Basil Monograph

Basil

 

Nomenclature

Ocimum basilicum

Family

Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae)

Parts Used

Leaves, flowers, and essential oil.

Identification of Genus/Species

Part Identification
Stem Grows 3 feet high. Obtusely quadrangular.
Leaves Leaves grow opposite, are 2 to 3 inches long, oval, and bright green.
Flowers Flowers are white or pink whorls
Taste Pleasant, strong, and peppery
Odor Highly fragrant

Cultivation

Sweet basil, ocimum basilicum, is an annual herb that is very easy to grow.  It prefers light, well-drained soil in warm climates with full sun.  It will also grow in a container. The top shoots should be clipped to promote fuller, healthier growth.  Cuttings can be rooted in water and grown in pots indoors.

Collection

Optimal harvest is just before the blooms open.

Constituents

The exact chemical profile of basil depends on the particular cultivar.  Sweet basil contains many chemical compounds in the essential oil: estragole, methyl cinnamate, ocimene, cineole, linalool, thymol, and camphor.  The leaves contain tannins, vitamins, and minerals, such as: calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, B2, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C.

Actions

Analgesic, antibacterial, antiflatulent, antifungal, antiemetic, anticmicrobial, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antivenom, antiviral anxiolytic, circulatory stimulant, digestive, diuretic, galactogogue, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, insecticide, kidney tonic, nervine, orexigenic, sedative.

Medicinal Use

Basil has both topical and internal use. Taken orally, basil helps with digestive issues, stomach spasms, kidney issues, and blood sugar issues.  Multiple Ocimum species have exhibited a hypoglycemic effect. Basil may also help with headaches, appetite stimulation, circulation, and fevers.

Topically, basil can be used for bites, stings, and may be helpful for acne.  Basil can be used as an astringent mouthwash.

Basil essential oil exhibits antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, making it useful for cleaning and disinfecting.

Contraindications & Side Effects

Basil essential oil is not safe while pregnant, breastfeeding, or lactating. Sweet basil should not be consumed in doses higher than a culinary dose while pregnant, breastfeeding, or lactating and should be avoided entirely by infants and toddlers.

Basil should be avoided by those with an allergy to the Lamiaceae/Labiate families.

There are very few adverse effects reported.  Those with allergies to the Lamiaceae/Labiate families could have an allergic reaction to basil.

Dosage

Infusion: 1 cup of tea

Essential Oil: 1 drop

Tincture: 4 millimeters

Fluid Extract: 2 millimeters

 

 

 

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U.S. National Arboretum Internship

 

I had the opportunity to do my Spring 2018 internship at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.  The Arboretum is run by the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Research Service and hosts many different types of gardens and exhibits.  I had three different tasks: spend four Saturdays working in the National Herb Garden, create herbal monographs for several herbs that I worked with, and finally, to assist in the design, planning, and execution of a workshop on herbal bitters that would be held on the Arboretum grounds in August.

The work in the gardens provided a new appreciation for the hard work horticulturists put in.  My internship started with hours of carrying and planting herbs, and digging up tulip bulbs from the Spring entrance display.  The next Saturday, I planted enough corn and sugarcane to fill in the entire display we had dug up the week before. I pulled weeds, planted lemon balm, and pruned other herbs.  Dozens of people stopped to ask questions, providing an opportunity to share knowledge about the plants. During my two remaining days of work, I pulled weeds and helped shape plants in the Medicinal, Native American, and Culinary Herb Gardens.  The hard work in the garden paid off because I learned new gardening skills such as the right planting depth, proper pruning, and all about several garden pests. These skills will be very useful for cultivating my own herbs.

Creating the herbal monographs required a lot of research, my own organoleptic experience, and taking photos of properly identified plants.  The monographs can be viewed here. The final task, preparing for the Bitters Workshop, required extensive soft skills. I worked with the Arboretum staff via email, telephone, and through live collaboration sessions where we edited documents as we exchanged ideas.  

Each of the three tasks was very different from the others. I was able to do some manual labor, research, and event planning all surrounding herbs.  In the end, I walked away with some cultivation skills, experience creating monographs, and an appreciation for the amount of coordination that goes into planning events.  

Disclaimer:  Due to the beauty of Arboretum, I took an obscene amount of photos from May – July so I captured both Spring and Summer in the Herb Garden.

