantime, here are some links covering fire cider . . .

The petition:  https://www.change.org/petitions/united-states-patent-and-trademark-office-revoke-fire-cider-trademark

http://www.berkshireeagle.com/news/ci_25079375/rsquo-fire-cider-rsquo-brand-ignites-dispute
http://www.examiner.com/article/herbalists-fighting-copyright-of-fire-cider-free-recipes-labels-and-an-e-book
https://www.facebook.com/originalfirecider
http://www.sagemountain.com/rosemary-gladstar/winter-recipes.html
http://mountainroseblog.com/fire-cider/
http://commonwealthherbs.com/2014/01/trademarking-tradition-the-fire-cider-controversy/
http://www.punkdomestics.com/category/tags/fire-cider
http://www.healingspiritsherbfarm.com/recipe/fire-cider
http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-fire-cider-recipes-from-the-kitchn-199972
http://naturesnurtureblog.com/2012/12/06/immune-boosting-fire-cider-for-cold-flu-season/
http://thesproutingseed.com/fire-cider/
http://www.readingmytealeaves.com/2012/11/make-your-own-fire-cider.html
http://wildspiritherbs.blogspot.com/2014/01/fire-cider-make-it-yourself.html
http://sagescript.blogspot.com/2014/02/fire-cider-day-2014.html

Jul 012013
 

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Lemon Balm, Balm mint, Blue balm, Garden balm, Honey plant, Sweet balm – these are all common names for Melissa officinalis, an aromatic plant in the mint (Lamiaceae) family having a long history as a delightful garden plant and medicinal aromatic herb.  As far back as the Middle Ages, Lemon Balm was recognized as a calming herb that would reduce stress and anxiety.  It was used to ease the discomfort of indigestion (including gas and bloating as well as colic).  Even before the Middle Ages, it is reported in ancient herbals to lift spirits, help heal wounds and treat insect bites and stings.  Native to Europe, Lemon Balm grows all over the world . . . in gardens to attract bees, in commercial crops for medicine and cosmetics, and even furniture polish.  The plant will mound into 3+ foot clumps; it is one of the easiest plants to grow and if left unattended will become invasive.  Leaves are deeply wrinkled, ranging in color from dark green to yellowish green.  Rubbing the leaves between your fingers releases the aromatic essential oil which smells tart and sweetly of lemons.  If left unpruned the plant will flower; clusters of light yellow flowers grow where the leaves meet the stem.  The plant will self seed and propagate profusely from the roots. 

Here at Samara Botane, starting with one organic plant, we now have about 18-20 large shrubs.  Leaves will be harvested by shearing with scissors throughout the summer, approximately every 4-6 weeks.  We will then distill leaves for hydrosol; macerate in organic coconut and olive oil for balms and salves; tincture in organic alcohol and vinegar for a variety of topical applications and household products, and we will dry leaves for teas andlemon-balm-1 525x394 bath herbs.  Fresh leaves will also find their way into culinary applications in syrups and jellies, and even as a flavoring for homemade ice cream.  I’ve been sharing a number of Lemon Balm recipes on our facebook page which you can find by following this link where we will be sharing Lemon Balm recipes throughout the rest of summer. 

Modern research has determined that Lemon Balm’s mild sedative (anxiolytic) effects are attributed to its ability to inhibit GABA transaminase due to its rosmarinic acid content. [1]   Lemon Balm has been shown to improve mood and mental performance, involving muscarinic and nicotinic acetycholine receptors [2] and positive results have been achieved in a small clinical trial involving Alzheimer patients with mild to moderate symptoms [3] due to the high acetylcholinesterase and butyrycholinesterase co-inhibitory activities, as well as its rosmarinic acid content. [4]  Melissa officinalis exhibits antithyrotropic activity, inhibiting TSH from attaching to TSH receptors, hence making it of possible use in the treatment of Graves’ disease or hyperthroidism, according to a mention in the scientific journal Endocrinology. [5] 

Lemon Balm leaves contain plant chemicals called terpenes, which play at least some role in the herb’s relaxing and antiviral effects, as well as tannins, which may be responsible for many of the herb’s antiviral effects. Lemon Balm also contains eugenol, which calms muscle spasms, numbs tissues, and kills certain bacteria.

