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Allergies and Essential Oils

Over the last 50 years, the rise in prevalence of allergic diseases and disorders has continued in the industrialized world. Hay Fever and what’s behind the unpleasant seasonal allergy symptoms we all know so well, develops when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something in the environment.allergic diseases

According to The New England Journal of Medicine, 40 to 60 million Americans today are affected by allergic rhinitis and the numbers continue to grow, especially in children. When left untreated, allergies can cause blocked and runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes, headaches and an impaired sense of smell.

People who suffer from allergies are often told to avoid triggers, but that is nearly impossible when the seasons are changing. Thankfully, essential oils serve as a natural and safe way to treat the symptoms of allergies and boost our immune systems.  More than the substances themselves, it is our body’s reaction to them that decides the occurrence and severity of allergies. The release of histamines by the body is what triggers these reactions. Antihistamines that counteract the histamines are the first line of treatment against allergies.

 How Can Essential Oils Fight Allergies?

One of the most amazing benefits of essential oils is their ability to fight inflammation and boost the immune system. Essential oils for allergies will help to detoxify the body and fight infections, bacteria, parasites, microorganisms and harmful toxins. They can reduce the body’s susceptibility to outside sources and reduce the overreaction of the immune system when it is faced with a harmless intruder.

Top 3 Essential Oils for Allergies

  1. Peppermint Oil

Inhaling diffused peppermint oil can oftentimes immediately unclog the sinuses and offer relief to scratchy throats. Peppermint acts as an expectorant and provides relief for allergies, as well as colds, coughs, sinusitis, asthma and bronchitis. It has the power to discharge phlegm and reduce inflammation — a leading cause of allergic reactions.

Uses: Diffuse five drops of peppermint essential oil at home to unclog sinuses and treat a scratchy throat. This will also help to relax the nasal muscles, enabling the body to clear out mucus and allergens like pollen. Peppermint tea or fresh mint added to a smoothie can also help. Peppermint oil can also be applied topically to the chest, back of neck and temples – always dilute peppermint with carrier oil before topical application.

  1. Eucalyptus Oil

eucalyptus-essential-oil-usesEucalyptus oil opens up the lungs and sinuses, thereby improving circulation and reducing symptoms of allergies. Studies have shown that it produces a cold sensation in the nose that helps to improve airflow. It contains citronellal, which has analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects; it also works as an expectorant, helping to cleanse the body of toxins and harmful microorganisms that are acting as allergens.

Uses: To treat respiratory issues associated with allergies, diffuse five drops of eucalyptus at home or apply it topically in carrier oil to the chest and temples. To clear the nasal passages and relieve congestion, pour a cup of boiling water into a bowl and add 1–2 drops of eucalyptus essential oil. Then place a towel over your head and inhale deeply for 5–10 minutes.

  1. Lemon Oil

Lemon oil supports lymphatic system drainage and helps with overcoming respiratory conditions. Studies have shown that lemon essential oil inhibits the growth of bacteria and boosts the immune system. When diffused at home, lemon oil can kill bacteria and eliminate allergy triggers in the air.Lemon Oil

Lemon essential oil can also be used to disinfect your home, without depending on alcohol or bleach. It will remove bacteria and pollutants from your kitchen, bedroom and bathroom — reducing the triggers inside of your home and keeping the air clean for you and your family.

Uses: Add lemon oil to your laundry detergent, mix a couple of drops with water and spray it on your couches, sheets, curtains and carpets.  Adding fresh squeezed lemon to water also helps with pH balance. Lemon water improves immune function and detoxifies the body. It stimulates the liver and flushes out toxins that can lead to inflammation and an over reactive immune system. Lemon water also stimulates white blood cell production, which is vital for immune system function because it helps to protect the body.

Many more essential oils contain anti-inflammatory properties and work like antihistamines. So the next time you feel a tickling in the nose or itching of the skin or eyes, turn to your essential oil stash for relief.

General: As with all essential oils, never use them undiluted, in eyes or mucus membranes. Do not take internally unless working with a qualified and expert practitioner. Keep away from children. If applying an essential oil to your skin always perform a small patch test to an insensitive part of the body (after you have properly diluted the oil in an appropriate carrier.