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Medicine Making in the Woods

During early Spring, as the plants were just beginning to poke out of the ground, I had the privilege of once again working with the students of Washington College.  The workshop this time was all about making medicine in the woods so we took it offsite and explored the flora (and fauna!) of the beautiful land owned by the school on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

This workshop allowed us to examine medicinal herbs in their natural habitat.  We discussed the plants from both an ethnobotanical and chemical perspective.  Thanks to permaculturist Shane Brill, identification was quick and easy. After we identified the plants, we discussed their historical use by various world cultures and the main chemical compounds that are responsible for their therapeutic actions.

The students were able to touch, smell, and in some cases, taste, the materials we were discussing.  Most students had some prior knowledge of some of the plants, making for a few hours of interesting and educational conversation while we explored the woods.

While I am normally all about ratios, measurements, and precise chemistry, it isn’t always practical in real life scenarios.  I can’t imagine that most people have weight scales, liquid measuring cups, and the like with them when they have first aid emergencies in the woods.  For the “medicine making” portion of this trip, we made medicine the way our ancestors did.  As the village medicine woman in this scenario (that’s really fun to say!), I passed down my knowledge of the plants as everyone was gathered in a circle. The students harvested plants and combined them in jars to make their medicine.  We used Apple Cider Vinegar to extract the fat-soluble constituents and all those vitamins and minerals that come out best in acetic acid. The students also made a simple infusion that they could take him and try.

Check out the highlight reel and photos below.

 

 

 

 

 

MUIH Microbial Analysis Experiment Internship Part II

The second part of this post covers the first phase of the actual experiment.  If you missed the first part of this post, you can find it here.  Technically, this is no longer an internship because I didn’t do it for college or work credit.  After all the research and planning for the experiment, I wanted to be part of it.  I was excited about the prospect of participating in a study between two universities, with the possibility of the findings being published.

We were testing the theory that a bunsen burner could create a sterile field. The reason this would be cool is because many product makers are small businesses that cannot afford to rent lab space for product creation.  The execution of the experiment required learning and using aseptic lab techniques (limiting variables), meticulously documenting each step and then counting colonies.

 

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The bunsen burner was turned on for five minutes to create the sterile field.  Measurements on the table indicate the distance of each TSA plate (a.k.a. a petri dish to most) to the burner.  After 5 minutes the lids were removed to expose them to the microbes in the air.
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After the predetermined amount of time the lids were replaced and the dishes were wrapped in lab film to keep them secure.
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Close up of the dishes before the incubation period.
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Here is a couple of days in.

 

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This is after 7 days of incubation. Look at all of those organisms!

The study has not been published yet so I will not discuss the results.  Needless to say, my personal results were… gross.  It was really awesome learning about aseptic lab techniques and getting to participate in this study.

Part III of this post will be the final part and will cover the second, and last, experiment conducted as part of this study.

 

 

Herbal Workshop at Washington College

 

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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 plant 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 four 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 there is no reason they can’t begin exploring the things that they can do and make for themselves.  To this end, I decided it was time to reach out to groups that might be interested.

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.  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.

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).

 

 

During the 90 minute talk 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.

There is a short video clip from the evening hosted on the Garden Club’s site.

 

 

 

 

HRB 635b Field Trip/ Industry Intensive

HRB 635b is a field trip offered by Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) for students in the Product Design tract of the Masters of Therapeutic Herbalism program.  For one week the students travel to Asheville, North Carolina, located in the Appalachian Mountains in the western part of the state.  The students have the opportunity to visit various players in the herbal industry, getting behind the scenes tours and hands-on experience.  The week is designed in a way that students get to see all aspects of the industry: growing the crops, natural product development, herbal schools, scientific research, conservation efforts, etc.

The purpose of this artifact (and all artifacts on this blog) is to illustrate to the MUIH faculty that I successfully accomplished the objectives of the course.  The trip is jam packed with tours, both eye opening and life changing, this may well read like a travel brochure or advertisement for these companies, rather than an educational artifact.  I could not even scratch the surface on the work these companies are doing so i encourage interested parties to check out the company pages.  Also, feel free to contact me with any questions.