In another double blind, placebo controlled study, 18 healthy volunteers received 2 separate single doses of a standardized lemon balm extract (300 mg and 600 mg) or placebo for 7 days. The 600 mg dose of lemon balm increased mood and significantly increased calmness and alertness.  Caution:  Using Lemon Balm as a sedative may interact with prescribed sedative medications (CNS depressants), causing extreme drowsiness or sleepiness. If you are taking thyroid regulating medication, ask your healthcare provider before using it extensively.  It is not clear whether Lemon Balm may interact with antiretroviral agents, but it is best to avoid Lemon Balm if you are taking medication for HIV. 

Unfortunately, Melissa essential oil enjoys the reputation of being probably one of t11069_melissa_250he most frequently adulterated essential oils.  A pure, undiluted or unadulterated Melissa officinalis essential oil is difficult to source.  There is very little essential oil in the plant and it takes a large quantity of plant material to produce a small amount of the essential oil.  For this reason, what we will find in the broader marketplace is usually inferior quality essential oil that has been co-distilled or recombined with Lemon oil, Citronella, Lemongrass and other ‘lemon’ smelling essential oils.  At Samara Botane, we have a limited quantity of high quality essential oil from England available for sale, but you will see by the price that is is rare and precious and quite costly.  We also have limited quantities of CO2 and absolute. 

For a tea, steep 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of the chopped dried herb (use more if fresh) in 1 cup hot (just under boiling) water.  Drink up to 4 times a day.  A stronger tea can be added to a warm/hot bath for a delightfully relaxing and rejuvenating home spa experience.  Lemon Balm hydrosol can also be added to a regenerating bath or spritzed on skin after a shower.

In Europe, the local name for Lemon Balm is “heart’s delight” and some of you may remember a French perfume of the late 1030’s named Coeur-Joie, which translates from the French to ‘heart’s delight’.  Coeur-Joie had a fresh Melissa topnote with faint floral undertones.  A traditional floral water using Lemon Balm as its basis, said to have been invented in 1611 by Carmelite monks was used as a perfume and toilet water, and was also taken internally as a cordial.  Many versions of Eau de Melisse des Carmes have developed over the years.  You will find one version, including several variations, on the Samara Botane facebook page later this week.  Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter.  We will be featuring a very good discount on all Lemon Balm products during the month of July and the coupon code will be in the ads in the newsletter.

There are many aspects to cover about Lemon Balm, I’ll revisit Lemon Balm again in the future. 

 

[1] Kennedy, D. O.; Little, W; Scholey, AB (2004). "Attenuation of Laboratory-Induced Stress in Humans After Acute Administration of Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm)". Psychosomatic Medicine 66 (4): 607–13.doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000132877.72833.71.PMID 15272110.
Awad, Rosalie; Muhammad, Asim; Durst, Tony; Trudeau, Vance L.; Arnason, John T. (2009). "Bioassay-guided fractionation of lemon balm (Melissa officinalisL.) using anin vitromeasure of GABA transaminase activity". Phytotherapy Research 23 (8): 1075–81.doi:10.1002/ptr.2712. PMID 19165747.
[2] Kennedy, D O; Wake, G; Savelev, S; Tildesley, N T J; Perry, E K; Wesnes, K A; Scholey, A B (2003). "Modulation of Mood and Cognitive Performance Following Acute Administration of Single Doses of Melissa Officinalis (Lemon Balm) with Human CNS Nicotinic and Muscarinic Receptor-Binding Properties".Neuropsychopharmacology 28 (10): 1871–81. doi:10.1038/sj.npp.1300230. PMID 12888775.
[3]Akhondzadeh, S (2003). "Melissa officinalis extract in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled trial". Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 74: 863–6.doi:10.1136/jnnp.74.7.863. PMC 1738567.PMID 12810768.
[4]Chaiyana W., Okonogi S."Inhibition of cholinesterase by essential oil from food plant". Phytomedicine. 19 (8-9) (pp 836-839), 2012.
[5]Auf’mkolk, M.; Ingbar, J. C.; Kubota, K.; Amir, S. M.; Ingbar, S. H. (1985). "Extracts and Auto-Oxidized Constituents of Certain Plants Inhibit the Receptor-Binding and the Biological Activity of Graves’ Immunoglobulins". Endocrinology 116 (5): 1687–93.doi:10.1210/endo-116-5-1687. PMID 2985357.

