Thursday, January 19, 2017

Yay! Snowbells!

Wow! This photo was taken today, January 19th. These are snowbells (Latin name Leucojum aestivum) and depending on the severity of the winter, they can come up once the days start getting longer. Today I was a little surprised that they are already about an inch or two above ground. In 2014 they didn't come up until April! However our weather has been warmer than in the past few years. In any case, it is a joy to see them and know that spring is on the way! I'll post more photos once they are in bloom.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Herbal Miscellany in Europe

In September I took a European tour; visiting Portugal, Spain and Morocco. Among other things, I was extremely interested in visiting essential oil distilleries and perfumeries or things related. Fortunately for me I had some opportunities in Spain and Morocco.

In Barcelona I visited the Museu Del Perfume, a tiny museum dedicated to perfume. Located in the Perfumeria Regia shop on Passeig de Gracia (it was very difficult to find. I got lost several times!) is a small room that showcases perfume bottles from ancient Greek times to present. Most descriptions were in French, which I don't speak, however it was interesting to view the bottles.

In Morocco my friends and I received our own private herbal session from Abdul at the Herboristerie Bab Agnou, an apothecary in Marrakech.

Abdul presented several herbal combinations for skin conditions used in the Berber culture, some of which have been used for centuries.

As we were trekking through the Atlas Mountains, we came across a woman's argan oil cooperative. The women collect and process argan nuts into oil. The oil that they produced was amazing! In addition to selling argan oil for cosmetic purposes, they sell a roasted argan oil for consumption. Used as a dipping oil, the nuts are roasted before pressing which provides a unique, nutty-flavored oil that is very delicious!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Mushroom Madness

I recently camped in the Northern Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin. It has been a drier-than-average summer, however it rained cats and dogs for about 2 days.

And of course after a good rain, you get a nice flush of mushrooms! I saw several different species ranging from coral mushrooms to turkey tails to Indian pipes (which is actually a parasitic organism of fungus).

As I hiked down trails in the damp woods I was surprised by the explosion of mycelial growth. There were mushrooms everywhere! Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Mushrooms are amazing organisms. In fact, fine networks of mycelium grow on the ground waiting for the right conditions to fruit and become what we know as mushrooms. These mycelium help digest and recycle large organic material, producing accessible nutrients for other organisms. Mushrooms have even been used as a remediation organism to clean up heavy metal and chemical toxicity in soil, truly acting as Nature's recyclers and detoxifiers.

For more fascinating information on mushrooms, I recommend the book "Mycelium Running-How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World" by Paul Stamets. For identifying mushrooms, check out field guides by the National Audubon Society and Peterson's.

Indian Pipe

Turkey Tails

Possible Suillus species

Earth Star

Friday, July 8, 2016

Healthy Skin Using the Oil Cleansing Method

Many of us have grown up using harsh cleansers and exfoliating products; all in the hopes of attaining clear and healthy skin. Personally I grew up having acne-prone skin and have combated breakouts most of my life. Speaking from experience I know that it can be devastating and have detrimental effects on one’s self-image.

As I became more aware of what I was applying to my skin, I ditched the Noxzema and blemish remedies that contained benzoyl peroxide. These items were not only perpetuating my breakouts, but also drying out my skin. I came to realize that body care products and cosmetics are not regulated by the FDA therefore companies can add whatever cheap chemicals and heavy metals that they wish to make certain items more appealing to the consumer. For example, formaldehyde (embalming fluid) is added to body care items as a preservative, especially if the item is water based. However, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing). Why would anyone want that on their skin?! After learning this, I began choosing items based on their ingredient list. If I could pronounce and understand what the ingredients were listed on the label, I would consider it safe and try the item.

I started to use natural and organic products. The health of my skin improved but I was still having breakouts. At the same time, I started to work on my diet; eliminating processed carbs, sugar and junk foods. My skin improved even further.  However, I was not satisfied. I still wanted flawless skin.

While reading a book on ancient Greece, I came across information about their overall bathing and hygiene regimens. This included oil washing or oil cleansing. Since oil dissolves oil, massaging it into the skin actually helps soften and dissolve impurities. In Greece they used a tool called a strigil after applying olive oil to the body. This instrument scraped away dirt and sweat, leaving the skin clean. Often times after cleansing with olive oil, the ancient Greeks would then bathe in hot, steamy waters to open up the pores of the skin.

I found this technique to be interesting so I did a little more research. I found that even today a lot of people have had great success in the improvement of their skin through oil washing. However, the very thought of massaging oil onto my face was very counterintuitive. I was still skeptical, but I decided to give it a try.

It is important to use high quality oils to cleanse the face. Vegetable oils should be organic and cold-pressed. Since I have acne-prone skin I stuck with oils that are light with a very low comedogenic (acne causing) rating. Some examples include hemp, sunflower, grapeseed, apricot kernel, jojoba and safflower oils. My first oil cleansing blend consisted of equal parts of jojoba, sunflower and grapeseed oils. I massaged the oil mixture into my face and neck for about a minute and then removed the oil with a hot and steamy wash cloth (as hot and steamy as I could handle comfortably). I would actually get the wash cloth wet and apply the steamy cloth to my face and neck about 3 times, rinsing the wash cloth in between each time with hot water. If my skin seemed dry afterwards, I would apply light oils such as argan or jojoba.

