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

 

LB Patch 1366x408

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.

 

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.

 

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 

 

image

When we reach the first of May, Earth has moved along its orbit to where the Northern Hemisphere is receiving an ever increasing flow of energy as each day is longer than the one before. The Sun is climbing in our sky, and everything in the Northern Hemisphere responds to its light. Indeed, we best be careful not to overdose on its luminosity that can burn and even cause cancerous effects that doctors warn about. We have reached the cross-quarter date that some past ages have considered to be the start of summer.

In Celtic tradition, the night of April 30 was thought of as the darkest of the year, when witches flew to frighten, spawning evil throughout the land. In response, people pounded on kettles, slammed doors, cracked whips, rang church bells and made all the noise they could to scare off the corruption they imagined to be moving on the moist air. They lit bonfires and torches and witch- proofed their houses with spring boughs. Such vigils were kept throughout the night until the rising of the May-dawn.

Beltane–the word means "brilliant fire" in reference to the Sun–became more commonly known as May Day. People danced around bonfires on hilltops, moving in a clockwise, or "sunwise" direction. Later generations would dance around a pole instead of a fire.

In the British Isles young men and maidens would go a-Maying on the eve of May Day, spending all night in the forests to return at day-break, "bringing in the May," adorning villages with spring boughs and blossoms. They might carry with them the stem of a tree, place it in the village, and decorate it with flowers, vines and ribbons. In later generations, people would dance around this phallic of the earth as participants in the fertility of crops, flocks, herds and humans. The celebration was for regeneration of life that comes with increased sunlight that is so noticeable when we reach the junction between vernal equinox and summer solstice.

Maypoles remain common in Scandinavian countries, and the trimmings are often left through summer and winter as a gesture to symbolically insure the coming of spring the following year. The meanings of the day have continued to change. In 1887, socialistic countries established May 1 as a day for working people to show unity in public demonstrations. In communist Russia, the day became one of political speeches and military parades. It is difficult to imagine drifting much farther from the origins of the occasion of reaching the point in our annual travels around our star when we feel the urge to celebrate the increase of starlight that falls upon our portion of ground to amplify the symphony of life around us. Maypoles seem so much more appropriate than do missiles aimed at the sky.

It is, after all, the location of Earth in its solar orbit that we celebrate on any anniversary. Your birthday, Independence Day, Christmas and all the others that are date specific are established by Earth’s orbit and are marked by reference to the Sun in our sky. If you wish, you could mark these days by knowing where the Sun would rise as viewed from some specific observing station. Your horizon calendar would be defined by the limiting northern and southern gateways for sunrise or sunset at summer and winter solstices. The equinox would mark the mid-point, and the cross-quarter dates could provide additional reference points for visualization of the passage of the year. You could add your own personal anniversaries that you wish to celebrate with the entrance and exit of the Sun on those particular days.

Native Americans occupying this land before us were watching the Sun migrate on the horizon. When it reached the place we have named "May" they were singing the songs that brought them into harmony with the fertility of Mother Earth and Father Sky. Their rewards were gentle rains, mixed with sunlight. Successively, as the Sun reached established "houses" on their horizons, they placed seeds in the soil: several plantings to assure good crops.

Calendar keeping people also watch the stars. In early May the evening sky in the west is marked by an arc of brilliant stars. Sirius in Canis Major, brightest star of the night is low to the southwest, setting in the dusk. Higher and a bit farther north is Procyon in Canis Minor. Then we come to the bright pair, Castor and Pollux, the Twins of Gemini. Still farther north is yellow-cast Capella in Auriga. Capella being the last of the group to set gives its name to this star- lit arch–"Arc of Capella."

Underneath the arch, vanishing from the evening sky, are famous winter stars. As May comes in, the Pleiades, a tightly-clustered group in the constellation Taurus, vanishes in the evening twilight, and mighty Orion follows them. Both groups have long been used for agriculture. The Navajo people refer to the Pleiades as Dilyehe’. "Never let Dilyehe’ see you plant," they say. Once the Pleiades are gone from the evening it is time to begin planting in Navajoland, and crops must be started before Dilyehe’ is back in the early morning sky before the dawn.

