Vegetable Oils-Liquid Gold

Vegetable Oils-Liquid Gold

This article is about common and uncommon vegetable oils derived from seeds, nuts and, in some cases, fruit pulp.

Vegetable oils:

Vegetable oils have been called ‘liquid gold. That is because they are a source of nutritionally valuable fatty acids, vital dietary components. But their range of applications goes much further, from everyday food uses to medicinal and cosmetic uses and even industrial processes.

Seeds and nuts are the most important sources of high-quality oils, although some are derived from fruits and vegetables. While all vegetable oils are composed of fatty acids, their individual profiles vary greatly. Their quality does not only depend on their composition but rather on the method of extraction.

 Many oils, including common cooking oils, are solvent extracted and highly refined. The advantage of refined oils is their extended shelf-life. But refining removes most of the unsaturated components and thereby destroys or extracts most of the nutrients.

The best cooking oils are ‘cold pressed’, rather than refined.

Methods of Extraction:

Refined oil

Pressing oil from seeds and refining it for human consumption is an elaborate process. The raw material (usually seeds or nuts) first must be cleaned and shelled. Then it is heated to facilitate the extraction process. Next, they are pressed. Modern mills are complicated industrial machines. The pressure necessary to express the oil produces an enormous amount of heat. The press cake must therefore be cooled throughout the process.

Oils that are not cold-pressed contain all sorts of undesired compounds that make the oil unpalatable. This necessitates refinement to remove the undesirable components.

Solvent Extraction – refining oils

Some raw materials are not that rich in oil, but the types of oils that they contain are rare and precious. Such oils do not easily yield to pressure but must be extracted with hexanes, which are solvents. The term ‘Hexanes’ refers to a mixture of hexane in combination with other isomeric compounds. Hexanes are a by-product of refining crude oil, and they are toxic to human health. When used to extract edible oils, these hexanes must be removed again to render them safe. This is achieved by heating the mixture to about 60 °C.

The extracted oil must then be refined to purify it and remove any unwanted substances and residues. The oil is washed in a watery sodium base liquid (industrial soap), causing certain compounds to separate or clump together so that they can be filtered out. Refinery basically means putting an oil through a chemical mill to make it fit for human consumption. From the industry’s perspective, the chief advantage of refining oils is that it produces a much greater yield, and the shelf-life can be extended to well beyond a year.

Cold Pressed Oils

Cold-pressed oils are of much higher quality since nothing is added or removed from them. They are extracted by simple mechanical pressure. This is done very slowly while simultaneously cooling the press cake. The oil must not get hotter than 40 °C lest its valuable compounds are destroyed. Cold-pressed oils are expensive because the yield is much lower compared to refined oils. Nor is the shelf life as long, but the nutrient profile and flavour of cold-pressed oils is much richer and more complex. High-quality cold-pressed oils have a nuanced bouquet of flavours, just like good coffee or wine. No two oils ever taste the same.

Find organic oils, essential oils and other ingredients at Starwest Botanicals

Almonds
Image by Konevi from Pixabay

Sweet Almond (Prunus dulcis)

A light, gentle oil derived from almond seeds. This oil is nutritionally highly beneficial and may be used for culinary purposes (best to use organic). According to research, it has an impressive ability to reduce cholesterol levels. However, most Almond oil is bought by the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry and used for salves, ointments, massage oils, crèmes and lotions. Thanks to its gentle nature, it is suitable for use as baby oil. The skin readily absorbs it, and its perfect viscosity never leaves a greasy feeling. It is rich in essential fatty acids. Store in a dark, cool place to maximize the shelf-life.

Fatty Acids:

  • Oleic- 64.8%
  • Palmitic- 6.4%
  • Linoleic- 26.1%
  • Linolenic- 0.3%
  • Stearic- 1.4%
Apricot
Image by 夏 沐沐 from Pixabay

Apricot Kernel (Prunus armeniaca)

Apricot oil is a light oil, even gentler than Almond oil. The kernels may be pressed or solvent extracted. This oil is not for internal use but has excellent properties if used as a cosmetic base oil for making crèmes and lotions or facial oils. Apricot oil is chemically similar to Almond oil and has a similar shelf life but is not quite as drying as Almond oil.

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 64.2%
  • Palmitic- 5.0%
  • Linoleic- 28.3%
  • Linolenic- 0.2%
  • Stearic- 1.0%
Argan nut
Image by Symel from Pixabay

Argan oil (Argana spinosa)

This edible oil comes from the nuts of a small desert tree found in Morocco. According to Moroccan tradition, the nuts must pass through the guts of the goats, who forage on these trees, before they can be processed. The nuts are then roasted and crushed. Submerging the pulp in water causes the oil to float on the surface where it can be siphoned off – no doubt, a labour-intensive process. The oil has a nutty smell and flavour and is rich in vitamin E, carotenes and phytosterols. It is a sought-after ingredient for therapeutic skin-care products for aged and damaged skin.

Fatty Acids:

  • Oleic- 48.4%
  • Palmitic- 12.6%
  • Palmitoleic- 0.1%
  • Stearic- 5.4%
  • Gadoleic- 0.3%
  • Arachidic- 0.2%
Avocado
Image by Cesar Gonzalez from Pixabay

Avocado (Persea americana)

This trendy and delicious fruit is so rich in fat that it readily gives it up by simple expeller extraction. The oil is dark green and thick, almost solid when unrefined, turning brown when exposed to sunlight. Avocado oil is highly nutritious and beneficial for the skin. But as it is also very unstable, it goes off quickly. Avocado oil soothes irritated and inflamed skin, as well as burns and scars. It has excellent moisturizing properties and can help regenerate the elasticity of the skin. However, most commercial Avocado oil is refined, which removes many of its nutrients. The fatty acid profile is highly variable.

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 36-80%
  • Palmitic- 7-32%
  • Linoleic- 6-18%
  • Palmitoleic 2-13%
  • Stearic 0.5-1.5%
  • Alpha Linolenic 0-5%

Babassu (Orbignya oleifera)

Babassu is an oil palm whose nuts resemble small coconuts. It is native to the coastal regions of Brazil. Babassu is the third most important oil palm species in the world and is widely used for food and medicine. The oil is rich in saturated fats, thus not the best choice for culinary purposes. As a cosmetic agent, it has good moisturizing, emollient and cleansing properties. Babassu is used as an ingredient in suntan lotions, cleansing crèmes and lip balms. Babassu is especially beneficial for dry and brittle hair and can be used in hair care products. Commercially, it is used as an ingredient of soaps and detergents.

Fatty Acids

  • Lauric- 50%
  • Myristic- 20%
  • Oleic-12.5%
  • Palmitic- 11%
  • Capric- 7%
  • Caprylic- 4%
  • Linoleic 1.5%
  • Stearic- 3.5%
  • Caproic 0.2%
Black Cumin
Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay

Black Cumin Seed (Nigella sativa)

Also known as the cottage garden flower ‘Love in the Mist’, Black Cumin seeds yield a bitter, slightly spicy oil rich in unsaturated fatty acids. Its Linoleic acid and bitter components render it useful as a nutritional supplement and metabolic and digestive stimulant. It is also beneficial for conditions that affect the upper respiratory tract, such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. A few drops of the oil can be added to salad dressings, but most prefer it as soft gels. Its strong smell means it is not often included in massage oils, but in combination with the appropriate essential oils, it can produce an invigorating detox blend or enhance mixtures for inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and eczema. (It should not be used internally during pregnancy.)

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 22.6%
  • Palmitic- 11.7%
  • Linoleic- 55.6%
  • Linolenic- 1.0%
Black Currant
Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

Black Currant Seed (Ribes nigrum)

Black Currant seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids that boost heart health. They fight chronic inflammation and have anticoagulant properties that help to prevent thrombosis. Many women find that adding oils rich in Alpha and Gamma Linolenic acids help regulate symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle. As a nutritive additive of cosmetic preparations, Black Currant seed has a revitalizing and moisturizing effect on mature skin, smoothing dryness and wrinkles. It provides the nutrients needed to restructure the natural elasticity of the skin.

Fatty Acids

  • Palmitic- 6%
  • Stearic- 5%
  • Oleic- 11-12%
  • Linoleic 47-48%
  • Gamma Linolenic- 16-17%
  • Alpha Linolenic 12-13%
  • Parinaric 3%
  • Gadoleic 1.1%
Borage

Borage (Borago officinalis)

A common herb of the Boraginaceae family, with delicate blue starry flowers, produces a highly nutritious seed with many valuable properties. Borage Seed oil is rich in GLA (gamma Linoleic acid). It is available in soft gels as a nutritional supplement to help regulate the menstrual cycle and ease menopausal symptoms. Borage seed oil can be used as a therapeutic agent to treat chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions and menstrual symptoms. As a nutritional ingredient in cosmetic preparations, it has restorative properties that are particularly soothing for sensitive skin and can be incorporated into moisturizing night crèmes.