 Posted by at 7:40 pm
Sep 022012
 

science1

REST:  Your body heals and repairs itself when you are in deep R.E.M. sleep. Simply falling into bed at night, exhausted, worried and restless, does not replenish and rebuild the human organism.  Choose the tools that help you get maximum deep sleep so that your body can do its nightly work.  Balance work and play with equal amounts of rest, meditation or quiet contemplation to temper stress levels and maintain balance.  Restful music and a quiet cup of calming tea (chamomile,  hops, valerian) before bed helps you empty your mind and leave worries for another time.

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DIET:  You’ve heard it a million times – “you are what you eat.”  I’d add – “You are also how you eat.”   Make healthy dietary decisions based on good nutritional advice and your individual dietary needs.  No matter what type of healthy diet you choose, throw out all processed foods, white sugar and white flour.  Free yourself from the empty carbohydrate rat race.  Feed your body and mind spiritually when you eat, with good company and uplifting conversation, pleasant music,  giving your digestive system a relaxed state to perform optimally.

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EXERCISE:  Use It or Lose It! There is no getting around it; we need to move our bodies, stretch to loosen taut muscles and get our heart rate pumped to prime all body functions and systems.   Ride a bicycle, swim, jump on a trampoline, play ball with your children, hike, join an exercise club . . . there are limitless choices to get off your duff and start moving.

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AMBIENCE:  Balance and harmony are the key to taking a successful preventative approach.  A clear and free flow of energy through the various aspects of individual life can transform metabolic and physiological processes.  Lighting, color, music, placement, personal interactions, spirituality, cleanliness and energy flow all contribute to either the ease or hindrance of function, temperament and attitude.  It makes sense; the more pleasing your environment (there’s that ‘terrain’ again), the happier your immune system.  If you have a constant irritable problem with a co-worker or other difficult relationship, seek resolution so that this is not adversely affecting your good health.  Remember little things like periodic cleaning of your toothbrush – and wash your hands often!

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COMMUNITY:  We have much to do in our modern lives.  The ancient expression, “Kali Yuga” is loosely translated to ‘too many things for the time allowed’.  This certainly can apply to our modern world.  It is easy to neglect relationships, volunteering for projects in the community, and plain old what was once called ‘chewing the fat’  because we simply find we do not have time.  Using the ‘terrain’ ‘concept, help your family make time and allowance in your life for participating with others in your community and environment.  Spend time with those confidants who can help you talk through and resolve problems and troubling issues.  Join a church choir, book club, nonprofit action group – or simply call a friend who makes you laugh and make a date for lunch or similar fun get-together.

The information below provides a list of herbs and essential oils that can be helpful to maintaining a healthy immune system.  Before starting any self-care regimen using natural ingredients, be sure that you have fully researched all available information to ascertain  any risks or possible adverse effects.

Herbs and Essential Oils to Help build your immune system:

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Herbs for deep immune action:  Astragalus membranaceous, Ligustrum lucidum, Lentinus edoes, Ganoderma lucidurn, Codonopsis tangshen
Herbs for systemic support for homeostasis:
Bitter tonics (Mild –Taraxacum off., Artemisia abotanum, Achillea millefolia, Matricaria recutita) (Strong –Artemisia absinthium, Berberis vulgaris, Centauria erythraea, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Gentiana spp. Hydrastis canadensis, Ruta graveolens). Alterative/Tonic herbs (Mild – Allium sativum, Anemone pulsatilla, Berberis aquifolia, Chionanthus virgincus, Cimifuga racemosa, Baptisia tinctoria, Echinacea spp., Menyanthes trifoliata) (Stronger, yet safe –Arctium lappa, Fumaria off., Galium aparine, Guaiacum off., Hydrastis canadensis, Rumex crispus, Trifolium repens, Urtica doica)


