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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
Feb 042011
 

imageI mainly talk about aromatherapy, but thought I’d talk about food for a change.  I am keen on natural skincare, and tout its benefits. I also believe in feeding your skin from the inside out.  You might be surprised how beneficial certain foods can be to maintain  healthy organs and tissue, and in turn help provide necessary nutrition for supple,  vibrant skin.

The Ayurvedic diet as followed in India utilizes many spices and foods that offer myriad health benefits, like lowering cholesterol, increasing blood circulation and limiting accumulation of body fat.  Here are some of those spices and some of their benefits, along with healthy foods that aren’t always the first choice here in America. 

TURMERIC is one of Nature’s most powerful healers.  The active component, Curcumin, contained in turmeric, is now of great interest in medical research owing to properties that suggest they may help to turn off certain genes that cause scarring and enlargement of the heart. Long known for its anti-inflammatory properties, recent research shows Tumeric to be show promise for a wide range of health conditions, from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.  Regular intake may help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol and high blood pressure, increase blood circulation and prevent blood clotting, helping to prevent heart attack.  Tumeric is a natural liver detoxifier and when combined with cauliflower has shown to help prevent prostate cancer and reverse the growth of melanoma cells.  It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent, useful in disinfecting cuts and burns.  It has also been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for treating depression.  Did you know that Turmeric is regarded as a “skin food” in the Indian culture?  Tumeric is known to speed wound healing and assists in regeneration of damaged skin. It has shown to be beneficial for psoriasis and other inflammatory skin conditions.

imageCARDAMOM is the queen of spices who sits next to the King, black pepper. It is one of the earliest spices known, mentioned by Theophrastus in the fourth century BC and five centuries later by Dioscoredes.  It is a thermogenic spice like chillies that increases metabolism and helps burn body fat. Cardamom is considered one of the best digestive aids and is believed to soothe the digestive system and help the body process other foods more efficiently. An analysis of the cardamom seed shows it to consist of carbohydrates, moisture, protein, ether extract, volatile oil, crude fibre, calcium, phosphorus and iron.  The aroma and therapeutic properties of cardamom are due to its volatile oil, which contain the chemicals cineol, terpineol, terpinene, limonene, sabinene, and terpineol in the form of formic and acetic acids. Cardamom is another spice used to treat depression.  It also is useful as an ingredient for gargling for sore throats. Combined with peppermint leaves, a few ground seeds can be boiled in water and drunk to relieve hiccups.  A cardamom seed with a small piece of candied ginger is an excellent aperitif to aid digestion.  

CHILLIES Foods containing chillies are said to be as foods that burn fat. Chillies contain capsaicin that helps in increasing the metabolism. Capsaicin is a thermogenic food, so it causes the body to begin burn calories for 20 minutes after you eat them.  Chillies also have antioxidants that will reduce cholesterol, possibly preventing diseases such as atherosclerosis and other heart disease.  They are known to give relief from nasal congestion and they help to dilate airways, reducing asthma and wheezing.  Chillies stimulate the release of endorphins that are natural pain killers and is helpful to address pain connected to shingles, bursitis, diabetic neuropathy and muscle spasm.  Chillies are also detoxifying, helping to remove waste materials along with increasing the intake of nutrients.  It is especially helpful as a gastric detoxifier that helps in food digestion.  Chillies contain vitamin B6 and folic acid. Vitamin B reduces high homocysteine levels, shown to cause damage to blood vessels and are associated with a greatly increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Chili converts homocysteine into other molecules which is beneficial to lower cholesterol level.

CORIANDER seed and Cilantro leaves from the same plant have health bimagebenefits, while also being a good source for dietary fiber, iron and magnesium.  These food additives are rich in phytonutrients and flavonoids.  Coriander is anti-inflammatory and therefore helpful in easing the symptoms of arthritis.  It can help lower blood sugar, prevent urinary tract infections and lower blood pressure.  Coriander contains an antibacterial compound that may prove to be a safe, natural means of fighting Salmonella, a frequent and sometimes deadly cause of foodborne illness, suggests a study published in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. U.S. and Mexican researchers isolated the compound – dodecenal, which laboratory tests showed is twice as effective as the commonly used antibiotic drug gentamicin at killing Salmonella.