Fatty Acids

  • Linoleic- 30-40%
  • Gamma Linolenic- 8-25%
  • Oleic- 15-20%
  • Palmitic- 9-12%
  • Stearic- 3-4%
  • Gadoleic- 2-6%
Castor
Image by Couleur from Pixabay

Castor oil (Ricinus communis)

Castor oil plants have been cultivated for medicinal and cosmetic purposes for ages but never for food, as the seeds are toxic, and the oil is powerfully purgative and emetic. The thick and viscous oil has many industrial applications, including softening or waterproofing materials and treating leather, and as an ingredient of cosmetic products such as soaps, ointments, crèmes, salves, lipsticks, hair care products and lotions. Sulphonated or hydrogenated Castor oil is known as Turkey Red oil and can be used as a dispersing agent and can be used in bath oils.

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 3.0%
  • Palmitic- 1.0%
  • Linoleic- 4.2%
  • Linolenic- 0.3%
  • Ricinoleic- 89.5%
Coconut
Image by Ogutier from Pixabay

Coconut (Cocos nucifera)

Unrefined Coconut oil is solid at room temperature but melts at body temperature. It consists predominantly of saturated oils, which render it very stable and give it a long shelf-life. Although it is used for cooking, its profile is better suited for cosmetic uses. It can be incorporated into moisturizing body butter, hair care products, lip balm, and a soothing emollient in ointments or lotions. The terms ‘fractionated’ or ‘light coconut oil’ refers to a refined oil that lacks most nutrients of the cold-pressed oil. The main advantage of refined coconut oil is that it stays liquid at room temperature and does not smell of coconut.

Fatty Acids

  • Caprylic- 5-9%
  • Capric- 6-11%
  • Lauric- 42-52%
  • Linoleic- 14%
  • Myristic- 13-20%
  • Oleic- 3-12%
  • Palmitic- 8-14%
  • Stearic- 1-3%

Corn oil (Zea mays)

Corn oil is well known as a cheap and readily available cooking oil. Unfortunately, most corn is now produced from GMO sources. Regular corn oil tends to be highly refined and processed. Unrefined corn oil has a good nutritional profile that is rich in unsaturated fatty acids and vitamin E, but it is hard to find.

Fatty Acids

  • Myristic – 0.1%
  • Palmitic- 8-13%
  • Palmitoleic- 1%
  • Stearic- 1-4%
  • Oleic- 24-32%
  • Linoleic- 55-62%
  • Alpha Linoleic- 2%
  • Arachidic – 1%
Evening Primrose

Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

The seeds of the otherworldly-looking Evening Primrose, which only opens its flowers at night, yield a most precious oil. Although edible, the oil is not used in cooking, but as a nutritional supplement. Evening Primrose Oil is rich in GLA, an essential fatty acid vital for maintaining numerous physiological processes. It boosts the immune system, reduces inflammatory symptoms including those of rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus, regulates menstrual and menopausal symptoms and reduces high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It also helps with skin conditions such as acne, rosacea or eczema, and the healing of ulcers and nerve damage associated with diabetes. The oil can be used as a nutritional supplement or externally as a special ingredient of skin-care products. It soothes irritated or inflamed skin and can be used as an anti-wrinkle component of night crèmes in facial oils for mature skin.

Fatty Acids

  • Linoleic- 73.3%
  • Gamma-Linolenic- 9.0%
  • Oleic- 8.3%
  • Palmitic- 6.2%
  • Stearic- 1.5%
grapes

Grapeseed (Vitis vinifera)

Until fairly recently, grapes were more valued for their juicy fruit than their seed. But when examined more closely, the seeds yielded a finely textured, light oil with a good nutritional profile, including Linoleic acid, but not in the remarkable range compared to other oils. Its chief merit is its low cost, which makes it popular for inexpensive ‘natural’ cosmetics. Commercially, it is used in soap-making and as machine oil. Good quality Grapeseed oil is edible and can be used for cooking.

Fatty Acids

  • Linoleic- 63.93%
  • Linolenic- 0.77%
  • Oleic- 23.65%
  • Palmitic- 8.09%
  • Stearic- 3.56%
Hazelnut

Hazelnut oil (Corylus avellana)

Hazelnut oil has a fine nutty flavour and is nutritious and delicious. But not all commercially available hazelnut oil is of food-grade quality, and some are highly refined. Hazelnut oil is rich in vitamins A, B and E. Its light, dry or astringent texture lend itself to skincare products, particularly for oily skin types. It also has emollient properties that soften the skin. Commercially, it is used in a wide range of cosmetic products from hand crèmes to lipsticks, cleansing lotions and sun oils.

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 77.4%
  • Palmitic- 4.7%
  • Linoleic- 13.9%
  • Stearic- 2.6%
Hemp

Hemp (Cannabis sativa)

Hemp Seed Oil is pressed from the seeds of Cannabis, but the oil does not contain any psychoactive properties. Overall, this oil has one of the best nutritional profiles of any plant oil and is extremely rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are so important to health. Hemp oil is edible and recommended as a nutritional supplement for many conditions, including menstrual problems, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, MS, rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer. It also supports the metabolism, lowers cholesterol and soothes inflammatory skin conditions. Hemp oil has a thick, heavy texture, yet it feels soft and is readily absorbed by the skin. It is best used in combination with other oils in massage blends, lotions or crèmes. 

Fatty Acids

  • Alpha-Linolenic- 18.87%
  • Gamma-Linolenic- 4.01%
  • Oleic- 9.23%
  • Linoleic- 56.03%
  • Palmitic- 5.74%
  • Stearic- 2.48%

Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis)

Jojoba oil is produced from the seeds of a small desert shrub native to the southwestern United States. The rich, thick substance pressed from the seeds is more of a liquid wax that solidifies at just below normal room temperature. Jojoba oil is not used for cooking but has an excellent profile for cosmetic use. It is very nutritious and rich in vitamin E and certain proteins, including one that resembles collagen. Jojoba oil has excellent restructuring qualities that can repair chapped skin and may even be used on chilblains. It is also excellent for mature, dry and sagging skin to which it can restore some elasticity. The properties of Jojoba oil are similar and even superior to those of sperm whale oil, which it has come to replace in many natural beauty products. Native Americans have used Jojoba’s healing properties in cancer care and cosmetically for hair care preparations.

Fatty Acids

  • Erucic- 16.3%
  • Gadoleic- 69.3%
  • Oleic- 10.1%
  • Palmitic- 0-2%
  • Behenic- 0-1%

Kukui Nut (Aleurites moluccana)

The Kukui tree is native to the Pacific region and is Hawaii’s official ‘state tree’. The light, yellow oil is highly moisturizing, yet non-greasy, making it an ideal ingredient for skincare preparations. Kukui oil can prevent the loss of moisture, keeping the skin smooth, supple and elastic. It is suitable for all skin types but particularly valuable for mature, chapped, and dry skin. As a component of healing ointments, it soothes irritable or inflammatory conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema, or burnt skin.

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 20%
  • Palmitic- 6%
  • Stearic- 0.3%
  • Palmitoleic- 0.1%
  • Linoleic- 42%
  • Linolenic- 29%
Flax
Image by Annette Meyer from Pixabay

Flax/ Linseed (Linum usitatissimum)

Flax and Linseed are two names for the same plant, rich in both fibre and oil. The seeds have a remarkable composition of essential fatty acids and are an excellent source of omega-3 alpha-linolenic fatty acid. The human body can convert this fatty acid into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, but it is not very good at it. Some people even lack the necessary enzyme for this conversion. Nevertheless, Linseed oil is nutritionally very valuable and can be used in salad dressings or as a dietary supplement. For skincare products, it is less popular as it quickly turns rancid, has a strong smell and thick and sticky texture. Industrially, Linseed Oil is used as paint thinner and wood sealant, and artists use it for their oil paints.

Fatty Acids

  • Lauric acid 0.02%
  • Myristic acid 0.09%
  • Palmitic acid 5.36%
  • Stearic acid 2.26%
  • Arachidic acid 1.06%
  • Behenic acid 0.22%
  • Lignoceric acid 0.58%
  • Palmitoleic acid 0.04%
  • Oleic acid 16.75%
  • Gadoleic acid 12.53%
  • Erucic acid 1.45%
  • Linoleic acid 14.78%
  • Alpha-linolenic acid 42.27%

Macademia (Macademia integrifolia)

The Macadamia tree is known as Bush nut in its native Queensland, Australia. It became popular after it was brought to Hawaii, which is now the world’s leading producer. Macadamia nut oil has an excellent fatty acid profile, comprising a good balance between monounsaturated, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. This makes it very stable and a great choice for culinary use. Macadamia oil contains palmitoleic acid, a compound that is also found in human sebum. As the skin matures, the Palmitoleic acid diminishes. Thus, Macadamia oil provides excellent properties for skincare products for mature skin. It nourishes and tones the skin and helps to restore its elasticity. Macadamia oil is suitable for all areas, including very sensitive parts e.g. around the eyes, and is easily absorbed by the skin.

Fatty Acids

  • Lauric- Traces
  • Myristic- 0.4-1.6%
  • Palmitic- 7-10%
  • Stearic- 1.5-5%
  • Oleic- 54-63%
  • Palmitoleic- 16-23%
  • Linoleic- 1-3%
  • Arachidic- 1.5-3%
  • Gadoleic- 1-3%
Neem

Neem (Azadirachta indica)

In Asia, Neem has the reputation of a miracle tree, and not just for its oil. Its other parts are also medicinally valuable. Neem oil has a very pungent, garlicky smell, which does not lend itself very well to massage or bath oils. But, it has potent anti-microbial properties that can be incorporated in salves and lotions to treat parasites (lice), fungal (Athlete’s foot) and bacterial infections. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is used for all kinds of skin problems.

