Last week, we discussed using vinegar to clean your house. It's been an interesting week since then with a lot of new information coming out about how to get rid of viable corona virus particles on inanimate surfaces. We learned through press conferences that isopropyl alcohol and UV radiation are highly efficient at knocking out Covid-19.
There are many OTC chemical cleaning products that are also efficient at disinfecting surfaces in your house. Sadly, due to Covid-19, the incidence of poisonings from these products has significantly increased since January of this year according to the CDC. In some cases, inhalation of chemicals like bleach has caused lung damage, in some, the chemicals getting on people's food poisoned them, and in others, kids have been poisoned by drinking the cleaner. This is yet another reason to try and stick with all natural products for cleaning. What I'm recommending here is that you either use white vinegar by itself or that you infuse it with herbs. This will give you all the cleaning power you need. (Do not use vinegar on hardwood, stone, and marble surfaces as they may be damaged by it.)
I normally just use distilled white vinegar and a clean, wet cloth to wash my counters, sinks, floors, etc. When I'm preparing to make products for sale, I take the extra step of spraying the just washed, wet surfaces with isopropyl alcohol, then I let everything air dry. Doing this kills more than 99% of the germs. Unfortunately, in the last month, there's been no rubbing alcohol on the store shelves - it's needed more in medical facilities - so, you may not have access to it right now. That means all of us need to make do with what's on hand, and vinegar and herbs are still available. As I stated last week, I want to try infusing herbs in my vinegar to make it more effective at disinfecting surfaces.
In doing the research, I've found recommendations for allowing the herbs to steep in distilled white vinegar for as little as 24 hours up to two weeks. (My most trusted sources say two weeks.) Since I love to experiment, I'm going to make three jars - one to steep for 24 hours, one to steep for 1 week, and one to steep for 2 weeks. I'll compare the three and give my conclusions next month in this Tidbits blog. I'll be using fresh lemon peel, dried sage, dried thyme, and dried rosemary. All of these are highly antimicrobial and should add their antimicrobial properties to the vinegar, which will add more oomph to the cleaning, and hopefully help it smell better. (Please be kind - this is my very first diy video.)
To clarify a couple of points in the video:
1. I used pint jars and filled each jar with 1 cup of herb and 1 cup of white vinegar.
2. The parchment paper was used because the lid of the jar could be corroded by the vinegar (not the jar itself).
Once the vinegar has been infused with the herbs then strained, we'll mix it with an equal amount of water in a spray bottle and have fun cleaning!
Check back next month to find out the results!
Perhaps one concept we could stand to change is the idea that our lawns need to be a perfect picture of grass. If we were to allow the weeds to take over, we'd have a plethora of healthy food in our own back (and front) yards! I have to admit that I'm fairly new to foraging, and what I'm sharing is what I've recently learned.
The photo above is from a small part of my yard, and the reason it looks like a tangled mess of grass and weeds is because it is! We've had a lot of rain, and the ground was too boggy for DH to mow. The focus in the above pic is on a patch of wild onions.
The wild onions blend in well with the grass and are single stalk with a bud on top. In the forefront, you can see one of the buds opening. I pulled one up so I could show what it looks like.
The aroma of the plant also helps with its identification. In this case, it smells like an onion. (Look-alike plants, i.e. Crowpoison - Nothoscordum bivalve will not smell like onion even though the stalk and bud look similar.) According to Deane on the Eat The Weeds website, http://www.eattheweeds.com/allium-canadense-the-stinking-rose-2/, If it has that garlic/onion smell, it's wild onion. The whole plant can be used as food.
I have many patches of these growing all over my yard, but will only harvest one or two at a time, and only when I plan on using it in my food. By only getting what I need, I make sure to not deplete or lose what's growing. (I have to admit that I dug some up and planted them in my front garden where DH won't mow as a precaution.) I'm hoping the various onion patches survive being mowed and the hot, dry summers here. I'll be watching to see how they fare and update here periodically.
One final note: The experts on foraging recommend gathering no more than 10% if you're foraging on your own property so you'll still have plenty for later times.
Throughout the month of February, we've been learning about viruses - in particular, the flu. We've discussed ways to support our immune systems to lessen our chances of catching the flu and natural therapies we can use in addition to medical intervention to soothe symptoms if we do catch it. Today's blog was originally scheduled to review specific actions we can take to help prevent contracting and/or spreading viruses; however, with all the news about the most recent Coronavirus, I decided to include information about it first, and then move on to those actions.