GARLIC is a natural antibiotic  An effective fat-burning food, garlic contains the sulphur compound allicin which has anti-bacterial effects and helps reduce cholesterol and unhealthy fats. In general, a stronger tasting clove of garlic has more sulphur content and hence more medicinal value. I much prefer using fresh garlic and I keep a refrigerated jar of chopped garlic ready for cooking at all times.  Research has determined that there are greater health benefits from cooked garlic, and most of the better garlic supplements are made from aged and dried garlic.  Although rare, eating too much raw garlic can cause irritation or damage to the digestive tract.  Some people are known to be allergic to garlic; symptoms include skin rash, increase in temperature and headaches. It also could potentially disrupt anti-coagulants, so garlic supplements are best avoided before surgery. 

MUSTARD OIL: This has low saturated fat compared to other cooking oils. It has fatty acid, oleic acid, erucic acid and linoleic acid. It contains antioxidants, essential vitamins and reduces cholesterol, which is good for the heart.  Cardiology research now shows that mustard oil is healthier than olive oil because it has no trans-fats, low saturated fats, high mono-unsaturated fats, high polyunsaturated fatty acids like omega-3, and stability at high temperatures making it an excellent cooking oil.  The mustard seeds themselves can be used in a number of culinary dishes.  very good source of selenium, a nutrient which has been shown to help reduce the severity of asthma, decrease some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and help prevent cancer. They also qualify as a good source of magnesium. Like selenium, magnesium has been shown to help reduce the severity of asthma, to lower high blood pressure, to restore normal sleep patterns in women having difficulty with the symptoms of menopause, to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks, and to prevent heart attack in patients suffering from atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease.

CABBAGE, unfortunately, is often overlooked and misunderstood.  While cabbage is a delicious and healthful staple in other countries, it is almost foreign to Americans, with the exception of good old fashioned cole slaw.  It is a low-cost, excellent vegetable with a wide variety of uses in stew, soup, hearty ratatouille, salads and other dishes.  Raw or cooked cabbage inhibits the conversion of sugar and other carbohydrates into fat. Hence, it is of great value in weight reduction.  Delicious new variations of cole slaw made with oil and vinegar are quickly replacing the caloric-ridden version made with high-calorie mayonnaise.  Rich in nutrition and fiber, cabbage is an absolutely phenomenal source of Vitamin C. Even more impressive is that cabbage is famous for a specialized, naturally occurring, nitrogenous compound known as indoles. Current research indicates that indoles can lower the risk of various forms of cancer. Modern science has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the health benefits and therapeutic value of cabbage, which also plays a role in the inhibition of infections and ulcers. Cabbage extracts have been proven to kill certain viruses and bacteria in the laboratory setting. Cabbage boosts the immune system’s ability to produce more antibodies. Cabbage provides high levels of iron and sulphur, minerals that work in part as cleansing agents for the digestive system.  Cabbage contains, in addition to high levels of vitamin C, Vitamin E (good for skin integrity) and vitamin B. The varieties of cabbage are many; there is Red, Savoy, Napa . . . and don’t forget Bok Choy with its light, celery type flavor. 

imageHONEY, although unlikely,  is an amazing home remedy for obesity. It mobilizes the extra fat deposit in the body allowing it to be utilized as energy for normal functions. Honey contains complex sugars and carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, amino acids and antioxidants.  Antioxidants slow down aging by reducing free radicals.  A recent study at the U. of California concluded that honey contains as many oxidants as spinach, apples, oranges and strawberries.  It is true that honey is calorie-rich and contains simple sugars, and more calories than table sugar.  However, according to the USDA Agriculture Research Service, our body tolerates honey better compared table sugar. Eating honey is better for people with diabetic conditions as it is less likely to cause blood sugar spike. Another 2004 study conducted by the University of California found that eating 4 to 10 tablespoons of buckwheat honey per day for one month did not cause weight gain.  A simple teaspoon of honey can soothe sore throats in children, although it is not recommended for children under 2 years of age. A study at Penn State concluded that honey did a better job reducing the severity, frequency and bothersome nature of nighttime cough from upper respiratory infection than dextromethorphan or no treatment. A tablespoon of honey with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, taken with hot water early in the morning is a tried and true folk remedy tonic for good health.  And, another study at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society determined that a tablespoon or two of honey at bedtime can greatly reduce insomnia. Most of us are well aware of the use of honey in skincare products such as masks and baths
 