Fatty Acids

  • Palmitic- 18%
  • Stearic- 15%
  • Oleic- 50%
  • Linoleic- 13%
  • Arachidic- 2%
Olive tree

Olive (Olea europaea)

Olive oil hardly needs an introduction. It is one of the best cooking oils available. But unlike most vegetable oils, it is pressed from the seed but from the fruit pulp. The familiar rich greenish-yellow oil has a well-balanced heart-healthy fatty acid profile that is key to the Mediterranean diet. For most cosmetic products, olive oil is a bit too thick and heavy. Blended with other, lighter oils, it creates excellent slippage in massage blends. It can also be used as a menstruum to extract fatty components from plants such as St. John’s Wort. In Mediterranean countries, olive oil is used in soap-making and nourishing skincare products such as body butter and lotions. It soothes inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, dermatitis, and eczema, and can be applied to burnt, dry or chapped skin.

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 60-85%
  • Palmitic- 14.4%
  • Linoleic- 9-14%
  • Linolenic- 1%
  • Stearic- 2.43%
Oil Palm nuts
Image by tk tan from Pixabay

Palm (Elaeis guineensis)

Palm oil production has skyrocketed in recent years, much to the demise of virgin forests in tropical regions. Vast areas are turned over to oil palm plantations, with devastating consequences for the local ecosystems. Much of it is used as biofuel, a greenwashing coup. Energy giants are selling us palm oil as a source of sustainable energy without the need to change our behaviour while destroying ecosystems elsewhere.

Oil palms yield two distinct types of oil, one pressed from the fruit pulp, which is used in processed foods, and the other from the actual kernels. The latter is used predominantly for soap and detergent production. Palm oil is not a very healthy cooking oil as it contains a high percentage of saturated fats. It can be used in cosmetic blends, but the nutritional profile is not great.

Palm Fruit Fatty Acid Profile:

  • Linoleic- 9-11%
  • Linolenic- 0.4%
  • Oleic- 39-41%
  • Palmitic- 43-45%
  • Stearic- 4-5%

Palm Kernel Fatty Acid Profile:

  • Lauric- 40-55%
  • Capric- 3-5%
  • Caprylic- 2-6%
  • Linolenic- 1%
  • Myrisitic- 14-18%
  • Oleic- 12-20%
  • Palmatic- 6-10%
Peach
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Peach (Prunus persica)

Peach is related to almond and apricot, and all three of these oils share similar qualities. Although peach kernel oil is slightly heavier, it is just as gentle. Due to its limited availability, it tends to be a pricey choice. Peach kernel oil may be used for cosmetic preparations such as facial lotions and rejuvenating crèmes for aged and tired skin, lip balms, bath or massage oils. It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. This oil is not for internal use.

Fatty Acids

  • Palmitic acid 5-8%
  • Oleic- 55-75%
  • Linoleic- 15-35%
peanuts
Image by hgsarc from Pixabay

Peanut (Arachis hypogaea)

Peanut oil is cheap and widely available – and, unfortunately, often gene manipulated. They are an important cash crop and in terms of world production, peanuts take second place after soy. Peanut oil has a high smoke point, making it suitable for frying. It has a high percentage of monosaturated fatty acids, rendering it stable and giving it a long shelf-life. Peanut oil is rarely used for cosmetics, except as a ‘filler’ to stretch other, more precious oils. Allergies to peanuts are common. They are more likely to occur when exposed to crude, unrefined oil.

Fatty Acids

  • Palmitic- 7.0 – 16.0%
  • Stearic- 1.3 – 6.5%
  • Oleic- 35.0 – 72.0%
  • Linoleic 13.0 – 43.0%
  • Linolenic Max. 0.6%
  • Arachidic 0.5 – 3.0%
  • Gadoleic 0.5 – 2.1%
  • Behenic 1.0 – 5.0%
  • Erucic Max. 0.5%
  • Lignoceric- 0.5 – 3.0%
rosted pumpkin seeds
Image by Hebi B. from Pixabay

Pumpkin Seed (Curcubita pepo var. styriaca /syn. var. oleifera)

Pumpkins originated in the New World. They were completely novel to Europeans when Columbus introduced them. But, the familiar Pumpkinseed oil comes from a cultivated variety, Curcubita pepo var. styriaca (syn. var. oleifera) developed in Styria, Austria. The seeds of this particular variety are exceptionally rich in oil. Before pressing them, they are roasted briefly. The resulting oil is dark green and has a distinct nutty flavour. Pumpkin seed oil is very wholesome; rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin E, A & C. Like pumpkin seeds, the oil is also rich in zinc. Traditionally, it was used as a nutritional supplement for conditions of the urinary tract, such as weak bladder or prostate problems. Pumpkin seed oil is rarely used in cosmetics, although its nutrients would add value. Keep in dark bottles in a cool, dark place. Exposure to heat and light deteriorates its quality.

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 15.9 – 24.7%
  • Linoleic- 56%
  • Palmitic- 12.3%
  • Stearic- 0.1 – 4.8%
  • Linolenic 0.1%
Rapeseed

Rapeseed/Canola (Brassica napus)

Rape, a member of the mustard family, is a widely produced commercial crop. The oil pressed from its seeds is sold under the product name ‘Canola oil’ and describes a type of rapeseed, which is low in erucic acid. Canola is a light cooking oil, with a better ratio of saturated and non-saturated fatty acids than other standard cooking oils. However, in Canada, which is the largest producer, most Rape is gene manipulated. In industry, Canola oil is used to manufacture margarine and soap, and as industrial machine oil. It is also one of the most important sources of biodiesel. Occasionally, it is found in cosmetic products.

Fatty Acids

  • Myristic- 0.1%
  • Palmitic- 3.5%
  • Stearic-1.5%
  • Arachidic- 0.6%
  • Behenic- 0.3%
  • Palmitoleic 0.2%
  • Oleic- 61-70%
  • Gadoleic- 1.4%
  • Erucic- 0.2%
  • Alpha Linolenic- 11%
  • Linoleic- 21%
Rose hip seeds
Image by aixklusiv from Pixabay

Rose hip Seed (Rosa rubiginosa)

Rose hip seed oil is a precious oil obtained from a Chilean variety of roses native to the Andes. Their seeds are very high in essential fatty acids (80%). Rose hip oil is not used for cooking but has an excellent profile for cosmetic uses. It is particularly suitable for facial blends and lotions that nourish the tender tissue around the eyes, and tone the skin. The oil has a light, gently astringent and moisturizing quality. It is valuable as an ingredient of ‘after sun care’ lotions, soothes burnt skin, and scars. Not for internal use.

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 14.22%
  • Palmitic- 3.71%
  • Linoleic- 45%
  • Linolenic- 33.08%
Safflower
Image by didwnddl from Pixabay

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)

Historically, Safflower is a dyers plant, valued for its pigment. But today, it is mostly cultivated for the oil content of its seeds. The yellow-orange, thistle-like flowers are also the source of what is known as ‘false saffron’, a cheap substitute, which does not come close to the real thing. Safflower oil is a nutritious cooking oil with a relatively neutral flavour. There are two varieties of Safflower: one is higher in monounsaturated (oleic acid), the other in polyunsaturated fatty acids (linoleic acid). The monounsaturated variety is more stable and has a longer shelf-life.

Fatty Acids

  • Oleic- 75.33- 80.00%
  • Palmitic- 4-9%
  • Linoleic- 12-16%
  • Linolenic- 1%
Sesame
Image by TheUjulala from Pixabay

Sesame (Sesamum indicum)

Sesame oil originated in Asia and the Middle East, where it has long been used as valuable lamp oil. It was also popular for making salves and skincare products. Sesame oil is rich in calcium, oleic and linoleic acid and has a long shelf-life. It has a distinct nutty flavour and is very good as cooking oil The light texture and good moisturizing properties make it suitable for skincare products, cosmetics, soaps and detergents. Two types are available commercially: light and dark sesame oil. They don’t derive from different plants, but the seeds used for dark Sesame oil are toasted before pressing, making the flavour more intense. Dark Sesame oil is only used for cooking.

Fatty Acids

  • Linoleic- 43.93%
  • Oleic- 39.93%
  • Palmitic- 8.99%
  • Stearic- 3.50%

Soy oil (Soja hispida)

In Asia, soy is a staple crop. Its remarkable rise to stardom started about 50 years ago. Before then, it was virtually unknown in the western world. It has become a common ingredient in almost all processed foods. In terms of market share, Soybean oil ranked as the number one vegetable oil until recently, when Palm oil overtook it. Unfortunately, soy is also the most ubiquitous GM crop. Soybean oil is not only used in the kitchen but also has many industrial applications. It is an ingredient of soaps, detergents and natural cosmetics and is used to manufacture linoleum, plastics and vegetable-based inks. Its chief advantage is that it is cheap, freely available, and has a long shelf-life.

