Tag Archives: herbs

THE NOSE – such a powerful tool

Last night I was sitting with a lady who asked me what I did…What is aromatherapy? I explained the oils and how scents are extremely evocative. She was silent for a while and then she started talking about scents: The scent of the eucalyptus that you find in American shops around christmas time. The scent of horses (she works with horses); how it is different in summer than in winter. How the best scent ever is when the horses have eaten a specific herb in summer and then get warmed up by the sun. (She still hasn’t been able to figure out exactly which herb creates this amazing scent)

Listening to this wonderful lady, I realized that she runs her whole horse-business somewhat by scent. She smells her horses and knows if something is not right. Her sense of smell is so attuned to what she does that she doesn’t even realize it, it naturally guides her in her communication with her horses.

Finally I looked at her and said; “This is what I do, scent”. And she nodded her head, completely understanding my work. This led me to think about people and how they perceive scents, since scents influence us on such a subtle level; it is all about emotion. Scents will evoke memories long forgotten, bringing back the memory as clear as day, every detail burned into our emotional center. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are smelling something, memory just kicks in with such force that it, literally, takes our breath away. Only thing is, most people are not aware of smelling, it passes by the rational mind and lodges where we feel. This sense of ours, the sense of smell, is the least studied, the least known or understood and the most powerful of all our senses. We should train ourselves to recognize and understand what we smell and how it influences us since this is a very powerful tool for awareness of our surroundings.

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INCI revealed

I have a cream in my hand; “regenerating night cream, all skin types“.The cost of it is ca €20 for 50ml. It is ecologically certified by eco cert. The label states:” 99% of the total ingredients are from natural origin / 28% of the total ingredients are from organic farming.” Here is the inci-list: (I will break it down for you)

Aqua (water), Simmondsia chinensis oil* (jojoba oil), Alcohol, Glycerin* (moisturizer), Persea gratissima oil *(avocado oil), Rosa damascena distillate* (rose-water), Cetearyl alcohol (emulsifier), Theobroma cacao seed* (cocoa butter), Hippophae rhamnoides extract* (seabuckthorn), Lycopersicum esculentum extract* (tomato), Glycine soja oil and Tocopherol (soy bean oil and vitamin E), Hordeum vulgare extract* (barley germ), Algae extract (seaweed), Humulus lupulus extract* (hops), Cetearyl glucoside (emulsifier), Plantago major extract* (plantain), Calendula officinalis extract* (marigold), Chamomilla recutita extract* (chamomile), Stearic acid (emulsifier, stabilizer), Sodium hyaluronate (skin conditioning agent), Xanthan gum (stabilizer, emulsifier), Potassium hydroxide*** (pH-regulator), Aroma**, Citral**, Citronellol**, Geranio**l, Limonene**, Linalool**  (there is no indication if the whole essential oil is used or just isolated chemicals)

*ingredients from organic farming. **natural essential oils. ***inorganic substances.

Remember, water is about 50-60%, and all the other ingredients will make up the rest; 40-50% of the cream. They are listed in percentual order; highest first. I have put the questionable ingredients in bold, these are the ones we are going to look at first. Let’s start at the top:

  • Alcohol: Moisturizers that contain a low molecular weight of alcohol fail to be effective because they quickly evaporate from the skin surface. In a cream alcohol speeds up absorption rate (how fast it goes into the skin.) Considering that this ingredient is in 3rd place, indicates a rather high %.
  • Stearic acid: This ingredient may be derived from animals. From PETA’s Caring Consumer: Fat from cows and sheep and from dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters, etc. Most often refers to a fatty substance taken from the stomachs of pigs. Can be harsh, irritating. Used in cosmetics, soaps, lubricants, candles, hairspray, conditioners, deodorants, creams, chewing gum, food flavoring.   Stearic acid can be found in many vegetable fats, coconut. (Skin deep)
  • Sodium hyaluronate: Sodium hyaluronate is the sodium salt of hyaluronic acid, a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in connective tissues such as cartilage. This ingredient is listed in the PETA’s Caring Consumer guide as derived from animal sources. (Skin deep)
  • Potassium hydroxide: Potassium Hydroxide is a caustic inorganic base. Classified as medium human health priority. Classified as expected to be toxic or harmful. Not assessed for safety in cosmetics by industry panel. (Skin deep)
  • Cetearyl alcohol & Cetearyl glucoside are commonly used emulsifiers. Cetearyl Alcohol is a mixture of cetyl and stearyl alcohols that can come from vegetable or synthetic sources. Cetearyl glucoside is a surfactant and emulsifier produced from natural or synthetic ingredients. (Skin deep)

