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Happy Birthday Bygone: Essential Oils, Plastic Waste,
and Turning Thirty-seven


Mushrooms on Toast  

St. Johnswort   

Charcoal: Nature's Amazing Pulling Agent

Spring Field Notes   

Green Composting   

Alternatives to Hazardous/Carcinogenic/Endocrine Disrupting Chemical Pesticides and Herbicides   

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Happy Birthday Bygone
Essential Oils, Plastic Waste, and Turning Thirty-Seven

This year marks a milestone for Lakon Herbals, taking that precarious step away from the only product we have packaged in plastic in our thirty-seven years. We never felt good about contributing to the mountains of plastic waste, rather caved under consumer pressure; the demand for a product that could keep up with the competition. We hope our customers will appreciate the new, sturdy, compact, break resistant glass bottles, and BPA free plastic spray mist applicators.

We first tested the formula for Bygone here in New England in 1985 and found it worked so well for no-seeums, black flies, and in most cases mosquitoes and ticks. I based the original formula on the same science published in a study by the National Institute of Health (2013, that "[B]iting insects cannot be repelled, but certain odors can block their receptors which detect carbon dioxide and human skin odors." Over the years with tick populations exploding and the demand for a repellent that would also offer some protection against ticks, we have added two essential oils that studies have shown to help repell ticks; geranium and cedar wood. These two oils complement the original recipe, strenthening protection, without compromising the aroma of the original formula.

Every few years the natural repellent industry introduces a new ingredient; most recently cedarwood essential oil. We started adding cedarwood to one of our formulas in 2010. There are several varieties of cedarwood. We have found that all work quite well, however studies are pointing to cedarwood high in cedrol (C. Texas and C. Virginian). When choosing an ingredient for our products, we always prioritize sustainable harvesting practices.


A growing body of research, worldwide, is showing that essential oils are highly effective against bacteria, fungi and viruses "by altering the permeability of the outer membrame . . . consequently blocking cellular respiration. "(Winska et al).

The following list highlights essential oils (EO) current research has shown to have the greatest bacteriocidal and virucidal effect, and the lowest toxicity to humans. These EO are readily available, and have been used by practitioners for the treatment of viral, bacterial, fungal infections, to reduce tumours and to stimulate the immune system for decades if not centuries. These EO were chosen not only because they have the greatest antimicrobial action, both against airborne pathogens, when applied to the skin, but have also been found effective for the treatment of the diseases in vivo (internally). Scroll to PART II for an indepth discussion of selecting and using essential oils.

Lavender angustafolia MILL, highly effective against influenza virus, herpes and anti-biotic resistant bacterial strains.

Cinnamon is highly antiviral and antibacterial specifically Cinnamon zeylanicum. Studies support antimicrobial activity against Herpes simplex 1 and 2, pneumonia, and influenza, salmonella and the bacteria that cause dental caries and gum disease.

Eucalyptus globulus 100% inhibitory activity against influenza virus after 10 min exposure. Winska et al report Eucalyptus essential oil "antimicrobial against yeasts, viruses, bacteria and filamentous fungi," "exhibiting anti-HSV1 activity by directly inactivating free-virus particles and might also interfere with virion envelope structures required for entry into host cells."

Sage essential oil has been in use as an effective antiseptic since ancient times. Current research supports its effectiveness against severe acute respiratory coronavirus SARS-CoV (RNA virus)(Winska et al). *Sage essential oil contains myrcene, which in high enough doses is considered neurotoxic. In the above case 17 drops immersed in water was used as a spray mist. Like most essential oils, keep out of reach of children and consult a skilled practitioner for dosages and correct application. Sage has also shown to be effective against e. coli, salmonella, MRSA and a range of gram positive and gram negative bacteria.
From personal experience, I grow, harvest and process many pounds of sage (salvia officinalis) every summer, harvested at its peak when the essential oil content is at its highest. I have never experienced the slightest adverse reaction.

Peppermint is a highly effective virucidal, slightly weaker bacteriocidal, but shown to increase effectiveness of other essential oils.

Cajuput has been used since the 18th century as an antiseptic found to inhibit both gram positive and gram negative bacteria. Also as an antifungal, specifically to treat candidiasis and inhibit molds.

Ajawon an important essential oil for Encephelitis (Soumen et al., 2015)

Clove essential oil is highly bacteriocidal and comparable to cinnamon only slightly weaker against viral infections, but stronger when used to treat parasitic infections.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Peppermint (Mentha pipiretta), and Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) are also effective antimicrobials, when used singly and combined. However, because they can be overpowering, or should be used at lower concentrations, they work better in blends. Peppermint in particular, a highly effective virucidal, slightly weaker bacteriocidal, "should be used in a concentration of not more than 3%. Internal use should be under the direction of a qualified medical practitioner, medical herbalist or pharmacist and is beyond the scope of aromatherapy" (Tisserand & Young, 2014). It is included in this list because it has been shown to increase effectiveness of other essential oils.
Geranium essential oil "was about as effective as amoxicillin at fighting bacterial strains, such as Staphylococcus aureus. The same study found that it was not effective at fighting Listeria monocytogenes, a different bacterial strain" (Healthline).
Rosemary is also renowned specifically for its anti bacterial effect. However, it also causes allergic reactions, therefore is better in combination with other oils at low concentrations.