Fatty Acids

  • Myristic- 0.1%
  • Palmitic- 10.8%
  • Stearic- 4.0%
  • Palmitoleic- 0.2%
  • Oleic- 23.8%
  • Gadoleic 0.2%
  • Linoleic 53.3%
  • Linolenic- 7.1%
Sunflower
Image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Native Americans regard the sunny sunflower as sacred. But that has not stopped its rise to worldwide cultivation. The seeds yield a fine and nutritionally balanced cooking oil that is second only to olive oil. Different varieties of Sunflowers have slightly different profiles. Thus, the regular cooking oil is not necessarily the same as what is sold for cosmetic use. Sunflower oil is relatively light with a medium viscosity. It has an affinity with human sebum, which is why it makes a good, affordable base oil for skincare preparations, massage and bath oils. It can also be used for macerating herbs (e.g. to produce calendula or St. John’s wort oil). The specific fatty acid profile varies considerably depending on the variety.

Fatty Acids

  • Linoleic- 62-70%
  • Oleic- 15-25%
  • Palmitic- 5-8%
  • Stearic- 4-6%
  • Palmitoleic- 0.1-04
  • Linolenic- 0.2- 1.4%
  • Arachidic 0.0-0.3%
  • Gadoleic 0.2-1.0%
  • Behenic 0.5-1.1%
walnuts

Walnut (Juglans regia)

Walnuts are popular as an ingredient of baked goods or trail mixes. But only gourmets are familiar with the delicious, nutty oil pressed from them. Since it is rich in unsaturated fats, it is mostly used in salads or as a flavouring oil in fine baking. It is rarely used in skincare preparations as the unsaturated fats spoil quickly, turning the product rancid. But its soothing, rejuvenating, and emollient properties can make it a rare treat for dry and tired skin.

Fatty Acids

  • Myristic- 0.1%
  • Palmitic- 6-8%
  • Palmitoleic 0.2%
  • Stearic 1.3%
  • Oleic 14-21%
  • Linoleic- 54-65%
  • Linolenic 9-15%
wheat

Wheatgerm (Triticum sativum)

Wheat germ oil is obtained from the germ part of the wheat kernels. It is very nutritious and especially rich in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Wheat germ oil is not commonly used for cooking but may be added to salad dressings to enhance the nutritional profile. However, its flavour is not exactly delicate. Purified vitamin E oil, that does not contain unsaturated fatty acids, is preferred for cosmetic preparations. Vitamin E oil stabilizes blends and prolongs their shelf-life. Its nutritive properties can help prevent stretch marks and scar tissue formation.

Fatty Acids

  • Palmitic- 14-18%
  • Stearic- 0.5-0.6%
  • Oleic- 16-22%
  • Linoleic-54-58%
  • Linolenic 4-7%
Foraging: Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Foraging: Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Foraging Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

Autumn is my favourite foraging time. The seeds are ripening, the nuts are swelling, and mushrooms are making their elusive appearances. Even when things have seemingly died off, one can dig for roots and rhizomes below ground. 

 

Evening Primrose is a great autumn crop for foragers. The tall, lanky stalk with the large, somewhat ghostly, pale yellow flowers is a familiar sight. Yet its true beauty is revealed at night when the flowers open fully and their subtle scent perfumes the air. 

 

Habitat

Evening Primroses are not particularly fussy. They are happy with poor, sandy soil as long as it gets enough sun. Waste grounds, railway track embankments, neglected corners of the yard all provide a happy habitat for them. 

Edible parts:

All parts of the Evening Primrose are edible.

Leaves:

Evening primrose is biennial, forming a rosette in the first year and the stalk and flowers in the second year. The leaves of both the first and the second year’s growth can be cooked or used fresh – but they are a bit hairy, and may not be to everyone’s liking. Try a small amount first to see if you like the flavour, or mix them with other herbs.

Flowers:

Evening Primrose has a long flowering season, from June to September. The early flowers only open in the evenings, exuding a beautiful, sweet scent. Later, they open during the day as well. The flowers are mildly sweet-tasting and can be used to decorate salads. Or try the buds before they open in stir-fries and such.

Seeds:

The seed pods ripen in the autumn. The elongated capsules contain quite a lot of tiny seeds. But if you think you might be able to press your own Evening  Primrose Oil, I’ll have to disappoint you. The seeds are minuscule. It would require a ton of them to make the endeavour worthwhile. And, what’s more, the pressure needed to press the seeds is so great that it would produce a lot of heat, which would destroy the beneficial properties of the oil. Try using them like poppy seeds instead. But don’t expect to get a lot of nutritional value from them. The amounts typically used in cooking and baking are too small for that. Grind the seeds before adding them to your recipes to release the oil. Left whole, they would simply pass straight through the digestive system without leaving a trace of their nutritional benefits.

Read more about the medicinal properties of Evening Primrose Oil

 

 

Roots:

The roots are perhaps most interesting for the forager. But remember that only the first years’ root is used, which is easily identifiable by its distinctive rosette of leaves. The flowering shoot does not form until the spring of the second year. By this time, it would be too late to dig for the root. But, look around the ground near a stand of second-year plants, and you will soon spot some yearlings. It can be hard work to dig up the long reddish taproot unless the soil is very light. But they make an unusual root vegetable for bakes and stews with a slightly peppery taste, reminiscent of black salsify.

Evening Primrose rosette
Evening Primrose root

Recipes

Roasted Winter Vegetables

  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Evening Primrose Roots
  • Large onion
  • Garlic

Clean and peel/scrub vegetables well. Cut into 2″ chunks. Coat with olive oil and salt. Keep them separate and sprinkle with spices (e.g. sprinkle the parsnips with curry, the carrots with coriander seed powder and the potatoes and evening primrose roots with Chinese 5 spice mix).

 

Quarter the onion. Separate the garlic into cloves, no need to peel. Preheat the oven to about 425 °F

Place all ingredients on a baking tray and bake for about 30 – 50 minutes on a high shelf. (cooking time depends on the size of the vegetable chunks – check regularly)

 

You can add a few sprigs of fresh sage and rosemary towards the end for additional flavour. (Putting them in at the beginning would burn them)

 

Evening Primrose Fritters

Not suitable for ‘fat-free’ fans, but delicious nonetheless.

 

Prepare a standard batter:

  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 TSP baking powder
  • 1 TSP salt
  • 1 TSP oil

 

Cut the Evening Primrose root into long pieces, not too thick, and dip each piece into the batter.

Fry in very hot oil until golden brown.

A deep-fryer works best, but if you don’t have one, pan-frying will do.

 

Evening Primrose Patties

Cook the Evening Primrose roots until tender (you might want to blend with other root vegetables).

Mash with butter, stir in one egg and a little flour and/or oats to make a sticky dough.

Season to taste. Form little patties and pan-fry on each side until golden brown.

Plant Profile: Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

Plant Profile: Poppy (Papaver somniferum)

Image by NickyPe from Pixabay
Opium Poppy Papaver somniferum
Synonyms Opium Poppy, Mawseed, Herb of Joy, Mohn, Klapper-Rosen, Mago, Magesamen, Weismagen, wilder Magen, Magensaph, Rosule

Description:

Opium Poppies are nothing if not showy. Their sturdy stems and large leaves make a stark contrast to their large but oddly flimsy flowers. The delicate petals give the impression of a butterfly that is just about to take off. At the base of the flower sits a prominent, many-rayed stigma surrounded by a mass of stamens. After the flower has been fertilized, the petals drop off, leaving the seed capsule exposed as it swells and ripens like a pregnant belly.

Individual plants grow to between 70 cm, and 130 cm tall. The erect stems and large wavy leaves have a tough, rubbery texture. The leaves are indented and clasp the stem. All green parts of the plant are covered by a greyish-blue waxy substance that is easily rubbed off. Botanists describe this feature as glaucous.

When any green part is cut or wounded, a milky latex oozes out and turns brown as it dries. This substance is known as raw opium.

The seed capsule of Papaver somniferum is almost spherical and has a star-shaped, flattened lid. As it dries, the top shrinks and lifts. Tiny holes are formed underneath the rim, allowing the tiny, white or bluish-black seeds can disperse.

Origin and Distribution

It is difficult to establish with any certainty just where Papaver somniferum originated or who its genetic parents might have been. But, most researchers now agree that the Mediterranean region of Asia Minor is its most likely ‘original home’.

From this strategically advantageous position, they spread east into Asia, south into North Africa and north into Central Europe. Today, poppies are even found as far north as Britain. Poppies are popular as ornamentals, and breeders have developed dozens of varieties of different colours and flower arrangements.

The Papaver genus comprises about 100 species that occur throughout the temperate regions of the world. Poppies like to grow in association with corn. In early summer, the related Scarlet Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) can often be seen in cornfields and verges. This species is much smaller, has scarlet-red petals and small, elongated seed capsules. Although the Scarlet Poppy has historically also been used medicinally, its action is much milder than that of Papaver somniferum.

Opium Poppies are not native to the New World. But when they appeared on their shores, Eastern tribes adopted their medicinal uses, which they learned from the Europeans.

Image by Peter Kraayvanger from Cultural History

The delicate Poppy flowers are beautiful to behold. Their papery petals gently waft in the summer's breeze - alas, it is a short-lived beauty. Here one day, gone the next. The fleeting splendour only lasts a few days before the petals fall, revealing a bulging seed pod.

