Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Basics of Hemp Cultivation and Processing

Hemp is an annual crop that can grow in a variety of climate conditions. Although it grows best when the surrounding temperatures are in the 60°F to 80°F range, hemp can handle conditions that are warmer or colder than optimum. In fact, hemp seedlings can even tolerate a little frost. Since hemp can be planted earlier than other crops, such as corn, it produces a sheltering canopy of leaves earlier, which means that weeds get shaded out sooner. This means farmers who raise industrial hemp don’t need herbicides to grow a healthy crop of hemp. The best quality hemp fiber comes from plants that receive at least four months of growing season before a killing frost. For hemp seed production, the growing season needs to extend to 5.5 months, to allow the seeds to fully mature before harvest.

Hemp plants require a good supply of moisture throughout the growing season, but especially during the early growth stage. Once the roots are developed, the plants can tolerate drier conditions, but the best quality hemp is raised in conditions with 20 to 28 inches of rain during the growing season. Drought conditions can force hemp plants to mature early, which means smaller plants.

The hemp plant can grow up to 20 feet tall. The stalk has a woody core, with a layer of bark that contains the long fibers which are found along the length of the stem. Growers have cross bred plants to make varieties of hemp that contain a high stem fiber content while at the same time having very low levels of THC.

To harvest hemp for fiber used in making ropes or fabric, the plants are cut after flowering, but before seeds mature. The next step is retting, which is related to “rotting." Hemp stalks are allowed to decompose a bit to the point where it is easy to remove the bark. The bacteria which break down the stalks require water and which can come from the air in field retting, or the stream or pool used for water retting. Field retting is more environmentally friendly, because when retting is done under water, the bacteria consume the oxygen which is needed by fish in the streams or ponds. In small amounts it is probably not a big issue but in large amount it could make river or lake water oxygen poor. Field retting requires careful monitoring by farmers to ensure that separation of the fibers occurs without too much deterioration from excess moisture. Weather conditions during retting and baling effect the quality of the fiber. Without retting, the fibers tend to break into shorter pieces that are unusable for woven cloth. After retting, the dried hemp stalks are ready for further processing.

Kentucky's Agriculture Department received their seeds just in time for planting which happened Tuesday May 27th, 2014.  Watch the historic planting on youtube.

Hemp photo by Zela.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How is Hemp different than Marijuana? Uses for Hemp Fibers and Seeds

Hemp Linen therapy pillow
Hemp is one of the most controversial crops in the United States today due to being confused with marijuana. Hemp, grown for its seeds, fibers and stalk is a plant from the same genus, Cannabis, as the psychoactive cultivars which are grown for marijuana; primarily the flowering portion of these plants.  But that’s where the similarity between hemp and marijuana ends. Marijuana contains relatively high levels of THC, the potent psychoactive chemical in marijuana, usually around 5-10%. Hemp, on the other hand, tests out for THC in the range of 0.3 to 1.5%. When grown medicinally the flowers of hybrid Cannabis species such as crosses from Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica contain a balanced THC and Cannabinol ratio. These flowers are used for many purposes including anti nausea, anti anxiety, appetite stimulation and also show promise in stopping the spread of cancers. Hemp is grown for a wide variety of uses, yet neither for recreation nor medicine. Former C.I.A. director, R. James Woolsey was quoted in the New York Times saying Marijuana growers “hate the idea of having industrial hemp anywhere near,” This is because cross breeding with industrial hemp crops would lower the concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in plants grown for recreational use.

Uses for the Hemp Plant

What makes hemp a valuable crop is its multitude of uses. Worldwide, hemp is used in paper, insulation, animal bedding, carpeting and home textiles and furnishings. Auto industry giants like BMW and Mercedes-Benz use hemp in the manufacture of dash boards and door panels. Hemp Crete is a promising building material, which may someday be used to 3D print houses. And these are just a few of the uses to which the hemp plant is being used as an industrial asset. Aquarian Bath uses two hemp materials in our products, hemp fabric and hemp seed oil.


