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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Herbal Lip Balm for Cold Sores

This has been one of those months for me - just insanely busy and a little stressful. Luckily my body lets me know when it starts to get run down by this little tingly red spot on my bottom lip - the dreaded cold sore.

I am currently assistant teaching at the Institute of Structural Medicine. Trainings here run 16 days and each day is a 12 hour day. I've got four more days to go and I'd rather do it without this big blob on my lip. When I was younger I had no problem taking prescription medication to control cold sore outbreaks. (Oh the power of Acyclovir.) I have a few problems with acyclovir - namely the side effects which include:

nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or headache, hair loss, dizziness, fatigue, skin rash, anorexia, leg pain, medication taste and sore throat


I'll take a cold sore over hair loss thank you very much!

I've experimented with several more herbal remedies, but lately my favorite is a Cold Sore Care Herbal Lip Balm I made up this summer. To make it I infused St. John's Wort flowers in coconut oil, lemon balm in olive oil, and added alcohol extracts of both of these and some drops of tea tree oil for good measure.

As reported I started getting a cold sore two days ago and at the first sign I repeatedly applied the lip balm. My cold sore didn't entirely go away, but it never came "out" of my lip. It's been very little trouble to me and isn't visible unless I get right up to the mirror.

Besides being unsightly, cold sores can be incredibly painful. A couple of months ago I got a cold sore and didn't get too it soon enough, so it did become quite big, but the Cold Sore Care Herbal Lip Balm relieved the pain. I love being an herbalist!

Some herbalists have reported a photo-sensitivity when using St. John's Wort. This isn't something I've had a problem with.

I used to be ashamed of getting cold sores. Now I just realize it's one way my body lets me know I've gone too far. Besides applying Cold Sore Care Herbal Lip Balm, I've been taking more breaks, deeper breaths, and drinking some nourishing bone broth soup and infusions. It's nice to get this little warning sign before a cold or flu makes it's way in.

I sell my lip balms (Cold Sore Care, Soothing Lip Balm, and Cottonwood 'N Coconut) at the Saturday Market in Twisp - $3 for one or two for $5. If you are interested in trying some out, drop me an email and I'd love to send some your way.

I've also written about cold sores here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What's Chemistry Got to do With It?


When someone initially gets interested in herbalism they often have no idea that they will eventually need to understand the basic chemistry of herbs. But most of us will need to dive into this arena. For some it may be about understanding the science of herbs and for others it can be a necessary step to making potent plant medicine. 

For those people interested in the western bio-medicine approach to herbalism,  understanding plant constituents gives insights into how herbs work. For example, turmeric is high in curcumin which has been studied extensively and found to have a wide range of benefits or medicinal actions. Therefore turmeric is considered to be therapeutic because of it's plant constituents. (In contrast, or complement, to traditional herbalism which tends to look at herbal actions and energetics to determine use.) 

This article is focused on basic understandings of plant chemistry for the purpose of making potent plant medicines. Or why extracting poplar buds in 20% alcohol is not a great idea or why extracting marshmallow root with 95% alcohol probably won't work out well. 

The following is a very basic list of constituents and the mediums they are soluble in to help beginning herbalists making plant medicines. 

To delve into the chemistry behind plant constituents please refer to the reading list at the end of the article.

Common Chemical Compounds
Alkaloids
Soluble: alcohol, water, vinegar
Alkaloids posess a huge variety of effects ranging from benign to extremely poisonous. They are extracted extremely well by alcohol and much less so by water (Cech). Plants high in alkaloids are goldenseal, lobelia, and motherwort. Alkaloids can be sometimes dissipated with heat or tannins, or magnified with vinegar (Cech).

Glycosides
Soluble in: water, alcohol
A glycoside is chemically described as a compound that contains a sugar as part of the molecule. There are several different types of glycosides with a variety of effects including beneficial and toxic effects on the heart (cardiac glycosides found in Digitalis and Hawthorn), laxatives (anthraquinone glycosides found in senna, rhubarb), and antiseptic qualities (arbutin found in Uva ursi). Stevia, rebaudiana bertoni, another glycoside, has 40-300 times the sweetness of sucrose.

SaponinsSoluble in: water, alcohol
Saponins are a special type of glycoside. We use saponins (hopefully) daily in our soaps. Saponins break up fat molecules (think of the Dawn commercials and the big piles of dirty dishes). They also have a variety of other effects including adaptogenic, diuretic, anti-spasmodic, and expectorant (Cech). Horse chestnut, licorice, and chickweed all have saponins.

Flavonoids
Soluble in: water, alcohol
Flavonoids are another type of glycoside. Among the important effects of flavonoids is their antioxidant effect. An antioxidant is a molecule capable of slowing or preventing the oxidation of other molecules. They are also known to decrease capillary fragility.

