Heliotrope San Francisco

8 Reasons to Love Cardamom Aromatherapy

The word Cardamom generally calls to mind Indian cuisine, or if you are dessert minded, perhaps Scandinavia, or the Middle East. Personally, I know I’ve found a coffee shop I’ll like if I can detect the aroma of cardamom layered with fragrance of coffee. The uses of Cardamom go far beyond creating delicious food.

In India, where the plant originates, it has been used for thousands of years medicinally, to season food, and in ritual. In Ayurvedic medicine, it has been used for thousands of years to treat everything from digestive issues to freshen breathe and to improve mood and as a treatment for depression. It is thought to bring balance to all three doshas - the energies that circulate in the body and determine the physiological processes. It is a warming spice and has long been used in India to increase digestive fire.

Botanical illustration by Franz Eugen Köhler

Cardamom is related to ginger and it is a perennial; it lives for two years. Along with cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, ginger, among others, Cardamom was one of the highly valued spices traded between India, Asia and the Middle East. It was among the first spices and commodities traded between civilizations.

From the Middle East, it made it’s way into the ancient cultures of Greece, Rome, and Egypt.  Cardamom was one of the plants grown in the Gardens of Babylon and it is cited in the tales of the Arabian Nights as an aphrodisiac. It is also connected with love in ancient India. In 3000 b.c.e. Cardamom is mentioned in the Vedic text, Taittiriya Samhita which says that it was used in the ceremonial fire burned to solemnize a Hindu marriage. In this era, the Vikings experienced Cardamom in what is now Turkey and brought the spice back with them to Scandinavia. In Sweden and Finland it is used to flavor many traditional baked goods.

For thousands of years, cardamom has been used everywhere it touched medicinally, in ritual and in cooking. The Greeks and Romans expanded on those uses and created aromatic oil and used it for perfume. It was also mentioned in their medical texts

Cardamom pods some of which are broken open and seeds are visible.

The pod is the main part used from the plant. It is a greenish color and is shaped a bit like a football. Often the pod is used in cooking, but after the pod is dried, the seeds, whole or ground into a powder, is the part that is most often used. Essential oil is extracted from the seeds as well.

Currently, cardamom is the third most valuable and expensive spice after vanilla and saffron. In the 1800's British colonists developed cardamom plantations in it's native Southern India and in the early 1900s a German business man introduced it in Guatemala. In some parts of Guatemala, it is considered a more valuable crop than coffee. This country is the world's largest producer and exporter of cardamom.

The scent is unique and impossible to reproduce synthetically. It's fragrance has been described as sweet and spicy with woody undertones.

Here are some of the reasons we use Cardamom in aromatherapy:

1. In traditional aromatherapy, the scent is thought to improve concentration and to fortify mental functioning. 

2. It is considered to be a calming tonic for the mind and emotions.It soothes nervous tension.

3. Mixed into massage oil, it's antispasmodic properties help to soothe muscles. This can be particularly useful when massaged on the belly / abdomen to help bring ease to an upset stomach or digestive system.

4. The scent is effective in relieving nausea and vomiting associated with both pregnancy and chemotherapy.

5. The scent can help one to feel more grounded.

6. As an aphrodisiac, it revives appetite for life. The spicy scent brings clarity to the mind and the earthiness awakens our sensual side. The scent works well in a sensual massage.

7. The scent promotes respiratory health and can bring relief from coughs.

8. In Ayureveda, cardamom tea is used as a treatment for depression. Although not yet studied in the west, the scent is considered by many to lift the mood.

On sale through the end of this month, experience the muscle relaxing and mood lifting benefits of Cardamom blended with black fig in our Soy Wax & Shea Butter Massage Candle or the Coconut Oil & Goat's Milk Moisturizing Soap.

The fragrance of cardamom blends well with bergamot, rose, cedar, cinnamon, clove, orange and ylang ylang. You can experiment and blend your own special fragrance or choose one of our unique blends to use as a personal all natural perfume or to customize one of our unscented products.

Enhancing features cardamom blended with blood orange, ylang ylang and black pepper in a mood enhancing combination.

Stimulating combines black pepper, bay laurel and cardamom in a blend that invigorates.

Nostalgic uses black pepper, bay laurel, sandlewood, bergamot and cardamom together in a scent that is spicy and meditative.

Experience cardamom combined with sweet vanilla and the floral jasmine in our Relaxing scent.




Written by Jen Bator — April 24, 2017

5 Best Natural Skin Care Products for Chapped Lips

Whether it’s chapped lip season or not, lips need special care. The skin of the lips is thinner and more delicate than the skin anywhere else on the body. The skin of the face is made up of at least 16 layers, while the lips are only 5 or 6 cells thick. The lips are a place of boundary between the outer world and our inner world. This meeting place is called the vermilion zone, and it is named after the red color the lips often have. There are many nerve endings and blood vessels in the dermis and they are close to the thin, translucent epidermis and these blood vessels give our lips their red color. The lips gather information about the world around us - mainly temperature - and as we all know, lips are very sensitive to touch.

Formation on a tree shaped like lips

Many things can affect the health of our lips. It seems counter-intuitive, but licking your lips actually dries out the skin. Also, saliva contains enzymes that start the process of digestion. Over time, these enzymes can damage and dry the skin. Normal lip licking won’t cause harm, but if your lips start to feel dry, refrain from licking them and apply a product that will soothe the skin.

Because lips are so thin and have no oil or sweat glands, they do not moisturize on their own. We can’t always choose the external temperature or humidity but there are several steps that we can take to help our lips stay soft and supple. Dry weather or offices can take the moisture from our system, and this shows on our lips when they become dry and cracked. Drinking plenty of water can counter this, and living with a humidifier at home, and in your office if you can manage it, will help to keep your system and your skin hydrated.