New Hemp-Organic Cotton Washcloths by Aquarian Bath
A primary product created from hemp fiber which we use at Aquarian Bath is fabric. Hemp fabric is softer and more durable than fabric made from cotton fibers. Hemp is also resistant to molding, which is an excellent feature for our new Hemp-Organic Cotton washcloths and towels. Hemp cultivation compares more favorably to the methods used to conventionally raise cotton, which includes GMO cotton seed, pesticides and herbicides. Plus, hemp is a crop that requires no herbicides because its' bushy, fast-growing qualities suppress weed growth. Also, while hemp can benefit from a certain amount of nitrogen fertilizer, too much fertilizer tends to weaken the fiber quality. Some fungicides may be used to treat the seeds initially. In Hemp is thought to have originated in China, because there is the largest genetic diversity among the plants there. The Chinese-grown hemp plants that were used to make our textiles were cultivated without pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Hemp fibers can be processed without bleaching, formaldehyde or heavy metals. Also, this crop has a negative carbon footprint, which means that it absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than what is required to grow it. At Aquarian Bath, our hemp textile supplier has strong environmental policies in place with respect to fiber processing and dying of fabrics.

Hemp Seeds and Hemp Seed Oil

Hemp seeds are used as food as well as medicinally for certain types of constipation, and the pressed oil from the seeds is useful for food or body and hair products. Much of the organic hemp seed and hemp oil used in the U.S. comes from Canada, where pesticides are not used on hemp seed crops, but some fertilizer may be used to raise the hemp plant. Another source of hemp seed is China, which has a long history of using hemp seeds in traditional Chinese medicine.

Traditional Chinese medicine suggests a decoction of the unhulled whole nut/seed. Whole seeds are called Huo Ma Ren in Chinese, and are used primarily for alleviating constipation in elderly, constipation in pregnancy and post-partum. The usual dosage is 9-15 grams per day in decoction. Organic hulled hemp seeds can be sprinkled on salads, added to smoothies, or homemade granola bars.  Including these hulled seeds in the diet of elderly and post-partum women may help to prevent constipation characterized by dry difficult to pass stools.

Hemp seed oil is made by pressing hemp seeds. Thirty-three percent of the total weight of the hemp seed is essential fatty acid oils, such as linoleic acid, omega-6 (55%) and alpha-linolenic, omega-3 (22%).  It also contains an easily digestible complete protein that is gluten free. Hemp seed oil has a nutty flavor and can be used in recipes that don’t require cooking, including salad dressing, condiments and pesto. Hemp seed oil should not be cooked or used for frying foods. Adding hemp seed oil to the diet has been shown to reduce skin itchiness and dryness due to eczema.  Hemp seed oil with its high nutritional value is also a great addition to skin care products, since the lipids found in hemp seed easily penetrate and nourish the skin.

Hemp oil must be kept refrigerated in dark, airtight containers. If you want to keep your hemp seed oil for longer lengths of time, store it in your freezer. The key is keeping opened bottles of hemp seed oil cold and in the dark to prevent the oil from oxidizing and becoming rancid. Because of the fragile nature of hemp oil, it must be used in relatively low concentrations in body products together with other oils or ingredients with antioxidant properties.

Now that you know many great uses for hemp, wouldn't you like to see this crop grown in the USA?  We would love to support US farmers by purchasing domestic hemp products.  If you would too, please sign this petition at which calls to amend the Controlled Substances Act to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of "marihuana."

Friday, May 23, 2014

Victory! DEA returns 250+ Pounds of Hemp Seed to Kentucky Agriculture

In February 2014, Kentucky announced that it would have five pilot programs at higher learning institutions across the state this spring to research hemp production. As part of the program, the state imported 250 pounds of hemp seed, which was impounded by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). On Wednesday, May 14, The Agricultural Department for the state of Kentucky filed a lawsuit against the DEA, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the Federal Justice Department to gain access to their imported seeds. The seeds were just released and will be will be planted as soon as next week after the long memorial day weekend.  Other states, such as Tennessee have voted to raise hemp and the governor signed the bill into law on May 14th. On May 20, Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack announced at a press conference in Denver that he is working out details with Attorney General Eric Holder to settle the conflict between the Farm Bill’s hemp production statement and federal drug laws. 

As a result of the federal prohibition on domestic production, today all hemp products used in the United States are imported from other countries, such as China, Canada, Russia, South Korea and parts of Europe. Hopefully this is about to change. The most recent U.S. Farm Bill allows for states that have passed laws making industrial hemp production legal, to begin researching hemp as a potential crop. While the Farm Bill does not make it federally legal to raise hemp in the U.S., it does protect researchers and farmers from federal government crackdown in the following 12 states that have already passed laws restoring hemp production legality: Kentucky, California, Oregon, North Dakota, Montana, Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska, Utah, Vermont, Maine and West Virginia.