A simple and effective hand and face sanitizer recipe complements of

What you will need: Bowl, spoon, spray bottle container.


2/3 cup 60-99% rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol)
1/3 cup aloe vera gel
8 to 10 drops essential oil (optional)
Eucalyptus, Lavender, Lemon, Rosemary, and Tea tree are great options.

Nothing could be easier! Simply mix the ingredients together and then pour them into the bottle. Screw the lid onto the bottle and you're ready to go!

*Aloe vera gel is not absolutely necessary although it does help mitigate the alcohol from drying the skin.
**If isopropyl alcohol is not available, a good substitute is vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is best, but given the current run on grocery supplies
commerical vinegar would work. And, if vinegar is not readily available, substitute olive oil.
This changes the recipe in that the olive oil could stain clothing, however, it does not inhibit the antimicrobial action of the essential oils.

Modern Day Diseases, Weakening Immune Systems and Stronger Pathogens

We first heard about multi-drug resistant bacterial infections back in 2005 when multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis began making the headlines. Alternately, many have been watching the trend to treat every thing from a cold to the flu with an antibiotic with mounting concern; a concern now validated by the experts warning the public to hold back taking an antibiotic unless you are sure your condition is serious enough to call for one and then to take the full dose to the very end.

Most of us get it that bacteria can and will find a way to resist antibiotics. Yet, the race is still on to find stronger and stronger antibiotics and consequently creating stronger and stronger bacteria. The latest is MRSA (multi or methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus). A strain of the S. aureus that normally colonizes the human nostrils and mouth, but, which can enter the body through a cut or scrape and if the immune system is compromised, can and will spread quickly. The evolution of how this particular strain of staphylococcus came to acquire the genetic coding to resist the strongest antibiotic is both complex and simple. The complex version can be found in an excellent book on bacteria by biochemist and microbiologist Trudy M. Wassenaar (PhD), BACTERIA: The Benign, the Bad, and the Beautiful (2012) tracing the evolution of bacteria to the present day multi-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. My summary of Wassenaar's book and a handful of other sources follows.

In a nutshell, or better said, in a gene, Wassenaar traces the evolutionary path of bacteria beginning with the oldest known fossil records (stromatolites) found in coastal waters dating back to the Precambrian era 3600 million years ago. Predating human evolution, bacteria survived and thrived on planet Earth through adaptation; colonizing and metamorphosing. Bacterial cells have a lipid membrane (as do the class of "enveloped" virues, such as the family of corona viruses), a structure that is as old as the first prokaryotic bacteria cell - 3600 million years! Some bacteria have one membrane or cell wall (gram positive), and some have two (gram negative). The survival of the bacteria cell rests upon the integrity of the cell membrane. Protecting that integrity has been a key feature of bacterial cell physiology for 3600 million years and it follows that finding organisms that can weaken or destroy that membrane (like the penicillin mold) are those that win back the territory occupied by the colonizing bacteria.

A primary function of bacteria and fungi is to break down and synthesize organic matter and because they have been around for so long they have learned how to survive on almost any type of organic matter. Another key feature in their ability to survive is to form symbiotic relationships with many of their hosts; synthesizing matter and molecules that the host is unable to synthesize on their own.

However, survival being a genetic predisposition to most life forms, survival dependent on a food source that other organisms might be competing for, such as molds, a.k.a. penicillin, certain molds in turn developed mechanisms that made it possible for them to inhibit the growth of organisms competing for their food source. Early antibiotic theory rested upon the ability of the penicillin fungi to develope a chemical structure that would bind to one of the enzymes critical in the formation of the cell wall of bacteria, thereby weakening the integrity of the bacterial cell wall. This structure or compound is secreted by the mold into the media where it comes into contact with the competing bacteria, is taken up by the organism trying to feed on the organic matter or medium. Now the food the bacteria had been feeding on becomes a source of cellular depletion rather than nourishment.

Scientific documentation of this relationship between bacteria and fungus was the break through of the Nobel Laureate Andrew Flemming in 1928, however, one need only to look at the traditional recipes of cultures the world over to see that our ancestors were well aware of the relationship between mold and bacteria, positive and negative (npi). However, because humans have been host to beneficial bacteria living in their gut since humans walked the face of the earth 2.6 million years ago, and because these beneficial bacteria have had to address the challenge posed by parasitic molds such as penicillin, when accidently consumed, they have over time developed a sort of antidote or mechanism to defeat the antibacterial compound introduced by penicillin; in the name of a gene that triggers production of an enzyme that breaks down the compound secreted by the pathogenic bacteria.

So we have in our gut bacteria that helps us digest our food as well as knows how to handle intrusion by invaders such as the penicillin mold if ingested by accident. The key to penicillin working for us when taken as an antibiotic is in the dosage, if we take a high enough dose the body is saturated with the compound that inhibits all bacterial growth in the body. Even the beneficial colonies or firmicutes, the microflora of the gut.