All of the terpene essential oils are anti-microbial.  At one time various essential oils and their constituent terpenoids were applied in allopathic medicine for combating infections, particularly those of the bronchial and urinary tracts, and in preventing sepsis of burns and 17405001_Starter_kit_book_475x393wounds.  Some of these oils still find extensive application as disinfectants, as the anti-septic activity of these oils often exceeds that of phenol.  For example, Thymol is about 20 times more efficacious than phenol.  Monoterpene oils have mild anti-septic properties and coupled with their rubefacient action on gums are beneficial as toothpaste or mouthwash.  Essential oils (common names) with anti-septic strength above that of phenol are: Thyme, Origanum, Sweet Orange, Lemon Grass, Cinnamon, Rose, Clove, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Rose Geranium, Anise, Rosemary, Neroli, Lavender, Melissa and Ylang Ylang.  All of these essential oils can be diffused in moderation to keep the environment more germ free, and combined with those that relax and calm, will help create the desired harmony and balance.   Shop for any of these essential oils at our online shop. 
Books – Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Balch & Balch; Prescription for Herbal Healing, Phyllis A. Balch, CNC; Essential Aromatherapy, Susan Worwood & Valerie Ann Worwood

 Posted by at 11:28 am
Feb 072012
 

Above the tower — a lone, twice-sized moon.
On the cold river passing night-filled homes,
It scatters restless gold across the waves.
On mats, it shines richer than silken gauze.

Empty peaks, silence: among sparse stars,
Not yet flawed, it drifts. Pine and cinnamon
Spreading in my old garden . . . All light,
All ten thousand miles at once in its light!

 Posted by at 10:50 pm
Jan 252012
 

ambergris 192x259All natural aromatic substances that exist in Nature have a purpose other than to smell good in perfumes.  In the case of ambergris, it is produced in the stomach of the sperm whale, where it serves to protect the intestinal lining against the tough, horned snout of cuttlefish, a kind of squid that the whale swallows whole.  All very practical, as we most assuredly find in Nature.  While most teach that it is secreted as vomit, some argue that it also passes through the feces. Some, especially commercial, American perfumers usually avoid it because of legal ambiguities. It was banned from use in many countries in the 1970s, including the United States, because its precursor originates from the sperm whale, which is an endangered species.

Historically, it was considered the second most treasured commodity to come from the sea, second to pearls.   After being excreted by the whale, it would be collected from the surface of the ocean near the islands of Sumatra, Molucca and Madagascar, and was referred to as “the gold of the ocean”.   The hardened shape, resembling fossilized lumps of amber (albeit grey in color), thus derived the name “grey amber” or ambergris.  It is a known fact that certainlate twelfth century incense burner 308x163 kinds of ambergris are known to float in the ocean for up to a hundred years. Ancient Egyptians burned ambergris as incense, while in modern Egypt ambergris is used for scenting cigarettes.

We humans have chosen to not fully embrace our own animalistic odor and instead we mask it with myriad smelly cover-ups.  Probably originating in hygiene and sexual modesty that ultimately fevered the Puritanical movement.   The enigma that we are drawn to smells that reflect our deeper centers of pleasure and love perfumes rich in products of animal origin (any animal other than human, that is) only confirms what complex and contradictory beings we are, especially when it comes to sexuality.  It is true that those perfumes with a ‘hidden’  pungency, unidentified intellectually in our awareness, are extremely popular.