Just because hemp cultivation has been illegal in the memory of a generation or two, does not mean it has always been this way. Hemp has been a part of the United States from colonial times until the production of any Cannabis plant was restricted in this country in 1937 by the Marijuana Tax Act. The first hemp in what is now the U.S. arrived in 1645 with the Puritans in Massachusetts. Cultivation of hemp quickly spread to other colonies, where it became an important crop for cordage, rope and sailcloth used in sailing vessels, as well as other applications. George Washington even grew hemp on his plantation around 1765 to replace tobacco cultivation, because it was such a valued crop. Hemp was grown extensively in the US from 1940-1960 in part because of the need for rope and fabric during World War II. At one point hemp production reached 68 thousand tons. By the 1970s, the raising of any member of the Cannabis family, including hemp, was completely outlawed.

Aquarian Bath supports growing this valuable crop in the U.S.A. legally. We use Canadian hemp oil for many of our shampoo bars and soaps. We use Chinese hemp textiles to make our flaxseed therapy pillows and new washcloths.  We hope to someday soon to make products with USA hemp oil and USA cloth.  We will be sharing more on Hemp cultivation and industrial uses for this plant in upcoming blog posts, so please subscribe to our blog if this topic interests you.

Monday, May 19, 2014

'Wood' you like to win this Giveaway? Prizes from The Wooden Bee and Aquarian Bath

One of my favorite Etsy sites is The Wooden Bee. This shop is run by our friend Bee of Volusia County whose family is in the construction business. Bee and her husband reclaim the best quality wood pieces that would otherwise end up in the landfill for making her unique home decor pieces. Some of the popular items in her shop include her wine cork supplies for craft making and her wine cork trivet kits.  The Wooden Bee blog will give you a lot of great ideas about crafts that you can do with used wine corks.  Our daughter made cute cork reindeer with Bee's wine corks a couple of years ago. 

Popular item from The Wooden Bee: Wine Corks and Trivet making kit
Bee has offered one of her wall hangers and 2 champagne cork key chains, as a prize to one of our blog followers for this giveaway.  The set is shown in the first image and the image below.

And just for fun we are also including one of our woody soaps for the winner of Bee's prize.  The winner of the wall hanger and key chains will also receive one of our Patchouli Cedarwood hard hand soaps. 

This contest is open to US residents age 18 an over.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter Giveaway below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, May 16, 2014

Why shouldn't I use shampoo bars on dry skin?

Our Lemon Vanilla  Shampoo bars have a new look.

We received a very good question today about our shampoo bars.  In our shampoo bar listings, we mention that shampoo bars can also be used as body soaps, unless you have dry skin.  "But aren't these shampoo bars moisturizing?" Yes, they are moisturizing, but Aquarian Bath shampoo bars are specially formulated to leave just the right amount of conditioning (unsaponified oils) for the hair. The skin, especially dry skin, needs more conditioning free oils compared to the hair. A regular body soap would leave too much residue in the hair, because the body soaps have a higher concentration of free (unsaponified) oils. Also bars that we formulate for dry skin have a high percentage of Extra Virgin Olive Oil compared to regular body soaps we formulate for normal or normal to oily skin types. Extra Virgin Olive oil is very moisturizing in a soap, and the skin is better at absorbing excess oils compared to the hair. If we used olive oil in such a high concentration in a shampoo bar in the way that we do for dry skin soaps, there would be way too much oil residue in left in the hair, and the bars would also have too low of a lather for shampooing. 

