Peru Balsam, the Loveliest Fragrance

By Erin Holden

Myroxylon_balsamum_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-141The first time I smelled balsam of Peru essential oil, I was hooked. The word that keeps coming to mind is decadent – deep, rich notes of vanilla with soft, smooth cinnamon and serious undertones of propolis. This isn’t surprising, as the oil shares thirteen constituents with propolis, a sticky substance made by bees for various purposes, similar in scent to honey. It also contains vanillin, responsible for vanilla’s fragrance, and a whole host of cinnamon-related compounds.  

I’ve been using small amounts of the essential oil in my personal perfume blends for many years. When I recently found a source for the resin, I immediately bought 2 ounces, thinking I could grind it up and use it in some homemade incense. I was quite surprised when I received a bottle of liquid more like molasses instead of the hard grains reminiscent of frankincense that I was expecting. That, in turn, prompted me to learn more about this tree, and then share what I found about this little known (at least to me!) resin. 

Peru balsam resin and oilBalsam of Peru (also called Peru balsam and many other similar names) is a balsam – an aromatic oleoresin containing benzole or cinnamic acid – extracted from a tree in the Fabaceae family, Myroxylon balsamum Pereirae Group. The genus name is Greek for “fragrant wood.” Despite its common name, Peru balsam is mainly produced in El Salvador – the confusion comes from the fact that the Spanish originally shipped the product back to Europe out of a Peruvian port. A very similar product, balsam of Tolu, is extracted from Myroxylon balsamum Balsamum Group, and is mainly produced in Brazil and Venezuela. It has a similar, though gentler, fragrance profile. For Peru balsam, strips of bark are removed from the tree and boiled, with the resulting resinous material collected. Another harvest method is to make incisions in the bark and wrap cloth around the wounds to soak up the resin, then boil the cloth to separate the resin out. 

Commercially, Peru balsam is used as a fragrance and flavoring agent in many consumer goods. Colas, aperitifs, baked goods, flavored tobaccos, cough medicines, and dental cement can contain the oil for flavor. It lends its fragrance to deodorants, lotions, sunscreens, and shampoos, as well as fine perfumes like Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit, Youth Dew of Lauder, and Elixir des Merveilles by Hermès. Drawing on its purported antiseptic qualities, Peru balsam has also been used in surgical dressings and wound sprays. 

coca-cola-4555178_1280 from Pixabay free for useBecause of its widespread application, I was surprised to learn that Peru balsam is considered one the top five contact allergens, and in 1982, the International Fragrance Association banned the use of crude Peru balsam in fragrances. From what I understand, this doesn’t extend to the essential oil distilled from the balsam, or to its use as a flavoring, so it can still be found in some foods and cosmetics. I found many case histories of fragrance- and  food-triggered dermatitis, where allergy testing produced positive results for Peru balsam. And interestingly, foods that have similar compounds to Peru balsam, such as cinnamon and vanilla, can also trigger this reaction.  It’s fascinating to me that there are some seemingly ubiquitous ingredients in many of the products we use everyday, but we just don’t know about.

Photo credits: 1) Myroxylon balsamum ({PD-US} Franz Eugen Köhler); 2) Peru balsam resin and essential oil (author’s photo); 3) Coca cola with Peru balsam (Pixabay)


Erin is the gardener for the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. She is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, United Plant Savers, and a member-at-large of the Herb Society of America.

Celery Seed – The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month

By Maryann Readal

smallage flowersCelery seed comes from a variety of celery that is different from the celery (Apium graveolens) we see in grocery stores. The seed comes from an ancestor of celery called smallage or wild celery. The smallage variety is native to the Mediterranean area and the Middle East and is grown in India, China, and France specifically for the harvesting of its seeds.  The seeds are very small: 760,000 seeds make one pound. They have an aromatic, earthy smell, and a flavor that has a touch of spiciness. The seeds are used whole in brines, pickles, and marinades and in salads like coleslaw and potato salad. They can be added to breads, soups, and dressings, thus giving a celery taste without the bulk of fresh celery stalks. The seeds are used in French, New Orleans Creole, and other cuisines around the world. They are also ground and mixed with other spices to create unique herbal blends like Old Bay Seasoning, celery salt, Products containing celery seedCajun seasonings, etc.