The cross-quarter day that is only vaguely remembered these days in the form of May Day certainly signals the onset of the most pleasant of times in our part of the world. Leaves are bursting out on trees, flowers in all the colors of the rainbow appear on deserts and make their way into the mountains. Farmers work fields and backyard-gardeners plant vegetables and herbs. This is a good time to look around at earth and sky with greater sensitivity and appreciation of emerging abundance that initiates the harvest we will surely enjoy in a few short months.

This article was modified from the original Von del Chamberlain to serve as an information source for all May Day cross-quarter events.

 

According to Goethe, the most evolved plants go through a transformation from the primitive germ to the exuberance of the flower in a natural movement toward spirituality where the flower, in its impermanence and openness, represents an instant of rapture and jubilation. No other floral fragrance compares to that of the precious rose, often inspiration for poetry, prose and tales of love and sorrow. The natural fragrance extracted from the rose has become the cornerstone for many signature perfumes since time began.

‘Rosa’ comes from the Greek ‘roden’, meaning ‘red’, as the ancient rose was thought to be crimson. Avicenna, the 10th century physician and chemist used the rose as his first distillation. Perhaps the first rose distillery existed in 1612 in Shiraz, Persia. Roses have a long history of use in celebrations. Rose petals have been scattered at weddings to insure a happy marriage. Also traditionally used in meditation and formal inaugurations.

It takes about 60,000 roses (approximately 180 lb.) to make one ounce of rose otto, and similar quantities are required for other extraction methods. If you consider that it takes about a dozen and a half roses to produce 1 drop of essential oil, you will have a greater appreciation of the preciousness.

Samara Botane has carried many different extractions of rose over the years.  Here are a few to choose from along with a few tidbits of information about each.

image Rugosa Rose, Ramanas Rose or Japanese Rose (Rosa rugosa) Native to Japan, China and Korea, the petals are used to flavor Chinese tea. The plant bears slightly purplish-pink flowers and is often cultivated for its enormous rose hips, which contain a high quantity of vitamin C. This rose is said to be "richly fragrant", having "one of the most delicious fragrances to be found among roses, and very strong".  Michael Shoup recommends, "plant it where you have access to its delicious fragrance or you will end up with a well worn path leading to it." We have two rugosa bushes on the property, one now towering at about 9 ft.  The other was planted later and is a little slow poke, only about 4 ft. in height and diameter. The essential oil of the flowers in our collection is obtained by hydro distillation. Using capillary GC-FID and GC-MS; 35 major constituents are identified, and include over 100 components including citronellal, geraniol, nerol, citronellyl acetate making up over 76% of the total. In Chinese medicine, both petals and roots are used. The fragrance of Rugosa Rose is more honeyed than Bulgarian otto with a peppery or spicy note in dry-down.

May Rose Absolute, Rose de Mai, Cabbage Rose or Provence Rose (Rosa centifolia var. Nabonnand or image Rosa centifolia L. var. Lunier) Macoboy writes, "the artists do not exaggerate its beauty, but they could hardly convey the wonderful sweetness of its perfume. Indeed it has for over a century been grown in the south of France to supply the perfume industry there with attar of roses," This rich Old Rose fragrance is extracted early in the Springtime, hence the name “May” Rose. Highly sought after in perfumery, it is rare to obtain outside that industry. Considered a superior odor amongst roses, concrete production now is less than ¾ ton, representing a 22% yield from the flower. This fragrance is a full rose with cinnamon-spicy undertone, with a fresh, herbaceous sweet-honeyed note. Most rose absolute is produced in Morocco in the valleys between the High Atlas and Jbel Sarhro mountains east of Marrakech. Rose absolute is a refined, liquid extraction of fragrant compounds from the fresh blossom. Although absolutes contain essential oil compounds they differ from distilled essential oils. An absolute is a refinement of a concrete, which is a thick, fragrant material extracted from the plant using a hydrocarbon solvent. The concrete contains essential oils, fatty acids and waxes. Absolutes are extracted from concretes with pure alcohol. The alcohol dissolves and absorbs the fragrant material from the concrete. Waxes, fats and other non-aromatic contents precipitate out and are removed by filtering. The alcohol is removed through evaporation. What’s left behind is the pure, fragrant absolute – a concentration of aromatic compounds including essential oil constituents.