For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Knock Knock – Who’s There? Squash. Squash Who? Zucchini!

So, you planted a few zucchini and yellow summer squash in the hopes of some yummy fresh veggies on the table. If you are in New England, like northern New England, they have just now started to fruit. Thanks to the fabulous weather this summer they are going to fruit, and fruit, and fruit. Bumper crop coming in and OMG, you can’t give it away. Because everyone else has the same bounty. And it is sooooo good.summersquash

However, the ways to use that bounty are so varied, that If I see one more recipe for the “best” zucchini bread ever I may implode. Zucchini Bread is good, but did you ever think of maybe translating that recipe into, say something a kid might like? I am giving a shout out here to my friend Tracey who started The Blue Egg Baking Company in Newburyport, MA,  unfortunately now in hiatus.

She took zucchini and carrots and yellow squash to new levels. Her philosophy: Baking mixes that make kids (& moms) smile. Whole grain, high fiber, outrageously delicious. Want more? Add fresh veggies…no one will know! Tracey shredded vegetableswas such an innovator with products like Outrageous Chocolate Brownie, Gluten-Free Brownie, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Chocolate Cake, Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake Chocolate Spice Cake and Gluten-Free Chocolate Spice Cake.  Just add shredded or grated veggies and voila – amazing and super moist and nutritious.

I was inspired by Tracey’s mission and started trying some different combos in sweet treats and came up with my husband’s favorite  – Red Beet Brownies. Holy Moly! Shredded red beet in a simple dark chocolate brownie recipe is divine. And incredible, …oops got off track. Beets won’t be ready till September. But anyway, try adding shredded veggies to your regular baked goods recipes, it’s a wonderful boost.

Creole-Pasta-PrimaveraMy favorite way to use zucchini and yellow squash is in a simple Primavera. As our tomatoes are also ripening and young onions are up it is the perfect summer meal with pasta or rice or just spread on a grilled flatbread or crostini. Cook it up fresh for tonight’s supper or if you feel adventurous put it up for a mid winter treat! So easy, even if you have never canned veggies before.

Recipe:  1 small onion diced. 3 cloves garlic, minced. Saute in 1 tsp. basil infused olive oil until soft. Add 1 cup chopped or sliced zucchini, 1 cup chopped or sliced yellow squash, 1 cup chopped fresh tomato. Saute until wilted. Add 2 leaves of fresh basil, a bit of fresh oregano and a knob of butter(like a golf ball). Simmer 30 minutes or less if you like your veg crisper. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pasta Primavera – it’s whats for dinner at my house tonite!

My Inheritance From My Maternal Grandfather

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Granpap

My earliest memory of my Granpap, as we called him, was him heading out into the hills down to the river behind the family house in a coal-mining Patch Town in Southwestern Pennsylvania. He was going mushroom hunting, and would not let me come with him for all my pleadings, I was only 4.  My mother patiently explained that he was afraid for me as there were copperheads in the fields he would walk through.

I was 8 when he finally relented and I was allowed to accompany him on the hunt. That first time out, he actually killed a snake with his Miner’s Belt, a heavy piece of leather he wielded like a whip. So, first piece of knowledge, use the tools you have at hand and make sure you know how to use them. Next was learning the difference between edible mushrooms and the poisonous look a likes. That was a bit longer lesson.

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The Silent Hunt

My grandfather was a quiet man with few words. An immigrant from Poland, he spoke broken English, but enough to be understood. I unfortunately never learned anything of the Polish language. But he taught me about growing things and finding food in the wilds.

The Patch Towns were very poor, and so most families grew much of their own food and raised chickens, pigs and maybe a cow if they could afford it. I loved working in his vegetable garden every summer when we visited for several weeks. As I got a bit older I convinced Mom and Dad to let me go for the whole summer.

I learned how to start seeds, when to plant, how and when to harvest and how to put up food for the winter. To this day I still grow my own tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, peppers, corn, beets, potatoes and onions and either freeze, can or store them in our root cellar.