Avery Gilbert challenges us to  stop randomly studying aromatic molecules in the laboratory and to “start observing odor fluency where it happens naturally.”  He reminds us that Charles Darwin was a “careful observer” and “attuned to smell”.  In Darwin’s words (speaking of the musk deer, another animalic odor): “On the banks of the Plata, I have perceived the whole air tainted with the odor of the male Cervus campestris, at the distance of half a mile to leeward of  a herd.”  Darwin recorded odors, along with other facts like species, place and time.  I mention this because I, like many of you, struggle with adequate descriptors for odors and Avery makes a perfect case for getting out in Nature herself as it might serve both perfumer and writer.  Since I, also, cannot disconnect my work with aromatics from the importance and joy of relating to unabashed Nature, I very much like the way he thinks in this regard.

Pomade 155x297One of the earliest devices for enjoying aromatics in the fourteenth century actually derives its name from ambergris.  The ornately designed apple-shaped globe, sometimes decorated with gold and silver, with small individual sections held together with hinges was called a pomander, from the French pomme d’ ambre or apple of ambergris.  Originally, a simple, but pungent rolled ball of ambergris  would suffice, but art emergedpomade open 293x299 to house the scent, like this lovely ornamented creation pictured here.  The chambers were filled with scented paste and powder, using beeswax and other aromatics, each chamber sometimes housing a different odor.  Aristocrats of both sexes would carry these devices to occasionally sniff to ward off the malodorous smells of the street.  Larger ones were attached by a chain to the belt or worn around the neck and smaller ones, no larger than a thimble, were connected by a tiny chain to a finger ring.

During the Renaissance, the “girdle” (not to be confused with the modern-day “corset”)The History of Jewellery was an important accessory made of leather, textile or flat metal chain that formed a belt-like strap worn diagonally along the waistline, draping from just above the hip on the right, downward to the left thigh. The girdle was typically accessorized with items like a purse, keys, knives, lockets, girdle books, decorative bangles, or a pomander.  The bangles or pendants (just as the pomanders themselves) could be bejeweled, enameled, or decorated with cameos, and were fastened to the girdle with equally decorative clasps. Of course, it was also one of those perfumed fallacies that the pomander would keep one from getting the plague.

The early gastronomer Brillat-Savarin created a recipe for ambergris-laced chocolate in 1826, perhaps for the tables of Casanova, Madame DuBarry and Madame de Pompadour. And, Nostradamus believed the chewing of lumps of ambergris could increase the production of seminal fluid.  Jean Paul Guerlain observed that ambergris “was to perfume creation what cream is to haute cuisine: an exquisite binding agent.” Since we find in history the use of ambergris as a spice in food, his observation is more than metaphorical. Musk and ambergris notes in perfume composition are of great significance and are a used in the composition to produce a sense of pleasure via ancient neural pathways without so much as a conscious thought as to the true nature of the stimulus.

Chinese pomander_181x285Since we are in the middle of celebrating the Chinese New Year, it is worth mentioning that the Chinese considered ambergris to be a potent aphrodisiac. The ancient Chinese called the substance “dragon’s spittle fragrance”, lending yet another allusion to the current Chinese Year of the Dragon.  The early Chinese also used their version of pomanders like this small one pictured.

In the eighteenth century, it was made into one of those “single-note” perfumes, like jasmine and neroli.

Styles and attitudes change and during the Restoration and into the later years encompassing the July Monarchy animalic scents fell into disfavor.   The more erotic scents began to be replaced with less controversial floral and herbaceous compositions.  Women became more worried about “being provocative”.   The newspaper Les Messager des odes et de l’industrie from 1853 identifies ambergris as “the primary perfume ingredient for women of easy virtue (cocettes) . . . and in the decade just preceding the Revolution, Mercier, the chronicler of social customs wrote that the decline of favorability for scented gloves was due to their “violent odor.”  Ultimately, strong animalic scents were banned and only worn by women of questionable morals.

Septimus Piesse, the early nineteenth century chemist-perfumer, lamented that the scent of ambergris “clings pertinaciously to woven fabrics and is still found in the material after passing through the lavoratory ordeal” by which he no doubt means washing of clothes. I would argue that Piesse exaggerated somewhat and that one must always consider the final odor note in a composition after the melding of all others, as well as all other variables when evaluating the odor of an aromatic ingredient of natural origin.