These tiny seeds pack a lot of punch when it comes to nutrition. A teaspoon of the seed has only 8 calories and 0.5 grams of fat. They supply 0.9 milligrams of iron per teaspoon which is 11% of the daily requirement for men and 5% for women. Celery seed supplies trace amounts of zinc, manganese, and phosphorus, too. According to the late Dr. James Duke, an American economic botanist, ethnobotanist, and author of The Green Pharmacy, the seeds contain at least 20 anti-inflammatory properties. He credited his robust life to the celery seed being among his “baker’s dozen” of essential herbs. The seeds also contain coumarins, which help in thinning the blood. This component of celery, as well as its anti-inflammatory properties, has been the subject of recent research, but its effectiveness in treating humans still needs to be investigated. Celery seed is sold as a dietary supplement in many natural-foods stores and other stores specializing in natural remedies. It is available as an extract, as fresh or dried seeds, and celery seed oil-filled capsules.

It is said that celery was first cultivated for medicinal purposes in 850 BC. Ayurvedic physicians throughout history have used the seed to treat colds, flu, water retention, arthritis, and liver and spleen conditions. Celery was considered a holy plant in the Greek classical period and a wreath of smallage leaves was worn by the winners of the Nemean Games, which began in 573 BC. The Greeks also used it to create the wine they called selinites, while the Romans used celery primarily for seasoning. The Italians domesticated celery and developed a plant with a solid stem and without the bitterness of smallage. Thus began the development and popularity of the Pascal celery that we find in grocery stores today.

Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray SodaDr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda is a celery flavored soda that is made from celery seed. This celery inspired soda has been around since 1868, when it was developed as a tonic that was touted to be “good for calming stomachs and bowels.” It paired well with salty, fatty foods, like pastrami, and became popular in New York’s Jewish delicatessens and with Eastern European immigrants whose cuisines already included fermented botanical beverages. Dr. Brown’s is being noticed again as healthy botanical drinks become more popular. Author Stephen King once said “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”

Oil is extracted from celery seeds to make “celery oil,” which can be added to colognes, perfumes, and soaps. A few drops of the essential oil can be added to water in a spray bottle or a diffuser for use as an effective mosquito repellent.

Some say that celery was an herb associated with death, and that a garland of smallage leaves was placed around King Tut. Some evidence of this association with death later occurred in a Robert Herrick (1591-1674) poem titled:

To Perenna, a Mistress

“DEAR Perenna, prithee come

and with smallage dress my tomb:

And a cypress sprig thereto,

With a tear, and so Adieu.”

Celery is a biennial plant, producing flowers and seeds in the second year of its growth. The flowers are white umbels similar to parsley blooms. It must have a relatively constant temperature of around 70 degrees and a lot of water and nutrients to grow. It needs a long growing season and does not tolerate high heat or frost. This would be a very difficult combination of requirements for me to grow celery in my southern Zone 8b garden! Seeds of the smallage variety of celery can be purchased online, if you are interested in trying your luck in growing celery for the seed and leaves. The stalks of smallage tend to be bitter.

As with using any herbal medicinal products, a health professional should be consulted. Allergic reactions and interactions with medications you may already be taking can be a danger to your health. Celery seed is not recommended for pregnant women.

For more information about celery seed, recipes, and a screen saver, please go to The Herb Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/herb-of-the-month.html.

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

References

American Botanical Council.HerbClip: Interview with Botanist Jim Duke.” April 30, 1999. http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/155/review42307.html

Crowley, Chris. “Celery Forever: Where America’s Weirdest Soda Came From and How It’s Stuck Around.” Serious Eats.  August 2018. https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/10/dr-browns-cel-ray-celery-soda-history.html

Foodreference.com. “Celery History.” http://www.foodreference.com/html/celery-history.html

Kerr, Gord. “Celery Seed Extract Side Effects.”. https://www.livestrong.com/article/369362-celery-seed-extract-side-effects/   August 19, 2020.