Whenever you notice that your lips are feeling dry, apply our Shea Butter and Almond Lip Balm. It contains Beeswax, which absorbs into the skin quickly and also create a protective barrier on the skin but Beeswax doesn’t block the pores.

Beeswax in a honeycomb formation

The Beeswax acts as a humectant, which attracts hydration into the cells making your lips feel moisturized and refreshed.Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and is added to the balm as a unique ingredient as well as being one of the vitamins present in Shea Butter. Antioxidants help protect your skin from pollution, one of the causes of free-radical damage to the skin’s cellular structure. The tube makes applying convenient.

When your lips are chapped and cracked, treat your lips to an exfoliation and hydration session before you go to bed at night. Exfoliating will remove the dead skin and damage from the day and the thicker cream or therapy will lock in moisture and re-hydrate the delicate skin while you sleep. If your lips are really chapped and damaged, you may have to do this treatment for a few nights in a row.

With care, apply a small amount of Organic Agave & Shea Butter Sugar Scrub to each lip. I find it easier to exfoliate one lip at a time. You want to be gentle and not use too much pressure. The combination of Sugar with Agave will help to remove the dead skin cells, while the moisturizing effects of Shea Butter, and Coconut oil will soothe the delicate skin. The antioxidants present in grape seed oil combine with vitamins D and E create an environment for your skin to heal.

For this healing treatment, I recommend the Shea Butter & Pomegranate Face Cream, the Shea & Beeswax Hand & Cuticle Therapy and the Aloe, Shea Butter & Jojoba Body Cream. They have different consistencies and textures and as with everything, your preference should guide you to the product that would best heal your lips. Shea butter makes an appearance in each of these beneficial creams and Hand & Cuticle therapy. All of our products are made of therapeutic grade and plant ingredients so it won't cause any harm if you ingest some accidentally. Whenever possible, choose the fragrance free version.

Open pomegranate with close-up of seeds

The Shea Butter & Pomegranate Face Cream brings the antioxidant power of pomegranate into the mix. Pomegranate has a small molecular structure making it able to penetrate deeply into the skin. It has a natural ability to soothe dry and cracked skin. Pomegranate is high in antioxidant vitamins A and C, which help to speed cell regeneration. The combination of Pomegranate with Shea Butter protects, and hydrates skin and helps to minimize signs of aging.

The Shea & Beeswax Hand & Cuticle Therapy is the thickest choice. A little dab goes a long way! It is designed to bring intensive healing to cracked and dry skin. While it feels thick, it goes on lightly and absorbs quickly into the skin, leaving the skin feeling supple and moisturized. Aloe Vera, one of the main ingredients has enzymes that help to remove dead skin cells and several plant hormones which combine with the high water content to heal inflammation. The antioxidants in aloe vera will aid cells to heal and rejuvenate.

Close-up of aloe vera plant

The Aloe, Shea Butter & Jojoba Body Cream has a light, almost ‘whipped’ texture. The cream is rich without being heavy, and as with our other products, absorbs quickly into the skin. The ingredients in this cream are 70% certified organic. Jojoba seed oil is unique in that it has such a low melting point that it is a liquid wax. It is an evergreen plant that is native to the United States in the arid southwest. The oil closely resembles sebum, which is the oil produced by the skin. Because of this similarity, it integrates seamlessly into the skin and acts as a natural conditioner. The jojoba and shea butter will leave the skin feeling soft and smooth.

None of our products contain petroleum derivatives such as petroleum jelly, or mineral oil. These ingredients are common in many skin care lines, and especially in products made for lip care and for chapped lips in particular.

If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, please feel free to come by our shop on Valencia Street in San Francisco and try the different creams for yourself! You may find your new favorite products to use when you have chapped lips and find that you also want to use them everywhere on your body!

Written by Jen Bator — April 17, 2017

Two ways to bring soothing Marshmallow Root to your skin care routine

Ancient Greece provides the first written record  of Marshmallow. The Athenian philosopher Theophrastus, (372 bce - 287 bce) recommended drinking a combination of sweet wine and marshmallow as a cough remedy. Along with philosophy, he was interested in the natural sciences and is credited with being the first person to create a classification of plants. This classification laid the foundation for the scientific study of plants, botany.

Botanical drawing of Marshmallow plant depicting flower, leaf structure on stalk and root

In Greek, Althea means "to heal"  and the plant was referred to by this name in Ancient Greece. The people of Greece and later Rome were using all parts of the plant to treat conditions ranging from wounds to toothaches to digestive issues. The fact that around 200 bce there were close to five recorded medicinal uses for different parts of the plant indicates that it was likely being used as a treatment long before this  The Romans ate it as a vegetable, and it was considered a delicacy. It was also eaten as a vegetable and used medicinally in China and the Middle East. It is more than likely that historically the plant was used for food and in traditional medicine in every area where it grew.

The root, stems, and to some degree the leaves have mucilage qualities, which means that they secrete a substance that is gel-like and is cooling and slippery. In Europe during the Medieval period, men and women accused of crimes were put through an ordeal and made to hold a red-hot iron rod to determine their innocence or guilt. The innocent would have no serious burns, the guilty, of course, would be burned badly. There is lore that both the guilty and the innocent would apply a mallow ointment to their hands before the ordeal to protect themselves from bad burns, and thus trick the system.

Marshmallow is native to much of Europe, Asia and North Africa. In England, where it was introduced by the Romans, it received it's lasting common name Marshmallow as it prefers to be near water, and grows in salt marshes and damp meadows, ditches and tidal rivers. The plant is a perennial and can grow to be 3 or 4 feet high.

Four petaled cream coloured Marshmallow flower. the stamen forms a pink barrel shape in the center.The green of leaves is in the back ground

The plant is in the same family as hollyhocks, hibiscus and other mallows. All are medicinal but the Marshmallow contains the highest concentration of mucilage. The leaves are best harvested in springtime when there is new growth. Flowers appear in late summer August and September, followed by a fruit. The flowers and seeds can be harvested after they develop. The roots need to be harvested from plants that are two to three years old in late fall and in winter.  It contains high concentrations of several minerals such as iron, selenium, magnesium and calcium.

