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Herbal Workshop at Washington College

 

herbal workshop with whitney palacios in the alumni house
Herbal workshop in the Alumni House.   All photos in this post are compliments of Washington College Videographer, Shane Brill.

 

I have been teaching my children all about plants and herbal medicine for years.  They forage, mix, measure, and discuss what we are doing and why. We are big on science in this house and I have now been formally studying herbs, herbal medicine, and natural products for about three years.  Numerous friends and family have left my house with handmade goodies because they simply asked a question, paid a compliment, or just looked interested in what I was doing.  Any opportunity I get to share my knowledge, I jump right in.  After all, this is the medicine of the people.

As my studies at MUIH have progressed, so has my desire to share the knowledge that I have learned.  Not everyone needs to understand the phytochemistry or pharmacokinetics of plants (but wouldn’t that be great?), but there is no reason they can’t begin exploring the things that they can do and make for themselves.  I love empowering people to do things for themselves.  To this end, I decided it was time to reach out to groups that might be interested.  I really wanted to teach.

I contacted the Garden Club at Washington College.  My logic was that if anyone were going to love plants, it would be that group.  After a few weeks of correspondence, I taught my first workshop on Tuesday, October 10th.  This wasn’t a group of people that through birth, legal obligation, or friendship, are required to care about what I am doing or feign interest.  They didn’t have to pretend to like me or my message.  This was a group of intelligent, inquisitive college students with backgrounds ranging from Biology to Environmental Science.   In other words, this group was smart and kept me on my toes.

I consider myself lucky that they allowed me to share just a little bit of knowledge with them.  The workshop was very hands on, with the students measuring, pouring, and mixing while asking questions ranging from dosage of essential oils to whether particular plant oils were comedogenic.  Seriously, I couldn’t spell comedogenic, much less pronounce it correctly at 18.  I learned a lot from the group as they talked about what they were studying and the efforts underway at the college (which is truly fascinating so check out the Eastern Shore Food Lab).

 

 

In the course of an hour and a half the students made their own bath salts and lip balms. We discussed the role that the different ingredients played in the product, as well as how to change ratios or omit certain ingredients.  Everyone left with their own products, as well as the ability to recreate the recipes.  I am grateful for the experience and can’t wait to do it again.

 

 

 

 

ISci 701 Introduction to Statistics, Research Design, and Information Literacy

According to the course description,

This course supports critical analysis of a wide range of integrative health studies. It provides future integrative medicine professionals with the foundational knowledge and skills to identify and evaluate research design and basic statistics. Students develop skills in searching databases as well as critical appraisal of clinical and epidemiological research. Students will find and evaluate published information on health topics then summarize and share their findings.

This course was much more challenging than anticipated. Successful completion of each assignment required demonstration of all of the skills covered in the class to date.  An example of the this is the last individual assignment we did prior to the group project presentation.  The assignment was to evaluate two scientific studies and determine if they would be clinically relevant to a practitioner’s client population.

ISci 701 Whitney_Palacios_Assignment2

HRB 605 Materia Medica

This course investigates approximately 30 of the most commonly used herbal medicines and related supplements in the United States. Each herb will be discussed from the ethnobotanical perspective as well as the modern phyto-therapeutic perspective, with a focus on pharmacological understanding and relevant clinical trials. Special emphasis will be placed on topics relevant to the contemporary clinician, including quality control, interactions, and other safety parameters of each herb covered. This course provides the student with the necessary skills to effectively research herbs not covered in the class.

This class quickly takes a deep dive into the very detailed world of each herb covered.  Over the duration of the course we worked on a project where we had fictional patients that we had to treat.  As the course progressed and our understanding of the therapeutic actions of the herbs deepened, we reflected on our initial protocols and discussed lessons learned. This paper is an example of this work throughout the course.

 

Research Paper Part C

 

HRB 622 Herbal Pharmacy and Product Presentation

This artifact is the documentation of two herbal products that I formulated and created to illustrate the skills I gained through HRB 622 Herbal Pharmacy.   The first product required time and planning as I created separate hydroethanol extractions for five different ingredients to create the final product. The product turned out very well and provided me with some great learning experiences.

The second product included in this artifact was the less successful of the two. I utilized skills I learned about topical infusions and essential oils to create a bath blend. While the aroma and therapeutic properties met with the intended expectation, I had not given any thought to pharmaceutical elegance.  Ultimately, I had a very nice product that could have been much better.  This endeavor illustrated that attention to detail is crucial in product design.

ProductPresentation

 

 

HRB 600 Foundations of Herbal Medicine

This artifact is research that I conducted in one of my first herbal classes. To complete the assignment we had to locate both primary and secondary literature to support my research.  Locating primary research ended up being much harder than anticipated.  During this process I learned how to obtain an identification card so that I could use the Library of Congress to look through the numerous primary texts available on early Native American cultures so that I could better determine their medicinal uses for verbascum thapsus.

HRB600 Native American Herb Use

What are your candles made of?

Do you love the smell of candles burning throughout your home?  Who doesn’t love lighting a candle and instantly transforming the mood?  We love them, too.  We also love our health and the health of our family, pets, and guests.  If you do, too then keep reading.

Everything you inhale enters your body (or else no one would care about secondhand smoke, right?).  There are a lot of scary ingredients in candles and they are a non-food item so manufacturers aren’t required to list all of the ingredients on the label.  You may be inadvertently creating a toxic atmosphere in your home that can contribute to a host of health issues.  Compounding the issue is that once you start researching candles, you may become confused.  Many companies, particularly conglomerates with commercial interests, have engaged in smear campaigns.  What? Over candles? Yes.