The seed pods hold a myriad of tiny poppy seeds, a familiar item of the kitchen larder. We use them as toppings of bread rolls and bagels, or as cake fillings. Less commonly available is the delicately nutty seed oil, highly esteemed in gourmet cuisines.

But poppy has a secret power, and it flows within its fleshy stems, leaves and unripe seed capsules: its milky latex.

When it oxidizes and dries, the latex turns brown and becomes what the Ancients knew as 'opion'. This substance has been used for thousands of years. In the days of blood and gore, opion was a god-sent pain-reliever. Even today, the most effective pain relievers are still predominantly based on it.

Thanks to its potent analgesic and hypnotic properties, Opium relieves not only physical but also emotional pain. But woe to those who are seduced by it. Taken too regularly, it entraps the body and chains the mind to addiction, causing delusion, apathy, and even death.

Yet, in the words of Paracelsus:

"What is there that is not poison? All things are poison, and nothing is without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison.”

Our age-old relationship with poppies proves the point. Throughout history, it has brought great relief but also suffering and death.

 

Historical record

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have used poppies since pre-historic times. Archaeobotanists have found charred remains of poppies and opium at Neolithic settlements, burial sites and even in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs. The latter were even decorated with paintings of Opium Poppy, Mandrake and Blue Water Lily - all considered magical plants connected to the underworld gods.

The earliest written record was found in Sumer and dates back to about 2000 B.C. It refers to poppies as 'Hul Gil' - the Herb of Joy. From Sumer, the knowledge and use of poppies spread throughout the Middle East to Babylonia, Assyria and Egypt, Persia and Greece.

They are mentioned in the famous Egyptian Eber's Papyrus (1500 B.C.), which recommends them as a remedy to calm incessantly crying babies. Remarkably, this use has persisted until the beginning of the 20th century in parts of North Africa and Europe. It certainly kept children quiet, but it also reduced their natural curiosity, thus dimming their wits.

From Hippocrates to Avicenna, Dioscorides and Galen - all the ancient medical texts mention opium as an effective painkiller and sedative.

Dioscorides offers a detailed description of how to obtain the latex:

"Those who wish to obtain the sap (of the Poppy) must go after the dew has dried, and draw their knife around the star in such a manner as not to penetrate the inside of the capsule, and also make straight incisions down the sides. Then with your finger wipe the extruding tear into a shell. When you return to it not long after, you will find the sap thickened, and the next day you will find it much the same. Pound the sap in your mortar and roll the mass into pills."

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Image by
Andy Faeth from Mythology

Poppies were considered sacred to Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, and they guarded the entrance to his drowsy realm. Hypnos is often depicted holding the seed capsules in his hands and adorning his head. He brought prophetic dreams and soothed emotional pain with forgetfulness.

At the temple of Aesclepius on the Greek island of Cos, poppies were used in a kind of sleep therapy. Aesclepius is a god of healing, but the only medicine he prescribed was a potent brew of opium and other herbs, while the therapeutic recommendations were revealed directly to the patients via visionary dreams.

The Romans identified Hypnos with their god of sleep, 'Somnus', who lent his name to poppies scientific nomenclature. 'Somniferus' comes from the Latin 'somnus ferre', - bringer of sleep.

Poppies had a strong association with the gods of the Underworld. In Greek mythology, they were sacred to Thanatos or Hades, the Lord of the Underworld, and ruler of the realm of the dead. Excessive doses of opium can bring eternal sleep.

But they were also sacred to Demeter, the Earth-Goddess, who taught humankind the art of agriculture and particularly the cultivation of grains such as wheat and barley. Demeter was, of course, inconsolable when Hades abducted her daughter Persephone. Only poppies managed to soothe her pain. Poppies love mingling among the cornfields, and their bulging seed pods, containing an abundance of tiny seeds, serve as a perfect symbol of fertility.

Some scholars believe that opium was a chief ingredient of the secret ritual drink served at the Elysian Mystery rites. Unfortunately, the recipe ranks among the best-kept secrets of the ancient world, so we will never know for sure.

Mythology tells us that poppies sprang from Aphrodite's tears as she mourned the loss of her lover, Adonis. In ancient times, her birthplace, the island of Cyprus, was a major centre of poppy cultivation and trade.

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Folk Magic

Poppy's association with the goddess of love is also reflected in its relaxing aphrodisiac properties. Opium was very popular in folkloristic love magic. During the Middle Ages, it was the ingredient of choice for love charms, philtres and potions. Poppies were also tasked with predicting the fortunes of lovers. To learn the identity of a future spouse or divine the outcome of a love affair, the inquirer would write his question on a piece of parchment and place it inside a poppy seed capsule. The seed pod was then placed under the pillow until a prophetic dream would reveal all.

Naturally, love associates with fertility. The belly-like seed pod full of seeds makes an apt symbol not just of fertility, but also of prosperity. On New Year's Eve, giving gifts of poppy sweetbread served as tokens of prosperity blessings, while the seed capsules were used as a fertility charm.

Invisibility was also considered one of the poppy's magic powers. For this purpose, it was included in a magic potion. This use is probably linked to the myth of Persephone. It is believed that Hades' wore a cap of invisibility that resembled a poppy seed pod when he abducted Persephone.

Yet, poppy seeds are also said to be anti-demonic. If one found such nasty creatures hard on one's heels, all one had to do to get rid of them was to toss some poppy seeds in their direction. Apparently, demons and vampires are compelled to count everything. A handful of scattered poppy seeds would keep them busy long enough to allow you to escape.

From traditional herbal medicine to potent pharmaceutical drug and addiction

 

Opium was widely used in the ancient world, but it was Andromachos, the personal physician of Emperor Nero, who popularized it. One day, Nero challenged Andromachos to create a true panacea, a remedy that would ease all pain and diseases. The physician came up with a potent potion consisting of about sixty different plants and substances, including opium, which he called 'Theriak'. Later, Galen refined the brew and renamed it Galene. It became so popular throughout Europe that it rose to the status of a miracle cure. But the potion was expensive, and some ingredients were difficult to obtain, which led to adulteration.

During the Middle Ages, medicine became 'heroic' - in other words, unsympathetic, and patients were expected to simply bear their pain. The use of opium as a painkiller declined. But eventually, Paracelsus revived it by creating a stripped-down version of the original Theriak recipe, which proved extremely effective and soon surpassed even the success of the original. He compounded his concoction into pill form and called it 'Laudanum Paracelsi'.

 

 

Laudanum

He had managed to make his painkiller even more effective by the simple addition of lemon juice. The acid subtly changes opium's chemistry and enhances its anodyne action. For a long time, Laudanum was a celebrated panacea, believed to be effective for every ailment except leprosy.

The somewhat hyperbolic reputation meant that it was often in short supply. But it also pricked scientific curiosity and inspired numerous experiments. It even gave rise to the groundbreaking invention of the hypodermic needle. In 1656, Sir Christopher Wren first employed a syringe to prove the theory of blood circulation. He injected a dog's hind leg with a solution of opium, and sure enough, the drug rapidly took effect over the dog's entire body.

In 1680, the English Doctor Thomas Sydenham revised Paracelsus' potion once again. His aim was to purify the raw drug and rid it of impurities that seemed to cause 'sickness' when taken in large quantities. He added sherry wine, saffron, cinnamon and cloves to Paracelsus' Laudanum and renamed it 'Sydenham's Laudanum'. It was no more effective than the original, but it kicked off a new wave of enthusiasm for opium-based products. Soon every chemist seemed to market their own blend. Venice Treacle, Mithridate, London Laudanum and Dr Bate's Pacific Pills all became popular household names. But the available raw opium could barely keep up with the demand.

Laudanum was as popular as aspirin is today. Physicians routinely prescribed twice-weekly preventative dosing. Alas, sometimes too much of a good thing proves, well..., too much.

 

 

Overprescription and Addiction

It was at this time that overprescription led to the first cases of serious opium addiction. The problem was compounded by the fact that Laudanum was even overprescribed for children. But the problem with an addictive substance such as opium is that frequent dosing increases the body's resistance, and larger amounts are required to get the same results.

In 1700, Dr John Jones published a book called 'The Mysteries of Opium Revealed'. In the course of about 400 pages, he extolled the properties of opium. Describing its uses and effects, he also reported on its pleasant side effects and symptoms of addiction. Although his work was clearly biased and likely to have been influenced by his own intimate relationship with the subject, it did contain a grain of genius. Jones was the first to intuit that opium actually imitated substances that are already present in the body. But it took another 275 years before scientists discovered these substances, which subsequently became known as endorphins.

 

 

Morphine

Debate and experimentation continued. In 1799, Friedrich Sertürner, a young German pharmacist's apprentice, observed that the effects of opium seemed to vary considerably from batch to batch. He became convinced that this must be due to the varying presence of an active constituent in the raw opium. After only four years of experimentation, he managed to isolate such a substance. In allusion to the Greek god of sleep, he called 'morphine'. But he wrongly believed that this purified compound was free of the unpleasant characteristics of opium. He had assumed that morphine was safer because only a tiny amount of it was necessary to induce far stronger effects than those of raw opium. But neither he nor anyone else at the time realized that it was also far more addictive. Soon, several pharmaceutical companies started to churn out morphine by the boatload. At the same time, Wren's earlier invention for injecting opium was perfected and morphed into what we now know as the hypodermic syringe. The improvement was celebrated as a great success, since the administration of morphine via a syringe tripled its efficacy.

