Tree Profile: Yew (taxus baccata)

Tree Profile: Yew (taxus baccata)

Yew – Taxus baccata

Few western European trees are as enigmatic as the Yew. Dark, brooding and sometimes eery, each Yew tree very much has its own personality.

 

Botany:

The Yew (Taxus baccata) is an evergreen, needle bearing conifer- but a strange one. Instead of wooden cones, it shelters its seed in a bright red, soft and slimy fruit cortex that takes the shape of a cup (Baccata = cup). The seeds, hidden within the ‘cup, along with all other parts of the tree except for the arils, are highly poisonous.

Yews are dioecious; female and male flowers appear on different trees, but only the female flower-bearing tree produces the fruits. They reach sexual maturity between 15-30 years of age, pretty young, considering their potential lifespan! It is difficult to measure the exact age of a Yew tree because most of them become hollow as they age, which means we can’t count tree rings. But in Britain and Europe, there are several, estimated to be between 2000 and 4000 years old!

As trees go, their height is not that impressive. Yews only grow to about 10-20 m tall, but they can develop an admirable circumference of more than 6 m. Unlike most conifers, they do not produce any resin.

Yews have a dark appearance, and they love shady spots. But they tolerate the sun if they were exposed to it from the start.

Yew of If d'Estry, Normandy

Roi.dagobert, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Mythology:

As an evergreen with a seemingly infinite lifespan and a somewhat dark, mysterious Gestalt, it is not surprising that Yews have been linked to the realm of the Dead. In Britain, the oldest Yews are found in cemeteries, often in association with a sacred spring. Britain’s oldest one is the Yew of Fortingall, in Perth, Scotland, believed to be some 3000 years old. However, its age is difficult to verify since it is hollow, and young shoots that grow from the centre, fuse with older ones, thus constantly rejuvenating itself.

In the runic alphabet, the Yew is associated with Eiwhaz Rune, which signifies the shortest day of the year, the eve of the winter solstice. It symbolizes the dying Sun but also its rebirth, since Yews possess this magic power of rejuvenation. Yews cast the dark, silent cape of eternity over the departed and take care of their souls in the afterworld until the time of their rebirth has come.

Thus, Yews are symbolic of life and death, seen as complementary forces rather than polar opposites, and joined at the threshold at the beginning and the end of our lives.

Folklore: Sleeping under a Yew tree was thought to induce prophetic dreams and offer a glimpse beyond the veil.

 

 

Properties and uses

Yew BerryA couple of thousand years ago, Yews were common throughout Europe and Britain. But they are slow-growing trees that were decimated for the sake of war. Yews were the primary source-wood for longbows – which, before the invention of gunpowder, were the most common weapon of war. Even today, Yew bows are used for making longbows for archery. In medieval times, Yews were planted in and around castle grounds to ensure a steady supply.
The wood, which is both strong and elastic, is superbly suited for this purpose. Archaeological evidence has shown that it has been used to make weapons since prehistoric times. Palaeolithic spears and arrowheads made of Yew have been found in a marl pit in southern England. The arrowheads had been dipped in an arrow poison made of Yew, Hellebore and Hemlock to make them extra lethal. Yews alkaloids first stimulate, then slow the heart rate, causing the victim to fall into a coma and die within an hour and a half. The oldest such spear, some 150 000 years old, was still stuck between the ribs of a mammoth carcass.

By the 16th century, Yews were almost extinct. But, they were saved by the invention of gunpowder which was invented right around that time, allowing Yew populations to recover.

 

Medicinal uses:

In recent times, Yews were in the news for saving lives. A compound found in the Pacific Yew, Taxus brevifolia, was discovered to have cytostatic properties, capable of inhibiting cancerous growth. But both, the Pacific Yew and its habitat are threatened. A single tree only yields 3 kg of bark, containing only 1g of Taxol, the sought-after active compound. Taxol proved highly effective in chemotherapy for treating breast- and ovarian cancer, and thus was in high demand. Given the slow growth and endangered status of the trees, the situation was precarious. Scientists were struggling to find a way to synthesize Taxol from other sources. But eventually, the breakthrough came in the 1990s. Scientists had managed to create Taxol molecules from Taxus baccata, the European Yew, which is a far more common species.