Now, let’s do the math: 28% of the ingredients come from organic farming; that’s the oils, fats, moisturizer and herbal extracts. Leaves 72% of other stuff; 50-60 % is water which leaves us with ca 10-20% for vitamins, some herbals and emulsifiers. 99% of the ingredients come from natural sources; animal or vegetable? And the last 1% is the Potassium hydroxide which is more or less the same thing as caustic soda – a highly corrosive agent. It is even higher in percentage than the perfume.

Another concern I have are the many different herbal extracts; how do they react with each-other? See my earlier post on blending too many ingredients together here. “All natural substances are alive, they react with each-other; sometimes they create a synergy that will do great things. Other times they enhance more negative aspects.

Source: Skin Deep

MACERATION or HERBAL OIL

There are many ways of using herbs; fresh, dried, boiled (tisane), distilled (essential oil), in alcohol (tincture) and in vegetable oil (maceration/herbal oil). Herbs are full of active chemicals that can be drawn out in different solvents such as alcohol, vegetable oil or glycerine. A maceration or herbal oil is when vegetable oil is used (oil extraction). Some well-known macerations are easily found in the market-place, such as Arnica (Arnica montana), Marigold (Calendula officinalis) and St Johns wort (Hypericum perforatum), but there are many others. Extracting herbs in oil is a simple process that easily can be done at home.

As always, quality plays a great role in the final product; you need to use the very best herbs and vegetable oil. One of the easiest vegetable oils to find for the purpose is organic sunflower oil which is most often used. The finished herbal oil has its own specific properties and in ancient time they were used as medicines and unguents for perfumery. The macerated oils carry some color from the plant, St Johns wort is red, and have their specific therapeutic properties.

Macerations can be used in all kind of products that are fatty; creams, oils, liniments and can help with a wide variety of problems; muscular aches, sprains, cramps, depression and skin-problems. Some are anti-inflammatory and promote wound healing. Since they are active substances, use 5-30% in a blend for desired effect. In large dosages they can be slightly drying or even irritating to the skin. Macerations are excellent to use for people who are very sensitive to essential oils as they are milder in their action on the skin.

I have made many macerations through the years, trying different plants and vegetable oils. I found Jojoba oil to be excellent for flowers, now Jojoba has become so expensive it’s not really possible anymore, so I use Sunflower oil. I have used Olive oil for St Johns Wort since there is a true affinity between them. Today I find it easier to buy the macerations I use the most; arnica, calendula, hypericum, comfrey and some others. But there is one maceration I make every year for my own luxury, and that is with roses. In the early days I always used Jojoba for the roses but today I use a very fine organic cold pressed sunflower oil. It gives me a beautiful oil that I use in my facial products. The scent is rather faint and a bit greenish, the texture is absolutely wonderful. I use this in a dosage of 20% in any given product.

What is interesting about macerations is the fact that they don’t go rancid sitting in the sun. Normally sun, heat and light is the worst environment for a vegetable oil. I believe that the active substances in herbs and plants actually help to conserve the vegetable oil. Their shelf-life depends on what vegetable oil was used and how it is stored. Better to make smaller quantities so they are used up during the season and more can be made the next year. In this way you also find your favorites and you learn to “better” the process each time.

HOW-TO:

Pick your chosen herb at the right time of day and season and fill a glass jar, cover the herbs with cold-pressed organic vegetable oil, cover and set in the sun. The jar should be turned regularly and left in the sun for 2-3 weeks. When macerating flowers you need to exchange the flowers in your jar every so often, usually 1-2 times/week, depending on what flower you are using. For roses I exchange the petals every 3 days. Once the oil is saturated you strain, filter and bottle it. Store in a cool and dark place.