The information I'm including here about Coronavirus comes directly from the CDC website. I'll be honest, I've questioned all the hype about this virus based on what I knew before, and after digging deeper, I still am not overly concerned about it. To explain why, I'll define what the known Coronaviruses are, how they act on our bodies (symptoms), how they spread, how they compare to colds and flu, existing tests for it, and preventative steps we can take.
First, What is a common Human Coronavirus?
Put simply, like Rhinovirus, it's the common cold.
Think about this. Have you ever gone to school or work when you had a cold? For most of us, the answer is "Yes". The infecting virus may have been Rhinovirus or Coronavirus.
There are four common Human Coronaviruses (HCoVs) that can be found all over the world and which are prevalent during the colder months - the months when colds and flu abound. Symptoms are usually mild with congestion, cough, runny nose, headache, sore throat, malaise, and fever. In other words, like Rhinovirus, Coronaviruses are responsible for causing the common cold. Occasionally HCoVs, can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia (just like influenza viruses can). It's when the lungs are so severely affected that we see grave illness and death.
Second, How do HCoVs spread?
They spread just like the Rhinovirus and the Influenza virus.
They spread through sneezing, coughing, close contact with an infected person, touching a surface with virus particles then eating or touching your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands. In fact, most of us have had at least one of these HCoVs at some point in our lives!
There's no vaccine or cure. You treat it as you treat Rhinovirus or influenza - by managing your symptoms, and hopefully, staying home. Your doctor may or may not run a sputum test to see what virus you have.
To give you an idea of the numbers: In the US, over three years, from July, 2014 through June, 2017, 854,575 HCoV tests were run. A total of 39,588 were positive for one of the four HCoVs. That's 4.6%.
In addition to the four common Human Coronaviruses, there are three other varieties: MERS-CoV - Middle East Respiratory Syndrome;
SARS-CoV - severe acute respiratory syndrome (not seen since 2004);
and SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 - the newest, and current, Coronavirus which is causing so much concern. (BTW, the 19 refers to the year it started infecting humans.)
So, what makes COVID-19 different?
Well, it spreads the same way other viruses spread. Symptoms range from mild to severe, include coughing, shortness of breath, and fever, and develop from two to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. There is a test for this virus, but it's only available in specific laboratories, not in local doctor's offices or hospitals.
The difference is that this virus is a new mutation that's jumped to humans, which means that humans haven't yet developed an immune response to it. When SARS first broke out, it spread relatively quickly to 20 countries, and, in the end, had approximately a 7% mortality rate. While numbers on the news may make it look like this new Coronavirus has about a 2% fatality rate, there are too many factors and unknown facts that we need to, but can't, take into account yet to determine the percentage. This is why virologists are concerned - there are too many unknowns. We don't know how accurate or inaccurate the numbers coming out of China are. We don't actually know the origins of the virus -- whether or not it did jump from another species to humans. We do know that it spreads quickly, and it's entirely possible that it will simply become a fifth common HCoV cold virus. Again, think about how fast a cold spreads - that's what this virus is doing. One country whose numbers can be trusted, Italy, had as of Monday, 229 cases with 6 deaths and 27 in intensive care. That's consistent with a 2% fatality rate.
Based on what I've learned, my takeaway from all of this is that we should use prudence. I don't see a need to panic. This is a virus, like the common cold or the flu. Some people will get mildly sick from it, while others become gravely ill and develop bronchitis and/or pneumonia. It's these secondary infections that can become deadly. Using common-sense prevention and medical intervention when needed is the best way to keep yourself and your family safe.
If you've been reading this month's blogs, you already know some good herbs and essential oils that will support and balance your immune system so you'll be more resistant to viruses - including this newest one. Now, let's look at some common-sense steps you can take to help prevent you from catching these bugs.
CRAWDS = Cover, Rest, Avoid the face, Wash, Diet, Stay home
Cover = Cover your mouth and nose completely when you cough or sneeze. Your hand isn't thorough enough. Your sleeve at the elbow is better. The best way is to cough or sneeze into your shirt. Just pull the collar of the shirt up over the top of your nose. (Yes, it might be uncomfortable if it's a snotty sneeze, but it keeps most of the virus particles contained.)
Rest = Take time to get enough sleep and enough 'down' time. Sleep allows your body to recover from the strains and stresses of the day. Personal relaxation time helps your body refresh and reboot itself as much as getting enough sleep does.