Thus, the Yew has held true to its ancient promise as a harbinger of both death and life.

How to Make Natural Body-Care Products?

How to Make Natural Body-Care Products?

This article offers a short introduction to how to make natural homemade cosmetics.

Homemade natural cosmetics are a real treat and easy to make

I don’t know about you, but I always like to give at least some homemade gifts at Christmas, so right around now, I start to scratch my head, wondering what to make.

There are plenty of items that are always well-received: jam, syrups, and pickles among them. But I am a bit more ambitious than that. I look for something a bit more special. Homemade body-care products make great gifts that can easily be personalized, and many are straightforward to make without the need for complicated procedures or ingredients.

The best natural cosmetics are homemade using high-quality vegetable oils and butter such as coconut, avocado or almond oil. These can be combined with organic flower waters (hydrosols) and essential oils to make nourishing lotions and crèmes.

Since many natural oils are rich in unsaturated essential fatty acids, it is generally a good idea to make smaller batches to prevent spoilage. What’s so great about natural cosmetics is that you can tailor-make them to specific needs, and there is such a variety of products you can make. Therefore, before you start, consider what kind of product you want to make and what properties it should have.

Emulsifying agents

Lotions and crèmes aim to nourish and moisturize the skin, or even to heal or repair skin damage. They usually consist of an oily and a watery component, such as a hydrosol or tincture. But since water and oil do not mix well
an emulsifying agent is needed to blend them.

Just like oils, emulsifiers also have different properties, and one can’t simply be substituted for another.

Most emulsifying substances are the product of complicated chemical processing, even if they derive from natural materials.

In the past, spermaceti, a substance produced in the heads of whales, was the most common natural emulsifier. Thankfully, nowadays, there are non-animal source alternatives.

Pick your ingredients according to your specific nutritional or therapeutic requirements (see the previous article about oils).
Some oils are ‘drying’ while others are moisturizing. Combining these with humectants such as vegetable glycerine or aloe Vera gel changes the consistency and skin-care benefits. The trick, when blending crèmes, is to combine them slowly have all ingredients at a similar temperature to avoid curdling. If you have ever made mayonnaise from scratch, you have a good idea of what it takes to make a lotion or crème.
Apart from the emulsifying wax, which blends the watery and oily components, you may also need a stabilizer, such as stearic acid. These are added in tiny quantities to stabilize your crème’s consistency. However, use sparingly, or your crème will become chalky instead of smooth.

If you don’t want to mess with oils and waxes, there are now ready-made base crèmes on the market. These generic crème bases can be enhanced by adding special ingredients such as essential oils, infused oils or Aloe Vera gel. However, they can only absorb a few additional ingredients, before they become unstable, so experiment carefully. The quality of such crème bases varies widely, and most contain preservatives or alcohol to increase their shelf-life. However, these chemicals are not that great for the skin, so read the ingredients label carefully, and do your research. Making your own is definitely preferable and will be of much higher quality. For personal use, making small batches is much the best strategy, as you don’t have to worry too much about the shelf-life.

Recipes:

I’d like to share my favourite body butter recipe with you. It is so easy to make and very adaptable to your needs.

body butter

Ingredients:

 

  • 100g Shea butter
  • 100g Coconut butter
  • 100g Cocoa butter
  • 100 ml Almond oil

Method:

In a double boiler, melt all the hard ingredients and add the Almond oil at the end. Stir well and let it cool down. This takes a while. Once it starts to set, whip with an electric blender to make it fluffy and creamy. Allow to cool some more and then whip it again. When the consistency is to your liking, fill it in your prepared (sterilized) jars with the help of a spatula.