As the plant is prolific, during times of crop failure and famine, the root was relied on as food. In Europe, the root was boiled to soften and then fried in butter, or other fat with onions. The young leaves and tops may still be eaten in parts of France as a spring kidney tonic. I say 'may be' because many of the traditional uses of plants have been lost except in increasingly isolated and small pockets.

The French are credited with creating a confection that evolved into the modern marshmallow candy. They would peel the root to expose the white fibrous pulp and boil it to soften. The root is naturally sweet and as its sweetness released, sugar would be added. The mallow thickened the confection. Modern commercial marshmallows no longer contain the root.

Marshmallow leaf with other leaves visible in background

Marshmallow has anti-inflammatory properties. Early Arabic doctors applied the leaves as a poultice to soothe inflammation. Mucilage acts to coat the sensitive mucosal lining of the digestive and respiratory tracts. This coating allows for healing to occur and the anti-inflammatory action soothes any irritations in the internal lining. This is why it is an excellent remedy for coughs. The root is used to promote healing for external wounds, internally to soothe the entire digestive tract.

Studies have been done which verify the anti-inflammatory benefits and other studies also indicate that it has antimicrobial properties and that it may have the positive effect of reducing blood glucose levels. Research is being done into its ability to encourage the growth of new cells. Experiential evidence indicates that it does assist in cell regeneration, which may be due to the fact that it soothes and so contributes to an environment where cells can healthily reproduce.

Marshmallow root in joins other soothing and antioxidant ingredients in our Organic Aloe & Shea Shave Cream. The cream will protect skin from the rigors of shaving, and leave your skin feeling smooth and supple.

Our Organic Aloe, Shea Butter & Jojoba Body Cream harnesses the power of the mucilage in Marshmallow root. The mucilage acts as a wash to infuse the skin with hydration. At the same time, it improves the skin's ability to retain moisture. The Aloe, Shea Butter and Jojoba bring their anti-oxidant and nutritive properties to this rich and transforming cream.

Written by Jen Bator — April 09, 2017

Myrtus Communis is anything but common

 Long associated with queens and goddesses, mention of myrtle extends back thousands of years. Historically, myrtle is considered one of the most significant plants. It plays a fundamental role in traditional medicine; in Europe and throughout the Mediterranean it is also used in cooking.

 The Myrtle tree is native to the Indian subcontinent, the Mediterranean basin, and Western Asia. A species of the tree, grows in the mountains of the Central Saharan Desert, in the mountains of Southern Algeria and Northern Chad. The plant is evergreen. The flowers are usually white and the petals form a star shape. There are multiple stamens at the center. Purple berries develop from the flowers. They are a round fruit, and are the color of blackberries. The leaves, bark, flowers and fruit are used as medicine, and as food. In some areas, essential oil is also extracted from the seeds.

Blue myrtle berries in sardinia By Japs 88

 In Hebrew, myrtle is called hadas, and is associated with righteousness. The tree was described as a good tree with a pleasant smell. Hadassah, another of Queen Esther's names, refers back to the tree. The Purim holiday commemorates her role saving the Jews from Haman's plot to annihilate them.

 Myrtle branches are incorporated into Sukkot celebrations, which usually take place in the fall. Myrtle along with three other species of sacred plants are bound together.

Myrtle tree in a garden

 The Romans valued myrtle, and associated the plant with Venus, their goddess of love and fertility, and are responsible for its spread to other regions. The Roman legions often took cultivars with them into the lands they conquered because it reminded them of Rome. It has been introduced as far north as the United Kingdom.

 In many cultures, it plays a role in wedding ceremonies - in the Ukraine brides wear a crown woven of myrtle. In England, Queen Victoria was given a bouquet containing Myrtle by her soon-to-be mother-in-law. The Myrtle from that bouquet was planted at a royal estate. That original sprig grew into a tree, and by tradition every royal wedding bouquet includes a sprig of myrtle from the tree.

 As a culinary herb the leaves are dried and used much like bay leaf. It is said to taste like allspice with a hint of menthol. The berries are dried and ground and used like juniper berries. In Sardinia and Corsica, the Mirto liqueur is made of the berries and in some cases a combination of leaves and berries.

Myrtle flower and leaves close-up

 Medicinally, Myrtle is used across Africa and Europe. The plant has a long list of benefits with applications for almost every system of the body. For many centuries the oil of the leaves has been used to lower blood sugar levels. Throughout the Mediterranean it is used to treat urinary and bladder infections, and for respiratory issues. It is used for its positive affect on the endocrine system and the release of hormones. It is particularly effective when used to regulate the thyroid gland for low thyroid. 

 Myrtle contains flavonols and one of these compounds myricetin is thought to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant properties. This compound is currently being studied as a treatment to relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer's and dementia. Myrtle assists with heart health as it helps to reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. The oxidation is a contributing factor of heart disease. The essential oil is also thought to boost cognitive strength and relieve stress and nervousness.

 Myrtle is an astringent and will alleviate oily skin and reduce the size of the pores. A powerful antioxidant, it helps cells to heal and regrow. This improves the over-all health of the skin.  In many places, Myrtle has traditionally been used to heal acne and other skin disorders. 

 Made especially for sensitive skin, our Chamomile & Lupine Repartive Eye Gel Mrytle's astringent and healing properties combine with other ingredients to soothe the skin, increase circulation and reduce puffiness.

 Perfect for sensitive skin, our Mineral & Botanical Cleanser combines essential minerals with botanicals to both soothe and nourish your skin. Myrtle, along with other anti-inflammatory ingredients calms the skin.  The astringent properties of Myrtle help to balance and reduce unnecessary oil, while the antioxident properties help the skin to heal at a cellular level.