Neem Olive Oil soaps are hand-stamped with a hand-carved Om stamp.
One of our popular soaps for dry skin is our neem-olive oil soap, which includes only these ingredients.  Neem oil is a special ingredient that helps balance problem skin, and it combines well with olive oil for dry problem skin types.  We also use neem in shampoo bar formulas.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

March Against Monsanto in Ormond Beach Saturday May 24th

There will be another March Against Monsanto event on Saturday May 24th, 2012.  The Ormond Beach event will be held at Cassen park located at 1 South Beach Street, Ormond Beach, Fl 32174. The march will begin at 2 pm EST and continue until 4.  Early birds can arrive as early as 1 o'clock to prepare posters.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Teasel Root: Fresh or Dry? Preparations Methods, Lyme Disease and Herbal Giveaway

Teasel is a perennial plant is native to Europe, which now grows in the United States in some areas including invasively in Missouri, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, and Oregon.  I have found it growing in Tennessee.  Teasel provides food for Gold Finches who feed on the dried seed heads. This plant is used medicinally for treating Lyme disease, as well debility in the joints and sinews not caused by Lyme Disease.  Related Asian species are also used. One place that Teasel does not grow is Florida.  Our weather is just too hot.  

Dipsacus fullonum distribution via USDA

The currently accepted bontanical name is Dipsacus fullonum. It's former botanical name was Dipsacus sylvestris, which can be confusing if you are reading older herbal books. Sometimes it is also referred to as Dipsacus fullonum var. sylvestris. The latin species name fullonum is derived from the functionality of the seed heads which can be used for fulling or cleaning and thickening of wool.  Here is Susun Weed visiting a Teasel patch.


Teasel for Lyme Disease

Teasel was of favorite plant of one of my herbalist friends who died last year,  Lady Barbara Hall.  Up until last year whenever I someone asked me about herbs for Lyme Disease, I always had an easy answer. This was to simply refer them to Barbara.  Barbara Hall was a professional gardener, dancer, teacher, writer and herbalist. I learned a lot from her and she was always so helpful to people who were trying to identify plants. I was honored to be one of the gardener-herbalists who inherited of part of her seed collection which she left to us as 'parting gifts' when she died last year after a long struggle with cancer. As a gardener in New York Lady B contracted multiple cases of Lyme Disease, which she recovered from using Teasel root tincture, which is a remedy described in Matthew Wood's The Book of Herbal Wisdom. Now that Barbara has passed and I have friends struggling with Lyme, I would like to share her experience. Lady B describes her experience with Teasel Root Tincture in this 9 minute youtube video below.


Teasel Root Fresh or Dry?

Lady B and Matthew both describe using fresh Teasel root for making a tincture; Lady B rather emphatically only recommended the use of tincture from fresh roots.  I wasn't sure why there was emphasis on fresh root, because Chinese herbalists use two other species of Dipsacus in dried form: D. asper and D. japonica

The Asian Dipsacus species, D. asper and D. japonica, are both known as "Xu Duan," which translates to "restore what is broken." D. asper from Si Chuan provence is considered the strongest.  The Chinese name for both of these herbs is Xu Duan, but with the added "Chuan Xu Duan" it is an indication that the herb is the better quality from Si Chuan province.  Xu Duan is considered a Yang Tonic in Chinese medicine which acts on the Liver and Kidneys as they are defined within Traditional Chinese Medicine. The big heavy roots are considered the best and are harvested in Autumn. The first stage of processing of the root begins with drying them over low heat for 10 minutes, then putting them in a dark high temperature room until they turn greenish black. After that, the roots may be soaked in either salt water solution or rice vinegar, and then dry fried.  The salt water fried herbs (Yan Chao) are known as "Yan Xu Duan."  These root are used in decoction 10-20 grams at a time for treatment of bone fractures, and strengthening the tendons and ligaments. It is commonly used as a treatment for sore lower back and knees.  The raw Xu Duan (dry but not treated with salt or vinegar) or Rice Vinegar friend Xu Duan is used to promote blood circulation and for relieving pain or swelling in the lower back or limbs at the same dosage in decoction.  It is also used externally as a liniment for pain relief of this type.  

The drying method for the Asian species can be rather involved, and I had gotten the impression that maybe the use of dried D. fullonum root was frowned on for tincture making in for use in treatment of Lyme disease by the Lady B and Matthew Wood.  So I checked in with Matthew Wood, registered herbalist, on his opinion on the use of tinctures made from dry Teasel root.  Wood provided this informative response:  

"In general I tincture roots, leaves, flowers, and barks fresh, unless there is some reason not too.  This is why I recommend teasel root tinctured fresh.  I do not know if there is a difference if teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is tinctured from the dry, but I would think not.  If it is still bitter it should still work.  For the beginner, buying dried teasel root is probably advisable because it takes experience to figure out when to pick the root.  Although teasel is a biennial, it is an 'unruly' one, springing up from the 'first year' basal rosette form to the 'second year' stalk almost any time of the year.  It is best harvested right before it shoots up.  That is when the root is big and sumptuous.  It quickly gets very small and I imagine, looses properties to the fast growing stalk.  Also, it might take twenty small roots to equal a big one in size and medicinal value.  The second year is usually avoided when picking biennial roots.  Teasel shrinks in the 'second year,' burdock (also a biennial) rots through the center of the root.

