Archive for Herbalism

Essential Oils & Water Don’t Mix

While it is common in the “world of aromatherapy” to be encouraged to simply add essential oils to a bath, to a foot bath, or to a compress with only water, you may want to think twice. Let’s discuss why…

Oil & Water… DO. NOT. MIX!

Pure, unadulterated, and undiluted essential oils are ‘hydrophobic’.

Pure, unadulterated, and undiluted essential oils will not disperse in water. Why? Because they are ‘hydrophobic’. In other words, they do not blend with or disperse in water.

Most essential oils are lighter than water and will float on top. There are also certain essential oils that are more dense than water, a few examples being vetiver, cinnamon, and clove. These essential oils will sink to the bottom. Regardless of where the essential oils lie, they will not disperse into the water. By separating to the top or the bottom, they will then adhere to whatever passes through the water like skin, or a cloth that then gets applied to the face, arms, or sensitive parts.

When adding essential oils to water special consideration should be given to children, pregnant women, and the elderly as their skin is much more sensitive than the typical adult.

Essential oils can be especially damaging to mucosal areas of the body and if inadvertently splashed into the eyes. Citrus oils which are relatively mild topically, may become an irritant when used for bathing.

One should also take into consideration that the skin of children, pregnant women, and the elderly is much more sensitive than that of the typical adult.

How to fix this problem?

The answer is to “solubilize” the essential oil prior to putting it in the water. Solubilization is the process of evenly dispersing essential oils throughout the water so they will not either float or sink. The medium used to accomplish this is called an emulsifier.

An emulsifier works because it has two parts, one with an electric charge that dissolves in water but not in oil, and the other part that will dissolve in oil but not water. Emulsifiers that are more soluble in water than oil will form ‘oil-in-water’ emulsions. They blend smoothly with water molecules, something that carrier oils cannot do.

This is exactly what is needed for essential oils, so while you may choose to skip this step for yourself (don’t say I didn’t tell you so), please don’t add essential oils to bath water, foot baths, or compresses for others without first mixing them with an emulsifier.

A very nice option to use as an emulsifier is modified tapioca starch. Modified Tapioca Starch is derived from the starch of the cassava plant while the flour comes from the root of it.  When used for food and pharmaceuticals, the starch is treated or “modified” which causes partial degradation.  Modified starch is used as thickener, stabilizer, tablet disintegrant, and in the case of mixing oils and water, an emulsifier! 

The word modified in this instance does not refer to genetic modification. It refers to the processing required to end up with a product suitable to endure a greater range of temperatures, both heat and freezing temperatures, acidity, increased shelf life, and in this case as an emulsifier. You will want to make sure the product you select is labeled non-GMO.

To prepare, put 2 tablespoons of modified tapioca starch into a small glass bowl. Next, add 5 to 20 drops of essential oil(s) and stir until completely mixed. The amount of essential oil you choose will depend upon the type of oil, the age of the person, and the condition being treated (or whether it is simply for enjoyment.) Then this can be added to the bath.

Castile soap is another option. While some varieties come already scented, Dr. Bronner’s hemp baby soap is unscented and useful for creating your own blends. Mix 5 to 20 drops of essential oil(s) into one tablespoon of Castile soap. Shampoo or body wash may also be used in place of Castile soap.

A third, less-desirable option would be to use a carrier oil or vegetable oil in the same proportions as the Castile soap. The essential oils will be diluted in the carrier, but still float around the top of the water because the carrier will float as well. Regular coconut oil is not recommended as it tends to build up in the pipes after use. Less greasy oils that would make better selections would be fractionated coconut oil and MCT oil.

Substances that are not emulsifiers…

Robert Tisserand, essential oil safety expert recommends that the following items not be used in place of an emulsifier: milk, salt (including Epsom salt), soda, cornstarch, witch hazel, glycerin, or any form of aloe vera. Any clays, including Bentonite clay are also not recommended.

These substances are not emulsifiers. They are all water-soluble and will dissolve once in water releasing the essential oils into the bath. The result will be just as though nothing had ever been used.

…just as though nothing had ever been used.

Although commonly used in cosmetics, pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines, and even food, the following emulsifiers are not recommended.

Polysorbate 20 –
Although polysorbates in their original form are sorbitol, which is a harmless sugar alcohol, when it is used in cosmetics and personal skin care products it is treated with 20 parts of ethylene oxide. At that point it becomes contaminated with 1,4-dioxane which is a known animal carcinogen and likely human carcinogen that readily penetrates the skin and has been connected with skin allergies.

“The Organic Consumers Organization, adopting information from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, released a fact sheet on 1,4-dioxane. They report that the levels of 1,4-dioxane found in many personal care products are 1,000 times higher than those found to cause cancer in animal studies. They add that according to the FDA, ‘Skin absorption studies demonstrated that dioxane readily penetrates animal and human skin from various types of vehicles.

This can be especially concerning if you’re taking a hot bath or shower. As your pores open up, your skin could be taking in even more of the 1,4-dioxane in the product.”1

Polysorbate 80 –
One characteristic of polysorbate-80 is that it has the ability to solubilize the blood brain barrier (BBB). We know that it is a skin irritant and eye irritant and hazardous when ingested or inhaled. In mice studies, polysorbate-80 has been found to cause adverse reproductive effects, is mutagenic, and cancer-causing on animals. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be human data available. It is considered safe while virtually untested on humans.

Dr. Randy Baker, Holistic Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School says “I consider polysorbate 80 moderately toxic; while occasionally eating it will not kill you, it may be a carcinogen, aggravate colitis, cause allergies, aggravate cardiovascular disease etc. It depends on how much you ingest but it’s best to minimize all processed foods and emphasize whole organic foods.2

While the Polysorbate 80 molecule is considered too large to penetrate the skin, external use as an emulsifier may be an option if one of the options listed above are not preferred.

When using essential oils remember to consider each person’s bio-individuality, age, health issues, and sensitivities. Less is always more with essential oils!

~ Less is always more with essential oils! ~

1 Annmarie Skin Care, Ingredient watch list: Polysorbate 20-It may be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4 dioxane, September 13, 2019
2 HealthTap

Tisserand Institute, Bath Safety: how to use essential oils safely in the bath

Sleep Much? (Part II)

Welcome back! In “Sleep Much (Part I)” we learned that many of our ancestors slept in a biphasic manner consisting of two sleep periods each evening with a quiet awake time in between, especially during the winter season. Some cultures that sleep in a biphasic fashion take a siesta or mid afternoon nap, especially in the hot summertime mid-afternoons. Young children, the elderly, and some by personal preference may take a short nap in the afternoon. It is interesting to note that there remains a billion people in the earth who still practice biphasic sleep.

Myth or Not?

Are humans fundamentally different from all the other animals because our sleep has been consolidated into one continuous nocturnal session?  If one considers how other mammals such as dogs, cats, chimpanzees, horses, etc., sleep (which are actually poly-phasic in their sleeping patterns), man may not be so unique after all. In the annals of history well-known people such as Nikola Tesla, Leonardo DaVinci, Salvador Dali, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Winston Churchill have been recorded as having practiced polyphasic sleep.

The industrial revolution of the the late 18th and the late 19th centuries caused biphasic sleeping to lose popularity. Natural gas-powered street lamps increased in prevalence, especially in the cities. The first homes “wired” for artificial light were actually “plumbed” with gas pipes to gas-powered lanterns. Electricity was soon discovered, the modern light bulb was invented …and the artificial light pierced the darkness.

Further changes that came about from the industrial revolution changed how people thought about time. Factories and “production lines” caused people to become more conscious of productivity and efficiency and therefore time and began foregoing a second sleep.  In face, there were actually reform movements on both sides of the pacific ocean called “The Early Rising Association.”

Monophasic sleep is practiced by most of industrialized society today. Monophasic means that we get all of our sleep at one time or in “one phase,” usually at night. Should something serve to disrupt that sleep such as our jobs, children, insomnia, etc. it is difficult to get caught up on missed sleep the same day. This is because modern society changed to support a monophasic-type of sleep cycle. When sleep is routinely missed, the chronic lack of sleep we then experience is called sleep debt or sleep deprivation.

For those of us in the “developed” world, It would be wise to take note that artificial illumination has an enormous effect on human physiology. It literally alters/resets the human body clock, called the circadian rhythm. Many people find that the longer they stay awake, the more pressure they feel to sleep in the remaining time they have because of the obligations of the next day.

Thomas Wehr, Psychiatrist from the National Institute of Mental Health commented on his 1987 study. “By compressing all nocturnal biochemistry and all sleep patterns into an eight-hour period pretty much year-round, Dr. Wehr said, ‘we essentially live in an endless summer, from the day we are born until the day we die.’ The consequences of that compression have yet to be charted.”[1]  This is the million-dollar question.  In just a moment we will take a deeper look into how human physiology responds to our modern sleep habits.

Now while our ancestors did not appear to sleep better than we do, their quantity of sleep was more significant. They slept an average of nine hours in a 24-hour time period, compared to our modern average of seven.

“A large-scale study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health in 2010 showed that a scant 8% of US high school students get the recommended amount of sleep. Some 23% get six hours of sleep on an average school night and 10% get only 5 hours.’ (Garey et al.) The teenage years are very stressful, and meeting the minimum hours of sleep is crucial to managing stress and maintaining good health.”[2]

As we can see from the aforementioned adolescent study, sleep debt does not only affect adults. Sleep debt has a significant effect upon teens. Imagine, how high levels of stress and the disruption of hormones incurred by young people affect their developing bodies and psyche. Is it any wonder that teens have such startling high rates of mood disorders, depression, and suicide never seen before?

When sleep takes a low priority, sleep debt will also affect the smallest among us who need many more hours of restorative sleep to rejuvenate their rapidly growing bodies for the activities of the next day. Age appropriate bedtimes seem to be a thing of the past as our culture whirls itself into a frenzy of activity with most people consistently not getting enough of their body’s greatest healer,… sleep!

Yet Another Difference Between Men and Women!

Dr. Wehr’s insightful study also found that the release of the main circadian hormone, melatonin, secreted by men during winter was exactly the same as that secreted in the middle of summer.  Lightheartedly, Dr. Wehr quips, “When it comes to seasonal change, men just don’t get it.”[3]

Yet in comparison to men, the woman’s sleep hormone melatonin is dramatically increased in the winter and much less so during the summer.  This information, although inadvertently discovered, may comprise part of the answer to why Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) disproportionately affects women in the winter season.

Surprising Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

Studies reveal that sleep debt can lead to impairment that equals or exceeds being legally drunk.

“Drowsy driving has caused or contributed to hundreds of thousands of motor vehicle crashes and thousands of deaths in recent years. Estimates of drowsy driving-related accidents, injuries and deaths vary, however. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sleep-deprived and fatigued drivers caused 846 deaths in 2014. The NHTSA reports that, on average, an estimated 83,000 crashes a year were blamed on sleepy drivers between 2005 and 2009.”[4]

16.5% of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Waking performance is affected by sleep.

Sleep debt affects the ability to perform one’s work safely and efficiently.  Many transportation related accidents beyond cars are caused by sleeplessness – buses, trains, trucks, planes, etc.  Shift work increases the risk as well.  Hospital medical errors in the United States are estimated to cause 100,000 deaths each year. Sleep deprivation has been implicated in a large percentage of these errors.

