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Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis

Lemon Balm makes an excellent addition to any garden.  Not only is it attractive and easy to grow, but it possesses many important qualities.

Growth Habit

Lemon Balm is native to southern Europe and generally reaches a height of 24-36 inches.  The perennial heart shaped leaves have serrated edges that give off a fresh, lemony fragrance when crushed. Lemon BalmThis plant (a member of the mint family) has a spreading habit and likes to pop up wherever it finds a happy home!! We welcome this behavior at the Kulturology Soap Company because we use generous quantities of the herb in our Baxter’s Doggy Do Shampoo for its astringent and cleansing quality.  However, this herb can be grown in pots to control its spread.  If left uncut, lemon balm will bloom in mid-summer and although the small white flowers are far from spectacular,  back yard pollinators love it.

Herbal Properties

Lemon balm has powerful anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.  The fresh, lemony scented leaves of this amazing plant can be used in teas to calm nerves and upset tummies, infused to create an astringent cleanser, extracted for treatment of cold sores, dried and added to potpourri for fragrance, or candied for cake decorations.  And if all that was not enough. this herb also possesses insect repelling qualities.  Crush a few leaves in the palm of your hand while in the garden and rub on skin or clothing to discourage the little biters!!  Below we have included a simple recipe for a soothing astringent cleanser.

Astringent Skin Cleanser

Take one ample handful of fresh picked lemon balm leaves (preferably early morning when the leaves contain the maximum amount of essential oil) and place in small pot with two cups fresh water. Simmer on low for ten minutes. Cool and strain liquid into clean dark glass jar and store surplus in refrigerator. Use cotton balls to apply to skin morning and evening for a refreshing skin cleanser.

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Frankincense and Myrrh

We’ve all heard of Frankincense and Myrrh.  Many of us associate them with the story of Baby Jesus but what the heck are these mystical substances and why would a couple of prophet- like dudes travel across a vast expanse of desert to deliver them to a newborn child? 

What is Frankincense and Myrrh?

Frankincense is a tree resin harvested from the Boswellia species–a rugged 16 foot tall tree native to Somalia and the Arabian Peninsula. Also known as olibanum, the resin oozes from the bark which has been cut with a special knife.

Boswellia Trees in Oman
By Armatus1995 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77757853

After harvesting, the resin dries and hardens into “tears” which are then hand-sorted according to quality. Frankincense tears are a pale yellow color and its aroma has hints of lemon, pine and ginger.

Frankincense and Myrrh resins

Myrrh is similar to frankincense in several aspects. Like Frankincense, Myrrh is a tree resin extracted from the Commiphora myrrha tree–a small thorny species native to northern Africa and the middle East.  Harvesting of Myrrh is the same as Frankincense. However, myrrh resin is a reddish brown with a woody aroma.  

Commiphora myrrha tree

History

We often associate Frankincense and Myrrh with the Three Wise men of biblical lore.  However, according to an article at ScientificAmerican.com we don’t necessarily know that there were three wise men. We assume the presence of three people based upon the arrival of three gifts to baby Jesus. We do know the Ancients considered Frankincense as precious as gold and burned it during ceremonies praising the gods. In fact, Frankincense and Myrrh were so important to early Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks they established extensive trade routes across the Arabian Peninsula to support efficient transport of these tree resins. Interestingly…burning Frankincense and Myrrh during early Christianity was strictly forbidden due to its association with pagan worship even though today we quickly associate it with the Christian story of Baby Jesus.

Frankincense Trade Route

Properties

Boswellic acid is the primary active ingredient in Frankincense which is known to have anti-inflammatory and healing affects (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5801908/). Frankincense also possesses strong anti-bacterial properties leading to its use in oral hygiene products such as toothpastes and mouthwashes (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21992439/).

Like Frankincense, myrrh also possesses anti-inflammatory properties.  However, myrrh may be known more for its anti-oxidant effect and was used by the ancient Egyptians during the process of mummification.  Myrrh has also been used extensively as an antiseptic to keep wounds clean and to staunch the flow of blood.   It is also used as a fumigant in order to relieve bronchitis, colds and coughs.

Back to those Dudes in the Desert

Did the Wise Men set out intentionally to deliver Frankincense and Myrrh to a newborn infant or were they travelling along an ancient trade route to deliver their precious load to the next stop along the way?  Were they following that bright star because it was showing them the way to Baby Jesus or were they using that bright star to navigate an immense desert? 