WHERE WILDERNESS CREATES ABUNDANCE

One of the nicest thing in my life is my garden. I always had one, no matter where or how I lived; little tiny gardens in my window, a somewhat larger one on the balcony, or even a few different ones when I live in a house surrounded by land. When I feel depleted or exhausted I go into my garden to replenish; smell a flower or a herb, replant something, clear some weeds…having my hands touch the earth is soothing and healing. I can spend hours in my garden and I love all the scents!

For an outside garden I have found it takes 5 years to reach balance, that is when the garden has found its rhythm. Some plants have an affinity for each-other and thrive together – in my garden the most obvious at the moment are the different thymes that are so loved by the roses…I can feel their harmony.

Some plants just can’t stand each-other – lately it has been the rosemary and parsley – and need to be moved apart. Other plants are okay, but not happy and it takes me some time to realize that they need other neighbors. It also happens that plants shrivel up and die, very quickly, when they are not happy. When a new plant comes to my garden, I place it in different spots, with different “friends” to see where it is the happiest, it actually perks up when it hits the right spot. I tried, at one point, to plan my garden – to no avail. The plants, herbs and flowers were not always happy with my planning and I had to start moving things around a bit. This is why it takes time…plants live, breath and have different personalities; I’ve got the pushy roses, the shy ones and the very careful, sensitive ones. They are all roses but oh so different in character. I had a beautiful Aquilegia that just shriveled up and barely survived, so I moved her to the back-garden which is wilder and rougher…she has now become a huge family, lining the neighbors wall and thriving with high grasses, blackberries and nettels…she likes the wild life!

Most of my berries live in a totally wild area behind my house. It is a tiny jungle of currants, black and red, gooseberries and raspberries mixed up with a jumble of vague bushes. Each year they deliver such an abundance of fruit that it keeps us with jam and juice for the entire winter season. Once I tried “cleaning up” the jungle a bit, that year we had no berries… so I go with the flow and allow it to happen as it will. Sometimes the plants that arrive chez moi are hot-house bred and they almost always need to die the first season, no matter how diligently I try to nurse them, only to come back with a vengeance the year after. Some of the stuff in my garden just moved in by itself and stayed, chatting happily away with the neighbor.

We don’t create our gardens, we open a space where creation is allowed and then it happens. This is my best tip for stress-management 🙂

ORGANIC SKIN-CARE?

(Sorry about the bad picture, took it with photo booth and I don’t want to point at any brand in particular)

I have studied and formulated skin-care for almost 20 years; first for my own pleasure and then professionally.  I have always wanted to keep my products as natural and pure as possible which is quite easily done, but the “shelf-life” of the product is very short and it has to be kept in the fridge. Natural skin care is like fresh food – you need to use it within a certain time, depending on what you have put in there; Herbs, for example, naturally makes the product more sensitive to mold….you get the picture.

To make a creme or a lotion an emulsifier is needed to mix the fatty substances (oil) and water. The only purely natural emulsifiers are eggs and cream (compare it to cooking) which go off quickly…wouldn’t want that in your cream… All emulsifiers used are chemically changed to be able to combine oil and water. The ones I use are the same that are used by the food-industry for making ice-cream and bread. I figure, if you can eat it, you can put it on your skin.

Almost everything is natural; poo is natural, as is mineral oil (derived from the petroleum industry). That doesn’t mean it’s good for us. So the labeling of purely natural is misleading on 2 points: Natural does not necessarily mean good. If it is emulsified (oil + water) it is not natural, even if the original product for the emulsifier comes from a natural source.

BIO or organic is also interesting to find on products. I picked up a hand-creme (oil+water)  the other day which says: 95% of the plant ingredients come from organic farming (and how many % of the total product is plant material?) 17% of the total ingredients come from organic farming (so maybe that means that there is 17% of plant material in the product?) 100% of the total ingredients come from a natural origin (can be absolutely true – remember what I said about natural…?)

