Tag Archives: plants

Essential oils as medicines

This is the editorial comment in Medicinal & Aromatic Plants, Vol. 1 issue 1 2012. The editor is Paul Schnitzler,  Department of Infectious Diseases, University of Heidelberg Medical School, Germany.

“Plants produce primary and secondary metabolites, which have been exploited by humans for many different beneficial purposes. Many secondary plant metabolites, e.g. terpenes, terpenoids, alkaloids and phenolic compounds have been well characterized. Essential oils are considered the chemical weapons of plants, as their compounds may deter insects or protect plants against bacterial and fungal infections. They also act as plant pheromones to attract insects. In traditional medicine, lots of plant products have been widely used for the treatment of neurologic diseases, cancer, inflammation and infectious diseases and plants represent an abundant source of new bioactive secondary metabolites.

According to the Communicable Diseases Centre in the US, about one third of prescribed antibiotics were inappropriate thus stating an overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Essential oils are also highly active against multi-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), one of the so-called hospital super bugs, as well as more common and well-known infections like herpes labialis. In addition to antibacterial and antiviral effects, essential oils have been shown to possess many useful pharmacological properties, often being more effective than conventional drugs and revealing fewer side effects.

Oregano oil gland

Although the number of published papers on anti-infective properties of medicinal plants is increasing during the last years, most of these papers seem to somehow disappear and do not attract physicians and pharmacologists. On the other side, there is often lack of finance to continue research to the clinical trial level. This area is largely dominated by pharmaceutical companies, who can afford costly clinical trials. It also seems that natural and complementary therapies are pushed aside by pharmaceutical companies.

Although there is no shortage of research on the antimicrobial effects of medicinal and aromatic plants, it is somehow ignored in industrialized countries. Prescribed drugs are more convenient for patients and physicians, although natural products might offer an alternative in treatment of many different diseases. In resource-limited countries, conventional medications are often not affordable or not available and consequently natural products are the medication of choice.

Our goal is to provide scientific results that can be reproduced by others, thus standardized plant products are required. If more standardized and only high quality natural products are used in basic research as well as in clinical trials, the critics might be convinced and acceptance of medicinal plant products might be increased. Investigators are also encouraged to explore the potential of phytopreparations in combination with synthetic drugs in order to enhance pharmacological actions. High quality plant products and more clinical trials are urgently needed to establish rational phytotherapy.”

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ARTEMISIA HERBA ALBA, white wormwood

There are many different species of Artemisia (200-400), the most commonly known are Mugwort, Sagebrush, Wormwood, Tarragon. Most artemisia-species are high in ketones, which are neurotoxic and should not be used in aromatherapy at all, so make sure that you have the right one; Always check the latin name.
Artemisias belong to the family Asteraceae, as does chamomile, tansy and other plants. The most renown artemisia is Mugwort (A. absinthium) which was used to make the alcoholic beverage “Absinthe”. Due to absinthe’s content of  thujone (a neurotoxic) it was prohibited in the early 1900’s.

White wormwood (Artemisia herba alba).  Shih in Arab,  Armoise blanche in French, la’anah in Old Testament Hebrew. It is also known as desert wormwood. The name Artemisia comes fron the Greek Artemis, the goddess of hunting and the moon.

W. Wormwood is a low-growing shrub (20-40 cm) as opposed to its northern cousins that can grow to a height of 1-2 m. They are dry-land plants found in the desert-like vegetation in Central Europe, North Africa, Middle East and Asia. The leaves are strongly aromatic, hairy and have a greyish tinge, the flowers are small and yellow. It’s taste is extremely bitter. The essential oil is obtained by steam distillation. The scent is gorgeous; sweet, herbaceous with a bitter tinge on the end-note. It is strong and predominant in blends.

As the name Wormwood indicates, it has traditionally been used as a remedy for intestinal parasites. The plant is a digestive stimulant and used for its antiseptic and antispasmodic properties. The essential oil has slightly antibacterial properties. One of the chemical constituents of the EO is 1.8-cineole which would make it useful for respiratory problems. It is also believed to help regulate menstrual cycles.

Personal experience: I don’t use White Wormwood for specific physical conditions but have found it very useful on a vibrational and emotional level. I use it when there is inner nervousness; in low doses it is emotionally calming yet clarifying, bringing balance to the whole being. I use it mostly on women and call it the “witch-oil”. It empowers women and help with calming inner turbulence. I believe this is how it can regulate menstrual cycles. It is deeply warming and strengthening, enhancing dreams and visualizations. I find it a truly magical oil when used in small doses. For physical conditions I would rather use the plant.

Safety: White wormwood is high in ketones (thujone) so it should be used with care. In high doses it can give head-ache, dizziness and nausea. I use max. 1-2 drops for a whole-body massage. For a room-scent 1 drop can be enough, depending on the size of the room. Do not use for children or during pregnancy.


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 🙂

Burning Incense Is Psychoactive: New Class Of Antidepressants Might Be Right Under Our Noses

One of the earliest use of plant-matter was by burning it, breathing in the smoke. Some plants would help with respiratory problems, some with nausea or head-aches. Some plants would calm and relax, others were considered to open the mind for the unseen – the world of the Gods.

So of course I was not surprised when I stumbled upon this article:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080520110415.htm