Tannins
Soluble: glycerin, water, alcohol
Oak, tea, witch hazel, and red clover all contain tannins. Herbs with high tannin content are generally used as an antiseptic, a styptic, and to shrink tissues. Tannins are rendered inactive with the presence of milk and may have the ability to render some alkaloids inactive (Kress, Cech).

Mucilage
Soluble: Water (Cold preferred)
Soothing to the gut and urinary system, herbs high in mucilage also tend to be nutritive and nourishing to the immune system (Cech). Herbs with high mucilage content include marshmallow, mullein, comfrey, and slippery elm.

Polysaccharides
Soluble: water
Generally immune stimulating and nutritive, herbs high in polysaccharides are burdock, astragalus, and boneset (Cech).

Minerals, trace elements
Soluble: water, vinegar

Vitamins
Soluble: water,
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, with the rest being water soluble.

Resins
Soluble: alcohol, oil
Resins are typically expectorant and bitter. Herbs containing high amounts of resins include cottonwood buds, calendula, and gumweed.


Solvents

Water


Water extracts almost everything with the exception of resins. Different temperatures may effect the extraction (simmering for barks and roots, just boiled for leaves, cold for mucilaginous plants). Some herbalists prefer to use distilled water.

Marshmallow cold water infusion

Alcohol
Almost everything is extracted by alcohol with the exception of minerals and trace elements. The percentage of alcohol used in plant medicine can be determined by it's plant constituents. For example, resins must be extracted in 95% alcohol (cottonwood buds, propolis and myrrh are good examples). Other alcohol percentages for certain plants are based on scientific queries into constituents or personal preference. Richo Cech has a nice listing in his book, Making Plant Medicine. 


Mucilage is extracted by alcohol and then broken down by it, so it's best to use a cold water infusion and then add just enough alcohol if wanting to preserve it. 

Proof vs. percentage
In the above photo you can see it listed as 100 proof. The alcohol percentage is half of the proof. So in this case the above vodka is 50% alcohol. 

Everclear (which is only available in certain states) is 95% alcohol - the highest percentage possible. (Note that some states carry everclear at 151 proof only, be sure to check.) 

Many vodkas, brandy's and other liquors are 40% alcohol. In general it is best to choose a pure alcohol, not one that is flavored (with who knows what!). 

Glycerin
Glycerin is a sweet substance made from plant or animal sources and is chemically related to alcohol. It's made by the breaking down of fat and oils with the use of high pressure steam (Cech). Herbalists use glycerin to extract medicinal properties from plants when wanting to avoid alcohol. 

Glycerin does poorly at extracting properties with dried plant material so fresh plants are highly recommended. According to Henriette Kress, some minerals and trace elements, some alkaloids, some acids, and some mucilage are extractable with glycerite. Richo Cech reports that tannins are extracted very well by glycerin.

Glycerin being added to a willow bark tincture to further extract tannins. 

Oil
Oils have the ability to extract oils and resins.

Calendula flowers extracted into olive oil. 

Vinegar
Vinegar has the ability to extract minerals, trace elements, and alkaloids. Most herbalists use apple cider vinegar, balsalmic vinegar, or other high quality vinegars. (Distilled white vinegar is not reccomended for internal use.) 

Besides extracting a variety of constituents, vinegar can also add other benefits to the end product as well. It is considered specific for digestion and the respiratory system. 

Chickweed being extracted with vinegar. 



Further Reading


Making Plant Medicine, Richo Cech

Henriette Kress' website:http://www.henriettesherbal.com/


The best resource on herbal chemistry is Lisa Ganora's book: 

Herbal Constituents: Foundations of Phytochemistry



This article was originally written for HerbMentor.com

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Homemade presents galore and Happy Birthday to me!

Yesterday I celebrated my 28th birthday and it was a great day! My husband had been busy working on lots of surprises for me - which is exactly how I like my birthday - filled with lots of surprises.

Each gift he gave me was homemade including four gourd bowls, and beautiful painting of a butterfly and a fun game called Kubb.

If you've never heard of Kubb I'd highly recommend checking it at at Wikipedia and giving it a go. It's a fun outdoor game that is a cross between bowling and horseshoe tossing. Some friends of ours brought the game when visiting and we loved it so much that Xavier decided to make it himself. You could buy a set, but it's so simple and easy to make, just requires some wood and an ax. Check it out and have a blast.

I also received some beautiful gifts from friends and family including gorgeous homemade earrings, beeswax candles, flowers, lots of birthday wishes, and a beautiful wooden backed mirror for our new home. Thanks for the special birthday!