ESSENTIAL OIL & SCENT HISTORY part 3

Asklepios

The Greek God of healing was called Asklepios and his attribute is a staff around which a snake curls. The Asklepios-staff remains to this day a symbol of medicine and healing.

When the Roman Empire fell, so did a lot of the knowledge about herbs and aromatic substances. What was left moved into the cloisters of Europe. Plants were grown and cultivated in the gardens of the monasteries, monks, and later nuns,  made medicinal potions, wines, vinegars, liquors, infusions and other herbal extractions.

distillation

The art and knowledge of distillation was rediscovered by the Persian physician Avicenna (Abu Ali Ibn Sina, 980-1037) who had a passion for roses. He published his book “Canon of Medicine” in the 11:th century, which remained a standard work until the mid-sixteenth century. The Arabs were great explorers and colonizers and were responsible for introducing many new herbs and spices from the East, such as ginger and pepper amongst others. They created their main medical training center in Italy to which monks and nuns were sent from all of Europe. One of these nuns, Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) wrote the much known herbal “Physica“. Her work is still referred to today.

hildegard von bingen

During the Plague or Black Death, it turned out that the glove-makers and perfumers seemed less susceptible to contamination, both these groups worked on a daily basis with essential oils. This knowledge was used by thieves who doused themselves in an aromatic vinegar to be able to rob the corpses. The essential oils used were: Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis), Camphor (cinnamomum camphora), Lavender (lavandula augustifolia), Nutmeg (myristica fragrans), Sage (salvia officinalis) and Cinnamon (cinnamomum ceylanicum). These were mixed with pure garlic in vinegar.

The doctors wore full-fitting leather-robes and gloves, over their heads and faces the “bird-mask” was worn. The mask was doused with amber, nutmeg, cinnamon and other herbs, oils and spices, and they washed themselves twice daily with aromatic vinegars. Though this seemed to work well enough not to get contaminated, once the disease kicked in there was no cure or help.

plague doctor

In 1492 Columbus landed in what he thought was East Indies, but in reality was the Bahamas. This opened a channel for new plants and plant-matter from The Americas, such as Coca leaves that were chewed by the Incas, and balsams of Canada and Peru. These plants now entered the European pharmacopoeia.

cocaleaves

Coca leaves

Erythroxylon Coca

AROMATHERAPY & ANIMALS cont…

Essential oilsAnimals seem to know instinctively what they need. In the wild they search that which will heal them when they are unwell. This is the basis of treating animals with essential oils; of course you need to know the oils and how to use them, but the animal always chooses the oils:

When I first meet an individual I make a connection; I touch, feel, talk and watch, and I gather what information there is. Sometimes there is only that which I can pick up from the animal. Once I have an idea of what is going on, I make a choice of oils that I offer the animal to smell. The animal is free to come and go as it pleases. By watching its reaction to the oils I know which ones to use in treatment. I never ever force the oils on an animal, it always has the choice to accept it or not.

horses on the field

In the summer of 2000 I had, on a field, 2 mares with their foals and one mother-less older foal. One night they were badly chased by unknowns who managed to catch the mother-less foal and beat her  badly.  I then put them on a smaller field closer to the house to keep them safe and under supervision. I saw the leader mare and the hurt foal eating from a bush that normally no horses touched so I looked it up; this bush contained low levels of a slightly hallucinogenic substance. These two individuals were the ones most traumatized by the attack and they were the only ones eating from the bush…getting high, I suppose, to handle the trauma.

Since then I always plant herbs in the fields; mints, sage, chamomile and others. The horses usually never eat them, so it is also a good way to keep check of the horses; if the plants are eaten, I know something is going on. This way the horses are given a chance to heal themselves of minor stuff.

In the picture is the dog of a friend, she is large and sweet and totally afraid of everything, she doesn’t even know how to play; when I tried she got so scared she ran away to hide. I used rose-oil on her to help her relax and she became calm and cuddly…just from sniffing the oil from my hand. I love my work!!!

Treatment dog