The story of opium epitomizes the risk of relying on science to solve all our problems. Sometimes the solution to one problem engenders new ones that we only fully grasp much later.

(The history of poppy also has a very interesting, dark and thought-provoking political aspect, which, however, is beyond the scope of this article. Those interested in this plant and its impact on world history should read up on the opium wars - the consequences of which still linger.

The Cultural History of Grapes

The Cultural History of Grapes

Grapevine (Vitis vinifera)

Grapes are one of the most important agricultural crops in the world. But they have far more uses than ordinarily meet the palate. There are at least 8000 cultivated varieties of grapes, most of which are grown in the Northern Hemisphere.

Name: Grapevine (Vitis vinifera)
Family: Vitaceae
Synonyms: Grapevine, Vigne, Weintrauben, Rebstock

 

Description:

Grapes are one of the most important agricultural crops in the world. From New Zealand to California, Chile, South Africa and of course, their traditional turf around the Mediterranean Basin, grapes are cultivated in Mediterranean climate zones around the world. Grapevines are surprisingly hardy. They can live on next to nothing. They thrive on poor soils, so long as they are well-draining and don’t mind the heat. The only thing they won’t survive is a cold, wet climate.

When left untended, grapevines can reach a height of about 15 m. As climbers, they will scramble up anything that will give them support. In cultivation, they are often trained on wires and cut back after each season so that only the strongest one or two shoots remain.

The gnarly stem forms finely grained, dense wood. The leaves are palmate (hand-shaped) with deeply indented lobes, with very jaggy serrated margins, depending on the variety. In May or June, they begin to flower, forming bunches of tiny, white, 5-petaled flowers with a very delicate and sweet aroma. Alas, this phase does not last long. Soon, bunches of sweet, juicy berries start to develop.

Depending on the variety, their size and colour vary. The smooth-skinned, yellowish-green to reddish, or purple-black berries usually contain 2 seeds each (except for seedless varieties). Vines can be propagated by seed or cutting. Most European stocks are grafted onto American rootstocks due to a devastating blight that nearly destroyed all European vine stocks.

There are also many wild grape species, which also tend to be a meandering bunch. They can sprawl over an extensive area if left undisturbed. Their berries also grow in bunches, but they are much sparser and consist of much smaller berries, which are usually quite tart. Like their cultivated counterparts, the flowers are small and rather inconspicuous.

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Distribution:

The geographical origins of the vine is still a matter of debate. Various wild varieties can be found in different parts of the world, far beyond the Mediterranean. When the Vikings first arrived in the Americas, they called it ‘Vinland’ for the many wild grape varieties they found there. The type now under cultivation in Europe seems to have originated in Georgia. Under the influence of Greek and Roman expansion, it steadily spread west and north from there. Today grape production is prolific in all warm, temperate regions of the world, from Central and Southern Europe, Northern Africa, Asia Minor, US, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, to New Zealand.

Problems and Pathogens:

Viticulture is a profitable business, which, however, claims a vast amount of land. Wine lovers may appreciate the variety of tastes and textures this diversity produces, but environmentally it is a disaster. Relying almost entirely on just one single cash crop is highly risky. Furthermore, monocultures heavily depend on fertilizers, and pesticides that are highly damaging to the environment.

Various pathogens can threaten grapevines: powdery mildew rots the stalks, shrivels the leaves, splits the grapes and finally kills the vine. Red spider mites suck the sap from the leaf veins, phylloxera vastatrix strikes the roots, and the cochylis moth grub attacks the flowers.

wine press

HISTORY, MYTHOLOGY AND FOLKLORE

The story of viticulture is so old that nobody really knows where and when it all started. The Bible mentions that Noah planted a vineyard, but even he was probably not the first. Wine is mentioned in almost every classical text, with records dating back some 6000 years.
It appears as though the Greeks were the first to popularize fermented grape juice, with the Romans soon following suit. As major trading powers, they spread the art of viticulture all around the Mediterranean Basin. By 600 BC, wine was a sought-after export commodity, especially popular with the Gauls who, in time, became expert growers themselves.
However, in the latter half of the 18th century, tragedy struck. By then, grapes had moved to the Americas along with the colonists. The drama unfolded when a North American grower sent some specimen of his rootstocks back to the old world for further study. Unfortunately, the sample he sent was infested with a devastating blight (phylloxera vastatrix) that threatened to wipe out vineyards across Southern Europe. It was a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.
Luckily, the cure also came from North America – and just in time. A frantic search for a blight-resistant yielded results, and another sample was sent to Europe. Growers started quickly grafted their ancient varieties onto American rootstocks, which saved them. Although the industry took some time to recover, European wine-growers rank again at the top of the international charts.

The wines of Ancient Greece seemed to have been quite a different kind of brew than what we are used to today. Historical records describe a much thicker and heavier beverage that had to be diluted at a ratio of 1:3 for consumption. Typically, it was infused with other substances such as resins, aromatic herbs and even psychotropic plants. It is not surprising then that the Greeks associated wine with Dionysus, the wild, shamanic god of ecstasy. His rites were frenzied and orgiastic. A menacing mob of Maenads, (his priestesses) pursued the god (or his representative) in a feverish hunt and tore him apart. Eventually, an animal (a fawn or fox) replaced the human sacrifice. In time, Dionysus was tamed and re-cast as a chubby, cheerful, but domesticated deity of wheat and wine. The animal sacrifice was replaced with a ritual sharing of ceremonial bread and unadulterated wine during the annual celebration of the Elysian Mystery play.

The Romans equated Dionysus with Bacchus, their god of wine and intoxication, whom they worshipped in much the same manner. In Egyptian mythology, Osiris is the Lord of wine, and Isis fell pregnant with Horus after eating his grapes.

The Hellenized Syrian satirist Lucian recounts a ‘tall satirical tale’ in his ‘True History’. A strange vineyard once grew on the far banks of a river that ran with wine instead of water. The grapevines grew woody stems, but their upper parts sprouted beautiful maidens whose hair was a tangle of leaves and bunches of grapes growing from their fingertips. Their enchanting song lured passers-by. But woe to those who succumbed to their embrace: instantly drunk and unable to escape, the hapless took root and soon sprouted shoots and leaves themselves.

Aphrodisiac associations:

Wine is a divine gift of the gods. In moderate amounts, it lifts the spirit, exhilarates and inspires. It opens the mind and holds the key to the heart and soul. Innumerable works of art have been inspired, and countless adventures started by a spark of its passionate fire. But in excessive quantities, it stupefies and causes delusion. It is a fine line between ecstasy and frenzied oblivion.

 

Ever tried making homemade wines?

MEDICINAL USES

Both red and white wine was traditionally used as a solvent to extract other substances when making medicinal wines and cordials. But various parts of the plant itself were also used as medicine.

PARTS USED:

Leaves: fresh young leaves
Flowers: dried or fresh flowers
Berries: fresh or dried fruit
Seeds: oil pressed from the seeds

HARVEST TIMES:

The flowers appear in May/June. The leaves should be picked in spring when they are tender, and the grapes ripen from September onwards (in the Northern Hemisphere).

LEAVES

Constituents:
In the summer, the leaves contain a mixture of sugar and glucose, tartaric acid, potassium bi-tartrate, quercetin, quercitrin, tannin, Amidon, malic acid, gum, inosite, a crystallizable fermentable sugar and oxalate of calcium. In the autumn, they contain more
quercetin and less quercitrin.
Actions:
Anti-inflammatory, astringent, styptic
Indications:
An infusion of 1 TSP of fresh, finely cut leaves per cup of water helps with conditions such as rheumatism, gout, nausea and spitting of blood. A preparation known as ‘Papinorum Extract’ made from the leaves is used in Homeopathy to treat epilepsy and inflammatory conditions of the hip. Dried and powdered, leaves were fed to cattle as a treatment for dysentery. A decoction was used to prevent a threatened miscarriage. The astringent properties help to arrest internal and external bleeding, cholera, dropsy, diarrhoea and nausea. The decoction can also be used to treat mouth ulcers and as a douche for vaginal discharge. Grape leaves are used as a treatment for varicose veins and fragile capillaries. For this purpose, leaves are harvested as soon as they turn red and are used either fresh or dried.

FLOWERS

Actions:
Nerve tonic
Indications:
1tsp of dried flowers per cup of boiling water is said to strengthen neuronal dendrons. It also supports the bone marrow to build red blood cells. The infusion can be used internally or applied externally as a rub to aid neuronal function (even for numbness of the lower limbs)

BERRIES

Constituents:
Malic, tartaric, ascetic ascorbic and racemic acids, alanine, alpha-linolenic acid, alpha-tocopherol, arginine. Oxalic acid in unripe fruits, Ca, P, Fe, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and ascorbic acid
Actions:
Fortifying blood tonic, nourishing, stimulates kidney and liver function and thus aids elimination and inner cleansing, gentle laxative
Indications:
A grape-fast is a popular method to rid the body of accumulated metabolic waste products and other toxins. 2 kg of grapes should be eaten throughout the day for two weeks, with little or no other food. It is recommended to do a full day fast one day before embarking on this regime. This is an excellent way to stimulate and tone the kidneys and thus to lose weight by releasing water from the tissues. It reduces fat, regulates bowel function, purifies the blood and cleanses the skin. A grape-fast can alleviate rheumatic pain and heartburn, regulate metabolic processes, water retention, oedema and circulatory complaints. Grapes are restorative and nourishing food that aid recovery from anaemia and debilitating conditions. Dehydrated grapes (raisins) have demulcent, nutritious and slightly laxative properties. Grape sugar (fructose) is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. It almost instantly restores energy levels in case of exhaustion and debility.
 Contraindications:
A grape fast is not recommended for dyspeptic, excitable, hot-blooded individuals, as it may cause palpitations.