Psychological Effects of Sleep Deprivation

As sleep debt becomes chronic, hormone levels become unbalanced.  Adrenaline levels climb making the person physically and mentally distressed.  Symptoms begin to present such as brain fog, irritability, or grumpiness, along with anxiety (or increased anxiety), and panic attacks, memory problems, increased perception of pain, a racing heart, and hyperventilation.

For some, chronic stress causes depression or a combination of anxiety and depression when adrenaline begins to dip.  Other psychological indications of sleep deficit can be visual or auditory hallucinations, impulsive behaviors, suicidal thoughts, and in those with bipolar disorder, mania can be a result.

How many of us have had anxiety because of our sleep debt, which causes more anxiety resulting in an increased inability to sleep, which then causes even more sleep debt and more pressure to sleep?  A vicious cycle, but one that most of us have experienced at some point.

Physiological Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Paul Bergner writes, “The state of sleep debt, induced when hours of sleep drop below the physiological requirement of the individual, includes profound changes in the endocrine, cardiovascular, and immune systems.  Herbal and other natural treatments for these systems will ultimately fail unless the underlying sleep debt is corrected.  Herbal nervines and hypnotics, administered in the context of lifestyle changes to induce recuperative sleep and establish normal sleep duration and depth, become critical to the successful practice of herbalism in chronic disease.  Sleep debt is a major obstacle to cure, and is present to some extent in the majority of patients in the U.S. today.”[5]

“Herbal and other natural treatments for these systems will ultimately fail unless the underlying sleep debt is corrected.”

 – Paul Bergner, Medical Herbalist & Clinical Nutritionist

Once sleep debt becomes chronic symptoms can present as depression, nervous system misfiring, tingling in the arms and/or legs, headaches or back aches, and unexplained pains and odd sensations in different parts of the body.  Beyond this reduced inspiratory muscle strength, decreased immune function, and corresponding frequency of sickness have been identified.  This is supported by a number of studies revealing that just a small amount of sleep deprivation causes a reduction in natural killer cells that are crucial to the work of defending the body against viral infections and perhaps even cancer.

“A survey of Japanese men showed that two or more days per week with less than five hours of sleep were associated with a 200-300% increase in heart attacks (Liu and Tanaka). This is in the range of five to ten times the risk of having high LDL cholesterol. In a group of women, those reporting less than five hours of sleep per night had an 82% increase in cardiovascular events (Najib et al). Those sleeping fewer than six hours had a 30% increased risk. These risks in women are higher than risks for moderately elevated total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol.”[6]

“Sleep debt is a major obstacle to cure, and is present to some extent in the majority of patients in the U.S. today.”

– Paul Bergner, Medical Herbalist & Clinical Nutritionist

The natural health professional should be interested in your quality and quantity of sleep. It is important to understand that most people have become acclimated to sleep deficit and no longer recognize it as abnormal. It is common to compensate for sleep deficiency by consuming caffeine, energy drinks, etc. The professional should also be armed with remedials and techniques to assist the you in obtaining and adhering to a regular, restorative sleep cycle. This will provide the impetus the body needs to make huge gains toward homeostasis and get you well on the path toward healing.

Dr. Henry Lindlahr a Naturopath who founded the Lindlahr College of Natural Therapeutics in 1904, as well as opening and running The Lindlahr Sanitarium. The sanitarium, “a 300-bed inpatient facility in Chicago, routinely prescribed complete bed rest on weekends for his outpatients suffering from chronic disease.”[7] Rest and sleep are still reasonable recommendations by modern natural health professionals.

Disastrous Effects of Sleep Deprivation

“Less than 1 week of sleep curtailment in healthy young people is associated with striking alterations in metabolic and endocrine function.”[8]  This study found carbohydrate tolerance was lowered and there was increased sympathetic tone.  These are indicators of a higher potential for developing insulin resistance, hypertension, and obesity.

In this age of stress, toxicity, and nutrient deficiency, sleep deprivation is the catalyst which is sending children over the edge and into an abyss of chronic disease. “Old people’s diseases” are now occurring with alarming frequency in children. Sadly, as a society we have reached the turning point where children are likely to have shorter lifespans than their parents.

“A baby born in the U.S. in 2017 is expected to live to be 78.6 years old, which is down from 78.7 from the year before.”

– Uptin Saiidi, CNBC [9]

Findings from a study on the impact of sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine function states that “glucose tolerance was lower in the sleep-debt condition than in the fully rested condition, as were thyrotropin concentrations.  Evening cortisol concentrations were raised and activity of the sympathetic nervous system was increased in the sleep-debt condition.”  It continues, “Sleep debt has a harmful impact on carbohydrate metabolism and endocrine function.  The effects are similar to those seen in normal aging and, therefore, sleep debt may increase the severity of age-related chronic disorders.”[11]

“The average life expectancy in the U.S. has been on the decline for three consecutive years.” (Written in 2017. It continues to decline.)

– Uptin Saiidi, CNBC [10]

A decrease of thyrotropin or thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) as mentioned in the study above, has significant potential.  Consider this, the medical community often relates causation for low TSH (hyperthyroidism) to thyroid damage, tumor growth, infection/inflammation, or a malfunctioning pituitary gland. Yet chronic sleep debt does not generally enter into consideration.  Sadly, most people or their physicians do not correlate the two, therefore treatment protocols do not fix the continued sleep deprivation, making the condition worse until surgery is the only option.

When the thyroid indicator is misread and the thyroid silenced, it will not be long before another part of the body will manifest the systemic dysfunction that is continuing to occur due to sleeplessness.  How sad. This might give one cause to wonder how many healthy thyroids have been removed simply because the patient was chronically sleep deprived.

Some in the scientific community believe the type of markers and diseases caused by chronic sleep loss are actually signs of early aging. In another study, we are informed that the development of Alzheimer’s may be an end result of many instances of full or chronic sleep deprivation.[12] While there may be a conglomeration of mitigating factors present in any disease, sleep debt should be considered and rest and recuperation would be a wise recommendation.

Sleep debt also negatively impairs carbohydrate insulin resistance which progresses to Diabetes Type II.  It affects the inflammatory processes in the body such as increasing blood levels of C-reactive protein.  The C-reactive protein test called hs-CRP is a marker of inflammation used to evaluate the risk of developing coronary artery disease.  It is important because this inflammatory process damages the lining of the blood vessels preliminary to atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels. This puts the person at risk for hypertension and eventually, heart attacks.

Weight gain is another side effect of insufficient sleep.  When someone is sleep-deprived, the body produces less leptin, a hormone that signals satiation to the brain.  At the same time, more ghrelin, a hunger-producing/appetite-increasing hormone that signals it is time to eat is produced.  This makes sleep-deprivation a “gain/gain” proposition with obesity as a potential result.  Additionally, ghrelin is increased in response to stress, therefore dealing with the cause of sleeplessness may be very beneficial for the person with weight issues.

Less is More!

Initially, insomnia can be due to our own desires to do whatever we want. There are many reasons for this. Maybe we just want to have fun and hang out with friends, play video games, or whatever we find entertaining. Perhaps we schedule our days so tightly that any error in sleep habits causes great stress, upsetting our expectations, and resulting in a cascade of negative occurrences. Or maybe we dream so big we become overwhelmed at the many tasks we think we need to do. Burning the candles at both ends may be an attempt to create more hours in the day. However productive it may seem, it does not outweigh the ensuing destruction in our body, mind, and spirit.

Remember this concept of time and productivity is a modern contrivance. Although we may seem counter-culture or old-fashioned, we can choose to live differently. Like my mother used to say many years ago. “Tomorrow is another day.” …and it is.

Prepare to Sleep

Here are some suggestions to help prepare the mind and body for sleep:

  • Set a bedtime allowing for adequate hours to sleep. We simply will not consistently meet unset goals. (By-the-way, it is harmful to stay awake after 1 AM.)
  • Prepare a space solely for sleeping (and intimacy.) Do not allow cell phones, TVs, computers, or other distractions in that space.
  • Sleep in a completely dark room that is a comfortable temperature.
  • The room should be quiet or with “white noise.” White noise is anything that makes a soft continuous noise like a fan, or very soft, relaxing music.
  • Create a bedtime ritual of the things you need to do before bed. The body recognizes to these patterns and will respond to them as they become habitual.
  • Exercise, but do so early in the day as it is stimulating. Exercise actually helps to improve sleep quality.
  • Don’t eat three hours before bed.
  • Take a warm (not hot) bath.
  • Read before bed. Books that are interesting, but non-stimulating. Definitely avoid horror books if you are inclined toward that sort of thing.
  • Do not use computers, phones, or TVs for at least an hour before bed. They are stimulating.

Nutrition Necessary for a Great Sleep

B Complex Vitamins – A deficiency of the B complex vitamins can cause insomnia because they are necessary in the syntheses of serotonin which is necessary in the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Be sure to take B Vitamins in the morning so that the energizing and other necessary processes they take part in occur in preparation of sleep.

Vitamin B12 – This vitamin is often lacking in those aged 60 or older. Without B12 the body cannot produce the sleep hormone melatonin.

Calcium – Calcium is necessary for the release of melatonin, a hormone that aids in sleep. It is important to eat foods high in calcium like leafy greens, kale, broccoli, fruit, and nuts. While dairy is a source of calcium it is nowhere near as bioavilable as fruits and veggies. Dairy is also one of the top allergens and a potential cause of insomnia. (Do not consume supplements made with calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is limestone (yes, the rock!) and is indigestible.)

Magnesium – The mineral magnesium is ‘hands down’ the most important nutrient for good sleep. It is necessary in over 600 cellular processes in the body. It can help the brain relax and activate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps us to relax. It is also useful for regulating melatonin, a hormone that directs the circadian rhythm in the body. Magnesium also calms nerve activity using the same neurotransmitter pathway as pharmaceuticals like Ambien without the negative side effects that may occur such as depression, memory loss, behavior changes, hypnosis, amnesia, and hallucinations, etc.

Potassium – While it might not be the first mineral to come to mind, potassium is a requirement balanced with magnesium to keep insomnia at bay. People rarely get enough potassium from their diet. Potassium-dense foods are: sweet potatoes, white potatoes, beet greens, squash, carrots, avocado, bananas, apricots, apples, oranges, Lima beans, white beans, coconut water, blackstrap molasses, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, and more.

Collagen Hydrolysate / Gelatin / Bone Broth – Contain the amino acid glycine which encourages a deeper and more restorative sleep making the sleep you do get a higher quality. It also contains the necessary amino acids and peptides the body needs to help calm the nervous system.

EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids / Vitamin F) – EFAs may induce sleep as they are found in high concentration in the brain and used to support the transmission of nerve impulses. EFAs are absolutely required by every cell in the body to produce prostaglandins which are hormone-like substances that work as chemical messengers and regulators of a variety of processes in the body. Omega-3 EFAs are found in fish, fish oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil.

Tryptophan (the amino acid) – While it has other functions, the one most valuable to the sleep deprived would be tryptophan’s sleep-inducing qualities. Here is a list of foods to help one take advantage of this effect. Healthy sleep-inducing foods are: turkey (especially high in tryptophan), chicken, lamb, beef, pork, game, tuna, salmon, trout, haddock, cod, mackerel, shellfish, (real) cheese, whole eggs, pumpkin and squash seeds, white beans, kidney and pinto beans, black beans, and lentils, figs, dates, and walnuts – These foods all contain the sleep-inducing amino acid tryptophan. Ever notice that friends and family fall asleep after eating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner? Now you know why!