The theory is that whne the dose is high enough it contaminates the medium to the degree that all bacterial growth is inhibited. The resistance to penicillin happens through a unique opportunism that bacteria have probably been perfecting for millions of years, the business of gene trading. Our beneficial microfloral bacterial colonies with their genetically intelligent penicillin antidote simply loan the needed gene to the species of bacteria whose food source is under assault by the penicillin molds.

Clearly, bacteria have learned to work together to the degree that many of the pathogenic bacteria along with the beneficial symbiotic bacteria have traded and now store the gene coding to resist many antibiotics. According to Wassenar it takes only one bacteria with a resistant gene to spread the resistance .
Wouldn't it be nice if we could just tell our firmicutes to not loan genetic material to pathogenic cousins? But they are after all our dinner guests and we are in fact contaminating their food source with parasitic molds in the name of antibiotics. Blood is thicker than water, and in the end the species stick together to meet the challenge of the alien offender which is in essence the host.

Where do we go from here? Stronger antibiotics are clearly not the answer. One possible approach when faced with a minor bacterial infection is to use aromatherapy, to try and catch it in the early stages before the bacteria have a chance to colonize to the point that the infection is life threatening.


The use of herbs as preservatives in food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals dates back hundreds of years the world over. One study at Cornell University focused on the historical use of spices for preserving foods in warmer climates. Cultures and countries where food spoilage happens quickly, where there is little or no refrigeration were found to have the spiciest foods, using common spices with bactericidal and antifungal properties.

In the past few decades countless clinical studies have proven the efficacy of essential oils as broad spectrum treatments not only for bacterial and fungal infections but also for viral infections, for reducing tumours and stimulating the immune system.

The Good News is that a growing number of research papers are showing that essential oils are not only effective against bacteria, but fungi and viruses "by altering the permeability of the outer membrame" (Winska et al), consequently blocking cellular respiration. Winska et al, found that a common herbal product containing essential oils of peppermint, eucalyptus, cajiput, and juniper (OLBAS tm)
demonstrated antibacterial activity against many strains, including MRSA, therefore effective in the treatment of uncomplicated skin and respiratory infections. The study revealed that the effectiveness was due to the high content of monoterpenes, especially menthol which affected the "conformation of proteins embedded in the membrane, thus inhibiting the process of cellular respiration and disrupting the transport of ions through cell membranes, which can lead to cell death."

There is no evidence to even remotely suggest that pathogenic micro-organisms have learned how to cope with the oxygen inhibiting effect of essential oils. For this reason those essential oils that have this capability are considered antimicrobial and bacteriocidal, unlike antibiotics which are for the most part bacteriostatic. Most antibiotics are considered bacteriostats because they don't actually kill bacteria rather they limit their growth by doing what was just illustrated above, populating the host with territorial organisms that interfere with protein synthesis, crowding the pathogenic bacterial out. Bactericides and antimicrobials actually kill bacteria and micro-organisms by impairing their ability to breathe, resulting in cell death

For the most part, the essential oils that are effective as bacteriosidal and antimrobial agents are high in mono-terpenes . As little as 17 drops of sage essential oil, infused in water, inhaled via spray mist, was found to be effective in the treatment of respiratory infection due to SARS (Winska et al). Even at low (non-toxic to humans) concentrations oregano, basil, thyme, camphor are effective bacteriosidal, anti-microbial agents.

In classical Aromatherapy, the method of application for essential oil blends is usually through inhalation and absorption through the skin, via a spray mist, steam or a cloth soaked in hot water in which a with a few drops of the specific oil has been effectively infused. The oil/water infusion is both absorbed by the skin as well as inhaled.

First and foremost, when chosing essential oils it is of upmost importance that they be from a reliable source, "genuine and authentic" and that the species that the oils was extracted from be one has the medicinal components needed. Not all species of lavender essential oil have the same components. One might be highly effective at balancing the pH of the skin but have little antiseptic strenght, for example. The next most important thing is dose and application. Essential oils are concentrated substances; a little goes a long way. 17 drops of essential oil of sage, immersed in water, applied as a light mist, demonstrated inhibition of the SARS virus in a study conducted in Frankfort.

On the subject of efficacy, most essential oils that are anti-bacterial are also anti-fungal, and anti-viral to varying degrees. Depending on the chemical composition, one essential oil will be more active against bacteria, and less so against viruses, while another will be the reverse. Certain species in the same genus, will also have greater or lesser effect due to different chemical compositions. For example, not all species or eucalyptus will be potent anti-microbial.

On another note, essential oils that have a "high vapor permeability" such as Sage, are more effective as a "disinfectant against airborne microorganisms" (Winska et al). Coincidently, the essential oils that have the highest vapor permeability - Hyssop, Sage, Eucalyptus, Peppermint, Lavender, Cinnamon, and Tea Tree - are also highly effective in pulmonary conditions caused by both viral and bacterial and infections.

