Frankincense: from ancient gift to modern medicine

jesusAnd going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. -Matthew 2:11 (ESV)

Many of us have read the stories of frankincense being offered as a gift to the baby Jesus, but why was this plant-derived material as precious as gold in ancient times?


Though best known for its use in incense and rituals, the written and archaeological evidence demonstrate that frankincense was also considered to be a remedy for everything from toothaches to leprosy in ancient times. It was treasured as a prized medicinal substance. But its use dates back to even before mention of it in the bible. Frankincense has been traded in the Middle East and North Africa for over 5,000 years. And remember that famous heavy kohl eyeliner ancient Egyptian women wore? It was made in part from charred, ground frankincense!


boswellia-sacraSo what exactly is frankincense?  It comes from the resin gum of different species of the
Arabian tree Boswellia that is native to the Arabian peninsula and Northern Africa. Harvesting Frankincense is a time consuming process that begins by collecting tree resin. An incision is made into the trunk and a small piece of bark next to it is removed. This wounding causes the tree to leak a milky white substance that seals and heals the wound. After the resin has hardened, it is scraped off of the trunk. To obtain frankincense essential oil, the resin is Frankincense-essential-oilthen subjected to steam distillation.

The chemistry of the essential oil is very complex, with the oil containing hundreds of different componenets! Examples of some components are shown below. These types of molecules are believed to be responsible for the medicinal qualities observed with the use of frankincense oil.



Medicinal Properties

Boswellia_sacra_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-022At present, Frankincense essential oil is much more than a component of aromatherapy and perfume, and has even been investigated as a possible treatment for different types of cancers, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and anxiety. The oil appears to be helpful with respiration problems by soothing colds, cough, bronchitis and laryngitis. It is even being investigated as a possible treatment for asthma. Frankincense oil is also used by some to remove scars and stretch marks. While it is a widely used essential oil for its fragrance, its possible medicinal properties are as intriguing as its aroma! Some studies regarding its use as an anti-cancer agent have even been performed. While more research is needed to determine how it can be used to treat modern day ailments, it’s easy to see why this plant-based remedy would be treasured in ancient and modern times alike.

Find all of Wild Earth’s essential oil products by visiting the Etsy shop: Wild Earth Apothecary

Article written by Lauren Beihoffer, a biochemist and lover of natural, holistic skin care



Yarrow: the mythical, legendary and useful herb


yarrow blossoms

No other herb on earth possesses the rich history and medicinal track record of the lovely yarrow. This beautiful and medicinal plant is as unique as it is useful!


Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a well-known wildflower that happens to be a member of the large sunflower family, Asteraceae. It is closely related to wild and cultivated chamomiles as well.  History buffs might note that the Latin name of yarrow – Achillea – looks very familiar. In fact, it was named after the mythical hero Achilles of Greek mythology.  Greek texts relay tales of Achilles using yarrow to stop the bleeding in the wounds of his soldiers. He was noted as always carrying the herb onto the battlefield.


Achilles in battle

But yarrow is not just a flower of legend. In fact, it’s one of the most widely used medicinal plants on the planet, with its use stretching back for millennia. Ayurvedic, Chinese  and Native American medicine all utilized this herb. Interestingly, a Neanderthal skull found in Spain ( from about 50,000 years ago) had traces of yarrow remnants in his or her teeth. Scientists feel that since the plant tastes bitter, it might have been used as a medicine and not as food.

Medicinal Properties 

So what makes yarrow so special that it permeates all throughout history? Lots, apparently!  As we have seen, yarrow is very popular in traditional folk medicine. It is used to treat a variety of ailments  including digestive issues, skin wounds and anxiety/insomnia. Its ability to stop bleeding and facilitate wound healing is well documented.

yarrowModern science has found yarrow to be useful for loss of appetite and gastrointestinal distress. Many studies have demonstrated the ability of yarrow to aid in wound healing and blood clotting. Current research has demonstrated that the essential oils in yarrow work as antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and diuretic agents while the tannins in the plant act as astringents. The alkaloids found in the leaves are both hypotensive and hypoglycemic. Yarrow even contains small amounts of coumarin, which works as an anti-thrombotic to reduce high blood pressure.

Below is a molecule that is responsible for the blood-clotting effect of yarrow:

achilleine bleeding.png

This amazing herb has a fascinating history and potent medicinal potential. It will be exciting to see how this flower will be used in the future by the scientific community. But for now, yarrow is still a powerful herb for anyone looking for useful, plant-based remedies to treat wounds. Have you every used yarrow before? We would love to hear your experience with this delightful herb!