In perfumery, it is the finest of all fixatives and will delay the volatility of other scented ingredients in a composition.  It is one of those perfume substances that sometimes draws revulsion when one learns of its origin, however, in the raw it actually has a relatively mild odor –  marine, slightly fecal, reminiscent of balsamic leather with a slight wet, sour aspect.  And, of course, we must keep in mind that odor can differ greatly from one batch to the next depending on the origin,  age and processing method to obtain a perfume ingredient.

At Samara Botane, when we have the material available, we make a strong alcohol tincture using a Soxhlet extraction procedure which can then be diluted to the perfumer’s preference. This process produces ambrox and ambrinol, which are the main odor components of ambergris.  In perfumes, once married to other notes, ambergris becomes quite warm, earthy and velvety.  Some natural perfumers who wish to steer clear of animal ingredients,  appear to get an ambergris doppelganger by combining labdanum, olibanum and vanilla.

Jul 072011
 

Dia de los Muertos3The so called “Safe Cosmetics Act” has been rolled out again, with even more attendant shock and awe PR from the misguided zealots at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics using misinformation on  Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database.  If one were to rate the importance of this bill . . . what with a fragile economy in slow recovery, an unemployment rate stuck at over 9%, entire states in disarray (WI) or in near-complete shutdown (MN),  so many environmental catastrophes (Exxon-Mobil/Yellowstone River Spill) or near catastrophes (Las Alamos National Laboratory Site Fire), (Nebraska Nuclear Power Plant Missouri River Flood) . . . it logically would be of low priority. To me, there appears to be so much more urgency to address myriad larger problems facing the Nation, I sometimes feel like Atlas with that giant granite weight crushing any hope that used to glimmer that our elected leaders are going to stop their partisan bickering and get on with the business of governing and helping remedy the continuing effects of a massive economic recession.  I put the importance of HR 2359 at about a –minus –minus –minus ridiculous number.  I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer our lawmakers to be focusing their time and efforts on some of these macro issues desperately in need of their attention.  You know, like making sure our kids can go to school 5 days a week instead of the 3 or 4 now having to be imposed because of necessary budget cuts in many states.  Hello!  That’s surely going to help regain academic status in the world, isn’t it, and perhaps not possibly lose an entire generation to ignorance?  And you can be damned sure my colleagues and I have more important things to do than weed through a poorly written bill, obviously crafted by those with little or no knowledge in the multiple scientific disciplines necessary to understand the minutia of cosmetic formulation, and especially pertaining to essential oils and natural plant extracts – the very ingredients consumers most want in their natural personal care products.

Samara Botane/Nature Intelligence opposes Safe Cosmetic Act 2011 (HR 2359).  

As much as I and many other colleagues in the personal care, spa, herbal, natural perfume and aromatherapy industries may wish it weren’t so, we are once again faced with having to raise our small voices to defend the integrity of our professional pursuits to bring safe, effective personal care products into the marketplace . . . to avoid unnecessary, sometimes impossible regulations that are not going to make cosmetics any safer than they are now and only raise consumer prices because of the additional money, time and effort to comply.  