Avoid the face = The average person touches his/her face hundreds of times per day. All that touching brings lots of germs to the eyes, nose, and mouth where they enter the body. Try to be aware of how much you touch your own face, and work to reduce it.
Wash = Wash your hands - especially before eating. Washing properly with soap and water has been proven to be more effective at removing germs than using sanitizer (though sanitizer is better than nothing if soap isn't available). To wash properly, you need to take about 20 seconds of lathering and rinsing. Along with washing hands, if you get a cut, be sure to wash it with soap and water
Diet = Eating a healthy diet keeps your body strong and in balance which helps you resist illness. Adding anti-viral herbs to your diet can also help. i.e. fresh ginger is a hemagglutinin inhibitor and can be added to drinks like water, coffee, even soda. Elder and ginger are neuraminidase inhibitors. Star Anise is a great source of Shikimic Acid (which is used to make Tamiflu). Making and drinking teas with these herbs at the first sign of illness may help as well.
Stay Home = If you do get sick, stay home. This is perhaps the most difficult step for many. Often, work demands you be there or suffer consequences, so it's easier to just go in to work or send your child to school when (s)he doesn't feel right but there's no fever yet. Every parent, myself included, has faced these dilemmas, and sometimes, the school insists the child attend (especially on state exam days) even if the child is sick. By the time you get symptoms, you are already contagious. Once you're coughing and sneezing, you're spreading hundreds (at least) of virus particles through the air. Anyone nearby is then breathing in those viruses in a quantity that is likely to overwhelm their immune system - and so the virus spreads.
Finally, if you do get sick and your symptoms are moving towards the severe side, make sure you get medical attention as soon as possible.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): How It Spreads, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Page last reviewed: February 17, 2020, Accessed Feb. 24, 2020,
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Symptoms, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Page last reviewed: February 15, 2020, Accessed Feb. 24, 2020,
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Testing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Page last reviewed: February 15, 2020, Accessed Feb. 24, 2020,
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Situation Summary, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Page last reviewed: February 23, 2020, Accessed Feb. 24, 2020,
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus: Common Human Coronaviruses, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Page last reviewed: February 13, 2020, Accessed Feb. 24, 2020,
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus: Human Coronavirus Types, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Page last reviewed: February 15, 2020, Accessed Feb. 24, 2020,
7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus: Resources and References, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Page last reviewed: August 6, 2019, Accessed Feb. 24, 2020,
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System (NREVSS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Page last reviewed: February 18, 2020, Accessed Feb. 24, 2020,
9. Killerby, Marie, E, et. al, Human coronavirus circulation in the United States 2014 - 2017, ScienceDirect, Journal of Clinical Virology, Vol. 101, April 2018, pp. 52 - 56, Accessed Feb 24, 2020, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1386653218300325
10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Influenza (Flu), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Page last reviewed: February 21, 2020, Accessed Feb. 25, 2020,
11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS): Basics Fact Sheet, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Page last reviewed: December 6, 2017, Accessed Feb. 25, 2020,
12. Chappell, Bill, Where Coronavirus Is Now Causing Concern: Iran, Italy, South Korea, npr, February 24, 2020, Accessed February 25, 2020, https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/02/24/808893094/coronavirus-has-pandemic-potential-but-isn-t-there-yet-who-says
Since it's cold and flu season, I'm introducing a short slideshow to discuss some key information about viruses. Throughout February, my blogs will provide specific information that can help you stay healthy.
Fresh ginger root can be purchased at many grocery stores in the produce section.
Coumarins are lactones that have had an intramolecular reaction where a lactone has fused to a benzene (aromatic) ring. Okay, that's the chemical explanation. Three groups of coumarins found in plants are furanocoumarins, hydroxycoumarins, and pyranocoumarins. What we're briefly touching on here is what coumarins do, where they're found, and what the warnings for them are.
Coumarins tend to be antiallergenic, anti-asthmatic, anticarcinogenic, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antispasmodic, antiviral, calming, fungicidal, and hypotensive. They tone blood vessels and can relieve varicose veins and hemorrhoids.
Within herbs, certain plant families have significant coumarins including the Carrot Family, the Coffee Family, the Grass Family, the Pea Family, and the Rue Family. The aroma you smell after cutting grass or hay comes from the coumarins in the plants. In essential oils we find two furanocoumarins - Bergapten and Bergamotine. These are found in citrus oils that have been obtained by cold pressing and in Angelica Root, Bergamot, Rue, Mandarin Leaf, and Taget.