For starters, paraffin, the wax used for most commercially available candles, is created during the process of refining crude oil into gasoline.  It is a petroleum byproduct that, when burned (candles), releases at least four different carcinogens into the air.  If you light a couple of those yummy candles to make your home smell good, you may have exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards set forth for indoor air pollution, creating a toxic environment for you and your family. This is critically important if you have kids since children are more sensitive to the effects and the soot alone can cause respiratory issues.

The fragrance oils that make those candles smell so good contain nasty ingredients that can wreak havoc on your health. Benzene, found in many synthetic fragrances, was specifically mentioned as causing cancer in the President’s Cancer Panel.  Frequent use of air fresheners and candles containing synthetic fragrances has been demonstrated to increase ear infections in babies and headaches in mothers. An EPA report cited links to allergies, birth defects, cancer, and disorders of the central nervous system. Worse?  The label only has to say “fragrance” or “parfume”.

Sound fun? No? There are alternatives.  Look for natural waxes.  The options are generally beeswax, palm wax, or soy.  You can even read about different waxes from candle making experts, CandleWic.  Look for candles that are scented with essential oils, not synthetic fragrance oils.  At the end of the day, candle-making is a science.  Artificial waxes need artificial fragrance to blend well and really “throw” the scent.  So you pay more for a better product but there really is no middle ground.  Candles are made from quality ingredients or they aren’t.

I use beeswax in my candles.  I recommend beeswax (check out my post all about beeswax), however, I also recognize that my vegan friends need better options.  In that case, I recommend palm wax candles. Here’s why I do not support soy candles.

You may not want to spend more money on beeswax (go organic) and essential oils (if you want scented candles) but it could save your health.  Some people make their own candles or wax melts.  If you don’t have that inclination (or time), read product labels and descriptions carefully.  Ask questions about how the product is made and where the ingredients come from.  Above all else, educate yourself.  You are the consumer and you deserve better.

EPA Home » Science Inventory » CANDLES AND INCENSE AS POTENTIAL SOURCES OF INDOOR AIR POLLUTION: MARKET ANALYSIS AND LITERATURE REVIEW (EPA/600/R-01/001)

Essential oils in my food???

Essential Oils

There are essential oils in my food? Wait, what?  Why?

Well, I’m glad you asked. Let me explain the two different ways that eos are used in food.

  1. Food Preservation

Essential oils can serve a very vital purpose and prevent the growth of certain food-borne bacteria, such as L. monocytogenes (this is just one example).  L monocytogenes causes the illness, listeria, which leads to many deaths every year.  Pregnant women are often advised to avoid processed deli meats and other foods that are higher risk for listeria. Studies have shown promising evidence of some essential oils being useful at inhibiting the monotyogenes growth, even at low dilutions.

Other studies (below) have demonstrated the ability of cinnamon bark essential oil to damage the cellular structure of Staphylococcus aureus, amongst other bacteria. Because of its extreme antimicrobial acitivity, it is a useful food additive, as well as  preservative.

If you are interested in natural ways to preserve your food then take a look at these two links below.  I looked for scientific sources that carefully evaluate data, so potential bias is minimized.

Essential Oils in Food Preservation

Essential oils may provide good source of food preservation

2. Flavoring

Most of us are probably not looking for ways to preserve our food but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still use essential oils in our food and beverages.  *This is NOT the same thing as internal ingestion, which is a super hot button in the aromatherapy community.  That pertains to ingesting essential oils in water, gel capsules, or directly dropping them onto the tongue.  Essential oil dispersed in food will act very differently in your body and is less likely to cause irritation.*  We are talking about using essential oils that are recognized by the FDA to be safe in appropriate dilutions and are labeled as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe).  Fun fact: this has been going on forever.  The food industry uses tons of essential oils in foods and drinks, often being directly responsible for their characteristic taste.

Fun fact: Juniper berries are responsible for gin’s characteristic taste!  

 

If you are the adventurous type and what to try some essential oils in your cooking, here are some tips below.  At some point I plan to do a post on making extracts, such as vanilla.

But first, Safety.  Repeat after me: OIL DOES NOT DISSOLVE IN WATER. Again. OIL DOES NOT DISSOLVE IN WATER.  You cannot put a few drops of essential oil in a glass of water and drink it safely. Oil does not dissolve in water, it isn’t water soluble. It will adhere directly to the lining of your throat as soon as it comes in contact. Anyone that tells you otherwise is not a trained aromatherapist. Or scientist.  It is indisputable chemistry.

Make sure your oils are very high quality.  No one wants to go eating a bunch of toxic diethyl phthalate used as a cheap filler or solvent in their essential oils.  See my blog on finding quality essential oils.

Start with one drop. They are very potent.  You can always add more, but you can’t undo a burning mouth or throat as easily. 

Add the oils near the end of the cooking as heat will damage them and potentially change their chemical properties.

Start simple. A couple of suggestions:

  • A drop of lemon in your cream cheese, icing, or pankcake batter is delicious.
  • Try a drop of cinnamon or nutmeg in your coffee or fall desserts.
  • How about peppermint in your homemade mint ice cream?

I’m sure there are plenty of recipes on Pinterest that you can try.  Keep in mind this is becoming a trend, so it may appear to be a new thing but it isn’t.  Like I mentioned above, this has been done in the food industry for ages.  If you are interested in giving it a shot, let me know how it works out.  And share some recipes!   

*Département De Biologie, Faculté Des Sciences, Université Abdelmalek Essaâdi, Tétouan, Morocco. “Functional and Ultrastructural Changes in Pseudomonas Aeruginosa and Staphylococcus Aureus Cells Induced by Cinnamomum Verum Essential Oil.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.