Eliminate for a Great Sleep

  • Sugar or chocolate – Foods which contain tyromine, a brain stimulant.
  • Caffeine – Especially in excessive amounts and in the afternoon and evenings. Taken too late in the day, it suppresses melatonin levels thereby disrupting the body’s circadian rhythm.
  • Alcohol – While it may seem to help with falling asleep, even one serving of alcohol makes it more difficult for the body to enter deep, restorative REM sleep.
  • Smoking – Nicotine is a neurostimulant that actually causes the inability to sleep.
  • Sleep Medications – “Many authorities believe that they can almost only work by upsetting natural sleep cycles, thus leading to an unusual form of unnatural control.”[12]
  • Allergens (Especially food allergens like dairy, corn, and wheat gluten.) Insomnia may be the only symptom of a food allergy and is often accompanied by fatigue, migraines, depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, heartburn, constipation, IBS, celiac disease, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, hyperthyroidism, or menopause.
  • Stress & Worry – Identifying and eliminating triggers is important. Prayer, meditation, journaling, and exercise are all effective methods of bringing stressful situations into a proper perspective. A very effective FREE method of reducing stress is to incorporate the following breathing technique into your daily routine:
Just… BREATHE! ~ A Remedy for Stress You Won’t Believe!

Some Essential Oils to Aid Great Sleep

  • Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) – A couple drops on the pillow can be mildly sedating to the body.
  • Lavender or German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Place a couple of drops of diluted oil on the bottoms of the feet.
  • Blend a couple of drops each: Lavender, German Chamomile, and Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides) in a diffuser 30-60 minutes before bedtime in preparation for sleep.

Herbal Remedies Useful for Great Sleep

There are many herbs that can be helpful for inducing sleep or deepening light sleep. Perhaps relax with a cup of tea while reading your book before bedtime. Here are a few you can try:

  • German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Mildly sedating. Can be combined with Valerian, Oatstraw, Skullcap, and Passionflower.
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) – A mildly sedative herb that is helpful for those who suffer from sleep debt caused by anxiety. Can be combined with Chamomile, Valerian, Hops, and Kava Kava.
  • Catnip (Nepata cataria) – Mildly sedative. Does not promote daytime sleepiness.
  • American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) – Well-known in the Appalachian mountains for promoting sleep. American Ginseng relaxes the nerves.
  • Vervain (Verbena spp) – A mildly sedative herb that works to decrease inflammation and anxiety. In this manner, it is helpful for supporting the ability to get to sleep.

Homeopathics Helpful for Great Sleep

  • Coffea Cruda is a wonderful remedy for insomnia caused by the inability to stop the mind from compulsive thinking.[13]
  • Kali Phos is helpful for insomnia from stress-related anxiety and worry as well as mental exhaustion.
  • Natrum Mur or Aurum Met may be beneficial for insomnia rooted in chronic depression or melancholy with negativity.
  • Ignatia is better-suited for sleeplessness due to acute depression from grief, overwhelming emotions, loss of love or loved ones and with waves of sadness and weeping and dwelling in the past.
  • Nux Vomica may be helpful for those who fall asleep but cannot stay asleep.

There are many other methods and remedies for getting high quality sleep on a consistent basis. It is best to use these remedies only while correcting the root of the problem. Should you need additional help, your natural health professional is available and competent to help you rest!

If you are interested in becoming a Master Herbalist, Clinical Master Herbalist, Natural Health Consultant, Traditional Doctor of Naturopathy, or Holistic Health Professional, I invite you to consider the Genesis School of Natural Health. Preparing the natural health professionals to meet the complex health needs encountered today. For more information click the link below:


1, 3 Modern Life Suppresses An Ancient Body Rhythm

2 The Effect of Sleep Deprivation on Adolescent’s Health and Well-Being – from a teenager’s perspective

4 Drowsy driving and car crashes: How night-shift work contributes to traffic dangers

5, 6, 7 Medical Herbalism: A Journal for the Clinical Practitioner Volume
13, Number 3, Spring 2003, Sleep debt: pathophysiology and natural therapeutics by Paul Bergner

8, 11 Impact of Sleep Debt on Metabolic and Endocrine Function

9, 10 US Life Expectancy has been Declining. Here’s Why by Uptin Saiidi

12 Naturopathy for the 21st Century by Robert Thiel Ph.D. p124

13 Coffea – The Best Homeopathic Medicine for Insomnia

It’s All About That Spin…

Proteins, next to water, make up the greatest part of the weight of the body. They are what provide the “framework” to every living cell. The proteins themselves are made up of chains of even smaller structures called amino acids which are connected by what are known as peptide bonds.

When peptide bonds are formed between two amino acid molecules, two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen is lost. This removes a molecule of water from the structure that is commonly written as H20. Therefore the process of peptide bond formation is accomplished by dehydration.

The process of the digestion of proteins begin in the mouth with chewing called ‘mastication’ and the release of saliva which contains the enzymes amylase and lipase which further break down the food. Once swallowed the food passes to the stomach through the esophagus. In the stomach the chemical process of digestion continues with hydrocloric acid which deactivates amylase but continues to allow lipase to work breaking down fats. In the stomach pepsinogen, a pro-enzyme, converts to pepsin which then can break down proteins into smaller units called polypeptides and amino acids. Depending upon the type of food and an individual’s metabolism, generally takes around four hours for the stomach to empty.

As the chyme moves into the small intestine, the pancreas releases amylase and lipase (the pancreatic form), trypsin and chymotrypsin to continue breaking down proteins. Additionally, there are four sugar enzymes (sucrase, lactase, maltase, and dextrinase) released which are secreted by cells that line the small intestine.

Therefore as a result of the activity of protease enzymes, large chains of amino acids found in protein molecules are broken down into even smaller chains of amino acids that can easily pass through the micro-villi of the small intestine (along with other nutrients) and into the bloodstream.

Once released into the bloodstream, amino acids are rebuilt or ‘biosynthesized’ into the specific types of proteins required for the building and repairing of tissue and to “develop into enzymes, hormones, bones, muscles, and blood.’ [3] Each redesigned amino acid is crafted to meet a unique “fit.” These newly-created proteins cannot be used for a different application. For example, a protein designed to replace tissue in the eye cannot also be used in the heart as heart tissue is not identical to eye tissue and would require a different protein.

DNA – Deoxyribonucleic Acid

“Proteins form the structural basis of chromosomes, through which genetic information is passed from parents to offspring. The genetic ‘code’ contained in each cell’s DNA is actually information for how to make that cell’s proteins.”1

“In the human body, protein substances make up the muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, glands, nails, hair, many vital body fluids, and are essential for the growth of bones. The enzymes and hormones that catalyze and regulate all bodily processes are proteins. Proteins help to regulate the body’s water balance and maintain the proper internal pH. They assist in the exchange of nutrients between the intercellular fluids and the tissues, blood, and lymph.”2

There are over 20 distinct amino acids with the human body having the ability to produce only half of them. The 10 amino acids the body does not produce are called “Essential Amino Acids.” This is because they must be obtained through the food we eat. The body does not store amino acids so they must be ingested daily. The essential amino acids are: arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

This work of the body is absolutely amazing. I mean, who’da thunk it? Having a body that makes its own individualized building blocks from those large protein molecules in the hamburger or hummus that we have the pleasure of eating. Absolutely ingenious.

A Body That Cannot Repair Itself

Amino acid deficiencies are common. There are many ways that this delicate system can become impaired. If even one of the essential amino acid building blocks is not available, the entire protein synthesis in the body is hindered. This deficiency can lead to a disruption in integral proteins negatively affecting the whole body.

“The main reason for amino acid deficiencies is either low protein consumption, poor digestion, or the use of antacid medication, as protein requires adequate stomach acid to be broken down into the amino acids.” [3]

Signs of Deficiency…

Amino acids are the base organic matter used by the body to create serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and endorphins. These are all chemicals called neurotransmitters that create those good feelings of peace, contentment, and happiness in the brain. They are known for stabilizing mood.

“Low levels of amino acids lead to low levels of neurotansmitters. It’s that simple!” [3]

So what does it look like when one’s mood is “off” because of an amino acid deficiency?

Mental & Emotional Health

Sometimes an amino acid deficiency can present as pervasive negativity, agitation, mood swings, tension, irritability, insomnia, obsession and worry, low motivation/energy, types of depression such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or bipolar, or other major depressive disorders and mania. Schizophrenia and the anxiety-like symptoms of schizophrenia may be a result of amino acid deficiency as well.

For many people, anxiety reveals itself in everyday stress, or high stress situations, panic attacks, controlling behaviors, feeling frequently overwhelmed, perfectionism, or perhaps even being someone who seems to be driven to exhaustion. Crying too easily or frequently finding onesself feeling emotionally ‘hurt’, seeking to escape with drugs and/or alcohol, sugar and/or carbs, impulsive or aggressive behavior are more symptoms that tend to be magnified with amino acid deficiency.

The good news is that the person or some unknown entity may not be the root of the problem. Their body may simply be having some very real health challenges due to an amino acid deficiency. If it is a lack of neurotransmitter-building amino acids, the condition may be helped with proper nutrition which affords the body those necessary building blocks.

Musculoskeletal System

Amino acid deficiencies may be the root of some of the following symptoms which affect the musculoskeletal system. Arthritis, ataxia (lack of muscle control or coordination), impaired bone (fragile bones), insufficient cartilage repair, impaired collagen formation, muscle fatigue, slow post exercise recovery, and stunted physical growth.

Integumentary System

The skin, hair, and nails may express amino acid deficiencies through decreased tissue repair and growth, the graying of hair, skin rashes, alopecia (excessive hair loss), and poor wound healing (especially that of burns and infections.)

Cardiovascular System

The heart and circulatory system can reveal a deficiency of amino acids through atherosclerosis, cold hands and feet, elevated cholesterol, low blood pressure, and poor blood vessel functioning.

Nervous System

The nervous system (which includes the brain and teeth) is affected by amino acid deficiency in many ways. Insufficiency may present as: bloodshot eyes, cataract formation, corneal vascularization, dementia, dental caries, diabetic complications that affect the eye as well as nerve cell damage, headaches, migraines, lack of ability to focus, becoming hyper-stimulated, poor memory and memory loss, motion sickness, nerve deafness, narcolepsy, Parkinson’s Disease, restless leg syndrome (RLS), and stunted intellectual growth.

Gastrointestinal System

There are a number of ways the gastrointestinal system including the liver make known they are facing a lack of amino acids. Some of these are: appetite loss, nausea, and dizziness. Other symptoms are constipation, decreased immune function, a fatty liver unable to process fats, impaired fat burning, lack of gastric acid secretion which may cause indigestion, and obesity.

Immune System

  Amino acid deficiency affects the immune system by not being able to support the liver in its role in detoxification which can cause an accumulation of heavy metals. Other ways the immune system is affected by insufficient amino acid availability is by not being able to help prevent AIDS. Amino acid deficiency could also be causative for some allergies and other symptoms of an ineffective immune function such as anemia, chronic fatigue, fatigue (in general), lowered red and white blood cell production, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Endocrine System

  Some may be surprised at all the functions of the endocrine system and its chemical messenger hormones. Amino acid insufficiency here can look like delayed sexual maturity, diminished insulin production, high blood sugar, hypothyroidism, an inflamed pancreas, lack of sexual arousal, male sterility and low sperm count, menstrual cramping, mood swings, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Urinary System

Kidney stones may occur as a result of amino acid deficiency.