Bringing the relaxing qualities of Myrtle, our Essential Oil Blend Evening (Neroli Lemon) is perfect aromatherapy for when you need to unwind and calm from the stresses of your day.


Botanical illustration of Myrtle 


Notes -- Illustration 1: By Japs 88 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https-_commons.wikimedia.org_w_index.php?curid=17898041

Illustration 2: Myrtle Communis in the garden by By Raffi Kojian - http-_Gardenology.org, CC BY-SA 3.0, https-_commons.wikimedia.org_w_index.php?curid=12734838


Written by Jen Bator — April 02, 2017

Achilea Millefolium - Yarrow

In Greek myth, the sea nymph Thetis, had lost several baby sons. When the seventh son was born, she was determined to protect this child. She snuck out of the home she shared with King Pelias and journeyed to the underworld to the River Styx. She  dipped her baby son Achilles into the magical waters of the  River Styx to make him immortal. She didn’t want to completely let go of him in the fast flow and held onto him just above one of his heel. He became immortal, with one vulnerable spot - his heel.

To the relief of the King, she returned home with the baby. Late that night, she crept out of bed, gathered Achilles from his cradle and placed him on the fire. King Pelias jumped out of bed and pulled Achilles from the flames. Queen Thetis, explained that the baby had been dipped in the flow of the River Styx and was impervious to the flame. The fire was to have completed the process and made him immortal. She left her husband and child and returned to the sea.

Sick with grief because his wife had abandoned him and their infant son, King Pelias journeyed with the baby to Mount Pelion. The infant  was given over to the care of the centaur Chiron. Born of the union between the Titan Cronus and the nymph Philyra, Chiron was unlike other centaurs. Centaurs - torso, arms and head of a man and body and legs of a horse - were known to be lustful, wild and uncivilized creatures. Chiron was an educator, a skilled astronomer, a healer, and an oracle.

Achilles was like a son to him and under Chiron’s tutelage, he became an accomplished warrior, skilled at music and skilled with medicinal plants. Achilles had a special affinity for Yarrow. He is reputed to have used yarrow to heal soldiers on the battlefields fighting for dominance of Troy. There is no historical evidence that links Achilles to yarrow, but for unknown reasons the association between the two took hold and is reflected in the plant’s name Achilea Millefolium.

Common yarrow under a tree

Spanning across North America, Europe and Asia, Yarrow is a native plant throughout the northern hemisphere. The plant has been used medicinally in every area where it grows. Traces of yarrow have been discovered on the teeth of a 50,000 year old Neanderthal found in what is now Spain. Scientists conjecture that, as it is bitter, the plant was eaten as medicine. It is not known exactly why our ancestor ate yarrow. In the past, bitter flavors were appreciated more than they are currently, and bitters were incorporated more regularly into the diet.

Dried yarrow stems were used to cast the I Ching and across cultures the plant has long been associated with divination. In some places, it was said that if yarrow was placed under your pillow, you would dream of your new lover. When hung on the bridal bed it was thought to ensure that love would last for seven years. From place to place, the lore is often contradictory. In many places it was thought to protect against evil spirits and to bring good luck, but in other places around the Christian west, it is associated with the devil and considered bad luck to bring into a house.

During the middle ages, it was a popular ingredient used to brew beer. The young, new leaves were eaten in salad into the 17th century.

The leaf and flower and tender parts of the young stalk are used medicinally. The leaves are easily recognized as they have a feathery appearance. The flowers can range from ivory to yellow to pink and many daisy-like, small flowers form an umbrella shape at the top of the stalk.

Close-up Yarrow leaves depicting feathery appearance.                                      Botanic drawing of Yarrow plant

The Yarrow leaf staunches the flow of blood and has been used on battlefields and to treat skin wounds in North America and in Europe for thousands of years. It is also good for wounds because it has some antimicrobial properties. The herb improves most systems of the body, in different parts of the world, it has been used to treat earaches, colds, and to increase body temperature when sickness is coming on, headaches, for women’s reproductive issues - both to quash heavy bleeding and stimulate sparse periods. It stimulates digestion, and has the dual action of toning the blood vessels at the same time as it dilates the capillaries which causes the blood to flow. One of the plant’s common names is ‘nosebleed’ and this provides an excellent example of this effect on the blood vessels. It can cause a nosebleed or stop the blood from flowing when one has a nosebleed. The leaves can be chewed to relieve the pain of a toothache.

In modern gardens and wild landscapes, it is commonly considered a weed, but as you can see, Yarrow has been effectively used as a healing herb across many applications for thousands of years.

For the skin, Yarrow as a tea will help to soothe skin irritations such as rashes or insect bites, and has been used to treat and calm eczema.

Yarrow is an astringent and can be helpful with balancing oily skin and for acne. It has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which help to heal the skin infections that contribute to acne.

Yarrow helps to calm inflamed skin. As it helps to improve circulation, it has the effect of bringing blood to all of the layers of the skin. Yarrow will improve the effectiveness of anti-oxidant encouraged toxin removal by using the flow of blood to pull out the toxins from the skin.  

The infusion of yarrow in our Aloe & Comfrey Shave Gel helps to calm the skin and prevent inflammation from developing. The styptic properties of yarrow will help to heal any nicks and cuts that might happen while shaving.

Written by Jen Bator — March 27, 2017

The Buzz about Bees

The first example of an ancient bee was found in Myanmar. The bee was trapped in amber 100 million years ago. Like wasps, these early bees ate other insects as flowers had not yet developed color and nectar.

Bees were instrumental in the development of flowers. Most plants can’t self pollinate. At first they probably relied on wind and chance for pollination. Over time, plants evolved traits - brightly colored flowers and nectar - to attract animals which would help them to reproduce. Plants and bees developed a symbiotic relationship - flowers give bees nectar and bees transport pollen from flower to flower thus ensuring the plant generates seeds and reproduces.