imageBulgarian Rose Otto (Rosa damascena) Known as the finest rose essence or ‘otto’ in the world, Bulgarian damask rose oil has been distilled for over 300 years. The exact origins cannot be traced, however, there are fossil records that show roses have existed for millions of years. It is the oldest cultivated European plant in the United States, and has been called the Queen of Flowers all over the world. The uses of rose oil date back to the ancient civilizations of Persia, Asia, Greece, Rome and Egypt. It has been and still is a symbol of love and beauty. Rose otto is steam distilled and has a pale yellow color. Most rose otto is produced in southern Bulgaria from roses grown in the valleys of the Stryama and Tundzha rivers near Plovdiv. The best oil is distilled from newly opened flowers, picked in the cool morning hours before the sun has warmed away the aroma. In order to extract every trace of the precious oil, the distillation is done in two phases. An initial distillation yields a small quantity of concentrated green essential oil and a large amount of rose flower water. The flower water is then redistilled to produce an additional amount of pale yellow colored oil that is combined with the green oil from the first distillation. The primary base notes are deep, sweet and floral with spicy middle notes. It combines well with most other essential oils for perfumery or medicinal use. Its primary constituents are citronellol, gerianol and nerol. Although most Rose Otto is used in perfumery, the therapeutic uses include: Analgesic (pain reliever), Antibacterial, antidepressant, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, aphrodisiac, cosmetic, deodorant, disinfectant, diuretic, emmenagogue (tones female reproductive organs and menstruation), Germicidal, hepatic sedative tonic, vulnerary (heals fresh cuts or wounds). Internal applications in the medical field include asthma, high blood pressure, bronchitis, poor circulation, diarrhea, dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), cough, fever, fluid retention, Indigestion, insomnia, palpitation, stress, urinary tract infections. For topical applications, Rose otto is specific for abrasions, boils, burns, fragile capillaries, postnatal depression, dermatitis, eczema headache, insomnia, poor memory, rashes, sores, oral thrush and tinea.

image Rose Ruh Gulab (Rosa damascena ) Another precious oil from the flower of love & passion. This extremely rare and sacred rose oil is carefully hydro distilled to produce the finest Ruh Gulab for use in love, celebration or relationship spiritual work, meditative, healing & calming rituals, sacred products, or anointing. Ruh Gulab is the most expensive attar, priced higher than gold in weight. Rose essence or Gulab Ruh, is used in flavoring Gulab Jamun (a Bengali sweet) and rose sherbet. A mild, delicate fragrance of desi (Indian) roses can be sprinkled on guests from silver rose-water sprayers’ at weddings. In the traditional process various flowers, roots, herbs, spices, etc are hydro distilled in copper vessels into a receiving vessel, using an ancient process. This means that a certain proportion of flowers or other aromatic plants is put into a copper vessel containing water, sealed and the aromatic vapors produced from a wood or cow dung fire, rises through bamboo pipes and passes into another copper vessel, sitting below the larger distilling one. There the vapors condense and after the day’s distillation the water and oil separate. This process is similar to that of producing traditional attars with the exception that no sandalwood is added.