Never mind that, when this bill was first introduced in 2010,  we have previously pointed out that lead has not purposefully been added to lipstick by unscrupulous manufacturers gleefully twirling their mustaches, and that it naturally occurs as an element of the Earth’s surface and is in EVERYTHING in microscopic amounts, especially natural botanical ingredients.  It is in your water.  How many times must one state a FACT before it is understood and accepted?  This is still one of CFSC’s major talking points.  It has grown to epic proportions and wends its way into many lists of toxins to avoid, such as Green America’s 9 Toxins to Avoid in Personal Care Products, a document not referenced nor annotated with any scientific substantiation.  Those inclined to do more research on this matter would quickly find “Easily Led” a comprehensive thorough investigation of the claim (now urban legend), ending with the caveat, “The bottom line is that U.S. medical literature has yet to record a single case of anyone’s coming down with lead poisoning through lipstick use.” Of course, the CFSC has  trotted out “Lead in Lipstick” in an attempt to overstate the danger  in a desperate, somewhat hysterical hue and cry that microscopic levels of lead in lipstick at the highest tested 0.00000306 are of sufficient danger to browbeat our legislative representatives once again to put forth a bill that will never make its way through the process to become law, as it is now written.  All of this frenzied PR hype (rolled out by CFSC before the bill was even publicly announced) cannot counter “A Perspective on the Safety of Cosmetic Products: A Position Paper of The American Council on Science and Health”.   Nor can it counter the response from the Personal Care Products Council in 2010, nor their current response.  If you’d like pleasantly-presented, factual, scientific based information on cosmetic safety, PCPC has produced this series of short videos for the consumer. You can search this site for a specific ingredient or browse by product category. If you are looking for an easily-searched, more scientific database, try Toxipedia, where you will find no alarming leading questions like “Are you sure about your lotion?” or untrue statements like “Most sunscreens aren’t safe.” such as are found on EWG’s Skin Deep.  You will also not be subjected to a ineffective numerical rating system for product hazard, just scientific research and facts, no opinion . . . how refreshing.

Never mind that we have carefully critiqued and debunked Annie Leonard’s cleverly crafted propaganda video “The Story of Cosmetics” as the supreme shock and awe scare tactic hype it is.  Oh, but it’s cute, and cute appears to trump rational fact and common sense these days.  The sad thing is that the frenzied imagery of a masked assembly line worker purposefully inserting poison (international skull and cross bones = SCARY) into a cosmetic container, followed by the same skull and crossbones ruthlessly stamped on a baby (even more SCARY) in the bathtub does not seem to invigorate the critical thinking necessary to separate fact from overblown fiction.  And, this fictional video seems to incite, rather than inform those not capable of critically assessing information by comparing with credible reference and countering  professional opinion. How sad.

Examine the current FDA Authority Over Cosmetics and you will see it is comprehensive.  It is true that there are issues of concern to be addressed.  I believe the FDA will continue to do due diligence to insure the safety of cosmetic products.  I believe that the industry will be more than willing to assist this effort and comply with reasonable regulations.  HR 2359 is not the answer.  At this time when we have so many stressful  problems facing us, let us focus on what is urgent and necessary.

Please join me in opposing HR 2359 by signing the petition.

 Posted by at 4:10 pm
Apr 222011
 

Photo:Courtesy
Mother Nature will tell stories at the Omni Center's "World Peace Wetland Prairie Earthday Celebration" Sunday, April 17 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the World Peace Wetland Prairie at 11th and S. Duncan in Fayetteville.My reflection on Earth Day last year wasn’t very rosy.  I’m not sure I have great news now that another one has rolled around.  This year, with the passing of Representative Paul Ryan’s 2012 Republican Budget Plan in the House of Representatives, clearly that side of the aisle is bent on slowing any progress towards addressing the coming calamity of climate change and protecting the environment. The bill includes a huge cut ($1.6 billion) in the Environmental Protection Agency budget and hits the Energy Department hard with harsh cuts to energy efficiency and renewable energy programs and doesn’t touch the approximate $4 billion in subsidies to oil and gas companies – the most profitable companies in the world.  I think this is wrong-headed. 

Rather than wallow in my disappointment thereby contributing to your own consternation that we are still slipping backwards on important environmental issues, I feel it’s more important to share a few positive ideas and actions.

earth_day_WA DCEarth Day Network has a plethora of activities, videos, campaigns and important information throughout the year. 

If you are in New York City, you might want to check out some of the events hosted by New York University during NYUEarthWeek from April 11 through April 28.  This Sunday, the fabulous Vandana Shiva will be featured at a luncheon. 

Kaboose has a wide range of activities for kids to keep them busy and exposed to environmental issues.

If you are a teacher, EdHelper provides a variety of printable Earth Day puzzles and activities.

And, how about a view of Earth courtesy of NASA.

Wherever you are, I hope that you are enjoying the gifts of Mother Earth and paying forward by stewardship.  Happy Earth Day!