Tweed, Vera. “4 Amazing Uses of Celery Seed.” Better Nutrition. September 2019.

Photo Credits: 1) Smallage flowers (Britannica Encyclopedia online); 2) Assortment of products containing celery seed (Maryann Readal); 3) Dr. Brown’s soda (Beverage Direct).


Maryann is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a Master Gardener and a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX. She gardens among the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

HSA Webinar: How to Grow and Use Lavender for Health and Beauty

By Jen Munson, Education Chair

A program I attended a few years back labeled basil the “King of Herbs,” but in my world, lavender is the true king. From its medicinal benefits to its culinary and craft uses, lavender can’t be beat. The fresh clean scent of lavender has been used in cosmetics and skin care products since ancient times. It smells good, improves circulation, attracts pollinators, and promotes sleep. With over twenty five different varieties, there is likely a lavender variety you can grow not only for its beauty, but for its many uses. 

Join us for our webinar on July 21st at 1pm EST with author Janice Cox when she presents “How to Grow and Use Lavender for Health and Beauty.” Learn how to start a new plant from cuttings, air-dry flowers for year round use, and create your own DIY body care products that can be used for hair care, skin care, and in the bath. Tips, recipes, and herbal craft ideas will be shared throughout this dynamic webinar.  

As an additional bonus, HSA Members can receive 20% off, plus free shipping, on Janice’s latest book, Beautiful Lavender (Ogden 2020). This book is filled with lavender recipes and ideas. Log into the member only area of the HSA website to obtain the code, then go to Janice’s website at http://www.naturabeautyathome.com to order the book. The book retails for $17.99, but for HSA members, it is $14.39 + free shipping!

Our webinars are free to members and $5.00 for guests. Visit https://www.herbsociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars or click here to sign up. Become a member today, and enjoy all of our webinars for free, and as an added bonus, you’ll automatically be entered into a raffle for a free educational conference registration to our 2021 conference being held in Baton Rouge, LA, from April 29th – May 1st, 2021.

About Janice Cox

Janice Cox is an expert on the topic of natural beauty and making your own cosmetic products with simple kitchen and garden ingredients. She is the author of three best-selling books on the topic: Natural Beauty at Home, Natural Beauty for All Seasons, and Natural Beauty from the Garden. She is currently the beauty editor for Herb Quarterly Magazine, is a member of the editorial advisory board for Mother Earth Living Magazine, and is a member of The Herb Society of America, International Herb Association, United States Lavender Growers Association, Oregon Lavender Association, and Garden Communicators International. 

Growing Green in Turkey

By Zainab Pashaei

Of the many countries looking to reduce their carbon footprint through landscape restoration and sustainability, you will find Turkey among them. When discussing Turkey, you may think of Zeytinburnu Medicinal Plant GardenTurkish delight, exotic spices, historical ruins, or if you are a cat-person, the infamous street cats. What most do not know is that the country broke a record on November 12, 2019, for the most tree saplings planted in an hour: 303,150. As part of the nation’s campaign to restore its forests, eleven million trees were adopted online and planted across the country on the now official National Forestation Day (November 11). After spending time this past year in Istanbul and other cities across Turkey, I did notice from the window of my tour bus the many young trees adorning the landscape. Considering growing global health and environmental concerns, instilling environmentally friendly garden practices in the youth and establishing a place for people to reconnect with nature was a priority for one district in Istanbul. On a smaller scale amidst the crowds in Istanbul, I found the herbally-relevant Zeytinburnu Medicinal Plant Garden and Farm, a serene place for people to learn more about herbs.