image Rose Gallica (Rosa gallica) is commonly called Gallic Rose, French Rose, Rose of Provins and Apothecary’s Rose.  In the 19th century it was the most important species of rose to be cultivated and most modern European rose cultivars have at least a small contribution from R. gallica in their ancestry. Botanical classifiers say that R. damascenas are created from a hybridization of R. gallica and R. phoenicia occurring in Asia Minor then distributing throughout Syria and the Near and Middle East. R. gallica is a deciduous shrub much like R. rugosa with pinnate leaves and flowers clustered up to four together.   When assessing the quality of the otto produced in central and southern Europe, it is sometimes described as a crude distillation, with a few twigs and leaves included in the process. This somewhat brash, sultry cousin to the more refined damascenes from Bulgaria or Turkey should not be overlooked as a respectable perfume ingredient and it has all of the same chemical constituents as R. damascena which makes it an economical choice for aromatherapy and massage.  One might accuse the snooty finishing school damascenes of dismissing their colorful cousin from SE Europe as irrelevant, however, upon closer examination she has an exciting, street savvy personality and sings her bawdy song quite sexily with her raspy voice, especially when combined with other florals to sweeten along with perhaps some citrus and wood bottom notes.  The affordable cost of Gallic Rose also makes it a beneficial addition to creams, lotions, toners, facial masques and a wide range of skincare and bath applications.

In addition to the aromatic delights one revels in when using any of the various ottos and absolutes made from rose petals, it is a joy to grow roses in the garden for bouquets, dried petals, potpourri and other crafts.  In the kitchen, rose petals can be added to a robust black tea for flavor or made into rose petal jam.  I suspect that if women were polled across the world to name their favorite flower, it would undoubtedly be the rose.  What are some of your favorite stories about the magnificent rose?  Please share them with us.

 

Pot_w_grasses_250 I want to continue exploring gardening ideas that will address climate disruption and help each of us in our local environments.  I certainly have noticed drastic changes in our state that can only be attributed to either increased warming, or, conversely, increased rainfall and ice/snow.

As an example, trees in old growth forests are dying in increasing numbers and most scientists conclude that longer, hotter summers are the primary cause.  This trend is affecting both young and old trees, in crowded and sparse stands and at different elevations.  The reason is warmer average temperatures across the West, says Nathan Stephenson of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center, which creates greater stress on trees from lack of water, leaving them vulnerable to disease and insects.   The rising death rate could produce a cascading decline that leads to less habitat for fish and wildlife, an increased risk of wildfires and vulnerability to sudden forest die-offs.  The study examined data between 1955 and 2007 in 76 research plots in BC, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Arizona, and has no predictable conclusions and is challenged by some who resist the idea of climate change or disruption altogether.

In my own garden, I have seen a couple of plants mysteriously die, some well established trees (native and non-native) just giving up the ghost abruptly.   For the past several years, I notice that cool weather crops (lettuce, leaf vegetables) simply cannot sustain into late summer and bolt even with good mulch and shade cloth.   Here are some thoughts that might help you avoid frustration in the garden while learning more about the changing climate in your area.  Investing in a little research with your county extension agent might also save you cash otherwise invested into a disappointing garden that’s not designed to stand up to a changing climate.

Plant Selection  I’ve finally outgrown the habit of choosing non-native, non-local and hybridized species which sometimes don’t do well under the best conditions and are certain to fail to thrive with the challenges that come with global warming.  Look for heritage varieties that you can save seeds or take cuttings from.  When purchasing plant starts, make sure you ascertain that they are from a local greenhouse and are grown specifically for your area.  If you live in an area where rainfall is predicted to drop, check out regions close by with less rainfall and choose native plantings (especially large trees and shrubs) that thrive in a more arid climate.  Here in Puget Sound, we are trending to more rainfall, more snow, longer and colder winters, so I will adjust accordingly.

Lawns   I have never been a fan of mowing grass (and I doubt you are, either) so I’m slowly turning the golf-course sized lawn the previous owner put in into other planting areas that more suit my lifestyle.   In one part, I am letting the grass give way to the native moss and turning it back to a natural forested area.  This will serve as a privacy barrier as well as eventually reverting back to a self-sustaining ecosystem.  I covered good ideas for maintaining healthy lawns in the blog on May 5.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch  Adding layers of biodegradable organic matter to the soil surface of your vegetable and flower beds serves as both a protective barrier and nutrient source.  This will make a huge difference to water retention and help with weed control.   An investment into a good composting system and worm bed will pay you back in spades.   I’ve learned over the years that maintaining good soil is the primary chore for a healthy garden.