My grandfather was a poor coal miner who raised 11 kids, clothed, housed and fed them with his hard work in the mines and in the garden. The man woke at 5am every day and worked until sundown. The most valuable inheritance I could ever have hoped for was his teaching and his determination. Oh, and I now have his habit of waking at 5am and working until sundown. Thanks Granpap!

Mountain Hiking for Business and Life

I hike the trails around my town everyday as a part of my morning ritual – it prepares me for the day – but usually just a 1-2 mile trek with my faithful Golden Retriever at my side. I was reflecting the other day about the mountains I have hiked since I relocated to the White Mountains of NH. It is not that many in retrospect, and not all have been in NH, but it occurred to me that four of these ascents have inspired me to make major decisions regarding my life and my business.

I read an article in the NY Times YOUR MONEY section last June written by Carl Richards. It was entitled “What Mountain Climbing Can Teach You About Business”. A lot of what he said was very apropos to my lifestyle and my business style. This quote resonated with me deep down as I had actually been through this with both, “Learning about alpine-style climbing helped me see that what we think we need, and what we really need, are usually two very different things. Getting clear about the difference allows us to drop the obsession for more stuff and instead focus on enjoying the experience.”

Kearsarge
Mount Kearsarge Fire Tower

When I look back to my first mountain hike in 2000, I fully believed I needed a bunch of what I now know was extraneous stuff. I never made the summit. And it was only a 10 mile round trip hike. I turned back after the first mile – completely unprepared for what I was attempting. It took me 4 tries to finally reach the fire tower at the summit, and each try I shed a bit more stuff, so I finally realized that simple was better. I had already begun shedding stuff in my home life and this was before I started my business as a Maker.

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Top of Red Mountain, Ivens, UT

I visited a health spa in Ludlow, VT in 2005,  year 4 of my business when I hit an early plateau of deciding the next steps.  Again – mountain hiking gave me the focus I needed and I returned to NH determined to take my production out of my kitchen to an actual studio and shift from tradeshows/markets to opening a B&M store. That took 2 years, but it was a year ahead of my 10 year plan.

The next mountain that inspired and challenged me was actually in Ivens, Utah as part of an intensive 3-week fitness retreat aimed at improving my health. Every day at 6am our group was required to hike up an excruciating 5 mile trek, which got steeper and more challenging every ½ mile. Plus it was 100 degrees outside! It took me 2 hours and 10 minutes the first day. Some of the group never made it to the top. By the end of week three I had trimmed it to 1 hour and 22 minutes, and everyone had made some kind of progress.

That retreat was in 2009, year 8 of my business and I was on the verge of expanding the business.  I came back with a renewed energy for surmounting the obstacles of taking my production from my studio to my B&M store. That took 2 years, but it was a great move at the time.

Backtracking a bit, in 2006, I joined the Board of my local Not-for-profit, Jen’s Friends Cancer Foundation. This is the charity which my business donates to in the memory of my sister and mother-in-law. Their major fundraiser is The Climb Against Cancer – yep, another mountain trek. I became the organizer of that event and managed it for 4 years – but never climbed the mountain. After stepping down from the Board in 2011, I finally made the hike and it once again changed my business outlook.

I realized I had expanded into a space much too large, with more equipment than I needed, and therefore generated the need for more work than I wanted to handle. I began simplifying once again and by 2013 had found Goldilocks’ dream – a store/production space not too small, not too big, but JUST RIGHT.

Mountain
A future hike

So, now I find more joy in my experience as a Maker by shedding the obsession for more stuff and the need for growth beyond my capacity. I now focus on what makes me happy in my business and subsequently in my life. I am due for another challenging hike soon and wonder what changes that will bring? I know I am ready for something because I feel the travel itch starting – maybe a trek abroad is due. I am giddy with anticipation.

Mmmmm…Aromatics From Garden to Table

Working with aromatics and essential oils is my business as a Maker. I love creating new combinations for the aromatherapy benefits, and for the allure of the scents that are possible as well. I am also an avid home cook and gardener, with a large herb labrynth garden, several perennial flower gardens and seasonal vegetable garden. I use these in my home kitchen as well as in my professional kitchen to create my signature bath and body products.