Though many have found the answers to these questions and more through their religious beliefs, we may never truly know the intent and identification of the dudes in the desert! However, given the cold, damp, dirty environment in which Jesus was born, the therapeutic and medicinal properties found in these precious resins would certainly be a practical addition to a personal apothecary.   Frankincense and Myrrh are still used today to purify the air, heal wounds, and treat gum disease.  And we use it generously in our Frankincense and Myrrh soap for its renowned anti-bacterial properties.  Perhaps the dudes in the desert were indeed, wise men.

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Broadleaf Plantain

Broadleaf Plantain Plantago Major

It’s that time of year again when so called “weeds” begin to appear in our yards.  Here at the Kulturology Soap Company we rarely meet a weed we don’t like so before you consider spraying this useful plant with some noxious chemical please read this post.  You might find yourself  bent over picking the tender leaves like we do every year!!

What is Broadleaf Plantain

Broadleaf Plantain or Plantago major is a low growing plant with broad, oval shaped leaves 2-8 inches long and 2-3 inches wide.  Its deeply veined leaves arranged in a rosette serve as the base for the small unremarkable spike shaped flower growing atop a long stem.  This wind pollinated plant is a seed producing powerhouse…A typical seed head can contain up to 20,000 seeds!!  Broadleaf Plantain is native to most of Europe but has a remarkable ability to naturalize itself to even the most challenging growing conditions such as cracks in sidewalks or roadways.  Combined with its ability to naturalize to almost any growing conditions it is no wonder one of the plants common names is “white man’s foot” due to its emergence everywhere the first white settlers to the Americas landed!

Broadleaf Plantain
Broadleaf Plantain

Uses

Broadleaf Plantain has a long history as a healing herb and is still referred to as ‘slan-lus’ or plant of healing in the Highlands.

Pliny the Elder claimed it could cure the “madness of dogs” and is sometimes called ‘snakeweed’ in the US due to the belief it could heal snake bites.  In an ancient Anglo-Saxon text,  plantain (called Waybroad) is one of nine sacred herbs and is included in a recipe for “salve for flying venom”:

‘Take a handful of hammer wort and a handful of maythe (chamomile) and a handful of waybroad and roots of water dock, seek those which will float, and one eggshell full of clean honey, then take clean butter, let him who will help to work up the salve, melt it thrice: let one sing a mass over the worts, before they are put together and the salve is wrought up.’

The recipe seems a bit dramatic and overly complex to us so we have included a simpler version below!  It is an easy way of preserving the goodness this plant has to offer.  The oil can be used alone or in combination with other herbal oils.  We use it liberally in our BooBoo Balm and always have it on hand for the inevitable bug bites and scrapes we get working the gardens.

Plantain oil
Plantain Oil

Broadleaf Plantain Herbal Oil

Pick the leaves in the early morning after the dew has dried.  Be sure to pick only leaves that you know have not been treated with herbicides!  Fill a clean glass jar 2/3 full with leaves and top the jar off with oil of your choice.  We prefer organic, extra virgin olive oil due to its long shelf life and its own skin friendly qualities.  Place the jar in a protected sunny location for 30 days, giving the jar a good shake every day or so.  Strain the oil through a colander and then through cheesecloth to remove leaves and sediment then bottle in amber glass and store in a dark cabinet.  The oil can be used straight from the bottle for bug bites, diaper rash, sunburn etc.

Happy Plantain picking!! We hope to see you in the fields!!

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Calendula

Calendula officinalis

Calendula, commonly referred to as “pot marigold” is an easy to grow self-seeding annual.  Many ancient cultures such as the Hindus, Egyptians, Arabs, and Greeks utilized this  herb for its potent healing properties.  For that reason we use it liberally in our Calendula Soap.

This sunny little flower is native to Mediterranean countries and belongs to the same family as daisies, chrysanthemums, and ragweed. Calendula multiple flowersThe plants branching stems grow to approximately 24 inches and are topped by 2-3 inch flowers in multiple shades of orange and yellow. With its bright and sunny flower heads that literally follow the sun’s path, it is no wonder that Calendula is linked to the astrological summer sign of Leo.

It can be easily grown in almost any soil as long as it doesn’t become waterlogged.  Choose a sunny spot and keep the plants deadheaded.

Medicinally, this herb is most commonly prepared into tinctures, extracts, and salves and used topically to treat a multitude of skin ailments including excema, diaper rash, burns, and abrasions. Below you will find an easy recipe that utilizes this amazing plant.

Solar Infused Calendula Oil Recipe

Pack a pint or quart jar full with fresh picked Calendula petals. Fill jar with olive oil and screw on tight fitting lid. Place in a protected location with full sun for approximately one week. Strain the oil and place in a sanitized glass jar. Store in a dark location. The oil can be used by itself to treat burns, scrapes, diaper rash, and scars or it can be added to your favorite lotion or salve recipe.

Calendula flower