The warnings with coumarins mainly concern the furanocoumarins in essential oils because they are phototoxic. If you apply these oils topically at too high of a dilution rate (rates vary by oil) and are exposed to UV rays within 12 - 18 hours, the furanocoumarins can cause skin damage that ranges from temporary rash and discoloration to severe and permanent burn damage and discoloration. Take note that distilled Lime and Sweet Orange essential oils do not contain furanocoumarins and are not phototoxic.
There is one other factor to keep in mind with coumarins in herbs. By themselves, they have little to no anticoagulant ability; however, if the herb gets moldy, the coumarins in the plant are changed into a chemical called dicoumarol. Dicoumarol is anticoagulant and its effects cannot be reversed. As scientists studied this chemical, they decided to try to synthesize it. Eventually, they came up with something that was initially used as rat poison -- Warfarin®. Yes, you're reading that right - what started out as rat poison turned into a blood-thinning medication for humans. I explain this because, if you are taking Warfarin®, you need to have your INR monitored regularly if you ingest herbs that have coumarins as they may have the potential to interfere with it.
You can learn more about individual coumarins when their datasheets become available in the membership section.
Lactones are called cyclic esters and are formed when an ester links a hydroxyl group and a carbonyl group within a lactic acid molecule to form a ring structure that is usually pentagonal or hexagonal. They can be sesquiterpenoid (with 15 carbons) or monoterpenoid (with 10 carbons) and play a small part in essential oils and a larger part in herbs.
In essential oils, lactones can be found in very small quantities in both German and Roman Chamomile, Inula, Laurel, and Yarrow, and in larger quantities in Catnip. The small quantity is due to the fact that they are large molecules, so few make it through the distillation process.
We find larger quantities of lactones in herbs. Obviously, they are in the herbs that correspond to the oils listed above, as well as many others including: Arnica, Dandelion, Elecampane, and Lavender (the latter in the form of coumarins).
Lactones are known for being digestive bitters, decongestant, expectorant, and mucolytic. Energetically, they are uplifting, stimulating, and can motivate and inspire. They also have antifungal and antiviral activity. Gamma-lactone causes the milky white color of Dandelion sap. Delta-lactone is very bitter. There are more than 5000 different lactones, and they are responsible for a variety of flavors and fragrances.
Note: Coumarins, which will be discussed next week, are lactones that have undergone further intramolecular reactions.
To learn more abut lactones, check out the chemistry datasheets found in the membership section.
When secondary alcohols oxidize (pick up an oxygen atom) they can become ketones. Ketones are similar to aldehydes in form and tend to be stable, meaning they're not likely to oxidize any further. One ketone you may be familiar with is Camphor, and if you've ever experienced camphor, you'll have an idea of the strength of ketones.
Ketones are powerful and their therapeutic properties differ from one to the other as do their precautions.
The primary ketones found in essential oils are camphor,
fenchone, isopinocamphone, jasmone, menthone, pinocamphone, pulegone, thujone, tumerone, valeranone, verbenone, and vetivone. (You'll notice that most of the ketones take the -one suffix.) Because of their differences, we'll explore camphor since it's so widely known and used.
Camphor's therapeutic properties include relieving pain, being antibacterial and antifungal, reducing mucus and coughing, stimulating the central nervous system, and possibly helping maintain bone density. As with many strong constituents, camphor needs to be used with care. It should not be used near the faces of infants or young children as it can slow their breathing or even cause respiratory collapse. Babies and young children should not ingest camphor. Even for older children and adults, too much camphor can depress the CNS and be toxic, so it needs to be limited to 4.8 % at the most in topical blends. There are cautions for ingestion as well, which is why cough drops containing camphor limit use to a few hours apart.
While there are some ketones that are considered safe, others, like isopinocamphone, pinocamphone, pulegone, and thujone are either toxic to the liver, toxic to the brain, or both. These should be used in small amounts for short-term and should not be used if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have liver disease, or have a seizure disorder.
When primary alcohols oxidize, they make aldehydes. Aldehydes have a carbonyl group (Carbon+Hydrogen+Oxygen) on one end. Common aldehydes in aromatherapy include cinnamaldehyde, citral, citronellal, neral, geranial, myrtenal, and octenal.
Aldehydes tend to be cooling, calming, and uplifting. Their sedative and antispasmodic properties can help you relax and improve your mood.