BUTTERMILK AND YOGURT: Buttermilk is the somewhat sour, residual fluid that is left after butter is churned. This probiotic food contains just 2.2 grams of fat and about 99 calories, as compared to whole milk that contains 8.9 grams fat and 157 calories. Regular intake provides the body with all essential nutrients and does not add fats and calories to the body. It is thus helpful in weight loss.  Buttermilk is more digestible than milk and contains vitamin B12, calcium, riboflavin and phosphorous. Along with yogurt, it is easily substituted for sour cream in myriad dishes, on baked potatoes or substituted in baking, i.e., pancakes. Yogurt (now seeming to take over the dairy aisle of the grocery store) provides good bacteria, often called probiotics which refers to the living organisms that result in health benefit when eaten in adequate amounts.  Yogurt is best fresh and plain (without added fruits and sweeteners, which you can add yourself for desserts .)   
 
imageWHOLE GRAINS are fiber-rich foods and good sources of complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, as well as important nutrients such as selenium, potassium and magnesium..  Low in fats, most of them absorb cholesterol and help increase the secretion of the bile that emulsifies fats.  Whole-grain versions of rice, bread, cereal, flour and pasta can be found at any grocery store. Many whole-grain foods come ready to eat. These include a variety of breads, pastas and ready-to-eat cereals.  We all know about brown rice, but here are a few of my other favorites:  Barley:  Roman gladiators ate barley for great strength and stamina.  It’s rich, nut-like flavor is the cornerstone of the recipe below.  Kasha: This grain is roasted whole-grain buckwheat oats and very common to staple dishes in Eastern Europe throughout the Slavic countries.  it is gluten-free, yet very high in protein, B vitamins, phosphorous, potassium, iron and calcium.  Millet: Yes, the very bird seed you see in mixes for small songbirds.  Very high in protein – 1/2 cup cooked millet provides 4.2 grams of protein, also gluten free and full of niacin, B6, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc.  Quinoa: Pronounced keen-wa, quinoa isn’t actually a grain, it’s more closely related to leafy greens like spinach and chard.  Full of nutritional value including all the essential amino acids and more protein than any of the grains. 

New Aromatherapy Kit and Educational Book

imageJust in time for Valentine’s Day!  Introductory price $95.

The Home Aromatherapy Starter kit includes generous 15 ml bottles of: Lavender, Tea Tree, Geranium, Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Cedarwood, Mandarin, Peppermint, Marjoram, Lemongrass and Oregano and comes festively packaged in a recycled corrugated trunk with a festive white organza ribbon.

Accompanying this kit is our Aromatherapy Beginners Guide to Safe and Simple Use of Essentials Oils for Health and Beauty for the Whole Family. This comprehensive 24-page booklet, fresh off the press, covers information about aromatic plants, extraction methods, how to determine quality essential oils, advice for care of essential oils to maintain freshness and integrity, information on how essential oils interact with the human body and mind and how to use them safely and methods of effective application. Filled with color pictures, the information covers each essential oil specifically, including botanical and historical information and the most recently researched safe aromatherapy use.

There is a recipe section, covering children and elderly considerations, respiratory, mood & psyche, immunity and infections, effective skin care, muscular aches and pains, household cleaning and environmental aromatics, travel and much more. The recipes are specific to the essential oils in the kit. Researched and written by Marcia, our resident aromatherapist with over 20 years formal education and experience using essential oils. This is an excellent gift for the family or individual, sure to serve for many months or up to a year before having to replenish any of the essential oils. All of the essential oils in the kit are available individually and are chosen for both effectiveness and low cost.

