Herbal mu­sic

Con­struc­tion of a herbal rem­edy is a lot like making mu­sic, with lay­ers of func­tional and beau­ti­ful in­gre­di­ents.

Element - - The Herbalist - By Ge­orgina Lang­dale

My work­place is a ru­ral apothe­cary in Hawke’s Bay. I work with, and am sur­rounded by, na­ture. Peo­ple of­ten ask me how I de­cide what in­gre­di­ents to use in my nat­u­ral skin­care and well­be­ing prod­ucts. It’s a great ques­tion. I am guided by a mix of plant knowl­edge and life ex­pe­ri­ence.

I start by ask­ing ‘what is the key is­sue I am try­ing to ad­dress and what do I want the plants to do?’ For ex­am­ple, this might range from sooth­ing sen­si­tive skin to cre­at­ing tat­too af­ter­care. Put sim­ply, it’s a bit like con­struct­ing a mu­si­cal chord, start­ing with the dom­i­nant note, in this case the dom­i­nant ef­fect I wish to cre­ate; then iden­ti­fy­ing the other qual­i­ties that can sup­port and add to this ef­fect, be­fore grad­u­ally se­lect­ing a range of plant in­gre­di­ents and ra­tios to cre­ate this heal­ing ‘chord’.

There is a lot to be learned from the old ways with plants – and yes, over time one does de­velop favourites. One of my plant favourites is Camel­lia sinen­sis which has been used in beauty, health and rit­ual for cen­turies.

A mul­ti­tude of camel­lia va­ri­eties grow in our gar­den, and I use cer­ti­fied or­ganic camel­lia oils, ex­tracts and the vi­brant green or­ganic matcha tea across my range. Used ex­ter­nally, camel­lia oil has out­stand­ing mois­ture and emol­lient prop­er­ties and is a light and highly ab­sorbent plant oil. It con­tains mono-sat­u­rated es­sen­tial fatty acids, is very high in oleic acid (Omega 9 fatty acid) and an­tiox­i­dants, which help re­duce in­flam­ma­tion; and it rapidly pen­e­trates skin, leav­ing it sup­ple and hy­drated. With th­ese prop­er­ties it’s hardly sur­pris­ing it has long bee part of astern beauty rit a s and it is why I love us­ing or­ganic camel­lia oil in mois­turis­ers, oils and balms.

Holis­tic ap­proaches to health, beauty and well­be­ing are more than skin deep and look at the whole per­son. There is no one magic elixir that will pro­vide the an­swers to ev­ery­thing, but camel­lia’s prop­er­ties are ben­e­fi­cial in­ter­nally as well as ex­ter­nally and I find tak­ing it in the Ja­panese form of matcha tea adds a lovely as­pect to my day that feels good for body and soul.

It is be­lieved that the first Camel­lia sinen­sis seeds were brought to Ja­pan from China by the 12th Cen­tury Zen Monk, Eisai, who was the first per­son to grind and con­sume green tea leaves in pow­dered ‘matcha’ form. Thus Zen and matcha be­came in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked, with monks be­liev­ing that drink­ing matcha cre­ated a state of ‘calm alert­ness’, ideal for med­i­ta­tion and work.

It turns out that the phys­i­o­log­i­cal ben­e­fits of matcha in­tu­ited by the monks are now be­ing sup­ported by mod­ern science, as nu­mer­ous new stud­ies on the health ben­e­fits of green tea and matcha are pub­lished. Be­cause of the way it is grown, and not be­ing ex­posed to high heat dur­ing pro­cess­ing, matcha tea, lik camel­lia oil, i lso hig i lev­els of anti in­flam­ma­to­ries. There is quite a lot of noise about its high lev­els of the amino acid L-thea­nine which stud­ies sug­gest has the abil­ity to re­duce stress, im­prove cog­ni­tion, and boost mood; and EGCG – which has been stud­ied for its ef­fect on preven­tion of tu­mour and can­cer cell growth, brain func­tion im­prove­ment, and its abil­ity to in­crease fat ox­i­di­s­a­tion (burn fat).

I was first in­tro­duced to matcha years ago while in Ja­pan for work. I like it be­cause with less caf­feine than cof­fee, I feel it gives me en­ergy with­out the jit­ters and I love the mini-rit­ual of making it. That alone creates a mo­ment of mind­ful­ness in my day. The key to the per­fect bowl of matcha is in the grade of matcha you use – the brighter and more vi­brant green the matcha, the higher the qual­ity and bet­ter the taste. I source cer­ti­fied or­ganic matcha from a fam­ily run tea plan­ta­tion that I visit in Ja­pan and it is the most amaz­ingly bright green. Also you get best re­sults us­ing a bam­boo matcha whisk. It isn’t just for show, you are cre­at­ing a sus­pen­sion, not dis­solv­ing the pow­der, and the truth is you just can’t do that with a tea­spoon. I know be­cause I’ve tried! Sieve ¼ - ½ tsp of matcha into a matcha bowl, pour in steaming hot wa­ter to about a third full. Rapidly beat the matcha whisk in a W move­ment un­til sur­face gets foamy. You can drink matcha hot or cold.

There’s a lot to love about Camel­lia, the giver of so muc heal­ing, health and beauty and the en­abler of some of life’s lit­tle rit­u­als.

“There is a lot to be learned from the old ways with plants...”

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