All of Life has its Own Spin

From a physics perspective, the intelligent design of the RNA and DNA of all living organisms (plant and animal) require amino acids which under polarized light reflect a spin to the left (also called left-handed spin).  These are known as L-amino acids.

Optics – The branch of physics which involves the behavior and properties of light

The Greek word ‘levoratatory’ is symbolized by the letter “L” which identifies the molecule as appearing to spin to the left when polarized light shines upon it. Conversely, “D” is the word ‘dextrorotatory’ meaning the molecule appears to spin or turn on a right rotation with the application of polarized light. Therefore, in scientific language the left hand would be written ‘L-hand’ and the right hand written ‘D-hand.’ We will look more in depth at the significance of the spin in a moment.

Not everything has a left-hand spin. Some molecules spin to the right. For instance, sugars have the opposite spin of amino acids. They spin to the right and are recognized as “D-sugars.”

Chiral is a term that is used to describe an object whose mirror image cannot be identically superimposed upon itself.  For instance, your left and right hands are mirror images of each other when placed palm sides together.  If you set one on top of the other facing the same direction, they will always appear in reverse order.  (Notice how the thumbs point in opposite directions when one hand lays on top of the other).  This is called “chiral.”  In both chemistry and physics, the term chiral indicates mirror images that are not superimposable.

Public Domain

Therefore, we have learned that, molecules which cannot be superimposed on their mirror images are called chiral. Either one of a pair of optical isomers is called an enantiomer. For example, if a hand were a molecule, each hand as it cannot be superimposed upon the other but is a mirror image, would be considered enantiomer.

Images that are superimposable are those that fit in the exact same space as the other. Therefore, you could lay the two molecules on top of each other and only see that one shape. Molecularly, these items look the same from the front or the back and are also spatially the same.  In other words, one would be an exact “fit” in place of the other.  These are called achiral.  Either molecule could be placed in the space of the other with the exact same superimposition.  There is no right or left “handedness” with achirial objects or molecules such as we see with chiral.

This becomes a bit more complex when considering achiral objects or molecules from the three dimensional (3-D) perspective.  Let us consider the following:

by Willdre
CC BY-SA 3.0

An automobile mechanic determines a certain part no longer works and needs to be replaced, the starter for instance.  When one starter goes bad, it is replaced with another that is the same size, fits exactly in the same place, and has the same function as the one that was removed.

If a mechanic tried to replace a starter with a spark plug the car would simply not be repaired. Everyone knows that it would be ridiculous to replace one part with another of a different size and/or function as the original.

What does this mean for me?

The same is true with the nutrients required by our bodies, especially amino acids, the topic we are discussing at present. Proteins that we consume in natural, unprocessed forms from plants and animals are always made from the L- form of amino acids. The fit our bodies perfectly. Isn’t it marvelous at how nature provides just what a body needs?

Nature Provides Just What the Body Needs!

Foods naturally high in amino acids are: eggs (which have the highest percentage of essential amino acids), game, chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, wild-caught salmon, tuna, cod, and surprise… quinoa!

In general, plant-sources have less of the essential amino acids than animal sources, however, a varied diet can offer additional nutritional component combinations along with the amino acids. Plant foods with higher amounts of beneficial amino acids are: buckwheat, seaweed, spirulina, pumpkin, peas and pea protein, lentils, whole grain rice, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, watercress, turnip greens, hummus (chick peas) mushrooms, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, kidney beans, figs, broccoli, olives, avocados, raisins, dates, apples, chia seeds, blueberries, and bananas

Racemism – the state of being optically inactive

We have learned that chiral amino acid molecules spin to the left a certain number of degrees. Additionally its mirror (not superimposable) molecules spin to the right an equal number of degrees. An equal mixture of left-handed and right-handed molecules (or D-50% and L-50%) is called a racemic mixture and has no rotation. In other words, an equal raceme is optically inactive. “In general, most biochemical reactions are stereoselective, meaning only one stereoisomer will produce the intended product while the other simply does not participate or can cause side-effects. ” [7]

“…or can cause side-effects” Huh? What?

Well over a hundred years ago it was known that the racemization of naturally-formed molecules was, in fact, a sign that they were dying.

“The phenomenon of autoracemization is of interest in connection with the question of permanency of optically active substances. Let us consider a pure organic substance such as dextrorotatory bromo-succinic ester. When it is kept for some time in a closed flask at ordinary temperatures, it undergoes spontaneous intramolecular rearrangement and a gradual decrease of the optical rotation results; in other words, it racemizes. Several examples may be cited to illustrate this remarkable fact…Might we not speak of ‘dying molecules’ much as we speak of ‘dead catalysts’?… The effect of these reactions is, as we may express it, a complete turning ‘inside out’ of the molecule.”[8]

1895, Dr. Paul Walden

It’s all About That Spin, ‘Bout That Spin, …No Trouble”

Getting our nutrition from food whenever possible is always best. With the exception of phenylalanine (utilized as a mixture, i.e. DL- ) all other amino acids are considered more suitable (the state is called “free-form” which is immediately bioabsorbable meaning it does not require digestion) in the human body. As Dr. Richard J. Thiel states, “Amino acids are also useless if not toxic when present in synthetic forms. Only left-handed (laevo-) amino acids can be assimilated. All synthetic aminos are racemic.”[9]

Of course, it is not only amino acids that are affected by spin. Synthetic “Vitamin D sold as “Viosterol” and “Vigantol” is well established. It causes blood in the urine very quickly in children, by its destructive action to the kidneys. Deaths have been reported from the ordinary dosages used to “protect” from rickets.” [10] Here is another worth considering:

“Pantothenic Acid is a vitamin now commercially available only in synthetic form. Probably this is the reason for its effect of causing loss of sex function, particularly in females. This castrating action has been found both in test animals and in patients receiving the “vitamin” according to unpublished reports…” [11] Does this sound like nutrition to you?

There is much more to be concerned about with the use of synthetic supplements. All synthetics are reduced to a single molecule, while real food vitamins are always available in complexes that include many other nutritional components that boost nutrition and bioavailability in the human body. Science has yet to study or publicly disclose this information should it be available.

The “spin” is important just as the complexes and other factors are in real food that the body was designed to eat. On no death certificate ever was the reason for death given as “pharmaceuticals or supplements ingested with the wrong spin.” Although that has indeed occurred. Keep this in mind while seeking answers for yourselves and your clients.

This is a complex topic with many implications. We look forward to your thoughts and comments.

NOTE: The biochemistry of amino acids and their work in the body is significantly more complex than we have had time to discuss here. However the intent of this short description was to provide the reader a basic outline highlighting the importance of amino acids in relationship to nature and the human body as a whole. Hereby laying a foundation which conveys the potential for negative consequences when the natural spin of polarized light is not taken into consideration during synthetic supplementation.

References & Resources:

Coffee Depletes Key Nutrient

Yes sirree! Did you know that drinking just one cup of strong coffee or black tea within one hour of consuming a healthy meal will impair up to 60% of iron absorption? The stronger the coffee or tea, the greater the absorption of iron is undermined in your body.

Is that a problem?

It could be. Mild to moderate iron-deficiency may be asymptomatic or it can present symptoms such as fatigue, cold hands and feet, dizziness, restless leg syndrome, frequent infections, difficulty concentrating, cardiac problems, and more.

“Drinking coffee and other caffeinated beverages with a meal is associated with a 39 – 90% reduction in iron absorption.” [1]

However, caffeine in and of itself only demonstrates a mild negative affect on iron levels compared to the extreme affects caused by tannins.

Do I have to give up my coffee?

Well maybe, maybe not. A severe deficiency may require a complete break from coffee, at least while rebuilding your body’s iron stores. However, if you must imbibe you will want to limit your intake and make sure to leave a one to two-hour window between consuming coffee and then consuming foods or supplements that contain iron. You will also want to increase the amount of food iron that you eat overall.

The Framingham Heart Study [3] was a large study of 634 elderly people from 67-93 years of age and who were still living on their own. It “found that each weekly cup of coffee was associated with a 1% lower level of ferritin, a protein that indicates iron storage levels.” [1]

What is the best way to get my iron?

Well, to begin with, it is not recommended to consume the inorganic form of iron called ferrous (Fe) sulfate which happens to be the most common form that is found in both supplements and in fortified foods.

“Iron used to fortify breakfast cereals ‘is a finely powdered metallic iron and is generally poorly assimilated.” [2]

Inorganic iron is not only used to fortify cereals, it is used to fortify wheat, maize (corn), and rice. Dairy, condiments, and sauces are also fortified. Therefore, one must consider any derivatives of these products such as bread, pastries, pasta, ice cream, tortillas, etc. to contain metallic iron.

Which real foods contain the iron my body needs?

The best organic food forms of iron are found in green vegetables, legumes, and meat (especially red meat and organ meat.) Unlike ferrous sulfate, dietary iron from real food is non-constipating and bio-available, making it the very best choice for your body!

Recipe: Darlene’s Mocha Delight!

~ A Delicious, Health-Promoting Coffee Substitute ~

  • 1 Cup Dandelion Root, Roasted (cut & sifted)
  • 1 Cup Chicory Root, Roasted (cut & sifted)
  • 1 Heaping TSP Cacao, powdered
  • 1/4 TSP Powdered Cinnamon

In a pint jar, combine all the ingredients and mix thoroughly. Label and store with a secure lid.

Add 1/2 – 1 scant teaspoon (more or less as desired) to a tea infuser for each 8 to 16 ounces of water. (I like to use large coffee mugs for my tea!)
Pour boiling hot water over the tea and allow to steep for 3 to 5 minutes for a delicious “coffee-substitute” beverage or steep longer, 10 to 15 minutes, to draw out more nutrients and increase the health benefits.

Be sure to add some almond milk, coconut milk, or a maybe a little of both and you are good to go. There is a natural sweetness to this recipe that does not require additional sweeteners. It is great cold as the “chocolaty” taste seems to increase as it cools. Yum.

Dandelion is a treasure-trove of nutrients. Unlike coffee, dandelion is high in iron as well as manganese and phosphorus. Chicory, like dandelion, is full of nutrients and an especially good source of potassium. Like dandelion, chicory is known to aid digestion making this a wonderful beverage to consume with a meal. Chicory and dandelion are a great combination.

‘Coffee people’ and ‘non-coffee’ people are pleasantly surprised when they try this hot beverage. It is satisfying, delicious, and provides a nutrient boost the body really craves.

Darlene’s Mocha Delight!

Share your favorite coffee-substitute creation in the comments below or change-up this one and make it better! To your health!

[1] Do Coffee and Caffeine Inhibit Iron Absorption?
[2] The Truth About Vitamins & Minerals in supplements: Why real nutrients are best! by Robert Thiel, Ph.D.
[3] Dietary determinants of iron stores in a free-living elderly population: The Framingham Heart Study

Herbalism ~ Yesterday & Today

Herbalism has been around as long as there have been, well, plants and people!  Mankind has studied the usefulness of plants as food and medicine from the very beginning.  In the early days women were the gatherers of plants for food.  Therefore, they were entrusted with the duty of preparing food and mixing plants into ‘medicinal’ preparations to promote health.