Combining EO for a broad spectrum effect is highly recommended. Rosemary, Geranium and Laural, when combined in blends have significant antibacterial, bacteriostatic, antiviral and antifungal effect.

Essential Oils of Basil, Spanish oregano and Spanish oreganum (Thymus capitatus), Savory (Satureja montana) Thyme (Thymus) vulgarus Wild Marjoran (Oreganum vulgare)are also recommended in smaller doses in blends as they are extremely potent.

In one study quoted by Winska et al, researchers "investigated the antiviral activity of a blend that was composed of equal parts (3.52% each) of Eucalyptus globulus CT cineol (leaf) and Cinnamomum zeylanicum CT cinnamaldehyde (bark), 3.00% Rosmarinus officinalis CT cineol (leaf), 1.04% Daucus carota CT carotol (seed), and 88.90% Camelina sativa oil (seed). This blend significantly reduced viral units of H1N1 and HSV1.
For both viruses, a reduction greater than 99% was observed with 1% blend and 60-min contact time" (Brochet et al).

In conclusion, since I first wrote this article, there have been numerous research studies conducted worldwide, supporting an ever expanding list of essential oils that are highly anti-microbial; having a debilitating effect on a wide range of pathological organisms. The most effective are those high in monoterpenes. Theoretically speaking, this probably has to do with the fact that plants manufacture these substances to protect themselves from predators, large and small, microscopic and otherwise. Essential oils are often found at their highest concentration in the plant during the flowering stages when the plant is most vulnerable to pathogens introduced by pollinators or foraging wildlife. Essential oils are stored by the plant in sacs or vessels that are self contained, therefore even the most potent are not circulating throughout the plant itself.

Oils of this nature can provide protection from infection in relatively small doses, and internally when used properly in the hands of a skilled practitioner. However, because most of the common anti-microbial essential oils are not toxic, they can be used on a daily basis to purify the air in our homes, hospitals and clinics, through diffusers, or to enhance and preserve food without relying on chemical preservatives.

With the advent of the recent global pandemic (COVID-19), there has never been a better time to pick up an affordable essential oil diffuser, placed strategically at the door of our public places, offices, restaurants, etc. Having an infusion of lavender, peppermint, cinnamon or eucalptus (single or combined) in water, to spray or spritz on hands and face prior to going out, could mean significantly slowing the communal spread of this epidemic.

Yesterday, at the grocery, I observed an older woman as she sneezed (covering her mouth, fortunately) over the case of organic vegetables, where I had just been. Had her hands been treated with a light essential oil spray, and had she been infected, the chances are very good that had there been a viral escapee, it would have met its death. If simply washing hands has shown to slow the spread of COVID-19, then washing with an anti-microbial essential oil would be even better, as the current research also suggests that many of our transmitable diseases have grown immune to chemical disinfectants and preservatives.

This information is not intended to replace medical advice, rather as educational material in the spirit of informed consent that consumers and patients can make the best decisions regarding their health.

J.Ollin 2014, 3.4.2020


Baudoux, D. (n.d.). Antiviral and Antimicrobial Properties of Essential Oils.

Filomena Nazzaro,1,* Florinda Fratianni,1 Laura De Martino,2 Raffaele Coppola,1 and Vincenzo De Feo2. Effect of Essential Oils on Pathogenic Bacteria. PMC. US National Library of Medicine. National Institute of Health.
Journal ListPharmaceuticals (Basel)v.6(12); 2013 DecPMC3873673

Schnaubelt, K. (1986). Aromatherpy course lectures. California: Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy.

Soumen Roy, Pratibha Chaurvedi, and Abhay Chowdhary. 2015. Evaluation of antiviral activity of essential oil of Trachyspermum Ammi against Japanese encephalitis virus

Wade, L.g. (2010). Organic chemistry. Seventh Edition Princeton: Pearson International.

Wassenaar, T. (2012). Bacteria: The benign, the bad and the beautiful. Wiley-Blackwell.

Winska, K., Maczka, W., Lyczko, J., Grabarczyk, M., Czubaszek, A., Szumny1, A. Essential Oils as Antimicrobial Agents-Myth or Real Alternative.

Wood, H. & Osol, A. (1943). The Dispensatory of the United States of America. 23rd Edition. Philadelphia, London, Montreal: J.B. Lippincott Company

Did you know...

" . . . over forty percent of prescription drugs sold in the U.S. contain ingredients derived from nature, and a full twenty-five percent of drugs contain at least one component derived directly, or through chemical modeling, from flowering plants. Plants have always served as important sources of medicine, whether as folk remedies or as pure chemical compounds" (Peterson, 1990, v).

Mushrooms on Toast

You know you love working with dirt and plants when you spend the colder months reading about what you did during the summer, the research that backs up the insights you stumbled upon and the challenges you never quite solved. This year, one of the oldest apple trees on our land in Vermont decided to bear fruit. The knarley one they call the farmer's wife's tree, apples that would make okay sauce but not quite sweet enough for the farmers cider press. The rotting fruit littered the ground, camouflaged by the mass of Bishops weed; the drops well on their way to compost.