Mary from Cresent Moon Herbals uses dried Asian Dipsacus asper root exclusively to make her Teasel root tinctures.   Mary has a long list of positive feedback on her Teasel tinctures in her online store, some of which include indication of the user experiencing herx reactions, an indication that the tincture is effective in killing off pathogenic spirochetes which cause Lyme dissease.  I asked Mary if there was a reason why she preferred making tincture with dry D. asper, "I guess it is just a matter of preference. I have had extremely good results with my product. I've been selling it for over 10 years now and just feel that it is a stronger, more effective product. Every herbalist has their own belief, this is just mine...Dry is more convenient for me because I go thru so much of it. And, like I said, my customers have had great success with the product so I feel no need to modify it.

When I asked Mountain Rose about what stage of harvest their Teasel root is harvested they indicated that they harvest at all stages, but they try to get their harvesters try to collect roots at the early stages when the root is large. "The Teasel Root is harvested in all stages of its growth.  It is of course the best if we can get the roots in its first stage however the harvesters do harvest in each of its stages." 

Tincturing Teasel Root

If you are able to find fresh Teasel root, you can follow Lady B's great "how to" article on tincturing fresh Teasel root on her blog here.

Living in Florida, I don't have access to fresh Teasel root, therefore I made up a batch of dried Teasel root tincture using Dipsacus fullonum roots from Mountain Rose Herbs.  
I like to make up tinctures using a straightforward method described in my favorite beginners herbal which is Common Herbs for Natural Health by Juliette de Bairacli Levy.  I ground 2 oz of teasel root to a fine powder using a Vitamix.  A coffee grinder or mortar and pestel would work well also.  I added this powdered root to a glass jar together with 4 cups of plain (unflavored) 100 proof grain alcohol.  Plain 100 proof brandy or vodka would also work.  I then covered the jar with a tight lid and shook up the tincture close to daily over about 6 weeks. Juliette suggests that 2 weeks is sufficient for tincturing dried powdered herbs when the tincture is made in a warm place or in the sun and shook many times per day.   I strained this tincture through a coffee filter, bottled some for friends, and put some away in my dark herb cabinet where it can be stored indefinitely for future use.  The taste is very bitter, a good sign.

Dosing for Lyme Disease

In the Barbara's video she refers to her website, Lady Barbara's Garden for more information on Teasel and dosing with tincture made from fresh Teasel tincture. I am not sure what the ongoing status is for her website, therefore I have archived a copy to the web on google drive which can be accessed here.  Please visit one of those pages for more information on dosing. Mary from Cresent Moon Herbals, like Lady B and Matthew Wood recommend very small dosages of her tincture made from dry root, building up to higher dosages with time.

Teasel Root Giveaway from Mountain Rose Herbs

Big thanks to Mountain Rose for sponsoring our Teasel blog post.  Mountain Rose is offering 4 oz of dried Teasel root, D. fullonum to one winner residing in the US.  You can enter to win using the rafflecopter widget below.

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Have you used tincture from fresh or dry Dipsacus root?  We would love to know your results and what species you used.  Please feel welcome to leave a comment below.  

Information on preparation methods for Asian Dipsacus species is from my Pharmacopoeia
class notes from Dr. Li Jin, OMD 2001 at NIAOM.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Passion Vine in Flower

Our Passion vine is finally in flower. They are full of buds, and this was the first flower of the season. There are many types of Passiflora species.  In Florida, besides the ornamental varieties, we have both Passiflora incarnata and Passiflora edulis. Both of these are used medicinally.   The leaves and tendrils are used  for insomnia and relaxation. Sometimes I tincture the tendrils and leaves. My friend Suebee likes to add the dried leaves to regular tea. They are best cultivated from seeds. I have never had any luck starting them from cuttings. Caterpillars love the leaves. The fruits are small, but edible. I generally just save seeds from the ripened fruits.