As part of an urban regeneration project, this was Turkey’s first medicinal plant garden, which opened to the public in 2005 on 14 acres of land in the Zeytinburnu district. The garden boasts organic treatment of its plants, including natural compost and fertilizers. By adopting these methods, the garden hopes to demonstrate the sanctity of human health, the environment, and how the two intertwine. 59c8f95545d2a027e83ce2b2The garden researches and tests herbal plant material for quality and for safe use in oils and drugs. It is open year-round to educate the public about the safe and effective use of medicinal plants and has ongoing herbal and gardening educational workshops for adults and children.

Zeytinburnu Medicinal Plant Garden and its Health and Environment School conduct health classes, such as, phytotherapy, aromatherapy, first-aid plants, Ottoman traditional medicine, and medicinal plant chemistry. The phytotherapy seminar, for example, covers Turkey’s vegetation, poisonous plants, medicinal plant names and drugs, active components in the medicinal plants, theoretical and practical cultivation, harvesting and preparation of drugs, storage and control, and finally, use, possible interactions, warnings, and prescriptions for certain health problems.

The aromatherapy course covers essential oils, fragrances, cosmetics, the sense of smell, inhalation, and external applications of essential oils, as well as prescriptions for various ailments, such as cosmetic problems, minor burns, stress-induced headaches, sinus and respiratory congestion, and mild anxiety or depression. The horticulture staff also produces essential oils on-site from the 700 plant species that are cultivated in the garden, which they, then, sell to the public.

Additionally, Zeytinburnu employs researchers who study various medicinal plants and who provide guidance to the public in order to promote the plants’ value, both through an online Turkish publication and on the garden’s web site, which highlights proper seed storage and the medicinal preparation for hundreds of medicinal plants. In addition to the medicinal classes, there are culinary classes as well. Courses cover edible herbs and flowers, herbal teas, herbal energy drinks, tinctures, essential oils, and spice making.

Spices&Herbs2Outside Zeytinburnu Medicinal Plant Garden, I strolled through the bazaar with its colorful displays of herbs and spices. Seeing the wonderful array of plant material, I realized that, in addition to their well-established spice markets, Turkey has a quietly growing green movement. I am reminded of the beauty and diversity of our herbal plants, both at home and abroad.

 

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Zainab Pashaei Headshot NHG Rose GardenZainab Pashaei was the 2019 National Herb Garden Intern. She is a Washington, D.C., native and a proud at-home grower of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Zainab obtained her Bachelor’s of Science in Community Health at George Mason University. After graduating, she returned to school for graduate studies in Landscape Design at George Washington University. Zainab also worked with a floral design company in Fairfax, VA. In her free time, she continues to grow plants for food, health, and aesthetics.

A Healing Herbal Gift

By: Gladys McKinneyIMG_7276

What with the coronavirus outbreak and so many people becoming ill with COVID-19, I wondered what I could do to help, besides staying home, of course. The images seen across social media and press reports are heartbreaking, to say the least.

I wanted to respond with herbs. My sister, my daughter, and my niece are all nurses, and I have a number of family members who are also in law enforcement. So, they have to put on and take off their safety equipment many times throughout the day during this phase of the crisis. The images of our first responders with broken skin, where the safety equipment rubs, seemed to need a response from somewhere, and petroleum jelly was not going to do it. So, I created the following recipe for a healing moisturizer.

The end result has a whipped butter texture that, IMG_7275admittedly, is somewhat greasy when put on due to the oils that are in it. But, keep in mind that these are the healing oils that the skin will need after a long day. After washing your face at night, simply put this moisturizer on. Wash it off in the morning, and then apply whatever moisturizer you would normally use. The healing moisturizer can be used on hands, elbows, and knees in the evening as well. This is not a regular everyday go-to moisturizer, but a way of moisturizing skin that has been through a rough day.

Healing Herbal Moisturizer

First, fill a small mason jar with dried roses* and add enough almond oil to completely cover them. Let this sit for about a week. This creates the rose-infused oil needed in the recipe.

IMG_72901 cup of shea butter

4 tablespoons of jojoba oil

2 tablespoons of rose-infused almond oil, strained from the roses.