 Posted by at 4:46 pm
Jan 062011
 

Samara Botane has embraced a number of changes to lower our carbon footprint and hold to our commitment of stewardship and ecology. You can see the progress we’ve made here, including eco-policies we have put into place in the last several years.

christmas tree2One of the small things we do personally each year has been to steam distill the twigs/needles from our Christmas tree.  This gives us healthful aromatic products that serve us throughout the coming year, extending the precious benefits of the tree.  How easily Westerners quickly discard their  trees, perhaps with no realization of the years of growth and energy Nature has invested on our behalf.  I hope you will consider exploring the additional uses and benefits, beyond the magical decoration for the holiday season, and save some of those branches to make delightful and healthful products for yourself and your family.  This year, we will again be distilling the gorgeous Noble Fir that blessed our family this season and offering the hydrosol for sale after it has rested for a few weeks and passes scrutiny.  I decided to look for other ideas to share, in order to savor our Christmas trees, long after the season.

Firs, Pines and Spruces are the most preferred Conifers for use in aromatherapy, and in most culinary applications.  In this blogpost, I focus on Fir which includes Abies procera (Noble Fir) pictured,  Abies grandis (Grand Fir),  Abies balsamea (Balsam Fir), and Abies alba (White Fir).  Olfactory attributes as described in perfumery for Firs are: strongly balsamic, slightly fatty-oily reminiscent of a pine forest and fruity-balsamic undertones.  There are subtle olfactory nuances for each species. Chefs, like Rene Redzepi of Copenhagen describe Fir in culinary terms as  having a pungent, citrusy flavor with green-minty backnotes.

If you do not have distillation equipment, you can make a simple aromatic herbal infusion by simmering the chopped needles (ratio: equal parts fresh water to needles, but make sure needles are covered completely by water)  in a covered pot on the stove for 10-20 minutes, reduce heat and let cool in tightly covered pot to avoid loss of aromatic oils.  Your infusion can be used to make simple herbal syrup of medium thickness (add equal parts of your infusion and organic sugar, bring to a boil stirring frequently, reduce heat and simmer until candy thermometer reaches at least 185 degrees, but no hotter than 220 degrees.  You want to ensure the sugar is completely dissolved, but mixture does not turn to candy.  Allow the syrup to cool gradually and do not refrigerate until entirely cool.

You can glaze a sponge cake for an unusual dessert sure to delight guests, or use this pungent syrup for a tasty fish or mussels dish to top rice.  Native Americans often prepared fish wrapped in Pine needles, cooked over an open fire.  You can grind needles with a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder dedicated to herbs and mix with other savory herbs, salts and peppers for a tasty mixture for soups and stews.  Experiment and share your favorite ideas back with us!

The infusion, as well as the ground botanical, can be added to a bath along with sea salts and a few drops of Fir essential oil for a reviving soak.  You can make an aromatic spray for your home or car with the infusion, again adding a few drops of the essential oil for strength.  The dried botanical is also a lovely incense, burned on charcoal.

herbal syrups 402x229I made a few herbal syrups towards the end of the growing season.  They were great gifts for friends and family.  These include Spearmint, Orange, Lavender and Rugosa Rose.  All but the Orange were from my garden.  Pictured at right, they are made with organic sugar, with no added color, but strengthened with a few drops of the requisite essential oil.  We are offering one of each as a bonus to our Facebook group members – the first four to submit orders of $100 or more with the Coupon Code will receive a 5-oz. bottle, randomly chosen.  You can join the Samara Botane Facebook Group here to get details.   Take a look at other aromatic offerings at our website here.

We will be holding another Treasure Hunt in the coming months, and watch for Rob’s upcoming report on aromaconnection exploring the affects of climate change on aromatic plants and crops.

I and the rest of the staff at Samara Botane welcome the New Year, bracing for its challenges.  We wish you a very good twenty-eleven and remind you to use your aromatics, especially for stress and anxiety, sleeplessness and combating pollen and viral pollution.

Inhale Deeply and Breathe . . . Breathe . . . Peace.
Marcia

 Posted by at 11:43 pm