Fortunately those drops were within throwing distance of the lower garlic and calendula beds, so there they went layered in between the chopped leaves and end of season comfrey. All this took place spontaneously, with great joy that we had a warm week in October and a little rain to moisten the beds.

Now, a month or so later, staring with blank expectation at my bookshelf, I ran across a book I never had a chance to really read while raising two, then four teenagers, trying to juggle two cottage industries, bookwork, school, pets, livestock, and those horses breaking free on the first crisp autumn day...it's the pioneers that always find the hole in the fence.

The book "Fertility Without Fertilizers: A Basic Approach to Organic Gardening" by Lawrence D. Hills (1977, 1975) elucidates in the simplest of terms how important those autumn leaves are in the making of humus, and the phosphorus rich, immediately accessible nutrients that come from comfrey.

In the first few years of our website we posted an article about comfrey, in response to the dozens of calls we were getting from poeple who had "too much comfrey" hoping we would want it. Our response was always the same use it as mulch over newly seeded potato beds, or between tomato plants, or pile it on your compost pile. It's amazing how fast your seemingly huge crop of comfrey can get used up. We have always used the hundreds of pounds of surplus comfrey generated by our crop to create wonderful soil, by mulching and composting comfrey where potatoes are to be planted. Mix it in with the grass clippings in the summer and the chopped leaves in the fall. In the spring layer it over the newly planted potato bed for disease and pest resistant potatoes. You can do this until the potatoes sprout, and again in the fall when cutting back the comfrey; cover the harvested beds with all that comfrey, and pile it with leaves.

The secret is in the high phosphorus content of comfrey, add to that, it's a rich and largely undiscovered source of protein. The plant is high in tannins, however not in contrast to the leaves of deciduous trees, especially oak and beech which are a source of nitrogen (0.8%) and contain the highest levels of tannins. The two balance eachother, the comfrey decomposes quickly, an energy drink for the plants, adding moisture to nourish the leaf mold that gradually turns the leaves to humus. This mix works even better with vegetable or fruit matter layered in between. Come spring, the bed depleted from the summer yield is on its way to a soil building compost as leaves take about a year to fully decompose, providing nitrogen along the way, giving sandy soils some substance and making heavy soils light.

The real surprise this season was the addition of the apples on our "winter leaf and comfrey in-garden" compost beds. According to Lawrence Hill over 90% of the spores on apple and pear scab over-winter, and when mixed with chopped or shredded leaves, the spores give the worms a rich, on-going meal of "mushrooms on toast" (1977, 1975). If the farmer won't have the apples for "the jack" and the wife would rather toss them, the worms will have them for breakfast.

Since we started layering the beds of all the phosphorous loving plants with cut, wilted comfrey, we have had fewer and fewer pests. The potato bed has been the most miraculous. We haven't seen a potato beetle in the 20 years we have been using comfrey to dress the beds. In addition our crop managed to come through the blight of 2010 that swept Vermont.

J. Ollin 2010

Almanac 2010 Fall: Saint Johnswort

Pharmacological Mechanism of Hypericum Perforatum
Review of Recent Studies

Abstract and Summary

St. Johnswort Hypericum perforatum has been renowned for its ability to resolve depression and anxiety, and as a treatment for wounds, nerve damage, inflammations and bruises for well over a thousand years. Accounts dating back to the 17th century list St. Johnswort as a treatment for both viral and bacterial infections, and more recently, for anti-tumor activity. In the past twenty years it has become the focus of many clinical studies with respect to its use for a wide array of illnesses, most recently, for the action of the bioactive compounds hypericin, pseudohypericin, hyperflorin and querciten, and their possible role in the neurochemistry of depression, anxiety and CNS damage due to free radicals, excitotoxicity, and ishemia.

Due to the industry trend toward treatment of depression and anxiety through psychotropic medication, the focus of most studies have been on its antidepressant effect. However, many of these studies are also showing remarkable evidence of St. Johnsworts wider potential, shedding light on a host of health giving chemical constituents beyond the industry trend to market the antidepressent potential of the more well known constituents hypericin and hyperforin.

With respect to the primary focus of the studies reveiwed in this paper, that of the anti-depressent activity of SJW, this review focuses on the broad spectrum of health promoting properties of this amazing herb.

In 2000, researchers at the University of Geissen, Germany embarked on a study to determine St. Johnswort as a treatment for mild to moderate depression, finding it to be as effective as imipramine with fewer adverse effects (Decision News Media, 2000). Additional studies focusing on SJW as a broadband neurotransmitter reuptake inhibitor, specifically of serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline, with equal affinity for adenosine (Beerhues, 2006). While the studies have proven that SJW does have an affect on neurochemistry the mechanism of action is not clear; it is believed this is due in part to variations in potency and lack of consistancy; most herbal extracts are not standardizedand harvesting and processing methods vary dramatically. However, through clinical analysis the broad spectrum of SJW's therapeutic effects are gradually being revealed.