It took a few weeks to notice the improvement in my skin but the difference was amazing! I had a lot less breakouts and my skin wasn’t so dry. A lot of times, I don’t even have to apply a moisturizer after washing my face, which was a must previous to the oil washing. The cleansers that I used before would actually strip my skin of beneficial oils, thus drying it out. Our skin has a natural pH of about 5.5, which is slightly acidic. This acidic condition actually helps protect our skin from harmful bacteria and environmental conditions and is known as the acid mantle. When you “wash” away your acid mantle, your skin is more susceptible to invading microbial action and environmental factors, creating conditions such as inflammation and dry skin.

We also have beneficial bacteria that exist on the surface of the skin. These beneficial skin microbiota help prevent transient harmful bacteria from colonizing and causing problems on the skin’s surface. Washing with conventional cleansers can disrupt your unique population of skin flora, thus washing away your natural protection.

Oil washing has been a great experience for me and I wish I had known about this method years earlier. I have been doing this for about 2 years now and I love it! If you haven’t tried it and are curious, I highly recommend giving it a chance. And give it a few weeks. Your skin needs to adjust to your new cleansing technique!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sanguinaria canadensis

In the Great Lakes area, spring is always a very exciting time of the year. Our winters are long, and spotting blossoms amongst the brown and dead foliage of the previous season is always a delight!

One of my favorite native spring ephemerals is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). It usually makes an appearance towards mid-April through May, depending on weather conditions. The flower immerges first while the leaf remains curled around the stem. As the flower fades, the leaf starts to unfurl and appears palm-like. Once it is finished flowering, the oblong-shaped seed pod remains.

The name bloodroot originates from the root which contains a red liquid. This red "juice" contains the alkaloid sanguinarine, among other constituents, and is toxic if taken internally. However if applied externally, sanguinarine has been successful in abating viral conditions of the skin such as warts, skin tags and even certain types of skin cancers (however not medically documented).

There are many "black salves" or "drawing salves" on the market that contain bloodroot. Although I have never personally tried it, some of my clients have with positive results. Sanguinarine has the ability to dissolve abnormal growth without disturbing the surrounding tissue. Once the abnormal growth has been dissolved; new, healthy tissue will grow where the abnormal growth was once. However it is important that before using a salve that contains bloodroot, one needs to read and follow the instructions completely.

Aside from the benefits that bloodroot can provide for the skin, it's beauty is one of those much-anticipated flowers of the spring. Bloodroot was once considered a species that was threatened but now there are healthy populations throughout the area.

Bloodroot in bloom

Bloodroot leaf and seed pod

Thursday, March 3, 2016


Enfleurage is a method that has been used for centuries to draw out the scent of a flower and fix it to fat which is especially useful for delicate flowers that can’t be distilled.

I am always looking for ways to extract and utilize scents from flowers; naturally. I want the exact scent that the flower releases. Especially now while I have fresh, tropical flowers like plumeria and jasmine right outside of my room. While reading, I came across a method called enfleurage which has been used for thousands of years by many cultures.

This ancient method is rarely done except in France in the Grasse region. Due to the expense of production, the end product is hard to find in the aromatherapy market.

Currently I am trying my luck with making an enfleurage. I started with plumeria flowers and learned quick; I made a mistake on the first try. Instead of adding my blossoms to a solid fat such as shea butter or mango butter, I added them to a few ounces of jojoba oil. The oil smelled nice for a short period, but then started to go rancid after about two weeks.

So on to round two. And I am using shea butter this time as my fatty base. I used 2 ounces and spread the butter out in a thin layer on a plate. I am using a combination of papaya, plumeria and jasmine flowers. Typically I add the blossoms face down and as flat as possible, exposing the center of the flower and as much of the floral material to the butter as possible. After 2 days, the blossoms need to be replaced with new ones. And before adding the blossoms to the shea butter, I remove the stamens and/or pistils from the flower to prevent impurities and possible mold growth. Finally I tightly sealed the plate with saran wrap and store it in a cool, dark place.

Traditionally once the layer of fat is strongly scented (which happens in about 2-4 weeks depending on the type of flower used), the flowers are removed and alcohol is added to the fat mixture. It then sits in a glass container for 2 weeks and gets shaken daily. The alcohol will eventually float to the top. After 2 weeks, the alcohol is removed with an eyedropper and placed in a container that is then stored in a cool, dark place. However in my case, I plan on doing something a little different.

After infusing the flowers in shea butter for about 4 weeks, I removed the last set of flowers and added 2 drops of essential oil as a preservative, mixed well and transferred to a container where I am storing in the refrigerator until usage. I am going to keep it as a scented pomade. You can use the pomade as is or to make lotion, hair conditioner or other lovely creations.

Enfleurage in progress; with plumeria, papaya & jasmine flowers

Thursday, January 21, 2016

West Indies Herbalist

Last weekend I attended the Rastafari Agricultural & Cultural Vegan Food Fair in Estate Bordeaux, St. Thomas. It was a great authentic, local island experience. Local farmers, artisans, musicians and delicious vegan food were featured.

The highlight for me was a presentation given by Ras Bobby, a local herbalist of the West Indies.
He was both brilliant and captivating. He spoke of several different herbs, real nutrition and, of course, some pointers on how to stay healthy.

Almost everything he presented really resonated with me. Basically herbs have been available to us for thousands of years. We have evolved with them, they are our nutrition and medicine.
Herbs are so complex and help us in several ways. Ras Bobby reminded me of the importance of consuming a diet rich in herbs and vegetables to truly stay healthy.

Ras Bobby is a very knowledgeable herbalist and works for the people. The people of St. Thomas are lucky to have such an experienced healer at their fingertips.

Ras Bobby giving his presentation.

Mural at the Rastafarian Fair