 

This is quite a dry, yet very soothing body butter that is generally well tolerated. It is very easily and quickly absorbed by the skin. If you like it a bit richer, you

can adjust the oil or the butter. Cocoa butter and shea butter are great because they stabilize this blend. Coconut oil by itself would be less useful as the melting point is too low, and the butter would only stay solid if kept in a cool or cold place. 

You can add a few drops of essential oil in at the end but research the oil first to make sure it is not allergenic or irritating to the skin. Also, keep the percentage of essential oil well low (1-3%)

For an additional therapeutic benefit, add in a small amount of nutritive oil, such as Evening Primrose, Hemp, or Borage Seed oil. (10% of the total amount). 

Instead of the plain base oil, you can also use infused oils, such as Calendula, or St. John’s Wort oil for their extra healing qualities. 

 

bath salts

Bath Salts

The cheapest and easiest bath salts are coarse salts, such as Epsom or Sea Salt. Crush to a grainy size (dissolves easier) and add a few drops of a gentle essential oil, such as rose, lavender or Jasmine. Stir and blend well, fill in a jar and let it macerate for a few days. Some people like to add food colouring to make it look more like commercial bath salts, but this is purely for looks. If you don’t mind ‘bits’ floating in your bathtub, you can add a handful of fresh fragrant rose petals or lavender flowers to the salt blend. The salt will dehydrate them and absorb their scent. 

 

Bath Oil

Soaking in water for any length of time dehydrates the skin. Normally, the skin’s natural oil secretions prevent it from drying out, but frequent bathing washes our natural protective layer off. Body butter or simple oil application (almond or apricot oil) replenish the natural skin oils. But better still, use bath oil instead of commercial detergent. Almond or light coconut oil are good choices. Add some drops of essential oil for a beautiful scent (make sure they are not toxic or irritant and don’t overdo it). Add a small amount of Turkey Red Oil, to facilitate the dispersion.

If you don’t like the greasiness of bath oils, but still want to use essential oils in your bath, use plain milk, buttermilk, or cream as a dispersing agent for your essential oils. A tiny blob of honey mixed in is also very pleasant and softens the skin.

Gums, Resins, Latex

Gums, Resins, Latex

Gums, resins and latex do not generally come to mind when we consider the importance of plant products. Vegetables, fruit, wood, maybe medicinal herbs, essential oils, fibres and dyes are far more present.

 

What are gums and resins?

Simply put, gums and resins are the sticky stuff that some plants excrete when the outer ‘skin’ or bark has been injured. 

 

Most familiar to us are Frankincense and Myrrh, the precious gifts of the three wise men brought to honour the birth of the baby Jesus. These two oleoresins come from oriental two different species of the Burseraceae family, also known as the ‘balsam tree’ family.

 

While Frankincense and Myrrh are arguably the most famous resins, they are by no means the only ones. Resins, gums and latex are widespread in the plant kingdom, and many play an important role in our everyday lives. 

 

What are gums and resins used for?

 

Gums and resins are used as adhesives, emulsifiers, and thickening agents. They are added to varnishes, paints and ink, lend their aromas to perfumes and cosmetics, and even play a role in the pharmaceutical industry.

 

The ancients burnt them as offerings to the Gods. They believed that scents are the nourishment of the gods, since they can’t partake of solid food. In Ancient Egypt, gums and resins played a notable role, not just as incense, perfume and medicine, but most importantly, in mummification practices. 

 

Aroma is the subtle (or not so subtle) medium that transmits messages below the threshold of conscious awareness. This type of communication is ubiquitous in the natural world – an invisible signal to potential partners or foes. 

 

Let’s examine the different chemotypes of gums, resins and latexes.