Bee collecting nectar from purple crocus

A honeybee colony is made up of three categories of bee. At the top of the hierarchy is the queen. A colony has only one queen and her only task is reproduction. She controls the behavior of the other bees in the hive with her pheromones. She lays up to 2,000 eggs each day and she can live for up to five years.

The worker bees are female and number about 10,000 to 50,000 in each colony. They have specialized tasks - care for the young, find new food sources, defend the hive, build the comb and provide food for the drones the queen and the grubs. They do not switch jobs, but carry out the same task throughout their lifespan.

Drones are the male bees and number about 1,000 in a colony. They don’t have a stinger, and don’t produce any food. Their only purpose is to mate with the queen and they die soon after mating. The worker bees feed them honey.

Honeybees at hive with queen at center

Scout bees look for food sources. When the scouts find a source of food, they return to the hive and teach the other bees where to find the food source. The scouts perform a ‘wiggle dance’ that transmits the directions. The other workers feel the vibrations with their antennae and taste the nectar the scouts provide so they know they’ve found the correct source. As soon as the directions are understood, the worker bees take off in search of the nectar source.

Worker bees fly over 3 miles from the hive and are able to constantly adapt to the plants and the season. They will return to an area until all of the nectar is depleted. Once back at the hive the nectar is given to another worker who holds the droplets on her tongue until the liquid evaporates and it becomes honey. She then deposits the honey into a cell for storage.

The honey comb is built for storage of honey and to hold the eggs and developing pupae. Each cell is made from a secretion of wax flakes on the underside of the abdomen. The worker then chews up the flake and mold the wax scales into place. Honey combs are only built as they are needed. Each cell of the comb is in the shape of a hexagon and is very space efficient and much stronger than a circle or an oval or square tube.

Close up of honeycomb

The size of the cell determines the gender and purpose of the hatched bee. The queen measures the cell with her front legs and decides based on the size whether or not to fertilize the egg. If the cell is to hold a worker bee or a new queen, she adds sperm to her vagina before she deposits the egg into the cell. Eggs hatch whether they are fertilized or not. The drones are unfertilized. The nurse bees feed all of the developing larvae royal jelly for the first 3 days of their development.

When a hive reaches population capacity, the queen lays an egg that is destined to become a new queen. The nurses feed the larvae that will become a queen bee royal jelly throughout her life. This rich food allows the new queen to develop ovaries. During the new queen’s development, the worker bees seek out and find an appropriate home for the new colony. Once the new queen has reached maturity, the reigning queen leaves with a third of the hive to start a new colony. This is called a swarm and usually takes place in spring.

Humans have had a relationship with bees for hundreds of thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence that bees have played a role in human culture since prehistoric times. Bee swarms, bee hives and honeycombs appear in ancient rock art across sub-Saharan Africa. At first, Humans sought out wild bee colonies, but it is likely that bees were domesticated around the same time that animals such as pigs and cows were being tamed to live alongside humans. Scientists have been testing pottery dating from 10,000 years ago for traces of beeswax. The pottery was found across southern Europe, Asia and North Africa, and the evidence points to a long history of early farming cultures using bees and harvesting both honey and beeswax.

In most places, beeswax was the only type of wax available. It has long been used to make candles, and in its natural state it is firm but pliable. It is thought that beeswax was used by ancient people to bind stone points to wood in making weapons and was likely used for repairs.

In Egypt 2000 years ago, encaustic paintings were made using beeswax. The wax was heated and mixed with pigment before being applied to prepared surface. It was then exposed to the sun which “burned in” the image.

Honey has long been used as an antiseptic and sweetener in food and to make alcohol. Sweetness was rare in the ancient world, so honey would have been highly valued. It is likely that both beeswax and honey were collected for utilitarian purposes and for use as medicine and in religious ceremonies.

 The record of when bees were first domesticated is incomplete. Domesticating bees eliminated the need to search for colonies, but the hive and the bees living in it were destroyed during collection.  In the 1800s, a man named Lorenzo Langstroth discovered that bees would keep a space free for movement within a hive. This led to the development of hives with frames that could be removed. The bees build the honeycomb inside the frame and the beekeeper can remove the frame to collect the honey without harming the bees. This development has allowed humans to more safely interact with bees and harvest their honey and wax.

 Frame with honeycomb and bees on it

Wild bee colonies have become rare due to loss of habitat, climate change and pesticides and toxins in the environment. Pesticides are affecting all bees, and Colony Collapse Disorder as it's called, is devastating wild and commercial  bee colonies throughout the United States. As up to one third of our food supply relies on bees and other pollinators the loss of bees will have drastic consequences on all life on this planet.

Beeswax acts as an anti-bacterial and anti-septic which makes it an effective treatment for skin-conditions like acne, psoriasis and eczema. The anti-inflammatory properties calm and soothe the skin, and help to reduce swelling. It forms a barrier to protect the skin from pollutants, but it won't block pores. Beeswax is a humectant, which means that it attracts water to the cells which helps to keep skin hydrated. 

Our Shea & Beeswax Hand & Cuticle Therapy is a thicker, rich cream that soothes dry, cracked or itchy skin by providing moisture and protection.

For your beard and hair, try the Organic Shea & Cocoa Butter Hair & Beard Pomade or in the handy portable biodegradable tube Grooming & Styling Wax. Both tame fly-away hair while providing necessary moisture and a sheen. The Grooming & Styling Wax gives a slightly firmer hold, but doesn't leave your hair feeling stiff.

Along with a pleasant natural fragrance evocative of honey, our Beeswax Pillar Candles release negative ions which cleanse the air of pollutants, dust, mold and pollen. Beeswax candles burn clean and don't produce soot like candles made of paraffin - a distillation from petroleum.