In essence this review offers a summative comparative analysis of the highlights of recent clinical studies, the pharmacological influence of SJW extract on the neurochemical aspects of depression and anxiety, its underlying potential adaptogenic and nutritional effect, and its ability to repair damaged nerves. Most important, the studies reveal considerable impact on effectiveness of different preparations based on harvesting and processing methods.

J. Ollin 2009

Full text available on request.

Charcoal: Nature's Amazing Pulling Agent

Three years ago (July 2007), I developed my first and only furious case of poison ivy. I must have scraped the skin with a broken branch while weeding as the rash began with a six inch long scratch that grew into a leporous looking blister two inches in diameter with sub colonies sprinkled all over the inside of my forearm. In over 45 years of messing around in the woods I had never had a case worth mentioning. Never having been so affected by poison ivy I had no clue how to deal with it quickly. My medicine cabinet of herbs and homeopathic remedies were useless, even the stand by Rhus tox, and the allopathic approach did nothing as I am extremely sensitive to drugs, a fifth of the dosage of Prednisone made me nauseous. After what felt like weeks of mental confusion from prescription steriods and topical ointments I managed to focus on a little research...

I found that the phyto chemical, or compound that causes such a dramatic reaction, the skin on my arm from wrist to elbow now one big blister which I managed to cover with a patchwork of gauze and tape, was truly amazing. I also found that my case was tame in comparison. I had no idea there was an ongoing competiton for the grossest rash.

Thanks to a wonderful, technical, but not too technical, comprehensive article written by W.P. Armstrong the insight on how poison ivy rashes evolve helped me understand just how to deal with it. Within a few hours of using activated charcoal, I was on the mend. The key was to find a pulling agent capable of binding with the the oil bonded to the lower layers of the skin. The chemical structure that causes this reaction, urushiol produced in Toxicodendron diversilobum or Poison Oak, and T. radicans, Poison Ivy, once absorbed, binds itself beneath the surface layers of the skin, causing the well known and feared dramatic "allergic" reaction.

The long and short of it, actually, the long of it, is that the chemical structure of one urushiol catechol is a combination of a potent benzene ring with long side chains of carbon atoms that fuse with cellular proteins directly beneath the skin.

Poison Oak, notoriously worse, has a slightly longer side chain of 17 carbon atom structures, compared to the 15 carbon atom chain found in Poison Ivy and Poison Sumac. These structures are known as phenolic compounds and are found in the resin canals of the plant. Once in contact with human skin, these relatively stable compounds become more active (Armstrong, 2010), or putting it another way, activate the immune response. Nothing new here you may be thinking. There is more...as mentioned, the compound functions as an endogenous (not produced by the body) antigen, not only triggering the bodies immune response by laying around on your skin, the long chain becomes attached to the proteins on the cellular membrane of the Langerhans cells, present in the thickest of the five layers of the epidermis. Now attached to the Langerhan cells - for the purpose of defense on the part of the bodies immune system - the compound is now a prisoner of war being held until it can be executed by killer T Cells or white blood cells. One would think that this shouldn't take too long, however, the process is complicated by the fact that as little as two micrograms of urushiol has been found to trigger an immune response. Most people who come in contact with poison ivy are getting a much greater dose given that 1000 micrograms of urushiol would fit on the head of a pin. Rubbing or brushing the plant or the contact area effectively spreads 1000's of micrograms of this antigen. Visualize thousands of prisoners of war locked to the cell membranes while armies of white blood cells amass to overtake them. It now makes no sense to try and apply more remedies to the skin, oils to dilute the phenolic chain are ineffective unless applied within minutes and potent enough to dissolve it. However, bearing in mind that urushiol is so stable that it was once a major ingredient in one of the hardest finishes known to mankind, Japanese Laquer, the idea of putting anything on it, suddenly seems like a joke.

Once understood, the complexity of the oil combined with the skins immune response, which involves attaching to it, it was clear that the best treatment might be those proposed by our grandparents, substances that have a pulling effect. After trying the usual range of poultices immediately at hand, such as baking soda, mud, red meat, none of which worked, I decided to try charcoal. I ordered a 16 oz bottle of activated charcoal powder. The area was too large for a poultice so I made a thick charcoal soup and soaked my arm in it, in the hot sun as heat further activates the pulling quality. Within 24 hours the rash was on the wane, the redness and itching gone within a couple of hours. In two days I felt safe to go without my tangle of gauze bandages and tape.

Since then we keep a bottle of activated charcoal powder on hand, in the home medicine cabinet and in our travel first aid kit. It came in handy this past week while harvesting Saint Johnswort in the fields behind our home in Vermont, my hand resting for one fatal moment on a flower occupied by a bumble bee. The charcoal took the swelling down in a matter of seconds, literally, pulling the antigen in the bees venom out of my skin. I used it only once and found that 24 hours later another immunue reaction began to take place, but the swelling went down within a few minutes using a cold compress.

If you have a live to tell tale involving charcoal or another pulling agent please send it along and we'll post it. We have also found that plantain leaves (fresh) or agrimony (fresh or dry) work wonders, agrimoney particularily for larger objects like splinters and glass, plantain excellent for pulling fluid from cellular tissue.