The trip that I participated in was September 5- 10, 2017.  The learning objectives for this course were for the student to:

  • Have developed awareness of diverse business models employed by herbalists in the herbal products industry.
  • Have an introductory knowledge of the major components of an herbal products company including but not limited to cultivation, harvesting, processing, formulation, quality control, research and business (marketing, sales, and financial considerations)
  • Have gained an appreciation for the range of sizes/scales of successful herbal products businesses
  • Have gained a foundational knowledge of the principles of and ethical considerations surrounding sustainable sourcing (cultivated vs wildcrafted, etc.) of medicinal plants for commercial use
  • Have developed an awareness of the importance of preserving natural plant communities and the pros and cons of sustainable wild harvest of medicinal plants
  • Have continued to improve their plant identification skills, building on instruction from previous coursework.

In order to achieve these objectives, we visited local businesses and schools, participated in class lectures at the house where we all stayed, did research and homework assignments, and spent some time hiking and wildcrafting.  Like many businesses, no cameras were allowed in most operational areas.  I have included the photos that I was allowed to take.

 

Blue Ridge Food Ventures – This facility is a large warehouse, composed of multiple kitchens, that are used to manufacture food, beverages, and natural products.  We were able to tour the facility and see how other small businesses owners rented  certified kitchen spaces in order to meet Good Manufacturing Processes and regulatory requirements of their industry.  This was particularly helpful for those of us that were struggling with the logistics of maintaining a legally complaint business.  The photos below were taken inside the front of the facility and showcase some of the products that are manufactured within the building.

 

 

Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine Director (founder), CoryPine Shane allowed us entry into his school.

We all took seats in his classroom as he shared his story.  He held nothing back, telling us both the good and the bad that he experienced while building a career in a tough path.  He offered wisdom and insight, answered questions, and let us all take a sneak peak into his apothecary, where Pine Herbals are crafted.  Not only did I leave with a better understanding of the business side of the industry, but I purchased a pretty awesome bottle of Betony tincture, as well.

 

 

Gaia Herbs

Gaia Herbs is spoken, almost in reverence, by many in the herbal industry.  All I knew of the company was that they produced high quality herbal supplements – and that I liked their tea.  Given the sheet scope and size of their operation, there was a lot to see and discuss.

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We started our tour in the chemistry labs where we got to see millions of dollars in cutting edge equipment at work.  No photos are allowed within the labs so you are stuck with this one of me in the lobby prior to entry.  We learned about the extensive testing that Gaia conducts and got to ask questions of the Quality Assurance team at work.  Our discussions of solvents, extraction methods, aseptic lab techniques, etc was easily an hour or two of our day.  I have never been in such a nice, well equipped lab, so it was a bit mind blowing to think that it was a lab for a company in the herbal industry.  This is when I first started to understand why herbalists root for Gaia.

Next we toured the production facilities.  Since our phones were outside in the lobby, I did not get to take extension notes.  We had a very good discussion of the various methods for creating herbal extractions.  Gaia uses a percolation and their testing has show it to be more effective than other means of extraction.  We got to see the machinery involved and ask questions before we proceeded to the area where the supplements were encapsulated.

Unlike many other herbal supplement suppliers, Gaia encapsulates liquid extracts.  We got to watch capsules being filled, sealed, inspected, and boxed for delivery over to the packaging warehouse were they are put into Gaia’s patented plant-based bottles.

We spent the rest of our morning touring the farms (they have virtual tours on their website).  I got to ask questions about the planting and cultivation techniques, how the crops are treated and harvested, proper climate, etc. It was informative and made me feel as if this is something I could do myself (on a far smaller scale).  Additionally, we learned about Gaia’s

And now, for the photos.  Imagine standing in field of echinacea and passionflower, surrounded by Gingko and Hawthorn trees, breathing in clean mountain air, with the aroma of relaxing herbs on the breeze. That is what a trip to Gaia is like.

Side note: One of the things we learned from Dr. McCoy was that passionflower (the more pink flower in the slideshow) is one of the only herbs found to have been nearly uniformly used by Native American tribes.