Written by Jen Bator — March 15, 2017

Spirulina the Wonder of Blue Green Algae

Spirulina is the descendant of one of the first photosynthesizing life forms to develop on earth. The single celled blue green algae has existed for 3.5 billion years. In the beginning, it added oxygen to the atmosphere which allowed other life to develop. Today, algae is one the most plentiful life forms and it helps to regulate the earth's biosphere.

Spirulina thrives in alkaline conditions that most other organisms can't survive in. It appreciates sunshine and moderate temperatures.

It is likely that Spirulina has been harvested and eaten for thousands of years. There are records of its historical use in two distinct places - Central America and Central Africa.

Record of Spirulina being used as food dates to the 9th century ce in the great Kanem Empire of Central Africa, which included Lake Chad in the south. In parts of Africa where it is readily available, it is still part of the daily diet.

In Central America, it was called Tecuitlatl by the Aztecs and grew in many freshwater lakes, ponds and anywhere there was still, alkaline water. It's use was described by the Cortez expedition.

Lake Texcoco Basin circa 1519 By Lago_de_Texcoco-posclásico.png: YavidaxiuValley_of_Mexico_c.1519-fr.svg: historicair 13:51, 11 September 2007 (UTC)derivative work: Sémhur (talk) - Lago_de_Texcoco-posclásico.png, itself from :(fr) Niederberger Betton, Christine (1987) Paléo-paysages et archéologie pré-urbaine du Bassin de Mexico, México: Centro de estudios mexicanos y centroamericanos (CEMCA), pp. 500 ISBN: 3785726.Valley_of_Mexico_c.1519-fr.svg, itself from :(en) Coe, Michael; Snow, Dean; Benson, Elizabeth (1986) Atlas of Ancient America, New York: Facts On File, pp. 240 ISBN: 978-0816011995.(en) Townsend, Richard F. (1992) The Aztecs, London: Thames & Hudson, pp. 224 ISBN: 978-0500021132.(es) This picture incorporates information from La cuenca de México, special edition of Arqueología Mexicana, july-august 2007, Mexico.(es) This picture incorporates information from this version of the article Lago de Texcoco on the Spanish Wikipedia., FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9263087

Tecuitlatl was gathered from the water using nets and dried into cakes that were sold in markets. The Europeans compared the way it was eaten to cheese, and noted that people traveled with it and ate it daily. It was still a food source in the late 1500s, but as the ponds and  lakes were drained to build cities and towns it became rare and it's use as food declined. Lake Texcoco still has an active living Spirulina culture.

In the 1960s, it was "discovered" again by French researchers in both Mexico and Africa.  In Africa, a researcher noticed that the flamingo lived on Spirulina and krill which also consumed Spirulina algae and that the birds had a long life span. The betacarotenes in Spirulina are what make the color of flamingos vary from pink to orange to red. Flamingos feed close to shore and the bird developed a filter in it's beak to perfectly isolate the krill and Spirulina.

Flamingoes wading on lake in Kenya

The Great Rift in Africa - extending from Ethiopia in the north to Botswana in the south along the eastern side of the African continent - provides perfect conditions. Rainwater moves through the volcanic soil collecting mineral salts as it is filtered. The water gathers in ancient lake beds and adds to the mineral rich, akaline soda lake. A similar process occurs in central Africa around the Lake Chad. Lake Chad is huge, and important both historically and in the present day. It is thought to be the site of a much larger ancient sea. Spirulina grows on approximately one third of the lake's surface area and is also present in the smaller ponds and lakes near Lake Chad.

Map of Africa showing Lake Chad and Kanem Empire

Around Lake Chad, the Spirulina harvest has been passed from mother to daughter for generations. After the rainy season, the wet algae is scooped into clay pots.It is then drained through a cloth and dried or baked in the sun on ircles of sand. After 20 minutes of drying, it is cut into squares called dihé. The dihé are sold in market throughout the region and is eaten as a sauce served over millet, beans, fish or meat. Spirulina is a complete protein, the only vegetable source of vitamin B12, high in iron and rich in vitamins, carbohydrates, enzymes and essential fatty acids.

In the late 1960s, the French started harvesting Spirulina on a larger scale. In 1974 the United Nations declared Spirulina a superfood.

Spirulina is a single celled organism that is in the shape of a spiral that can be .5 millmeters in length. It is cylindrical and an open, left-handed helix.

Spiral shape of Spirulina - from Algaeindustrymagazine.com

The high nutrient profile makes Spirulina a valuable food source. It is used to nourish and bring health back to malnourished people. Most of the nutrients are readily bio-available - meaning that the body doesn't need to expend much energy to process and transform the nutrients into substances it can use - and it is easily digested.

Because of its powerful nutritive profile, it can benefit the body internally and in skincare products.

The spectrum of cartenoids work synergistically as powerful antioxidants, and scavenge for free radicals. The antioxidants neutralize the free radicals and help the body to eliminate them and also act to repair the damage done to the cells. The antioxidants in Spirulina are especially effective on the dermis and epidermis layers of the skin.

The blue pigment called phycocyanin is a protein known to inhibit the development of cancer.

Spirulina powder in small wooden scoop

Spirulina also has anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. The essential fatty acids nourish the skin cells. Essential fatty acids, improve the skin's texture and help the cells retain necessary moisture and reduce inflammation.

 Bring home the benefits of Spirulina in our Bamboo & Walnut Foaming Body Polish. The antioxidants and nourishing essential fatty acids of Spirulina combine with the gentle exfoliate powdered walnut and cell regeneration encouraging essential oils.

Written by Jen Bator — March 06, 2017

Citrus Medica Limon - The mighty lemon

It is thought that lemon trees first grew in India, the Assam region to be precise and in northern Burma. There is some debate about exactly where they originated but there is evidence that Lemon trees have been cultivated in Assam for 2,500 years. The story of people how people used lemons in the west is missing many details, yet lemons moved from region to region and were grown extensively throughout history.