AROMABookCombining aromatics with the bounty of the gardens to create some wonderful recipes is another passion I have discovered thanks to some inspiration from Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson, authors of “AROMA” published by Artisan. It is a lovely book exploring “The Magic of Essential Oils in Food & Fragrance”.

We are all familiar with the phrase, mmm that smells good enough to eat. Well let me just say that working with aromatics, herbs and edible flowers in the kitchen is the epitome of those words. Having essential oils as a part of your pantry is like having an herb garden in full bloom 365 days of the year!

Because of the strength of essential oils, they must be used sparingly and wisely and always diluted before applying to the skin or being using in the kitchen.  The best way to do that in cooking is by using fat, which will also fix the flavor. You can make flavor-infused oils by adding a few drops to a fruity olive oil, safflower oil, peanut oil or any favorite cooking oil. Never use them “neat”, or straight from the bottle, on your skin or in your food.

I have made infused oils for my bath and body products using both fresh herbs as well as essential oils. When you don’t have fresh spearmint, rosemary or basil at hand in the kitchen, the pure essential oil comes to the rescue. Or, if you want an extra burst of flavor for vinaigrette, adding a few drops of lime, orange or lemon essential oil to your carrier oil and fresh squeezed juices gives it a phenomenal kick!

Fennel Avocado Salad with Blood Orange

One of my favorites is a Fennel and Avocado Salad with a herb citrus vinaigrette. 4 cups of shaved fennel, 1 ½ cups of blood orange segments (6 oranges), 6 cups of a spring greens mix and 4 sliced avocados. For the vinaigrette you need ¼ cup fresh squeezed blood orange juice, 2 tsp of a white wine vinegar, and ¼ cup of infused rosemary/blood orange olive oil. Use about 3 drops each of Essential oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tarragon and Lavender are at home in my kitchen too. A classic poached chicken gets a lift from a few drops of Tarragon essential oil in addition to the fresh herb.  Roasted chicken perfumed with fresh lavender and basted with Lavender infused butter is divine. Tuna Tomato Tartare gets a lift from a bright Lime and Dill dressing and a simple cream of asparagus soup is infused with Mint and Basil .

AROMAstrawberries13
Marinated Strawberries with Rosewater

My love of roses finds a place in a simple dessert of strawberries marinated in Rosewater. Two Tablespoons of Rosewater to Ten cups of strawberries, a sprinkle of sugar and a sprig of mint –  Wow! Here I only use fresh rose petals to create the rosewater, not the essential oil. I choose only edible roses – Rosa damascena, Rosa centifolia and Rosa gallica. 1 cup of petals to 2 cups distilled water. Simmer this for 20 minutes, let it cool and then strain into a glass jar. Adding 1 tsp vodka will preserve the rosewater longer.

Whatever your favorite herbs are to use in the kitchen, you can always find more in the garden. Lemon Verbena Lemonade anyone?

Cakes, Candles and Cones – Oh My!

As I am observing another trip around the sun today, I thought I might reflect a bit on the traditions behind birthday celebrations. In research, I found that many of the customs surrounding birthdays have evolved from Pagan ritual, but have been embraced by countless cultures and religions worldwide.

For thousands of years people all over the world have thought of a birthday as a very special day. Long ago, people believed that on a birthday a person could be helped by good spirits, or hurt by evil spirits. So, when a person had a birthday, friends and relatives gathered to protect him or her. And that is supposedly how birthday parties began.

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The idea of putting candles on birthday cakes goes back to ancient Greece. The Greeks worshipped many gods and goddesses. Among them was one called Artemis, the goddess of the moon. The Greeks celebrated her birthday once each month by bringing special cakes to her temple. The cakes were round like a full moon. And, because the moon glows with light, the cakes were decorated with lighted candles.

More and more, though, people the world over attach a certain magic to their actual date of birth. . . We may wear a ring with our birthstone in it for good luck. And when we blow out the candles on our birthday cake, we are careful to keep what we wished a secret. The mythology behind this tradition is actually Wiccan. Fire is a symbol of power and when you extinguish the flame the rising smoke carried the secret wish into the skies.

