Archive for Herbalism

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!

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

References:

  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
CDC Other: POISONOUS PLANTS
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!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

References

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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