Lemons, as we know them, developed from a cross between two different fruits - the bitter orange and the citron. The citron is like a lemon, but it is larger, has less juice, and it’s rind is thicker. Regardless of how this hybridization occurred - whether humans orchestrated the cross or if it happened naturally - the world is better off for having the lemon.

Lemon tree in Hulikatti India

Lemons have been used in Ayurveda as medicine and food for thousands of years. On the Indian subcontinent lemons are referred to as ‘Golden Apples’ and are used for prevention, for cleansing the system and as remedies for many complaints.

Traders spread the fruit from Asia to Persia to the coast of the Mediterranean and into Africa. Trees were cultivated in Egypt, Palestine and in Sumer and arrived in Europe after 100ce. The trees were brought to Europe by soldiers returning home from the Crusades. At this time in Europe and for quite a long span of time after, it was grown as an ornamental tree.

In Medieval Egypt - the 1100s - there is record of a drink, much like lemonade, called Qatarzimat that was a popular beverage in Cairo markets. The drink most likely developed further east, but it’s origins are unknown. The first mention of Europeans using lemons in cooking was in the 1400s. The first major cultivation of the tree was in Genoa around this time.

The fruit was important enough that Christopher Columbus brought Lemon seeds with him on his journey to Haiti. The tree was grown throughout the Spanish colonies. A Spanish explorer in the late 1490s made the connection between lemons and a reduction of scurvy. This connection was lost and regained repeatedly. It wasn’t until much later, 1747, that lemons and vitamin C were studied in the first controlled medical experiments and written about as a cure for scurvy. This discovery wasn't universally implemented until 1932 when Vitamin C was isolated. 

Lemons on tree

Western science and medicine is beginning to catch up with the knowledge of Ayurveda. There have been well over 500 scientific studies into the benefits of lemons and lemon essential oil, and they confirm much if not all of what Ayurveda teaches about lemons.

Lemons must be hand picked, there are no machines used in harvesting and they must be dry at the time of harvest. They are sorted by color and size and then washed. Conventional fruit is coated with a fungicide, they are then cured - which means that they are stored - this curing period can correspond with the time they spend in shipment. It is during this curing period that they turn yellow. Conventional lemons are coated with wax before being shipped to market. Organic fruit aren’t coated with fungicide or with wax. Lemon peel is densely nutritious and the essential oil is cold pressed from the peel. The peel is the thin yellow outer layer of the fruit. Because of the chemical coatings, it is important when buying lemons for the peel as well as the fruit that you choose the organic version.

 Lemon Peel

Lemons contain antioxidants in several forms - vitamin C, small amounts of vitamin A, and a compound called d-limonene which is being studied for its cancer fighting abilities.

Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which are mutant atoms that cause a chain reaction in the cells. Free radicals steal electrons from cells in a process called oxidation. Cell development is stifled without oxygen and the presence of free radicals wreaks havoc on cell growth and health. Antioxidants effectively stop free radicals because they give the free radical one of their own electrons. This ends the chain reaction and the free radical hunt for an electron. Lemon reduces oxidative stress in the cells.

On the surface of the skin, Lemon acts as an astringent to tighten and tone the skin. The essential oil is an antibacterial and a purifying disinfectant. Lemon acts to heal blemishes and remove extra oil and impurities from the skin. It is thought to shrink pores.

Lemon lightens and brightens skin and can help reduce the appearance of dark circles under the eyes. Pure lemon juice or essential oil can bleach the skin and hair and should be used with caution especially when going into the sun.

Our Citrus & Fruit Acid Cleanser utilizes the astringent and pore tightening qualities of Lemon to gently cleanse the skin of impurities.

The astringent and toning qualities of Lemon combine with skin soothing Shea butter in our Shea, Vitamin E & Menthol Aftershave.

The Essential Oil - Lemon brings a clean scent to a room and for this reason, can be a key ingredient to homemade natural cleaners. The scent of Lemon has been found to improve concentration and enhance mood. The scent is thought to also improve digestion.

Written by Jen Bator — February 27, 2017

Avocado Oil - Superfood for your skin

Over the past few years, Avocados have become known as a ‘superfood’ for good reason. They are a nutrient dense, and it’s no wonder that they have been prized for thousands of years. 

The avocado is fruit, a member of the berry family. Archaeologists found evidence in a cave in Central Mexico that avocados were eaten 10,000 years ago. There is even fossil evidence that millions of years ago a similar species grew as far north as what is now California. Cultivation began about 5,000 years ago and many cultures - the Inca, Olmec, and the Maya - grew trees. The fruit was eaten throughout Mexico and Central America and trees were grown as far south as Peru and Venezuela. Avocado seeds have been found buried with Peruvian mummies signifying the importance of the fruit.


The Nahuatl people were native to southern Mexico and Central America and include many cultures such the Aztecs. Perhaps because of their shape or their appearance hanging on the tree, the word avocado comes from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl, which means testicle. Avocados were thought to be an aphrodisiac and throughout Central and South America were eaten as a sex stimulant.

In the 16th century, the Conquistadors were the first Europeans to taste avocados. The fruit was described in the written account of the Spanish exploration of the Americas near Santa Marta, Colombia. The Spanish changed the name to aguacate, and brought the fruit to Europe and sold them to other countries.

The tree was first planted in the United States in the mid-1800s. In 1871, a botanist successfully planted trees from Mexico in Santa Barbara. Starting in the early 1900s, the fruit was recognized as valuable and the tree was cultivated in large quantities. California is now one of the leading domestic growers of avocado, primarily the Hass variety. It is also grown in Florida and Hawaii. It is a subtropical plant and is now grown on every continent, where conditions are warm enough. Each region grows a different type of tree suited to the growing conditions of the area.

Avocados nourish the body inside and out with vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and internally, with fiber.