 

As a final, unexpected treat, Gaia treated us to lunch in their dining facility.   The food was amazing and fresh but it was the sit down experience that was so memorable.  we sat down to outdoor dining with views overlooking the grounds. Truly stunning imagery. We all thought the trip couldn’t possibly get any better and then Ric Scalzo, Founder and  CEO of Gaia Herbs, pulled up a chair and ate with us.  He generously let us ask him questions related to operations, starting a business, building relationships with suppliers around the world, and so much more.  I cannot imagine any other reality where I would have the opportunity to ask a successful CEO to share all his secrets for building a business.

 

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Herbal Ingenuity  Located in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Herbal Ingenuity is a raw material supplier that takes raw botanical ingredients, directly from suppliers, and cleans, cuts, and treats the materials for the end customer.  We were able to watch the quality assurance process as workers sifted through the materials, see the machines used for cutting, and ask questions of the staff throughout our time there.

North Carolina Arboretum & Germplasm Repository  This part of the trip was the most surprising.  When we were initially told we were visiting an arboretum, I was naturally quite happy.  What herbalist doesn’t love arboretums?  I was entirely unfamiliar with the Germplasm Repository and its unique, important work. Brace yourself, I’m going to gush – and try to respect the confidential nature of some of the work.

Straight from their site, “The North Carolina Arboretum Germplasm Repository (TNCAGR) leads a multifaceted effort to conserve, study and utilize native plants and plant organisms (endophytes).”  None of the students were prepared for what we were about to see.

First, we got to meet Dr. Joe-Ann McCoy, the Director of the Germplasm Repository. I took four pages of notes while she spoke. I finally switched to voice clips while she discussed the plight of the Ginseng crop.  She generously explained her work in creating voucher specimens, collecting and conserving seeds, encouraging the development of seed banks, researching, grant proposal writing, and conducting research and testing on endophytes – the organisms that live inside of plants.  I took an entire page of notes on this alone and am absolutely captivated by topic.  By this point in our trip I was already asking Dr. McCoy if took interns.

We got to look around the lab (slideshow below), see the equipment, and gain a greater appreciation for the scientific work being conducted.

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The final part of our time with Dr. McCoy was seeing some of the plants being propagated and a lesson in ethnobotany.  She was working with local tribes to propagate plants that had significant traditional and medicinal value to the tribes.  Through the trust she had built with them, she had been allowed into a world few were part of.  She had developed relationships with numerous native tribes, and was working hard to help them all develop their own voucher specimen collections and herbariums.  This unexpected session of the trip was the most inspirational part of the entire trip.

 

 

 

North Carolina State University Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and Extension Center

I took very few notes on this part of the trip because we were hands on with the plants and exploring gardens and woods.  We started this visit with a trip to North Carolina State University’s Mountain Horticulture Crops Research and Extension Center.  We saw the offices where the staff worked and learned about the Alternative Crops and Organics Program, much of which is dedicated to medicinals.  From there we hopped in some trucks and went off to see some of the crops.

The Asian herb garden was fascinating to see.  We learned about the current issues in the industry with contaminated Indian and Chinese herbs. The soil in China is full of heavy metals and fecal matter has been found on many plants in India. For this reason many companies are turning to the United States to supply traditional Asian plants. The very unique ecology of western North Carolina is very similar to Asia so the plants can grow successfully without losing the medicinal benefits.

 

The second half of this trip introduced us to forest farming.  We saw some very special and endangered medicinal plants growing in the woods and learned about the ethnobotanical connections between these plants and the local communities.  We discussed sustainable harvesting practices, over-harvesting, and ethical issues. Below are some photos of Black Cohosh, Ginseng, Bloodroot, and Goldenseal. Additionally, we learned about the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmer Coalition.

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Final lesson:

We ended our trip with a lesson from our instructor on sustainable wildcrafting and botanical identification.  We visited a state park where we were able to hike and discuss the plants that we encountered.

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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.

*7/27/2018 I feel compelled to add a note to this article. There is a lot of information out there, some good, some bad, some utterly dangerous.  We see this playing out across the national political stage right now.  A lot of us want to educate ourselves but don’t really know how to discern the best sources.  The best tip I could provide anyone would be to ask yourself “what is the motivation”?  I consider myself l”semi-crunchy” and environmentally conscious but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe every natural living website.  Many are based on opinion, and not facts of any sort.  Doctors aren’t experts on chemistry or nutrition just because they went to medical school.  Okay, end of rant, you all get the picture.

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