During that time, it was a commonly held belief that disease originated with invisible spirit beings such as ghosts and fairies.  Therefore, to appease the “anger” of these invisible beings, herbs (also believed to have spirits associated with them), were combined with magic rituals that corresponded to religious views.[A]

A different approach to herbs was practiced by the ancient Hebrews.  While they also collected plants for food and medicine, they offered thanks for the food and medicinal value of the plant life all around them to their God whom they recognized as an all-powerful Creator and the God of their forefathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Many of these herbs were recorded in the Torah which is also known as the Old Testament in the modern-day Bible.

Onions & Garlic
Image by Robert-Owen-Wahl from Pixabay

The allium plant family of which garlic, leeks, and onions are a part were a dietary staple of the ancient Hebrews (and also quite popular today!)  One of these potent herbs, garlic, which is a rather lowly herb, was consumed in everyday life, yet highly regarded by the Hebrews.  They “believed that garlic increased virility and relied on it to ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ as directed in Genesis.”[B] As such, they indeed were a prolific people which quickly grew into a very large nation.

In addition to the alliums, there were the balms such as the Balm of Gilead, an aromatic, medicinal substance derived from plants in the historical area of Gilead east of the Jordan river which was known for their spices and ointments.  Also of significance were bitter herbs such as chicory, dandelion, sorrel, and watercress which were important for maintaining healthy digestion as they stimulate appetite and support the liver, gall bladder, kidneys, etc.  These bitter herbs are especially nutritional, and we know now that they are chalk full of vitamins and minerals.

There were also cleansing herbs such as hyssop, marjoram, milk thistle, and the nettles.  “Louise Baldensperger, who, in the early twentieth century, gathered lore about folk use of plants in Palestine, found that “People whip themselves with nettles for rheumatism, a most heroic remedy, rather like allowing oneself to be stung by bees for a cure.”[B]

Image by Marc Pascual from Pixabay

Many were the herbs used in ancient times, anemone, poppy, crocus (saffron), anise and dill, cumin, mint, and rue along with grapevine, date palm, olive, myrrh, cassia (cinnamon), frankincense, hyacinth, lily, iris, lotus and many more.  The benefits of these herbs were woven into the fabric of everyday living for the Hebrews.  Everyone who partook at meals, received the benefits of many of these herbs, especially those that were edible as they were incorporated into recipes and cures for common ailments.  Unlike today where one with a deep knowledge of herbs and their actions is unique, back then, the knowledge was commonplace and held within community.

At about 2500 B.C. the Egyptians began to practice what is considered a “rational and scientific” approach to medicine beginning with a physician named Herophilus.  “The contributions of Herophilus to our knowledge of anatomy and medical terminology are enormous. Through his anatomical studies on the nervous system, Herophilus proved that the brain and not the heart was the seat of intelligence, a revolutionary breakthrough for that period since it contradicted a prevailing Aristotelian concept which stated that the heart is the seat of intelligence, rational thoughts, emotions, and desires. Unfortunately, their writings have been lost and most of our knowledge of these two is derived from commentators, especially Celsus and Galen.”[C]

“Galen is a giant in the history of medicine and casts a long shadow. His medical theories dominated European medicine for 1500 years. He was a Greek physician who practiced in Rome, becoming physician to five Roman emperors. He was prolific and wrote hundreds of treatises, compiling all significant Greek and Roman medical thoughts, and adding his own discoveries and theories, foremost of which was the humoral basis of disease: illness was caused by an imbalance of the four humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. He showed, through experimentation, that the arteries carried blood, and not air, as was commonly believed.”[C]

Image by Larisa Koshkina from Pixabay

Interestingly, King “Solomon’s ‘refresh me with apples’ may have inspired the nineteenth-century saying, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’  In biblical times Greeks believed the apple healed all disorders.  In the second century, Roman court physician Galen prescribed apple wine as a cure-all for almost every ailment.  An Arabic author from the same period wrote, ‘Its scent cheers my soul, renews my strength and restores my health.’  Scientists at Yale University have since discovered that the scent of spiced apples produces a calming effect that lowers blood pressure.”[C]

For many thousands of years herbs were so commonplace to diet and wellness that most people practiced a type of folk medicine in their homes and villages.  When the knowledge and remedies within the home were not enough, caretakers would reach out to a more knowledgeable family member such as a spinster aunt or a grandmother with greater knowledge.

When a situation would escalate beyond their abilities the family would then seek out the next most knowledgeable person who was known as a “wise woman” or a “wise man” man of the village or what we might recognize as the community herbalist. To this day this practice continues to be practiced outside of first world countries.

Image by Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay

Modern day examples of herb-based medical systems would be Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as other eastern religions where there is a synergy between lifestyle and worship, and the resulting states of either health or disease.

Modern-day Christianity had its very roots in the religion of the Hebrews which was birthed in the Eastern mindset.  The Western mindset, based upon reductionist Greek philosophy, has pervaded the thoughts of generations of believers until this preset day.

As a result, our beliefs have become fragmented into separate criterion-based compartments such as ‘business and personal,’ ‘church and state,’ and even ‘health and sickness.’  There is some value in this mode of thinking as ideally each criterion would remain within consistent parameters no matter who does the assessment. However, illness can have many different roots and while a person’s lifestyle may appear healthy, there may be something amiss lying below the surface.

What does this have to do with herbalism?  Well, a lot. Understanding people and physiology, while understanding herbs and their actions is the basis for applying gentle, supportive, and effective remedials. Although our bodies have all the same components (liver, heart, blood, lymph, etc.) which can be scientifically studied, there are significant variables that are individual to each person that the holistic herbalist is trained to uncover.

In the early days as it is today, the herbalist’s “medicine chest” is not filled with pharmaceuticals. Rather, the herbalist ought to be intimately acquainted with the actions of plant materials: roots, stems, leaves, and flowers as remedials to support the body’s design to heal itself.

What Does Herbalism Look Like Today?

A burgeoning passion for medicinal plants combined with a desire to support people in their recovery process are two distinct indicators of an intense “herbal” fire burning within one’s soul.  The field of study is called herbalism, which is the practice of utilizing plant materials in a manner that supports the body’s ability to maintain wellness and to heal itself.  In times past, herbalism was known as the “medicine of the people.”  Herbal artisans were called “healers” or the “apothecary.”  In modern times these same people are called herbalists.

There are precious few who have experienced the passing down of esoteric knowledge through familial generations.  Therefore, it has become common for modern-day herbalists to seek out knowledge and training regarding the utilization and safety of medicinal plants and to intentionally gain an intimate experience with these wonderful, unique, and beautiful creations of immense benefit to mankind.

What is a Master Herbalist?

A Master Herbalist is a title that denotes proficiency in the use of herbs.  What a Master Herbalist actually does often varies with the individual’s talents as well as the desired expression of such knowledge and creativity.  This is where it gets exciting! 

For instance, some herbalists are avid foragers and know much about plant identification, growth and habitats, as well as the medicinal and/or food uses of plants – a study called botany.  Other herbalists are professional seed savers, farmers, or gardeners that specialize in providing plants for other gardeners, medicinal, or culinary use. Still others like to compound herbs and make herbal remedies such as infusions, decoctions, tinctures, salves, creams, medicinal syrups, suppositories, and encapsulations.  Yet others find creativity and fulfillment in formulating lines of natural cosmetics, bath and body products, household cleaners, and personal hygiene items.

Herbalists have been known to dress in period costumes and demonstrate how herbs were a vital part of frontier wellness, while others find pleasure in teaching folks how to incorporate herbs into their daily lives.  Still, some master herbalists spend their time studying and writing books, articles, and blogs while others capture the distinct beauty and intricacies of herbs through art, photography, painting, and crafts.  Due to the popularity of pets, herbs are becoming more sought out in the support of the natural health and wellbeing of animals such as dogs, cats, and horses.  Once again, we find our beloved Master Herbalists stepping forward to bridge the gap.

Some herbalists work in retail helping customers make the right product selections while others work in an herbal apothecary setting selling herbs by weight or mixing herbal blends to help with specific ailments. However, most commonly, herbalists are self-employed wellness consultants who observe and assess clients to offer natural solutions for their health issues and to maintain proper wellness.

Many licensed practitioners (doctors, dentists, chiropractors, nurses, massage and physical therapists, etc.) are adding herbalism to their knowledge base as well as carving out a space in their clinics for proficient Master Herbalists.  Lots of moms just want to be grounded and knowledgeable in using safe and natural remedies with their family and friends.  Others simply want to be an herbal resource for their local communities. Whichever way one chooses to express their passion for herbs is valuable and necessary as many people are searching for gentle-yet-effective alternatives to strengthen their bodies.

If you are interested in herbs and are unsure of what your long-term goals might “look like,” take a long, deep breath in and exhale. There is time and you have come to the right place. It is not unusual for a vision to bloom and grow as our students progress through the Master Herbalist and/or Clinical Master Herbalist program(s) at Genesis School of Natural Health and in their interactions with the other students and graduates in our private Student Discussion Group.

Herbalism is more than a career. It is a desire, a lifestyle, a dream, and an expression of what lies within a person, their beliefs, and the “communion and fellowship one has with nature, and with the Author of that nature.” ~Euell Gibbons

Image from Pixabay


Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

They’re here! Poison ivy that is, and her two toxic siblings poison oak and poison sumac. The bane of summer enjoyment for gardeners, landscapers, campers, hikers, and lovers of all things outdoors.

Each year, 50 million Americans endure the ramifications of a toxic encounter with poison ivy and her two pernicious allies. However, it was only recently that researchers identified the molecular pathway that had eluded them in the past. More about that in a bit.

Yet, for those who lead plant identification groups, “Is that poison ivy?” has to be one of the most commonly asked questions and for good reason. Poison ivy does not always present exactly the same, but once one masters its ambiguous nature, it seems to pop out of everywhere. So let us learn a bit more.

Know Your Enemy

Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and the Japanese lacquer tree are part of the cashew plant family. Originating as a North American native plant, poison ivy is found from coast to coast in Canada, the continental United States (except for California where poison oak abounds), and Mexico. It has a great ability to adapt to many different habitats which is why it can be found growing almost anywhere except in the desert or at high elevations.

In the eastern part of the United States one will typically see poison ivy as a climbing vine that looks like a hairy rope with flowers of green or yellow. While western poison ivy, although similar in appearance, typically does not climb, but instead grows into a low-lying shrub. To confuse the issue, western poison oak has a vining growth habit.

The edges of the leaves are called margins. They can either be smooth or toothed. Sometimes on different plants, and sometimes even on the same plant as in the one depicted below. Also, poison ivy can also present with many “teeth” on the toothed margins, not only the one notch depicted here.

The young plants or leaves usually have a “high-gloss” appearance and can range from green to greenish-red to deep red color. In the autumn, poison ivy leaves turn a deep orange to red color. It is simply beautiful to behold.

~ Leaflets of Three, Let It Be ~

While the edges of the leaves can be either toothed or smooth, the leaves themselves are pinnately-veined, making them a dicot. Dicots are a grouping of flowering plants that typically have four or five petals. Poison ivy flowers have five petals which flower in June.