BIRTHDAY_CAKE

Though there is no one origin of the pointy party hat, this distinctive headgear has been around at the very least since 2800 BC, and was recognized as a symbol of power. In Wicca, the cone of power is the name given to the union of witches’ forces gathered around the circle, aimed at a common goal. In parts of ancient Syria, the cone was a symbol of Astarte (Asherah). Overall, these cylindrical birthday hats continue to be the proud tradition in many different cultures, with the point of the hat elevating the wearer to the status of royalty—which, we all agree, a person becomes on their birthday.

I personally celebrate my birthday without much fanfare. A hike in the mountains, a swim in the ocean or the lake and the enjoyment of some of my favorite foods with friends make my day complete.   The day of one’s birth is not the important thing.  It is merely the beginning of our life’s journey.  And I have enjoyed all 62 of these trips around the sun – with or without cake, candles and cones. Onward and Upward!

 

Lemon Eucalyptus Oil – my Summer Friend!

Living here in the Great Northern parts of NH, we generally experience the plague of Black Flies in the spring and summer, and now the threat of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus. This year seems to be unremittingly brutal. Let me introduce you to the essential oil that is at the heart of our very own Insect Deterrent at Fields of Ambrosia. Lemon Eucalyptus Oil, the common name of one of the natural oils obtained from the lemon-scented gum eucalyptus plant that has gained popularity as an insect deterrent in the last decade. This use is important when you consider the dangers of DEET and other toxic solutions, and want to steer clear of them. This natural plant oil contains p-menthane-diol, which has proven to be more effective than its foremost chemical alternative DEET, which has been documented to cause serious adverse effects, especially in children.

NHBlackFly

According to The New England Journal of Medicine, “Insect-transmitted disease remains a major source of illness and death worldwide. Mosquitoes alone transmit disease to more than 700 million persons annually. Protection from arthropod bites is best achieved by avoiding infested habitats, wearing protective clothing, and using insect repellent. Applying repellent to the skin may be the only feasible way to protect against insect bites. Commercially available insect repellents can be divided into two categories — synthetic chemicals and plant-derived essential oils.”

The best-known chemical insect repellent is DEET. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is the only botanical or plant-derived ingredient registered by the EPA and approved by the CDC. The repellent originated as an extract of an Australian eucalyptus tree and studies suggest that products with 30 percent Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus repel as well as those with 15 to 20 percent DEET.

There are over 700 species of eucalyptus, so do not confuse Lemon Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora) with its more common sister Eucalyptus globules. This oil is commonly known as Eucalyptus or Blue Gum Oil. It contains 60-75% 1, 8 cineol and is the eucalyptus that is known to provides support for a healthy respiratory system and soothe muscles after exercise. Note, however, that this pure oil is not registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an insect repelent.
3D render of a swarm of flies - they're headed your way!
3D render of a swarm of flies – they’re headed your way!

Lemon Eucalyptus oil is extracted from the leaves and twigs of the lemon-scented gum eucalyptus plant. The lemon eucalyptus is a tall tree that grows up to 50 meters tall and comes from the temperate and tropical northeastern Australia. Usually extracted through steam distillation, the essential oil3 has a pale yellow color and a thin consistency. It smells sweet, lemony, and fresh, with a woody hint.  In 2000, the EPA registered oil of lemon eucalyptus as a “biopesticide repellent,” meaning it is derived from natural materials. The resulting products can be applied to human skin and clothing for repelling insects such as mosquitoes, biting flies, and gnats. They are formulated as a spray or a lotion. When it was tested on humans, it gave complete protection from biting for between six to 7.75 hours. Compared to DEET, there was no significant difference in efficacy and duration of protection.

 Other uses for Lemon Eucalyptus Oil:
Anti-fungal and antiseptic – occasionally used to treat athlete’s foot. The oil is used in personal hygiene products, such as soaps, for its antimicrobial properties.

Anti-inflammatory and analgesic – can be applied to wounds to help prevent infection. When diluted, lemon eucalyptus essential oil helps soothe aching muscles and joints as well.
Air freshener – The aroma is thought to soothe the nerves and awaken the mind.