 Posted by at 7:32 pm
Apr 202011
 

I wrote this blog post last year which you may also enjoy; it contains information about the history of dying eggs.  I’ve updated the instructional portion with new pictures and additional tips. The other thing I love about this activity with children is foraging for the botanicals . . . it helps me teach them about wildcrafting and opens the door to pass on in the Wise Woman tradition.

Teaching_Caleb to make Easter eggsMy favorite activity around the approach of Easter is to gather natural materials and ingredients to make colored Easter eggs with leaf and flower imprints.  This is a favorite tradition started when my girls were little and now carried on with the grandchildren.

Here are ingredients to gather to make the natural dye, arranged by color they will produce in final dyed egg:

Brown and tan:  Outer layers of onions, black/green tea, coffee, black walnut hulls
Yellow:  Tumeric, cumin, saffron, lemon rinds
Orange:  Paprika, chili powder, carrots
Red:  Fresh cranberries, cherries, raspberries, Spanish onion skins
Purple and blue: Blueberries, boiled red cabbage leaves, beets
Green: Spinach
Grey or slightly lavender:  Hibiscus flowers

Combine the dye source (you can use single botanical source, or combine several for differing hues) with 1 Tablespoon vinegar and cold water in a saucepan.  There are two different methods.  You can boil the eggs and dyes separately, strain the dye and add hard-boiled eggs in the shell to the hot liquid and let it soak until it reaches the desired hue.  Or, you can wrap uncooked eggs and cook them in the dye as they are being colored.  With the former method, if the eggs need to soak for more than 2 hours to reach the desired deepness of color, you may want to move them to the refrigerator if you will be eating them. Generally, however, natural dyes are going to create more earth-like subdued colors.  You can also cook all dye materials (the longer, the darker), cool and add uncooked eggs, reheat to cook egg and set aside to continue darkening the dye while cooling. (Refrigerate if over 2 hours.) If you want to have botanical impressions on your eggs, do the following before you cook the eggs:

Here are the things you want to have on hand:
The_botanicals400x353 Fresh herb, plant and flower cuttings.  The smaller the better, however, wrapping a large fern that covers an entire egg is a stunning design when finished.  Thinner, flat items are easiest to secure tightly.  Use your imagination. Dandelion flowers will impart a bright yellow splotch in the finished egg, adding a whimsical touch.  Other fresh botanicals will add a bit of their own color, along with imprinted texture and form.  It’s fun to let the process itself randomly influence the outcome.  Children love to do this; it’s biochemistry and art all in one . . . plus you get beautiful eggs to add to the Easter hunt or to share.
Trussed_n_Ready442x289Pantyhose or cheesecloth, cut in squares that can be tied with twisty ties or rubber bands to snugly keep plant material in place.  If re-using nylon squares or cheesecloth, be sure to rinse between eggs.  You’ll want a slotted spoon to turn and remove the eggs while they are in the dye bath, and you’ll want a couple of brown paper bags cut and laid flat to place eggs on to partially dry as you remove pantyhose or cheesecloth and botanicals.

In_the_Soup450x262Here are some tips:  Older eggs work best, buy them at least a week before boiling as newer eggs are hard to peel.  I think white eggs take the natural dyes better, plus you can create additional designs with wax to add bright white to the creation before putting on leaves and flowers. Shine up Lovely_collection406x320 finished eggs when they are dry with a little olive oil rubbed in.  Eat those eggs!  Don’t waste them – make deviled eggs, egg salad or use in a salad.  Be sure to keep them refrigerated if you will be eating them.  Most of all, have fun, and encourage your children to experiment; you’ll learn new ideas from them.  If you do this project this year, send usUsing_Lavender334x412 pictures of your creations attached as a .jpg in an email: samara@wingedseed.com, including your current mailing  address and we’ll send an aromatic surprise back.

The large one pictured here was done with a Rosemary sprig.  Isn’t it lovely?

Happy Easter and Spring!

 Posted by at 10:38 am