SAP:

Grapevine sap, a watery substance that naturally occurs when pruning the vines, was used as a lotion to treat weak eyes and corneal floaters. It has also been used as a skin lotion. Internally, it acts as a diuretic.

 

wine press

 

GENERAL USES

  • Basketry: The annual shoots are pruned in the winter. They are very flexible and have been used for basketry and broom-making.
  • Cosmetics: A lotion made from the flowers has been used for freckles, while the oil (seeds) is used for making soap.
  • Dyes: The berries yield a purplish colour, which is not durable. The fresh or dried leaves dye yellow.
  • Fuel: The old grapevine stocks are popular as firewood, especially for grilling due to the aromatic smoke. The twigs make good kindling.
  • Grapeseed Oil: Grapeseed oil is pressed from the seeds. It is used for culinary and cosmetic purposes. For culinary use, the oil must be refined to make it fit for consumption. Unrefined grapeseed oil is slightly sticky. As a massage oil, it is best to blend it with other oils.
  • Culinary uses: Grapes are wonderfully refreshing, nourishing and cleansing fruits that can be enjoyed straight from the vine. Their sweet and tasty juice makes a refreshing beverage and can also be used to make jelly. Evaporated to produce a concentrate, it makes a good sweetener. But above all, grape juice is fermented to make wine and champagne. Wines come in a staggering variety: reds, rose or white wines, champagne or sparkling wine, are made from hundreds of different grape varieties. A dessert wine is produced by adding alcohol to the ferment to prematurely stop the fermentation process.
  • The young tendrils can be eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable. The flowers are also edible and can be prepared as fritters.
  • The sap tastes sweet and can be used as a drink, but harvesting large quantities weakens the vines. Roasted seeds can be used as a coffee substitute.
  • Pickled leaves are used as a wrapping for finger-food appetizers (dolmas) that are especially popular in Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines.
  • A crystalline salt, cream of tartar, also known as potassium bitartrate, is derived from the residue of pressed grapes. Sediments collected from wine barrels are used for making baking powder.

 

Photographs by Kat Morgenstern

Plant Profile: Moringa

Plant Profile: Moringa

Plant Profile: Moringa (Moringa oleifera Lam.)

Moringa is a tropical tree that is not very well known outside its native habitat, despite offering multiple gifts for the benefit of mankind.

 

Habitat:

Moringa has spread from its native habitat in the sub-Himalayan region of India to tropical and subtropical areas around the world. It is now cultivated on many continents. It is highly adaptive and tolerant to even the most inhospitably arid soil conditions. Prolonged cold spells with temperatures falling to below 20 °C are the only conditions it can not tolerate. Its preferred conditions are temperatures between 25°-30 °C and well-draining soil.

 

Description:

Moringa is a fast-growing subtropical tree native to the Himalayan foothills. In as little as 10 months, it can grow to an astonishing height of three meters – from seed! However, it rarely grows to more than 10 meters in total – a tree of medium stature.

Its feathery leaves and bean-like seed pods give it the appearance of a legume species. But that is not the case. Moringa is the only genus of the Moraginacae family, which comprises 13 species. The pods, which are slightly thickened at one end, are known as ‘drum sticks’. Each pod contains 15-20 winged seeds.

The tree branches freely and produces dark, green feathery tri-pinnate leaves with elliptical leaflets. The flowers grow in bunches of small white or cream-coloured flowers and have a subtle fragrance.

Moringa BlossomImage by Yaayaa Diallo from Pixabay

Moringa Blossom

 

History

Moringa is one of the most important and universally useful plants of the tropics.

The entire plant is edible – leaves, seeds, pods, flowers and even the roots – although some experts warn against eating them. (The British called this tree ‘Horseradish root tree’, an allusion to root’s distinct flavour).

Moringa is remarkably rich in essential nutrients such as vitamin A, C and E, calcium, potassium, iron and, perhaps most importantly, protein. It is recommended as a nutritional supplement for pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and the elderly and infirm. It is one of the few sources of high-quality vegetable protein that contains all essential amino acids.

In India, the young, green and immature pods (the ‘drumsticks’) are a popular ingredient of curries. The seeds yield a high-quality oil used in cooking which is rich in oleic acid. It is very stable, comparable to olive oil in terms of resistance to rancidity and nutritional value. The leaves are the most perishable. Ideally, they should be consumed within a couple of days of harvest. To extend their shelf-life on the market, they need to be bagged and cooled. Alternatively, their nutritional value can be better preserved by drying and powdering them. The powder can then be added as a nutritional supplement to soups, beverages, curries and other foods. But the most miraculous powers are contained within its seeds: Moringa seeds act as ‘flocculants’. They can purify water by causing contaminants to ‘flock together’ and precipitate, i.e. sink to the bottom of the vessel, thus effectively purifying the water. Pharmacologists at Gadja Mada University in Indonesia showed that “one crushed Moringa seed can clear 90% of the total coliform bacteria in a litre of river water within 20 minutes. While an animal study showed that even 2,000 seeds per litre of water had no toxic effects on mice.”

This is powerful and important indeed, especially given the poor water quality in many tropical and subtropical parts of the world. Given that access to clean drinking water is still a problem in many tropical regions, Moringa offers hope. Promoting the planting of Moringa trees could significantly improve water quality, as well as help to boost nutrition in some of the poorest regions of the world.

 

Moringa sticks

Moringa Drum Sticks Image by S V from Pixabay

Medicinal uses:

Medicinally, Moringa is primarily used to address problems arising from malnutrition. It has a tonic effect on the gastric system and can cure diarrhoea. Thanks to its high vitamin A content, it is a great immune system booster. Vitamin A also helps alleviate visual problems, such as night blindness and xerophthalmia.

Despite its impressive nutritional profile, Moringa can not cure severe malnutrition. The body can no longer process iron, protein or fat once severe physiological abnormalities have been triggered (e.g. infections, impaired liver and intestinal function, imbalance of electrolytes and related problems). However, Moringa is the best available ally to prevent such severe cases and correct mild and moderate ones.

Moringa can also reduce blood sugar levels and thus help control diabetes and high blood pressure. Furthermore, it is said to be helpful in the treatment of respiratory problems, tuberculosis and malaria.

The raw seed pods act on the liver and are used as an anthelminthic (deworming) agent.

The seed oil contains antibiotic and anti-inflammatory compounds. It is used in the treatment of bacterial and fungal skin conditions. Topically, it can be applied to aching joints.

Recent research suggests that Moringa may be effective against certain kinds of cancer, particularly skin cancer. Traditional healers have long used Moringa for this purpose, but further studies are needed to evaluate and verify these traditional uses. They also claim that it to be an excellent nutrient to prevent cancer.

It is easy to add Moringa to the diet, and almost anybody could benefit from it. But above all, it should be used to improve the conditions of those who live in extreme poverty. Moringa should be planted in every available patch of public land to make it accessible to all.

 

Lead image by Iskandar Ab. Rashid from Pixabay

Plant Profile: Aloe vera

Plant Profile: Aloe vera

Aloe Vera is no longer an exotic stranger. We see it advertised as a popular ingredient in numerous household products, from washing-up liquid to latex gloves, and even razors. Many of us also know the plant itself.

Aloe Vera is an undemanding, perennial succulent, at home in arid regions of Africa. It is a distant cousin of the century plant, so common in the southwestern United States. Both belong to the order of Asparagales, but do not share the same genus.

Description:

Aloe Vera’s fleshy, succulent leaves contain a clear, gooey gel-like substance. The leaf margins bear ‘sharp teeth’ to deter casually browsing animals. It loves hot and dry conditions and only ‘wilts’ when over-watered, or exposed to freezing temperatures. Grown in the right conditions, (that is, mostly ignored), the plant will do just fine. It may even send up a central shoot with short tubular yellowish flowers sprouting from the upper part of the spike.

The Aloe genus comprises about 400 species, with Aloe Vera considered the most useful for medicinal purposes. Mature plants contain the most potent healing compounds.

Habitat:

Aloe Vera is native to arid regions of the north-eastern and southern parts of Africa and Madagascar. But thanks to its tremendous value as a healing plant, it has spread to arid regions throughout the world. Today it is widely cultivated around the world, including in North America, Japan and China.

Aloe vera plantation

History

Aloe Vera is a truly wonderful plant, with a well-established reputation as a medicinal plant, that is particularly useful for skin conditions, minor cuts, abrasions and burns. The dried latex, a well-known laxative, is distinct from the gel. It derives from a yellow juice that is contained in the pericyclic tubules of the inner leaf.