~ Longer Middle Stem, Don’t Touch Them ~

The leaf presents at the end of a petiole in a grouping of three leaflets called “trifoliate” or “ternate.” A petiole is the “leafstalk,” which is a slender stalk that attaches the leaf or leaves to the stem of a plant. Also note in the photo above that the center leaflet has a longer stalk than the two opposite leaflets.

Poison Ivy (Center)
Poison Ivy in Bud

The fruit of poison ivy is called a drupe which is a fleshy fruit that surrounds a single stone-like seed and is colored greenish-yellow or amber. These fruits are a valuable source of food for birds during mid-winter when food is scarce.

Two simple mnemonics are just not enough to describe this “plant of many presentations.” Therefore, when describing the eastern poison ivy it is important to take note of that hairy vine. What child would not delight in repeating the phrase “Hairy rope? Don’t be a dope!” So let us stick with more refined terminology, “Hairy vine? No friend of mine!”

~ Hairy Vine? No Friend of Mine! ~

The next photo shows three poison ivy vines, two of which are quite thick. Touching any part of poison ivy plant can result in a form of contact dermatitis called “poison ivy rash”, which is a type of skin poisoning.

The photo below is a close up of those “vine” hairs for your consideration, but did you know that poison ivy is neither a vine nor a plant called a bine? A vine has tendrils which are used to climb, think of a grapevine, sweet pea, cucumber, or passionflower.

A bine uses its main stem to wrap around the thing that it is climbing like a fence post or a tree. Examples of plants that are bines would be hops, wisteria, honeysuckle, morning glories, or clematis.

Poison ivy is neither a vine or a bine. It is actually a parasitic plant. Those “hairs” used to attach itself to trees are, in fact, aerial roots which gain nourishment from its host.

~ To learn more about botany and the medicinal properties of plants consider the Master Herbalist program at Genesis School of Natural Health! ~

Toxicondendron radicans while native to North America can also be found alive and well in Europe and Asia, and disbursed from there all over the world. In the fall of 1784, “Philadelphia horticulturalist William Bartram wrote out a list of 220 “American Trees, Shrubs, & herbs” in his fine, flowing handwriting. He was packing up seeds and young plants to send across the Atlantic, as he had many times before. European collectors were eager to buy New World trees and plants, whether useful, ornamental, or simply unusual.”[1] Number 120 on his list was poison ivy.

From there poison ivy began to be cultivated in English and French royal gardens. It was not long before the plant’s irritant effects became well known and its popularity dwindled. I wonder is it just me, or can anyone else picture a wry smile on ol’ Bartram’s face as he was writing out his list?

Poison ivy is a rich source of tannins, saponins, alkaloids, etc. It is also high in antioxidants and in antimicrobial activity.[2] The oily mixture of sap contains Urushiol, a clear chemical that causes skin irritation and itch. Urushiol found in the Japanese urushi or “lacquer” tree is also found in poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and the skin and plant parts of mangoes.

It is the alkyl functional groups that make urushiol non-polar and hydrophobic. This means it does not dissolve in water. When oily urushiol touches the skin, it sticks and begins to be absorbed right away into the dermis over the next eight hours or so, unless measures are taken to stop it.

If not removed from the surface of the skin an itchy rash generally begins to appear in as few as 24 hours from the initial exposure. The molecular pathway for this irritating effect of urushiol had previously eluded scientists, until now.

Florian Winau, Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard Medical School found that “when urushiol comes into contact with Langerhans cells in the skin, the Langerhans cells load urushiol on CD1a molecules that activate the immune system’s T cells. The T cells produce interleukin 17 and interleukin 22, which cause inflammation and itchiness. It was these two interleukins, known to be active in psoriasis as well, that prompted Winau to suggest that a similar mechanism — and a similar therapeutic target — may be involved in both the poison ivy response and in psoriasis’ auto-immune reaction.”[3]

Why had this evaded researchers for so long? Well, lab mice are often used in immunology study and while they are valuable resource in many respects, no one considered that they don’t produce CD1a, the molecular pathway found in humans allergic to urushiol.[3]

~ “Phytochemistry”, understanding how and why plant medicine works, is foundational in the Clinical Master Herbalist program here at Genesis School of Natural Health! ~

~ Ewww! Get it off-fa me! ~

While we need to be able to avoid direct exposure to the poison ivy plant, we also need to be cautious about possible secondary exposures as well. Toxic urushiol can remain active for up to five years on clothing, bedding, shoes, tools, gloves, and pet fur if not cleaned off. Dead, dried-up poison ivy still has the oil on it. So beware.

“Urushiol must penetrate the skin to cause a reaction, and can depend on the amount of sap, the length of exposure, and the parts of the body exposed (skin can be thicker or thinner depending on the part of the body). It will also depend on your individual sensitivity.”[4]

Urushiol Oil Induced Contact Dermatitis

To remove the urushiol, use lukewarm to cool water and scrub with a cloth. It is the friction that actually removes the oil, so don’t be afraid to give a good scrub. Do not use hot water as it opens the pores of the skin and increases the rate of absorption. Believe it or not cool water and friction are more effective at removing poison ivy oils, than even soaps and chemical products. The best practice is to soap up, scrub, and rinse two to three times making sure to get any place on your body that you may have touched with your hands.

Do not bathe in an attempt to remove urushiol. The still unabsorbed urushiol can float on the bath water and find its way to other parts of the body. There are products like Tech-nu and de-greasing soaps that are marketed, but by far the most effective way to remove urushiol is by pure friction.

Remember to clean well under the nails because urushiol can stay active for quite a while in that hiding spot.

~ Stop the Itch! ~

So ya got yerself some poison ivy goin’ on. Well, of course, it was before you read this article and knew all about it, but that does not change the fact that now there is an inflamed rash that itches like a bugger. What can help while the body is healing? First, do not scratch or break open the blisters. The blisters are self-protective fluids that help to cushion the wound, keep out infection, and heal the skin.

Here are a number of things to try, so don’t give up.

~ Cool as a Cucumber! ~

  • My personal favorite soothing, anti-heat, anti-itch remedy is to place lengths of thinly-sliced cucumber directly upon the rash and wrap it in a layer of paper toweling secured by cellophane wrap. I may look like a country bumkin in that getup, but there is nothing more soothing than cucumbers which are especially cooling. Such a relief from the heat of the inflammation and the incessant itch. Cucumbers are also astringent which helps contract the tissues and diminish the secretions.
  • Another way to use cucumber is to liberally rub the juice over the rash. Let it air dry after the application, then apply a second coat. This provides a protective layer over the rash that keeps it from being irritated by fabrics and things one brushes up against throughout the day. Two coats each time seems to do the trick, is easy to reapply, and lasts a few hours. Others swear by watermelon rind or the inside of a banana peel, but I don’t know if they have tried cucumber. Try whatever is available to see what helps your situation the most.
  • Aloe (Aloe vera) – Now might be a good time to slice open a leaf of that plant you keep around for burns and sunburn and smear it all over that rash. Aloe gel can help too.
  • Activated Charcoal can be helpful, especially where there is severe swelling. Take 8 tablets or mix 1 rounded teaspoon into a small glass of juice or water two times each day. Remember to increase water intake while using activated charcoal. Discontinue once the swelling has dissipated.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – Saturate a cotton ball and apply topically with a saturated cotton ball.
  • Oatmeal Paste – Use plain or stir in some baking soda.
  • Calamine lotion is commonly applied to urushiol rashes.

~ Poison Ivy Herbals ~

According to Dr. John R. Christopher, naturopathic physician and herbalist, poison ivy is listed along with herbs that are known irritants. Irritants are “Herbs that produce a greater or lesser degree of vascular excitement when applied to the epidermis or skin surface.”[5] It is included along with the Herpetic herbs, those that are healing to skin eruptions which relate to the herpes virus and scaling diseases such as ringworm etc.[5] It is also rubefacient, stimulant, and narcotic.

Herbal Remedies by Dr. John. R Christopher [5]

  • Plantain (Plantago spp.) – Make a poultice of the fresh, bruised leaves and apply to the rash. Change before the poultice dries out.
  • Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) – Use the infusion internally and with frequent external applications as a wash.
  • Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva) – Applied topically as a component of Dr. Christopher’s Asthma Remedy.
  • Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) – Apply as a poultice – 1 part lobelia to 2 parts slippery elm.
  • Virginia Snake Root (Aristolochia serpentaria) – Apply a wash of the fluid extract.

“Mrs. Maud Grieve was the Principal and Founder of ‘The Whins’ Medicinal and Commercial Herb School and Farm at Chalfont St. Peter in Buckinghamshire, England. The training school gave tuition and practical courses in all branches of herb growing, collecting, drying and marketing. Grieve had also been President of the British Guild of Herb Growers, and Fellow of the British Science Guild. Her work A Modern Herbal contains medicinal, culinary, cosmetic and economic properties, cultivation and folklore of herbs.”[6]

Herbal Remedies by Mrs. M Grieve, F.R.H.S. [7]

  • Alkaline lotions – Baking soda in baths and pastes, hyposulphite of soda – use to moisten skin frequently.
  • Vervain Root (Verbena spp.) – Boiled in milk and water with the inner bark of the White Oak (Quercus alba).

Dr. John Heinerman traveled the world to work with folk healers and top doctors and scientists. Here are some of his suggestions to ease the pain of poison ivy.

Herbal Remedies by Dr. John Heinerman [8]

  • Beech (Fagus grandifolia) – Steep bits of tree bark from the North side of the tree in 2 C slightly salted hot water until color is dark. Bathe affected rash as needed.
  • Cattail (Typha Latifolia) – Make a paste of the root powder, spread a thin layer on rash, change after several hours.
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) – 1 TSP powdered root to 1 pint hot water. Dab on rash. Taking internally is beneficial as well. NOTE: If possible, use the other remedies as Goldenseal is overharvested.
  • Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) – Rinse and crush well. Rub over affected areas. NOTE: Jewelweed is often found growing in the same location as poison ivy. Look for it as it should be used right away as an antidote for the urushiol.
  • Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) – Dig and clean fresh root, then hammer to a pulp. Apply a poultice of mashed root and leave for 24 hours or boil 1 C chopped root in 1-1/2 pints distilled water, covered, for 15 minutes, cool, strain, and wash skin with the tea.
  • Sumac (Rhus glabra) – Make sure you have identified the correct species! Add 1 TBSP each of the bark, leaves, and berries to 1 Qt boiling water. Simmer covered for 30 minutes, then steep for 30 minutes, strain, refrigerate. Once cool, use as a wash.

~ Homeopathic Rhus Toxicondendron ~

  • Itching Skin Diseases – Use the homeopathic both internally and externally for poison ivy/oak/sumac, rashes, ringworm, etc. Homeopathic Rhus Tox is also utilized to prevent/lesson an allergic reaction and to treat a rash.

~ Homeopathic Cell Salts[9] ~

  • Natrum Muriaticom & Kali Sulphuricum – For topical use only. Both must be used together. Use either the 3X or 6X potencies. Add to cool/lukewarm water, then apply directly to the rash using a clean cloth.

Due to its potent actions and the risk of toxicity, use of poison ivy as a medicinal has fallen by the wayside. Poison ivy was included as a remedy in the Merck Manual of 1899 as was Rhus Toxicondendron, the homeopathic. A fluid extract can be prepared from the fresh leaves, however, if taken orally a blistering rash may occur internally. With so many more suitable herbs, an herbalist would have no difficulty finding another to replace any potential benefit of Toxicodendron radicans.