J. Ollin, 2011

Armstrong, W. P. (2010). Poison oak, more than just scratching the surface.

Spring Field Notes

Spring has just begun to arrive in Vermont and it seems to be right on schedule. Black flies started coming out the second week of April right along with the trout lily, coltsfoot, and the wild blue hyacinth. Our first harvest of the year begins in April with the Balm of Gilead (Populus tacamahaca) for the salve and liniment. The window of opportunity is quite small, but we always seem to make it through, as the salicin rich buds can leaf out in a day of hot spring temps. A member of the willow family (salicaceae), the buds are covered with a sticky and aromatic resin the chemical prototype of modern day aspirin, only with the added benefit that it does not have the same blood thinning properties of the synthetic version.

On the same weather patterns as the lower mid-Atlantic states, spring seemed to bolt into bloom, one day the ground still frozen, the next the dirt warm and soft enough to be worked. We always count our blessings to have a reason to leave the early garden beds and wander into the woods, quiet, moist, a living palate of soft shades of brown and light green, sprinkled with small dabs of the delicate woodland flowers amidst the deep burgundy of the trillium and the elusive and chthonic blue cohosh flower.

Back on the subject of the salicylic acid rich Balm of Gilead, this year my research projects in phytochemistry will be on the salicylic rich flora, naked aspirin as William calls it. The value of which has been sadly underestimated in recent decades. Simultaneous to this project I will also be working on some of the latest studies of St. Johnswort, and the GABA agonist compound Hyperflorin. Stay tuned for the promising results of this study showing St. Johnsworts mode of action in resolving the excitotoxicity associated with neurochemical imbalances as a result of psychological trauma and co-occurring addictive disorders.

J. Ollin, 2009

Green Composting

Summer of 2008, coming up on our 23rd year we find we never stop learning new things, faster, more effective, more efficient ways to do things, cutting corners without compromising quality. One learns so many tricks over time, so many ways to get a job done with less effort and less cost just by staying open to all possibilities, and sometimes just by getting old and looking for a way to shorten the steps to the next job.

One of the ways that we have managed to lighten our workload and cut back on cost has been to integrate the weeds and grass into the garden, let nature turn it all into soil. Summer being what it is, weeds happen, jungles of them, encroaching like alien masses along every carefully patroled border. It seems that they know that they have their place and we seem to find wonderful uses for them, not just as a crop, as the medicinal weeds have always gone into our formulas, but the excess that make the soil.

Green Composting and Green Manuring are two different processes. Green Manuring has been around for a while and involves cultivating plants in the garden that are then cut and tilled in at various intervals. Green compost piles have become more fashionable of late as communities strive to find ways to make use of the leaves and garden clippings city gardeners are constantly trying to get rid of. I first saw the term green composting used around 1995 when the trend seemed to take hold, however, we had been doing this for years by then as we found that the never ending wheelbarrows of weeds and garden clippings, yarrow, nettle, comfrey, grass clippings, leaves and cultivated herb and vegetables gone by, made the nicest soil.

These piles, when uncovered after a year, made the best compost providing us with soil the consistancy of flake tobacco, rich in carbon, nitrogen, potassium, magnesium and trace minerals, as well as mold spores to fatten the earthworms that amassed to convert the rich substance to humus. The only problems in creating a green compost pile that can be left for a year to decay is space and time. You need to plan a little ahead and there is a bit of strategic clipping involved and some discretion in terms of what plants can go on the pile and what should not. The first step is to designate an area, mow it and start piling on the green clippings. It's best if the pile is layered with the excess from the vegetable garden, alternating with grass clippings and leaves. If your clippings include a diverse mix of herbaceous weeds, and you keep this up for the summer and fall, next year you may be pleasantly astonished by the lovely, dark, easy to work soil.

J. Ollin, 2008

Alternatives to Hazardous/Carcinogenic/Endocrine Disrupting Chemical Pesticides and Herbicides

In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO),
reclassified glyphosate (ROUNDUP) as a "probable carcinogen" (Class 2A).1,2

The decision was based on "limited evidence" showing the weed killer can cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and lung cancer in humans,
along with "convincing evidence" linking it to cancer in animals. (Dr. Mercola)

In order to fully comprehend how saturated we are in hazardous chemicals one needs only to take a stroll down a well-to-do neighborhood in an American town, (or the "garden" aisle of your local hardware or home improvement store). Gone are the days when the air is filled with the sweet scent of lilacs, the orange blossoms and climbing roses. Although these flowering shrubs are ever abundant, their delicate aroma is far too often trumped by the pervasive haze of weed killers and pesticides. Those perfect lawns and bug-less bushes are added testimony to the ever-growing popularity of using hazardous chemicals as fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Our rivers and water supplies choked with nitrate loving algae reflect the shortsightedness of this industry, our bee population dying. Moreover, since the first draft of this article, so much more has come to our attention about the growing health related problems attributed to pesticides, herbicides, and their endocrine disrupting properties.