2 teaspoons of honey

10 drops of vitamin E oil

10 drops of German (blue) chamomile essential oil

Chamomile is a favorite of mine. The flowers have a sweet apple scent that brings sunshine with each breath. Chamomile has been reputed to help with upset stomachs, colicky babies, insomnia, and soothing emotions. The reason for its application here is that chamomile has been noted to help with skin irritation, sores, and assist in wound healing.**

  1. Heat the shea butter and jojoba oil in a double boiler. Stir. Once melted, remove from heat and add the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Place in the refrigerator. Once this is solid and creamy white, take it out.
  3. Whip this until it looks like whipped cream.
  4. I put the whipped moisturizer in clear 5 gram screw top containers and needed just over 50 of them.IMG_7277

You can give these out to the first responders in your life, drop them by facilities that you think would need them, or if you are a first responder, you can make this for yourself.

Thank you to all the first responders for their loyalty and love for their fellow humans during this time.

*Do not use florists’ roses as they may have been treated with chemicals during processing.

**Never take essential oils internally.

Sources for ingredients:

Note: This recipe’s ingredients can be modified with ingredients of your choice. Just keep in mind not to allow anything with water to touch what you are doing, because it creates an environment for bacterial growth.

While The Herb Society of America does not endorse one establishment over another, we’ve provided some sources to help get you started. Please utilize due diligence in locating the material of your choosing.

Better Shea Butter

Mountain Rose Herbs  (an Herb Society of America business member)

Author’s Note: As of this writing, Mountain Rose Herbs will be temporarily closed until April 24th, 2020. Please read their statement here.

Starwest Botanicals

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


IMG_7308

Gladys and daughter Cheyenne, a nurse

Gladys McKinney is The Herb Society of America’s Treasurer and lives in Cape May, NJ. She has six children, loves accounting and herbs. When not busy with accounting, her favorite things to do with her children and one grandchild include gardening, going to the ocean, and reading old herbal books.

Practice Essential Oil Safety

Practice Essential Oil Safety

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America

Essential oils with rocksI love working with essential oils and have for several decades. It’s been lovely to witness their surge in popularity over the past 15 years.  Essential oils are wonderful for diffusing and creating a relaxing aura of comfort. Certain oils like lavender, frankincense, and rose are skin care standards which, when used correctly, are lovely additions to any wellness program

While essential oils are great, consumers must know proper safety.

Without safety measures, bad things happen. For example, I’ve been to a yoga class where a well-meaning yogi dabbed oils directly onto my skin during shavasana to promote relaxation. In theory this would be lovely, but it could cause an allergic reaction for some people. The yogi should be aware of the participants’ sensitivities.

LavendarEssentialOils660In another case, I saw a young woman suffer skin damage from improper use of essential oils. She innocently mixed lavender and tea tree oils into bentonite clay for a face mask. Without additional emollients or carrier oils she blistered her skin. (The correct formulation — after a patch test — would be one cup of bentonite clay, several tablespoons of almond or avocado oil, ¼ cup of raw honey, and several drops of  each oil.)

Even with carrier oil dilution, you can be allergic to an essential oil. And so a patch test, dabbing a drop on your inner elbow and waiting a few minutes for a reaction, is important.

Some top cautions include:

  • Ingestion — Adding essential oils like grapefruit, lemon or oregano into water or capsules for ingestion is dangerous. Straight ingestion of oils can burn your esophagus and damage your stomach lining.
  • Sunlight exposure — Many of these oils are photosensitive, meaning that you should never apply them and go into the direct sunlight.
  • Pharmaceutical interaction — You may experience contraindications between oils and medicine. For example, if you are taking a blood thinner or have blood clotting issues, cross frankincense off your list.
  • Pregnancy — Clary sage should never be used if you are pregnant as it can induce contractions.

medicinal disclaimer 2Users must realize that essential oils are strong. They are the highly distilled essence of the plant. With high-quality essential oils, it’s more is never better. With essential oils less is more. The best rule of thumb is that unless you have your doctor’s permission, just don’t ingest essential oils.