Most skin rashes caused by urushiol are limited and cause only a minor although very irritating, sometimes painful, hot, itchy rash anywhere from five days to a few weeks.

It is important to not attempt to burn poison ivy as the oils are carried in the smoke and upon inhalation, can cause internal damage to the esophagus and the lining of the lungs. This condition is extremely painful and potentially deadly.

Should too great “a portion of the body be covered with blisters, respiration and excretion of poisonous wastes through the pores is impeded. This, in turn, may lead to a fatal toxemia.”[10] The remedies included here are only intended for use with non-life-threatening conditions.

Hopefully, becoming knowledgeable helps us to avoid this beautiful-but-o-so-irritating plant. In the event that poison ivy makes itself known, we are now also armed with remedies to prevent and deal with the rash. Do you use natural remedies for poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac? Tell us about them in the comments below.

Enjoy the outdoors this year!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


  1. No Ill Nature: The Surprising History and Science of Poison Ivy and Its Relatives
  2. Investigation into the Phytochemical Composition of Poison Ivy and its Antimicrobial Activity by Hinchong Hanse, Mondeep Gogoi, Pronot Langthasa, Elufer Akram, Priya Islam, Taku Oniya
  3. From Leaf to Itch by Alvin Powell, Harvard Staff Writer
  4. The Truths and Myths About Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac
  5. School of Natural Healing by Dr. John R. Christopher
  6. Collection of material relating to Mrs. Maud Grieve, F.R.H.S (fl.1937)
  7. A Modern Herbal by Mrs. Maud Grieve, F.R.H.S.
  8. Heinerman’s Encyclopedia of Healing Herbs & Spices by Dr. John Heinerman
  9. The Healing Echo Discovering Homeopathic Cell Salts by Vinton McCabe
  10. What Causes the “Itch” in Poison Ivy? Journal of the Franklin Institute, vol. 255, no. 3, pp.266-267

Other Resources:

How to never have a serious poison ivy rash again
MALDI-MS Imaging of Urushiols in Poison Ivy Stem

Products from the Hive – Part V: BEESWAX (& Glyphosate in the Hive)

On the playground one is likely to hear almost anything.  These days it is not entirely uncommon for one child to retort to another, “It’s none of your beeswax!” and the questioner immediately holds their tongue.  This riposte was always good enough to stop the badgering and to keep the playground dynamics friendly.  Beeswax, an amazing substance known to soften and soothe skin. It also serves to smoothly soften the verbal blow.

However, the playground was a long time ago and just as the phrase “It’s none of your beeswax!” is appropriate at a certain time, we should perhaps move on, or as another “bee-ism” used by lovers of honeybees so aptly states, “Make like a bee and buzz off!”

It has now imperative that the budding holistic health professional get “busy as a bee” as it has indeed become our business to understand natural remedies and their value to help people recover their health. Let us consider beeswax as another amazing healing product of the hive.

The Latin name(s) for beeswax Cera flava or Cera alba reflect both the substance and the color. Cera is translated ‘wax’, while flava means yellow. Therefore Cera flava can be interpreted “yellow wax”. Most commonly, however, beeswax is referred to as Cera alba.  Alba meaning ‘white’ would be translated, “white wax.”  Either white or yellow beeswax can be used to make wax-based products.

Beeswax ~ How The Bees Make It

Have you ever smelled a pure beeswax candle?  If you have you might notice that is has the light aroma of honey.  When field bees collect flower nectar and bring it back to the hive, that nectar is destined to become one of two things, either honey or beeswax.

Meanwhile back at the hive young worker bees learn how to produce beeswax from the older worker bees. “Wax glands are best developed and most productive in 12-18 day-old workers. After producing wax for a few days, the wax glands begin to degenerate and by the time the bee is ready to leave the hive to become a field bee, usually when it is about 21 days of age, the glands have completely degenerated.” [1]

“Beeswax is produced by metabolizing honey in fat cells associated with the wax glands and converting it to beeswax; workers cannot produce beeswax unless there are adequate honey stores in the colony. Workers also need to eat pollen during the first five to six days of their life in order to secrete wax later on, evidently because the protein in pollen is needed at that time for adequate fat cell development (Winston 1987). Wax is secreted primarily during warm weather when foraging is active. Workers actively engaged in secreting wax engorge themselves with honey and hang in festoons at or near the site of comb building. Drones and queens do not have abdominal wax glands.” [2]

As the worker bees consume the honey, eight wax-producing glands on their abdomens convert the sugars into a wax-like substance which appears on the surface as small transparent ‘scales.’  Initially, it is glass-clear and colorless, later as other bees begin to chew on this substance the enzymes in their salivary secretions help to soften the wax and change its appearance to a light whitish-cream color that then begins to darken with age.

Beeswax ~ The Seen & The Unseen

“Absorption of flavonoids from propolis and/or carotenoids in pollen lead to a bright to dark yellow color. The typical scent of wax is enriched with aromatic substances from honey, pollen and propolis.” [3]

“100% pure beeswax will develop a naturally occurring white film on its surface over time. Commonly known as “bloom”, this white film is an indicator of the purity of the beeswax. If you purchase a candle that is labeled as “pure beeswax”, and it doesn’t develop bloom over a period of time, it may not be 100% pure. Bloom can be removed by buffing the surface of the candle with a soft cloth or by running a hair dryer on warm/low over the surface of the candle. [4]

Beeswax ~ The Breakdown

“Beeswax is a complex substance made up of wax esters, fatty acids and hydrocarbons (Piek 1964; Tulloch 1970). Over 300 individual chemical components have been identified from pure beeswax (Tulloch 1980). Beeswax consists primarily of monoesters (35%), hydrocarbons (14%), diesters (14%), triesters (3%), hydroxymonoesters (4%), hydroxypolyesters (8%), free fatty acids (12%), acid esters (1%), acid polyesters (2%), free alcohol (1%) and unidentified (6%). It is this great diversity of composition that gives beeswax many unique properties (Goodman 2003) and keeps us from fully understanding the synthesis and secretion process.” [5]

Beeswax in the Herbal Pharmacy

The herbalist uses beeswax when making ointments, creams, cerates, plasters, and suppositories to give a proper consistency and tenacity. Not only is beeswax used to thicken salves, it “is so non-polar that it’s essentially waterproof.  It won’t even mix with olive oil unless it is heated until it melts.” [6] As an emollient, beeswax is softening and soothing to the skin. It is also anti-desiccant as it works to help the skin retain moisture. Additionally, “The few studies [of beeswax] showed an antimicrobic effectiveness of beeswax against overall Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella enterica, Candida albicans and Aspergillus niger; these inhibitory effects are enhanced synergistically with other natural products such as honey or olive oil.” [7]

Beeswax ‘Miracles’ ~ True Stories

An elderly woman with aging feet, whose skin was so thin it was translucent, had continual skin ulcers between the toes on her right foot. Previously MRSA had entered through one of the ulcerated spots on the foot. It settled in the bone requiring surgery to remove the diseased toe.

After this event, the woman’s podiatrist prescribed every manner of pharmaceutical creams, salves, and mechanical contrivances to encourage the ulcerated foot to heal over the previous year. While the surgery spot healed up another ulcerated area between the toes where they rubbed together became ulcerated, quickly becoming a very serious problem.

One day the elderly woman’s daughter traveled to visit her. (The daughter happens to be a Master Herbalist and a graduate from Genesis School of Natural Health.) She gave her mother a gift of a hand salve she had hand-crafted with beeswax, almond oil, vitamin E, and essential oils.

The next time the daughter visited she was told that at the ulcer had completely healed! The elderly woman went on to explain that she had used the “hand salve” given by her daughter on her foot each morning and again in the evening every time she cleaned and re-bandaged her foot.

At her next podiatrist appointment the doctor stared in shock at the healed foot ulcer and said, “How did you do that? I never thought we’d get that to heal up.” The woman replied, “My daughter made me a salve.” “What’s in it?”, the doctor asked. The woman recounted the list of ingredients to which the doctor replied, “Oh yes, of course. It was the beeswax.” And dropped the topic.

What was it about the beeswax that worked so magnificently for the elderly woman? There are a number of actions that came into play. First, the anti-desiccant property of the beeswax helped the skin to retain moisture, especially the moisture from the almond oil which carried the essential oils deep into the skin. Additionally, its antibacterial properties (along with those of the essential oils) helped keep bacteria on and in the ulcerated area at bay which allowed the wound to begin healing. Another very important aspect was the reduction in friction between the toes as the beeswax provided a very thin protective layer to the skin.

The following is an eye-catching example of the beneficial results of using a beeswax product on a woman diagnosed with Scleroderma, a disease that causes hardening of the skin which can be painful.

Reyah Carlson, Apitherapist at Reyah’s Bees says, this “Woman’s hand was affected by Scleroderma (an auto immune disorder.) Notice the difference in her hand before using my Bee-Lightful skin cream, and then again less than 10 days after using my skin cream!”

The Savvy Herbalist

Modern agriculture’s insistence on the use of pesticides harms more than just the food they produce. Honeybees as pollinators, are doing what they are naturally designed to do. Invariably, they will bring these chemicals back to the hive from their collection of plant pollen and nectar.

“Studies demonstrate that a cocktail of pesticides is present in bee hives. Meanwhile, there is growing evidence that some of the chemicals identified might interact in a synergistic manner. In particular, some fungicides which have generally been considered as relatively safe for bees have proven to be harmful in the presence of other pesticides. These recent findings demonstrate that current standards and limits for pesticides may not actually be safe for bees. Current risk assessment schemes take only single chemical exposures into consideration.” [8]

“Residues of pesticides and varroacides accrue in wax. These residues are especially concentrated in recycled wax, preventing the absorption of additional substances and possibly transferring into honey. Not only is the honey contaminated, but also the bees’ food. Sub-lethal doses in wax show an influence on reared brood and can cause insidious but also acute damage. Therefore, combs from the brood chamber should not be used for the production of foundation. Combs in the honey chamber can be contaminated by pesticides from the environment, especially after honey flow near or in intensive agriculture.” [9]

What a conundrum we find ourselves in. Even beekeepers who practice natural beekeeping and do not contribute microbiome disrupting chemicals or essential oils to the hive, helplessly stand by and watch these bee colonies struggle and collapse under the toxic load year after year.

Dear God, What Have We Done?

“Increased mortality of honey bee colonies has been attributed to several factors but is not fully understood. The herbicide glyphosate is expected to be innocuous to animals, including bees, because it targets an enzyme only found in plants and microorganisms. However, bees rely on a specialized gut microbiota that benefits growth and provides defense against pathogens. … Exposing bees to glyphosate alters the bee gut community and increases susceptibility to infection by opportunistic pathogens. Understanding how glyphosate impacts bee gut symbionts and bee health will help elucidate a possible role of this chemical in colony decline.” [10]

Here is the conclusion of the study for your consideration. “As in many animals, honeybees rely on their gut microbial community for a variety of functions, including food processing, regulation of immune system, and defense against pathogens. Perturbations of this system have the potential to lead to negative consequences for host fitness. We found that glyphosate affects the bee gut microbiota composition and that bacterial species and strains within this community vary in susceptibility to glyphosate. Recent experimental and observational studies have provided evidence that dysbiosis affecting the bee gut can increase susceptibility to pathogen invasion. Our results also suggest that establishment of a normal microbial community is crucial for protection against opportunistic pathogens of honey bees.” [11]

Sounds a lot like the human microbiome and in some ways it is. Human gut microbes actually include a number of the same species as the honeybee. Additionally, the role of these gut microbes in humans also impacts ‘food processing, regulation of immune system, and defense against pathogens.’