Along with the burgeoning market for garden chemicals, weed killers, insecticides, etc., is an ever growing database on the health hazards that these chemicals are responsible for. The WHO (World Health Organization) in conjunction with the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) ILO (International Labour Organization) have joined to form the International Program on Chemical Safety (IPCS). The following excerpt is from their report:

"Endocrine disruptors (EDCs) have been defined as exogenous substances that alter function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently cause adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, of (sub) populations. EDCs encompass a variety of chemicals, including natural and synthetic hormones, natural plant constituents, pesticides, monomers and additives used in the plastics industry, detergent components and breakdown products, and persistent environmental pollutants. Target organs/systems potentially affected include male and female reproductive systems, the nervous system, and the thyroid and immune system. Of particular concern, are reports that EDCs contribute to impaired physical and mental development in young children, increases in breast and prostate cancer, decreases in sperm count, and abnormal reproductive development (resulting in altered population levels) in wildlife species." (1)

Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and repellents are a booming industry in America. Beautiful, weed free lawns and perfect rose bushes dowsed frequently with chemical blends come at a high expense as their endocrine disrupting components accumulate and persist to wreck havoc in otherwise healthy organisms, human and animal, and often traveling on air currents to distant regions.

There are alternatives to chemical weedkillers and pesticides.

One of the simplest ways to iradicate grass and weeds in driveways and between bricks is to sprinkle those areas with salt before a good rain. I know of several reputable landscaping outfits that use a simple solution of white vinigar, salt and water for grass and weeds between the cracks of brick walkways. It works wonders and for pennies. For a beautiful lawn in which only the weeds will be killed, there is an old fashioned blend called 'lawn sand'. This can be prepared by mixing 10 parts dry sand with 7 parts sulfate of ammonia and 3 parts iron sulfate. This mixture can be safely scattered on a weedy lawn (suggested 4 oz per yard), with small doses (a pinch or teaspoon full) on the tops of dandelions and plantain. This will kill the weeds individually. A lawn treated with this harmless weed killer can also be safely added to compost piles when cut.

To feed your lawn at the same time simply substitute dry seaweed for dry sand. As the ammonia sulfate dissipates the seaweed sludge will become a lasting food for the grass. Average seaweed meal contains 4% potash as well as a high ratio of minerals and trace elements.

Other forms of natural pest control are companion planting with marigold, mint and garlic. Garlic clippings make a great repellent for flea beetles when placed around cucumber plants. Mint can be cultivated underneath apple, peach and other fruit trees to ward off disease and pests. In Europe, wild mustard has long been employed for pest control on farms. As well, Neem Oil has come to the forefront as an organic form of pest control here in the U.S., although its properties have been known in Asia for centuries.

There are alternatives and it's never too late to make the switch. And please keep in mind that when you choose to use a potentially hazardous chemical its effects may be cumulative, leaching into your neighbors backyard, poisoning birds, wildlife and even your own children running barefoot across the yard, or tracking the pervasive poisons into your own home.

J. Ollin, 2007, 2017


1) IPCS Global State-of-the-Science Assessment of EDCs http://endocrine.ei.jrc.it/gaed.html
2) NATIONAL SAFETY COUNCIL, Chemical Backround Index http://www.nsc.org/library/chemical/chemical.htm
3) United Nations Environment Programme http://www.unep.org/
4) International Labour Organization http://www.ilo.org/
5) Fact sheet on Health Hazards of Pesticides and Herbicides http://www.fairlington.org/attach2.htm


The following is a list of the herbs we have introduced to our property in East Montpelier, as well, those that we wildcraft from select areas throughout the North East, from the Southern tip of New Jersey which hosts an amazing and broad variety of medicinal trees, shrubs and annual and perennial herbs, to the coasts of Maine and Eastern Quebec.
Alum Root

Beebalm or Oswega Tea
Beth Root
Black Cohosh
Blood Root
Blue Flag
Blue Vervain
Chaste Tree (NJ only)
Clary Sage

Corn Silk
Couch Grass

Day Lily
Echinacea (pururea only)
Evening Primrose
European Pennyroyal


Five Fingered Grass

Greater Celandine
Gill-over-the-Ground or Ground Ivy

Jacobs Ladder
Lady's Mantle
Lambs Quarters
Lemon Balm
Lemon Verbena (NJ only) Lily of the Valley
Marshmallow, wild and european
Marjoram, wild and cultivated
Meadowsweet, medicinal and non-medicinal
Mustard, edible, wild
Oregano, greek and wild
Poppy, wild
Purslane, edible, wild
Red and White Clover
Rose, Wild Apothecary and Rugosa
Russian Sage
Saint Johswort
Sheep sorrel, wild, edible
Shepherds Purse

Sweet Cicely
Sweet Blue and White Violet
Thyme, wild
Vervain, Wild blue
Wild pansy
Wild Lettuce
Yellow Dock
Yellow Flag
Zea Mays


flowers 44
Lakon Gardens

Lakon Herbals Garden 2007
Lakon Herbals Garden Walk

Wild Rowan Escoumins, Quebec (Ollin, 2002)
Mountain Ash Berries, Les Escoumin, Quebec (j.o.2002)c/2011

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