Avocados are high in a compound called Cartenoids, including beta carotene and lutein. These compounds are important anti-oxidants and fight damage to the cells. They improve skin density, tone, and thickness. This improves the skin's general appearance.

Vitamin C helps the body produce elastin and collagen both of which bind skin cells together and maintain the proper architecture of the cells. If the structure is maintained, the skin is more likely to appear tight and this reduces the appearance of wrinkles.

Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin. As an antioxidant, it prevents and repairs free radical damage from oxidizing fat cells in the skin. It also encourages the growth of new cells. This regeneration of cells diminishes the appearance of wrinkles. In combination with Vitamin C, it can protect the skin from sun damage.

The fatty acids in avocado oil, specifically the oleic acid, infuse moisture into the epidermal layer of the skin and help this layer maintain the moisture. The fatty acid - omega 9 regenerates damaged skin cells and reduces irritation and the appearance of redness. Fatty acids are a crucial building block of a healthy complexion.

Our Sunflower & Avocado Pre-Shave Oil preps the beard and the surface of the skin for shaving. The oils hydrate the skin and soften the beard leaving skin supple and making shaving easier.

The rich Organic Aloe, Olive & Avocado Lotion combines the hydrating and anti-inflammatory benefits of aloe with the anti-oxidant strengths of avocado.  The lotion penetrates deeply and nourishes dry, or chapped skin anywhere on your body.

Five-Oil Eye Makeup Remover is gentle and hydrating as it lifts eye makeup away.

Written by Jen Bator — February 19, 2017

Shea Butter

Vitellaria paradoxa, the shea tree, grows across the African continent in the dry savanna belt from Ghana and the Ivory Coast in the west to Sudan and the highlands of Ethiopia in the east.

Map of Africa showing area where shea trees grow


The tree bears fruit when it is 10 to 15 years old  and develops into full production mode after turning 20. The nuts are produced for up to 200 years and the tree can live to be 400 years old.

In the west, the butter is primarily used in cosmetics and as an emollient. Emollients naturally soothe and soften the skin. Throughout the tree's growing range most parts of the tree are used. The fruit has a tart pulp surrounding the large oil rich seed. Through a labor intensive process, Shea Butter is extracted from the seed. The butter is used for cooking much like lard or butter is used in Europe and the United States and provides a valuable source of necessary fat in the diet. Healers also use the butter as medicine, and the flowers are edible.

Evidence has been found in the medieval village of Saouga in what is now the west African country Burkina Faso that Shea Butter was produced in the 14th century ce. It was certainly used before that, but as of now, we don’t have archeological evidence about production locations for the butter. There is record of caravans carrying clay jars of Shea Butter to the kingdom of Egypt during the time of Cleopatra's rule. The Egyptians used the butter in cosmetics and it is still used to protect the skin and hair from the piercing, hot sun and dry winds of the savanna and desert.

In many places, women collect the nuts, extract their butter and sell the butter in the market. The nuts are one of the principle salable resources in a climate where few plants that are usable can be found or grown. Shea is over half of women’s income in many rural areas. The best Shea Butter is a pale or golden yellow.

Shea butter has essential fatty acids, which cannot be produced by the body so must come from external sources along with several vitamins.

The fatty acids make up the membrane of each cell and help to regulate what is allowed into the cell.  The fatty acids cinnamic acid, especially in the form of lupeol cinnamate reduce inflammation and help the skin cells avoid mutation. Cinnamic Acid provides UV protection in a SPF ranging from 6-15. These components also protect and nourish the skin to prevent it from drying.

Shea Butter is naturally rich in vitamins A, E and F.

Vitamin A, also popularly known as retinol, is crucial to healthy skin cell development and growth. Retinol also reduces the skin's sensitivity to the sun. Vitamin A stimulates the production of fibroblasts cell structures in the deeper layers of the skin that develop tissue that maintain the firmness and health of the skin.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxident that protects and repairs the skin. Antioxidants neutralize free-radicals and prevent them from damaging the cells.

Vitamin F is an essential fatty acid also called linoleic acid that promotes the growth and function of healthy cells.  Linoleic acid promotes the retention of moisture and is anti-inflammatory which helps the skin to heal and for new healthy cells to develop. Essential fatty acids are able to permeate the skin barrier and can help to carry the other active ingredients deeper into the skin structure.

Shea fruit. Photo by Marco Schmidt

Shea Butter encourages collagen production. Collagen is a structural protein that develops in the skin's dermal layer. I imagine it like a structural scaffolding that binds cells together and creates an environment for the cells to develop and function. About one third of the protein in the body is collagen and 75% of total collagen is in the skin.

As we age, collagen tends to break down. It is also destroyed by free-radicals,  another reason why anti-oxidants are essential to protect skin health. As the collagen breaks down the skin loses its elasticity and firmness. The loss of collagen makes the skin thinner and wrinkles can develop and take hold. The skin can start to sag due to this structural weakness. The vitamins compliment the Shea Butter's ability to encourage the skin to produce collagen.

When applied, Shea Butter has the immediate affect of softening and smoothing the skin. Shea is good for all skin but it can be particularly soothing in shaving products. Our Shea, Vitamin E & Menthol Aftershave uses the Vitamin E and naturally moisturizing qualities of Shea in a creamy lotion that soothes skin.

The Aspen & Shea Butter Moisturizer deeply penetrates the layers of the skin and brings nutrients and antioxidants to the deeper areas. The combination of botanicals with the Shea work together to protect the collagen structure in the dermis and improve the health of that layer so more collagen cells can be produced.

Your whole body can benefit from the anti-aging protection of antioxidants. Our Aloe, Shea Butter & Jojoba Body Cream brings the healing benefits of Shea Butter and other botanicals to your whole body. This rich cream is infused with extracts from herbs, flowers, oils, and vitamins and combines multiple powerful antioxidants with soothing emollients to heal and nourish your skin.


Written by Jen Bator — February 12, 2017

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