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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
 

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.

 Posted by at 7:40 pm
Mar 242010
 

easter-egg-dyeing_242x158 Long before there was Easter, the egg was regarded as a symbol of new life and the advent of spring.  The decoration of eggs became an art form centuries ago and continues today as a delightful craft and enjoyable children’s activity as a precursor to the “hunt” for eggs and candy, enjoyed by children around the world.  Some of the historical techniques for coloring or decorating eggs include:

Etching:  This technique can be traced back to Macedonia and involves first dying the egg, applying a layer of wax in design, then bleaching off the color leaving only the wax-covered areas with color.
Krashanky:  This is one of the traditions coming out of the Ukraine and the word means ‘color’.  Krashanky eggs are dyed a solid, brilliant color, often red to symbolize the blood shed by Christ on the cross.
Eggs_Pysanky2_248x225 Pysanky:  If you have never seen a Pysanky egg, you are missing a beautiful artistic craft.  I was gifted one at the World’s Fair in 1972 by one of our participants and it graced the windowsill in my kitchen for many years before it eventually cracked and had to be thrown away.  The term Pysanky means to write.  Intricate designs are drawn in wax on the eggs, a process similar to batik.  The eggs are then dyed many colors.  There are many regional designs and color selections around the various regions of the Ukraine.
Egg_Original_Faberge Eggs Gold_207x238 Fabergé:  Undoubtedly the most famous and expensive decorated eggs known are those created by the Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé in the 1800’s.  Made of gold, silver and jewels and opening up to reveal tiny figures of people, animals, plants or buildings, a total of 57 eggs were made.  They are now artifacts in museums across the world. The picture at left is the very first one made.  A glimpse into a stunning Fabergé exhibit in 2001 can be viewed here.

Binsegraas:  This Pennsylvania Dutch tradition is not widely practiced today, but involved wrapping the pith of binsegraas (a type of rush) in coils glued to eggs.  Then interesting shapes of calico cloth were pasted on the egg.  The Polish people have a similar tradition, using yarn formed into elaborate coils.

There are other forms of egg decorating that include gluing sequins, beads, flowers and bits of decoration onto blown eggs.  Blown eggs are also used for a cut-out diorama of a little scene viewed through the cut-out section.  In pioneer days, eggs were wrapped in calico or madras cloth, then boiled so the water released the dyes into the shells.  Since most fabric is colorfast, you will rarely see this today.

My 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 materials 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 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.

Here are the things you want to have on hand:
Botanicals2_298x230 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 Eggs_Natural1_238x235jpgto the Easter hunt or to share.
Pantyhose or cheesecloth, cut in squares that can be tied with wire 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 dry.

Here 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 Eggs_botanical_Easter1_209x253 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 useaster_eggs_onion_skin_201x208 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.

Happy Easter and Spring!

 Posted by at 7:02 pm
Jun 052008
 

I’ve recently read that our food system is responsible for one-third of global greenhouse emissions.  When you think about bananas being shipped to a U.S. port, then transported by container truck to a distribution point, then trucked across your state to your local grocer, this begins to make sense. 

Here’s a great little calculator to help you compare the relative carbon impacts of your food choices.  The nifty thing is – if you reduce emissions by your eating habits, you will also be eating healthier and maybe learning to grow your own garden and shop at your local farmer’s market (supporting your regional food supply).

You handmade products manufacturers might want to look into being a vendor at your local farmer’s market.  You’ll make good contacts for fresh herbs and flowers to use in your products.  It’s a great way to expand your networking . . . all the time helping the environment.  Excellllent!  (Stroking imaginary beard.)  

 Posted by at 6:04 pm