Lemon eucalyptus oil is generally safe for adults, children and canine pets when applied to skin as an insect deterrent. Note, though, that some individuals might have a skin reaction to it. Children under the age of three should not be over-dosed with any repellent. Enjoy the outdoors this summer with the protection of a Lemon Eucalyptus based Insect Deterrent.

Summer Teas from the Garden

MintTea
Mint Infused Green Tea

I have spent the last few months in my community newspaper focusing on Essential Oils and their benefits as well as their warnings. So, I wanted to lighten up the conversation to talk about the herbs and and flowers that can be used fresh from your garden to brew up a summertime favorite – Iced Tea! Or in the world of afficiandos – Tisanes.

 A Bit of History First

Herbal Teas are actually not tea at all, they’re tisanes, a pleasant French word that means’ herbal infusion.’ Tea is, properly, a plant originally from China: Camellia sinensis. How the word came to be used as a descriptor for any hot drink in which leaves were infused or decocted, we are not sure, but it is an accepted term in today’s world.

Tea is, of course, an infusion, but not all infusions are tea. If it doesn’t contain actual tea leaves, it should not be called a tea. The original word tea itself (te and its Cantonese equivalent, cha) have specifically meant Camelia sinensis in China since at least the eighth century CE. That’s what they meant when traders started bringing the mysterious herbs back into Europe

 Types of Herbal Teas (Tisanes):
There are real, herbal teas: a very few teas include both camellia sinensis and other plant products, such as Jasmine. But Earl Grey – which includes the essential oil of bergamot – is not a “herbal” tea because it lacks a herb, which is by definition, the “… the leafy green parts of a plant (either fresh or dried).” Orange teas on the other hand, are more properly called “spice” teas because spice is “a product from another part of the plant.

Tisanes can be made from just about anything: roots, bark, berries, dried fruits, herbs, flowers, mushrooms, seeds, etc. They are often chosen for a specific medicinal or therapeutic soothing benefit that they have identified with use.   Tisanes are what most people reach for when they are not feeling well. Because they will make you feel better!

Tisane Gardening: Growing Your Fresh and Unique Brew
There is something extremely satisfying about being able to sip a tisane lovingly grown in your own garden. Cultivating your own  garden is simple!

I found this List extremely helpful in starting my own Tea Garden from Jill Ettinger @ Organic Authority. Try harvesting these herbs and plants for your sipping pleasure:

  1. Mint: Leaves; calming, digestive.
  2. Rosehips: Buds after bloom has died; vitamin C boost.
  3. Lemon Balm: Leaves; calming and relaxing.
  4. Chamomile: Buds; relaxing and soothing tummy.
  5. Echinacea: Buds; immune support.
  6. Milk Thistle: Buds; detoxification.
  7. Catnip: Leaves; calming.
  8. Lavender: Buds; calming and soothing.
  9. Nettles: Leaf; detoxifying, nourishing.
  10. Red Clover; Buds; purifying, detoxifying.
  11. Lemongrass: Stalk; calming, relaxing, digestive aid.

    rose-hip-tea
    Rose-hip Tea

Lavender, orange spice thyme, lemon balm (often touted as a mild anti-depressant), and catnip make wonderful additions to a tea garden. For a particularly soothing tea, try combining chamomile, lavender and catnip. In humans, catnip has been found to help relieve both anxiety and insomnia. Be creative. Freshly ground cinnamon, orange rind and rose hips are also wonderful enhancers.

To make a tisane, simply boil 1 quart of water per ounce of herb (or 1 cup of water to 1 tablespoon of herb). Pour water over the herb(s) and let steep for 30 to 60 minutes. The proportion of water to herb and the required time to infuse varies greatly, depending on the herb. Start out with the above proportions and then experiment. The more herbs you use and the longer you let it steep, the stronger the brew. Let your taste buds and your senses guide you. Add local honey or fresh fruits to sweeten your elixer. Sit back and enjoy!

Once you’ve assembled the herbs you enjoy, you’ll find creating your own tisane is a snap in the garden. What are you growing?