 

Frankincense

Frankincense

Myrrh

Myrrh

Acacia

Gum Arabic (Acacia)

Balsam

This generic term describes all kinds of fragrant, soothing, resinous substances of plant origin. But in chemistry, the term refers to a specific class of resinous substances that contain large amounts of cinnamic- and benzoic acids, and essential oils. Balsam of Peru, Tolu Balsam, Balm of Gilead, and Copaiba balsam are common examples. Their physical properties vary greatly – they may be clear and viscous or dark and sticky, but all coagulate when boiled and solidify when exposed to air. 

 

Medicinally, balsams are used to treat skin problems and respiratory diseases. They are a common ingredient of cosmetics, skincare products and perfumes. However, benzoic acid is a known allergen that can trigger severe reactions. Caution is advised.

 

Gums

Chemically speaking, gums are complex polysaccharides (Carbohydrates) that are either water-soluble or water absorbent. But, they are not soluble in oil. 

 

Gums are extracted from the resinous sap or the endosperm of certain seeds. Guar Gum, for example, comes from the seeds of a herbaceous plant, Cyamopsis tetragonolubus, an African member of the pea family. 

 

Gums are widely used in the food industry as emulsifying and thickening agents. The pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries also utilize them, especially in skincare products. And they are even used to manufacture inks, paper, watercolours and adhesive, like the gum on the back of stamps. Water-soluble gums are found in dietary supplements to bind endotoxins and promote excretion by adding bulk to the stool. A prime example, Psyllium seed, used to treat mild cases of constipation. Even seaweeds can yield gums, like Agar-Agar, used as a thickener instead of gelatine.  

 

Resins

Resins are terpene-based compounds that are chemically completely different from gums. Terpenes constitute one of the largest groups of plant chemicals, and they can be very complex. Unlike gums, resins are not water-soluble but may be either oil- or alcohol soluble, depending on the specific chemical composition. Resins are far more common than gums.

tapping

 

Most resins are obtained by a process known as ‘tapping’ or ‘bleeding’, whereby incisions are cut into the bark. The resin exudes through the incision and is collected in buckets attached underneath. Trees can be bled several times, and it is possible to harvest resins sustainably. But the deliberate injury does put a considerable strain on any tree, and strict limits to the number of incisions and period of productivity must be applied.

Recent research shows that the carbohydrates of these exudates are important energy reservoirs for the trees, and that excessive tapping reduces the numbers of flowers and the size and viability of their seeds. Guidelines are especially needed when the resin is collected from wild populations, where regeneration is left to nature.

 

In the past, resins were far more commonly used in industrial processes. Today, many have been replaced by synthetic alternatives. But their medicinal properties are still used in natural medicine. 

 

Oleoresins

Oleoresins are classified as terpene compounds that are rich in volatile oils. They are softer and more pliable than other resins and provide a valuable source of essential oils used in perfumery or as aromatic fragrances for household products. Occasionally, the term ‘Gum-Resin’ can be found in the literature, but this is a confusing oxymoron and should not be used.

 

Latex

Latex is a thin, slightly sticky sap, usually white or colourless, that coagulates when exposed to air or boiled. Just how elastic the resulting latex will be, depends on its specific chemical composition. The greater the content of Cis-polyisoprenes, the greater the degree of elasticity. 

 

The best known and economically most significant plant-based latex is rubber, which comes from the South American Rubber tree. When first discovered, it triggered a whole ‘boom and bust economy in the Amazon. But the glamorous mirage quickly vanished when, in an act of biopiracy, the seeds of the precious tree were stolen. The seeds were taken to India, where they gave rise to the first rubber plantation, thus breaking the monopoly and dependence on the South-American supplies.

However, it wasn’t long before natural rubber was replaced by synthetic alternatives and plastics, and the whole industry diminished in importance. 

 

Latex has many uses: as sealant paints, rubber tires, insulating sheathing for electrical wires or rubber gloves, boots and other kinds of eclectic apparel.

 

We often forget the role that plants have played as sources of materials for our every need. Even modern industry can’t do without them.

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.

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