Animals and Insects  Beneficial critters will need to adapt to the inevitable changes in the plants they rely on, either directly or indirectly.  The timing of natural events in relation to breeding that has been fine tuned over millennia is being thrown into disarray.  We can help by planting species that are beneficial and provide food sources for insects, birds and other animals that help our gardening efforts.  The recent concern in the decline of butterflies and bees is a concern and providing habitats such as Mason bee blocks and planting butterfly attractors will be a great boon to your success.    

This will give you some ideas to start with and we’ll revisit this in later blogs.

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Today is wet, cold and blustery here in the Cascade foothills, but we are braving it and continuing to get the garden ready to plant Poppies_Parking_Strip_300 this week in the hopes that we don’t have another freeze.  The picture at left is meant to give you one of many creative ideas if you are bored with grass in your parking strip in the city.  This is across the entire 60’ double lot in front of our Seattle (Queen Anne hill) house in the mid 90’s, a veritable field of Flanders’ poppies.  As one neighbor commented back then, “It appears we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Marcia!”  Annual wildflower mixes are inexpensive and can be directly sowed in spring for easy-care color and scent and will last well into late summer.  The key is to prepare good soil by tilling peat moss, leaf mold and additives (and hand turn to aerate well), smoothing surface before sowing the seed.  We made extra concrete walkways to allow crossing through without walking in the bed itself, although we did have the occasional “urban deer” as I called those moving too fast (joggers, kids on skateboards) to avoid tromping through. As you can see, little damage occurred and most walkers in our neighborhood went out of their way to pass by and enjoy the display.

TOO MUCH RAIN TO MOW?  If the lawn is wet because you’re getting more rain than you are used to, try spraying your mower blades with vegetable oil to help keep cut grass from sticking.  This will allow you to cut when grass is still slightly wet.  Keeping your grass at least 3”-4” tall will keep most weeds at bay by preventing them from getting sunlight to sprout.  Use a mulching mower and leave grass clippings to break down and provide healthy nitrogen (this provides about half what your lawn needs) as it breaks down.  Healthy grass should be aerated and fed (composted lightly) twice a year; not doing this will promote more weeds.  Remember: healthy soil/healthy plants/fewer weeds.   Talk to an expert to find the best grass seed combination for your climate and soil.  Reseeding should be done in the fall when you expect at least six weeks of 50-70 degree weather, the optimum temperature for grass seeds to sprout.

YOUNG FRONDS OF FIDDLEHEAD FERNS (also known as ostrich ferns) can be a delicious food.  The new fronds will be lighter in color than the rest of the plant, about 2” long and 1 1/2” in diameter.  Fiddleheads are safe to eat if cooked, they taste like a cross between asparagus and green beans.  They can be stir-fried or steamed, but they should never be eaten raw.  Cook no longer than 5 minutes for best flavor and texture.

THE MOST NUTRITIOUS GREENS to grow in your garden (or choose from your organic green grocer) are:
Arugula has a slightly peppery flavor; used in salads.
Beet – young leaves are best. Delicious lightly steamed.  When
     cooking the beet itself, add the leaves to the pot for extra taste
     and nutrition.
Dandelion – young leaves not exposed to pesticides are best.       
     Their bitter taste is excellent for digestive health.
Endive – a type of chicory that grows in a small, cone-shaped     
     head.  Has pale leaves and is slightly bitter for salads. 
Kale – My favorite garden green; choose thin stems/frilly leaves.
     Stir fry, steam, add to soups and pastas . . . many uses in
     cooking.
Romaine lettuce – full of vitamins and minerals.
Spinach – Very high in nutrition; can be eaten raw or cooked.

Tealight_Candle_Blue_150 Special this week only (through Sunday, May 9):  Take an extra 10% off all Samara Synergies.   Good time to stock up on First Defense  for the family’s flu artillery or Calma for aiding sleep.  Many others to choose from.  Orders over $35 will also receive a free decorative tea light holder (pictured at left).    Enter “Earth Day#4” (no quotes) in promotional code on checkout page.
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