Although Aloe has been in documented use for at least 3500 years, there is a lot of controversial and contradictory information about it.
It was first mentioned in the famous Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, which dates back to 1500 BC and is widely regarded as one of the earliest documents on what was to become the western Materia Medica. More than likely, Aloe Vera’s use was well-established long before it was recorded. In the hot and dry countries of Northern Africa and the Middle East, Aloe Vera served as a soothing household remedy for sunburns and a ready-to-use moisturizing cosmetic lotion.

Some confusion surrounding this plant stems from the fact that it is still frequently mistaken for lignum Aloes or Wood-Aloes, which is an entirely different species of plant. Although abundantly mentioned in the Bible as an incense ingredient and constituent of embalming oils, Wood-Aloes does not grow in the Mediterranean Basin but is a tree of the genus Aquilaria. Also known as Agar wood, Wood Aloes is native to Southeast Asia. While Aloe Vera latex does transform into a hard substance when dried and is sometimes referred to as ‘Aloe resin’, it is not particularly aromatic and has never been used as incense.

Aloe Vera juice

In recent years, ‘Aloe Vera juice’ (as well as a myriad of spin-off products that contain the juice), has become popular. But by their very nature, products are always processed. Aloe Vera juice is no exception. It always contains flavourings and preservatives. In its natural form, Aloe juice (gel) is not very palatable – it is bitter and gooey – not exactly a pleasure to gulp down. It is not hard to see why the ancients didn’t recommend it and only saw it fit as an emergency measure for the treatment of intestinal parasites.

Careful handling is of utmost importance as oxidation sets in the minute the leaves are cut, and enzymatic activity begins to destroy some valuable compounds. Traditionally, the leaves are taken to a processing facility as quickly as possible after being cut, ideally in a refrigerated truck. At the processing plant, they are filleted by hand to remove the outer skin. Unfortunately, most of the beneficial compounds are concentrated just beneath, and filleting removes much of what makes the plant so valuable.

Aloe vera gel

Modern uses

Aloe Vera is best known for its use in topical skin-care applications. But commercial products are not quite as potent as the gel that can be squeezed from a freshly cut leaf, since the natural jelly-like substance is not very stable and deteriorates quickly upon exposure to the air. To preserve its properties and thus extend its shelf-life, manufacturers must process the gel. But processing rarely enhances a natural product. In the case of Aloe Vera, it reduces a ‘miracle plant’ to a mediocre substance with vastly diminished benefits.

This back-story sheds some light on some rather puzzling research results: Aloe Vera’s glowing reputation in folk medicine is not confirmed by research results under laboratory conditions. The reasons for this are a bit complex and are partly due to the lab conditions and partly to the processing methods that are used to ‘preserve’ the gel or to extract its ‘active compound’.

But plants are highly sophisticated when it comes to their biochemistry. Their healing effect is often not due to one simple compound but rather the result of complex interactions, or ‘synergy’ between a host of different compounds.

Conventional preservation methods involve pasteurization: heating the gel to a high temperature, thus destroying many of the more fragile components. Chemical preservatives are added, further adulterating the original substance. Understandably, the result is rather disappointing, leading researchers to conclude that Aloe’s benefits may have been exaggerated. But one could equally conclude that we simply lack proper processing methods to preserve the natural composition of fresh Aloe Vera gel.

Processing

In recent years, more efficient processing methods have been developed. A cold process that dissolves the green cellulose parts of the leaf, leaves the biochemical activity of the gel substance intact, including the aloin, a yellow bitter laxative compound that is found just underneath the outer skin. Additional processing involves adding various anti-oxidants, as oxygen initiates the deterioration and breakdown of the gel and promotes the development of aerobic bacteria. Finally, the pulp is separated from the liquid part, a carbon compound is added to help filter out the aloin. The carbon compound is subsequently removed. In the last step, the liquid is exposed to ultraviolet light that destroys any bacteria.

This method still requires stabilizing compounds to be added to the final product, but it is a great improvement to conventional extraction processes, which only processed the gel and relied on heat treatment for sterilization.

An alternative whole-leaf extraction method involves the same cold process leaf processing described in the first step above, but then utilizes short duration low temperature-controlled sterilization techniques to kill off bacteria, eliminating the need for additional chemicals. The resulting gel is concentrated in a vacuum chamber and dehydrated to yield a water-soluble compound that retains the biochemical activity indefinitely without using preservatives. This is currently regarded as the most efficient method. Although heat is used in the process, it is closely controlled and never reaches more than 65°C applied for less than 15 minutes at a time. Longer exposure and higher temperatures would deteriorate the final product.

It is easy to see that what you get at the store is not the same as the natural product straight from the plant. It is important to read the label and evaluate the extraction method to determine its quality. There are huge differences between manufacturers.

A self-regulating body of producers certifies Aloe Vera products according to industry standards of quality control. Their seal of approval is meant to reassure consumers. However, due to the different processing methods, certification is not a gold standard.

Aloe vera gel

Medicinal Uses

Parts used: resin, gel extracted from the leaf
Constituents: Hydroxyanthracene derivatives of the anthrone type (principally barbaloin); 7-hydroxyaloin isomers, aloe-emodin, chrysophanol and their glycosides; chromone derivatives (aloesin and its derivatives aloe resins A and C, and the aglycone aloesone. Gel: glucomannan (a polysaccharide), steroids, organic acids, enzymes, antibiotic principles, amino acids, saponins, minerals.
Actions: latex: cathartic, laxative, emmenagogue, digestive stimulant
Gel: immune system stimulant, skin healing, anti-irritant, moisturizing, anti-cancer
Indications

Traditionally, Aloe Vera gel is used as a soothing topical application for sunburns and minor burns, abrasions, acne, psoriasis, shingles and even cold sores. The fresh gel squeezed from the leaf and applied directly to the affected areas is most potent. Its skin repair qualities on burns and sunburns are truly remarkable – healing occurs quickly and without scarring. The gel is also used to reduce stretch marks and scarring in wound care. It even protects the skin against the immune suppressant effect of ultraviolet light – thus it can also be used as a protective sunscreen lotion. Aloe Vera gel is a highly valued additive for moisturizing cosmetic preparations and is praised for rejuvenating the skin by stimulating the synthesis of elastin and collagen.

External application of Aloe gel penetrates the skin directly and produces a soothing, pain-relieving anti-inflammatory effect on arthritic joints and tendonitis.

For internal use, Aloe Vera latex preparations are usually mixed with antispasmodic herbs to reduce the cramping effect of its laxative action. Used by itself, the cathartic action could be rather painful. The latex also stimulates the uterus, thus promoting menstrual flow. Aloe containing laxatives should be avoided during pregnancy.

Laboratory studies on mice have demonstrated high-quality Aloe Vera juice to be an effective immune system stimulant in the treatment of certain types of cancer and HIV. Further studies are underway.

Aloe juice has a healing and balancing effect on the digestive system: it improves the absorption of nutrients and the elimination of toxins. This promotes overall cell nutrition and activates the body’s self-healing powers and enhances energy levels. It can also relieve gastrointestinal problems associated with peptic or duodenal ulcers. It stimulates regular bowel evacuation and soothes colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Many chronic conditions have a component of digestive imbalance that trigger secondary symptoms due to malabsorption and cellular malnutrition. Aloe Vera juice can help to restore balance to the entire digestive system.

Aloe Vera juice also appears to benefit the liver and kidneys. It lowers levels of blood lipids (cholesterol) that can clog up the arteries and can cause coronary heart disease. And, it also has a positive effect on blood sugar levels, which can make it a useful nutritional supplement for diabetics.

Aloe vera skin care

Home-made cosmetics

If you wish to incorporate Aloe’s healing benefits into home-made skincare products, you can use the gel to replace all or a portion of the liquid in your recipe. However, beware that unprocessed Aloe Vera gel is not very stable and won’t keep long. Make small batches only, and store them in the fridge for a few days. For maximum benefit, skincare preparations should contain at least 20-40% of gel. If you have a fresh plant at your access, you can simply cut off a bit of a leaf and apply it straight to the skin.

 

Grow your own

Aloe Vera is one of those plants that everybody should have at their access as an immediate first aid remedy for burns and minor cuts. Growing it is easy, as it is a very undemanding plant. Just don’t over-water it and protect it against freezing temperatures. It loves the sun but will also grow in the semi-shade, nor does it need particularly rich soil. Well draining, sandy soil will do.

 

Caution:

  • Do not use Aloe Vera based laxatives during pregnancy. The juice may also contain traces of aloin above what would be deemed safe during pregnancy.
  • Consult with your health advisor regarding possible interference with prescription drugs if you intend to use Aloe Vera internally.
  • Rare cases of allergic reactions to the latex have been reported – even for external use.

The quality of Aloe Vera gel or juice very much depends on the manufacturing process. Some products that are currently on the market have little or no medicinal value. Do your research before spending a lot of money on what may turn out to be an inert substance. Whole-leaf extracts are recommended. Look for the International Aloe Science Council certificate for quality assurance.

 

 

 

 

Image credits:

Title Image by Elstef from Pixabay

(1) Image by Françoise BERNARD-NICOD from Pixabay

(2) Image by Franziska Ingold from Pixabay

(3) Image by mozo190 from Pixabay

(4) Image by Jenny Porter from Pixabay

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