They are great in diffusers because, with their antibacterial and antiviral properties, they can get rid of cold and flu germs that are floating around. Yet, rather than smelling medicinal, they have fresh, herbaceous, floral, or fruity aromas. Those wonderful aromas are the reason you'll even find aldehydes in perfume.
There are some cautions that go with oils high in aldehydes. They may irritate the skin and mucous membranes, so they need to be limited to 1% or less of a blend. When used topically, they should be used short term only (meaning a few days at most).
Nature derives ethers from phenols. Because of this, you may hear the terms 'phenolic ethers' or 'phenolic methyl ether'. All three terms are referring to the same chemical family. Like phenols, ethers have powerful therapeutic properties and are very harsh on the skin. They also come with significant toxicity warnings. You might ask "If they're so rough on our skin, why use them?".
We use them because, therapeutically, ethers tend to be strongly antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and carminative. They can also provide a local anesthetic effect. Oils rich in ethers include Anise, Fennel, Nutmeg, and Tarragon. They can be used to calm the stomach, relieve gas and bloating, calm muscle spasms, calm cramping, aid the lungs, calm a spastic cough, and promote relaxation so you can sleep.
Ether-rich oils are an example of why knowing and understanding the chemistry of essential oils is critical. While they can be highly effective in blends, they must be used in very small quantities and for very short periods of time.
Ethers can burn the skin and/or cause skin cell damage.
There are specific warnings for different ethers listed below.
(E)-anethole - Avoid during pregnancy. Do not use if on blood-thinners or if you have a bleeding disorder, or before or after surgery. It has possible estrogenic activity, so do not use if you have or have had estrogen related conditions like endometriosis or estrogen-related cancers.
Elemicin: Some studies on male mice indicated a weak possibility of being carcinogenic, but there is not enough evidence to make an actual determination of this.
Estragole (aka: methyl chavicol): Do not use if you are taking blood-thinners or if you have a bleeding disorder, before or after surgery, or if you have a peptic ulcer.
Myristicin: no warnings when used properly in aromatherapy,
There are so many essential oils available that I find I rarely see the need to use ether-rich oils. Often, I will use the herb instead of the oil -- and that for limited time too.
Datasheets for these essential oils will be coming soon in the membership section.
Phenols are very powerful chemicals! In essential oils, structurally, they seem similar to alcohols, but have a phenyl or benzene ring and have one or more hydrogen atom(s) that get swapped out with another group of atoms. The phenols we find in essential oils are carvacrol, cresol, eugenol, and thymol. You'll notice that they all have the -ol- suffix like the alcohols (monoterpenols and sesquiterpenols).
These chemicals are strongly antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, germicidal, bactericidal, and immune-system boosters. When you're sick, they're great in a diffuser to help knock germs out of the air and to help your immune system fight off illnesses. They are also CNS stimulants and can be of assistance with certain types of depression. Eugenol, in small amounts, can be beneficial to the liver; however, in larger amounts it becomes toxic to the liver.
Essential oils that have significant levels of phenols include Aniseed, Tulsi Basil, Cinnamon, Clove, Oregano, Tarragon, and Thyme ct. thymol. The phenols in these oils are highly reactive and will irritate (possibly damage) the skin and mucous membranes. If you use any of these oils topically, it's important to dilute them very well in a carrier oil that is skin healing. A 0.5% maximum dilution is recommended -- that's 3 drops EO per 1 ounce of carrier oil. When diffusing, limit the total phenol content to a maximum of 10% of the diffuser blend. i.e. for a 5 mL diffuser blend, phenol content should be 1/2 mL or less. Additionally, such blends should be used short-term -- for only two or three days.
Other precautions to follow when using oils high in phenols include:
* Do not use if you have a blood-clotting disorder or are taking blood thinners.
* Do not use before surgery.
* Do not use in a bath.
* Do not use on babies or children.
* Do not use if you have 'hot' skin conditions (i.e. dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis)
* Do not use on broken or irritated skin.
* Be sure to look at your GC/MS reports and calculate out your phenol percentages when blending essential oils.
Below are samples of a couple of spreadsheets I made when I first started using essential oils (and before I got certified as an aromatherapist). The first is for a single oil -- Tulsi Basil. The second is part of a blend where I calculated percentages of chemicals within the blend and compared them to make sure I didn't use too many harsh constituents. Making these charts helps me visualize my blends as a whole and ensure I keep them safe.
The information contained in this blog is for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.