How does glyphosate affect the digestive systems of insects? Well, in a similar way that antibiotics disrupt the gut of animal bodies. By attacking the good as well as the bad bacteria and disrupting the natural balance. Additionally, there are added surfactants to glyphosate that break down (ulcerate) the intestinal wall.

Donna Farmer, a Bayer/Monsanto scientist stated under oath that they could not use animal studies for glyphosate because the surfactants in it would irritate the intestines. (Transcript here.) Basically, their studies would never get far enough because the surfactants would irritate and subsequently break down the lining of the gut. The purpose of surfactants is to “enhance the uptake of the active ingredients across the waxy cuticle of plants which means that less herbicide can be applied.” [12]

The word anti means “against,” and “bio” means life. Antibiotic therefore means, “against life.” It works in a similar fashion no matter how it is used. Although patented as an antibiotic, the industry markets glyphosate as a xenobiotic. What is the difference?

The original definition of xenobiotic from the Miriam Webster Medical Dictionary online is: “a chemical compound (such as a drug, pesticide, or carcinogen) that is foreign to a living organism.” This means that xenobiotics are a “chemical compound foreign to a given biological system. It is not made from anything found naturally in an insect’s body (or a animal body for that matter). Let us delve a little deeper.

“With respect to animals and humans, xenobiotics include drugs, drug metabolites, and environmental compounds such as pollutants that are not produced by the body. In the environment, xenobiotics include synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and industrial pollutants that would not be found in nature.” [13] So unlike an antibiotic made from a natural substance like mold, xenobiotics are completely synthesized by toxic industrial pollutants and other chemicals.

A single honeybee that emerges from a cell is born with a sterile “gut.” Its interactions with the other bees, passing nectar and other products back and forth seed the little bee’s gut with the appropriate bacteria for proper digestion. A baby human likewise, has a sterile gut biome. During a vaginal birth, the baby’s gut is seeded with the bacteria of the mother. If a baby is born C-section, the child misses out on this health-promoting gift of the mother, assuming her gut bacteria is even balanced to begin with. A hive that is struggling with their microbiome due to antibiotics and xenobiotics does not easily survive stressors such as winters.

A honey bee colony is not simply a conglomeration of bees as many people think. It is an organism in its entirety. There is a microbiome of the hive of which there are fungi and bacteria that coexist with the bees. When chemicals like antibiotics, fungicides, and pesticides are added to the hive the microbiome is disrupted in a similar manner as the digestive system of a human when they take an antibiotic.

“There are over 8,000 microbes that have been identified (source USDA and Martha Gilliam’s research) that live with bees. Of these only a handful are pathogens. The rest either fill a niche in the ecology of the hive (and therefore crowd out pathogens) or they have an actual beneficial effect. Recent studies have shown some of the mechanisms by which these microbes protect the bees from Nosema, AFB, EFB and chalkbrood and that the preventative treatments for these diseases kill off the very thing that is protecting the bees from those diseases.” [14]

Who doesn’t love essential oils? Yet at the same time, we must respect their potency. Allopathic medicine is reductionistic and seeks to utilize chemicals in an isolated form. In similar fashion, essential oils can be (albeit unwittingly) used in a similarly allopathic manner when added to the hive. As Michael Bush writes in his book The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally, “Essential oils: Kill a broad spectrum of microbes including yeasts, fungus, bacteria and viruses. They are basically the immune system of the plants they are derived from. Essential oils includes thymol, wintergreen, menthol, lemongrass oil, spearmint, peppermint, neem, tea tree etc.” [15]

The addition of essential oils to the hive also disrupts the natural microbiome of the honeybee whether it be internal in their gut microbiome or external in the ecology of the hive, whether it affects a single bee or an entire colony.

A bee colony is not designed to be a filter for environmental toxins such as industrial pollutants, pesticides, antibiotics, xenobiotics, essential oils, other pharmaceuticals, EMFs, etc. All pollutants added to the hive whether by the beekeeper or by the bee as they go about their innate duties are stored within the hive. Anything added to the hive including the Glyphosate the bees collect in nectar and pollen are spread into the wax, into the biological system of each individual bee, and ultimately all throughout the hive.

One headline proclaims:

Weed Killer Residues Found in 98 Percent of Canadian Honey Samples

Then the article begins by saying that this “Study is the latest evidence that glyphosate herbicides are so pervasive that residues can be found in foods not produced by farmers using glyphosate.” [16]

A Word to the Wise

Commercially prepared beeswax pastilles are a modern contrivance. To obtain the perfect white color, the wax will have been bleached. While the appearance of the white pastilles may be nice for crafts it is certainly not the quality one would want to use for medicinal or cosmetic purposes. Unfortunately much, if not all of the medicinal benefit of the wax is destroyed by the processing necessary to remove the color.

The Good News!

It is imperative that those utilizing bee products for healing find the cleanest products available. Therefore, to ensure only the highest quality of honeybee products are used, lots of people who might have never considered it before are becoming beekeepers!

Bees can be kept in the city and the suburb, not only in the country. They will happily pollinate your organic flowers, garden, and even weeds indiscriminately. They pay you back in sweet dividends and awesome health-promoting products.

The next best thing to keeping your own bees would be to make friends with a beekeeper that uses natural beekeeping techniques and who does not contaminate their hives with pharmaceutical chemicals. Many beekeepers are looking for property to place some of their hives on. Additionally, most are willing to mentor a ‘new-bee’ and teach them the craft.

It is unfortunate that most community beekeeping classes promulgate conventional beekeeping methods without having so much as a clue to the damage they are causing the bees, the beekeepers, and the unwary folks that use their tainted products. What is exciting, however, is that a new breed of beekeepers is coming forth. Beeks who are excited to care for their bees with the same thoughtful diligence they care for their own bodies. There is hope for the journey ahead.

If you happen to be an herbalist or otherwise crafty sort of person, here are just a few of the many things that can be made with beeswax!

Other Beeswax Products

Cold Cream (& other cosmetics) ~ The first cold cream contained beeswax mixed with olive oil and rosewater. It is thought to have been invented by Galen, a Greek physician in the 2nd century A.D.

Chapstick ~ Nothing soothes and protects chapped lips like a chapstick made with beeswax!

Lubricant ~ Squeaky door hinge? Stuck zipper? Wooden drawer or window that sticks? Take out the beeswax and lube it up.

Got a rusted nut that won’t come off? lube the threads of the bolt with a little melted wax. Rub wax over the threads of screws and they will drive smoothly.

Candles ~ Beeswax candles are truly delightful! The mild natural scent of honey is soothing and relaxing and a beeswax candle will last longer than a comparable candle made of soy or paraffin because it has a higher melting point.

Wax ~ for skis & toboggans, bow strings. Beard and mustache wax.

Reusable Food Wraps ~ For keeping your food fresh without using cellophane or plastic baggies.

Furniture Polish & Sealant for Wood ~ Wonderful for restoring wood furniture, utensils, and cutting boards.

Wood Furniture Polish & Sealant Recipe

Into a double-boiler or wide-mouth pint canning jar add:

  • 1 Part Beeswax (Hint: Use a cheese grater to shred. Melts faster.)
  • 4 to 6 parts Olive Oil (More oil makes for a creamier mixture)

NOTE: Collect old wide-mouth pint jars. You can use one as a double-boiler for your beeswax projects. Put all your ingredients in it and use it as the final container.

DIRECTIONS: Into a small pan or pot with an inch or so of water in it, place the canning jar with the beeswax and oil in it. Turn on the stove a to low-medium heat and allow the mixture to heat up slowly. Turn down if it gets too hot as the water should never boil. Once everything is melted, stir the mixture with a clean stick to combine the ingredients. Allow to cool until safe to handle, then add a lid or pour into a container. Be sure to add a label and date to your jar.

Make a small batch, especially the first time, because the olive oil has potential to go rancid over time. Also, be sure to test on a hidden spot on your wood furniture to make sure you get the effect you would like. Dip a clean rag into the your polish and rub into the wood.

Soap ~ Sometimes also made with honey for a delightful scent!

Waterproofing for Leather ~ Beeswax will darken leather slightly. It is an effective waterproofing agent to apply to leather shoes, boots, hats, and any leather items you would like to make water resistant. Be sure to apply extra wax to any seams. Test on a hidden area first to make sure you get the effect you like. DO NOT USE ON SUEDE! This recipe can also be used on wood

Leather Waterproofing & Conditioner Recipe

Into a double-boiler or wide-mouth pint canning jar add:

  • 2 Parts Castor Oil
  • 2 Parts Almond Oil
  • 1 Part Beeswax (Hint: Use a cheese grater to shred. Melts faster.)
  • 1 Part Cocoa Butter

NOTE: Collect old wide-mouth pint jars. You can use one as a double-boiler for your beeswax projects. Put all your ingredients in it and use it as the final container.

DIRECTIONS: Into a small pan or pot with an inch or so of water in it, place the canning jar with the oils, beeswax, and cocoa butter. Turn on the stove a to low-medium heat and allow the mixture to heat up slowly. Turn down if it gets too hot as the water should never boil. Once everything is melted, stir the mixture with a clean stick to combine the ingredients. Allow to cool until safe to handle, then add a lid or pour into a container. Be sure to add a label and date to your jar.

CAUTION: This is not a leather cleaner! Make sure your leather is clean before applying or any leather waterproofer/conditioner will seal the dirt into the leather.

Rust Preventer ~ Apply a thin coat to shovels, tools, anything metal to prevent rust and corrosion.

Wax Seals ~ In ancient times wax was used to seal documents closed and a signet ring pressed into the wax while it was still soft would identify its official sender.  The wax seal would make the document difficult to open without noticeably “breaking the seal.” This would verify the information within had not been revealed.

The uses for beeswax seem endless. You are likely. For those of us who know and love honeybees and all their wonderful gifts ~ There is nothing they cannot do!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


1,2,5 A Closer Look:  Beeswax, Wax Glands

3,9 Facts About Beeswax

4 Beeswax Pastilles

6 Herbal Constituents: Foundations of Phytochemistry by Lisa Ganora

7 Beeswax: A minireview of its antimicrobial activity and its application in medicine

Chemical Cocktail in the Hive – The Bees in Decline

10,11 Glyphosate perturbs the gut microbiota of honey bees

12  Glyphosate: What are Surfactants?

13 The Free Dictionary by Farlex: xenobiotic

14,15 The Practical Beekeeper: Beekeeping Naturally

16 Weed Killer Residues Found in 98 Percent of Canadian Honey Samples

How to Begin Your Herbal Quick Reference Project

Imagine yourself, a new herbal professional just getting started with clients and you suddenly can’t recall which herb pairs with milk thistle to support the liver, or you are finishing up with one client and have another one waiting and you know the name of the herb you want to use but it slips your mind with the added pressure of knowing someone is waiting for you. What do you do?  What is available to help you quickly browse through the actions of the herbs in your apothecary? Oh yes of course, grab the Herbal Quick Reference! » Read more

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