Find all of Wild Earth’s herbal products by visiting the Etsy shop: Wild Earth Apothecary

Article written by Lauren Beihoffer, a biochemist and lover of natural, holistic skin care

Tea Tree Oil: the Phenomonol, Healing Oil from Down Under

teatreeTea Tree Oil (also known as melaleuca oil) is a very popular and useful essential oil that is obtained from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant. This unique plant is native only to Southeast Queensland and the Northwest coast of New South Wales, Australia.  Melaleuca is a combination of two Greek words: melas (black) and leukos (white) pertaining to the contrasting black trunk and young white stems that are characteristic of the tree.

Although Tea Tree Oteatree3il is toxic when taken by mouth, it is commonly used in low concentrations in cosmetics and skin care products. Tea tree oil has been useful for treating a wide variety of conditions and shows promise as an antimicrobial and antiseptic. Tea tree oil may also be helpful in dealing with dandruff, acne and lice.



The tea tree plant has been used for hundreds of years by the indigenous Bundjalung people of eastern Australia. They often used the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia plant as medicine by inhaling the oil from crushed leaves in order to soothe coughs and colds, applying leaves on wounds to promote healing, and making tea infusions to treat wounds and sore throats.

In fact, it is believed that in 1770, the British sailor Captain James Cook named the Melaleuca alternifolia plant tea tree” after observing the Bundjalung using the leaves to make a healing tea! Additionally, the oral history of Aborigines also tells of healing lakes which were really just lagoons into which Melaleuca alternifolia leaves had fallen and decayed over time. Use of the oil did not become common until the 1920’s.

Biological Activity

Contemporary scientific data has shown that Tea Tree Oil possesses antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity. When examined in the lab, it is observed that Tea Tree Oil is composed of many different components, nearly 100 different compounds, in fact! The major component of the Tea Tree Oil is terpinen-4-ol:


This particular component is responsible for much of the biological activity observed. Interestingly, in vitro studies have found that tea tree oil kills the notorious methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA.)  Much more clinical research is needed, but it is already clear that Tea Tree Oil is a very useful essential oil that holds much promise!

At Wild Earth Apothecary, you can find Tea Tree Oil in our foaming face wash and face spritz. The tea tree oil is gentle, refreshing and helps deal with those pesky imperfections.

Find all of Wild Earth’s tea tree oil products by visiting the Etsy shop: Wild Earth Apothecary

Article written by Lauren Beihoffer, a biochemist and lover of natural, holistic skin care

The Interesting Benefits of Red Clover

red cloverRed Clover, Trifolium pretense, is an interesting medicinal herb that belongs to the legume family. This flowering plant is native to Europe, Western Asia and northwest Africa, although it has been naturalized to grow in many other areas. Red clover is a source of many nutrients including calcium, chromium, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, thiamine, and vitamin C. Historically, red clover has been used as a folk remedy to treat conditions such as respiratory problems, skin inflammations, eczema and even cancer. The flowering tops of the red clover plant are used to prepare medicinal extracts and can be administered in tablets and capsules, as well as in teas and tinctures.

More recently, red clover has been used a popular alternative treatment for menopausal symptoms. But how did this all begin? In a field full of sheep, actually! sheep

In the 1940’s it was observed that sheep feeding on red clover had multiple fertility problems. By the 1950’s, scientists had isolated compounds from the red clover plants that mimicked the actions of estrogen, explaining the observed fertility issues. These estrogen-like compounds are called isoflavones.

Isoflavones are  plant-based chemicals that produce estrogen-like effects in the body. Because of this, we also call these types of compounds “phytoestrogens.” The premise supporting the use of red clover for menopausal symptoms is that the isoflavones (or “phytoestrogens”) will act as a natural estrogen replacement in women and alleviate hot flashes and other symptoms of low estrogen. You can see how similar the two compounds are:


Coumestrol – a phytoestrogen found in red clover



In addition, Red clover isoflavones have been associated with an increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol in pre and postmenopausal women and preliminary evidence suggests these isoflavones may stop cancer cells from growing or even kill cancer cells in vitro (in test tubes.)

Much more research is needed to elucidate the benefits of these isoflavones and currently the National Center for Complimentary and Integrative health and other researchers are studying red clover to learn more about its active components and how they might work in the body. In the mean time, red clover is contraindicated in people with a history of breast cancer, endometriosis, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, uterine fibroids or other estrogen-sensitive conditions. It is also unclear whether red clover is safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding at this time.


Find all of Wild Earth’s herbal products by visiting the Etsy shop: Wild Earth Apothecary

Article written by Lauren Beihoffer, a biochemist and lover of natural, holistic skin care

Peppermint: the delicious and medicinal herb

peppermintThe lovely Peppermint plant (Mentha piperita) is well known all over the world for its flavor and aroma. It is an interesting perennial herb that has been used in both cooking and herbal medicine for thousands of years. Peppermint is actually a naturally occurring hybrid of two types of mint: watermint and spearmint. It is indigenous to Europe and the Middle East but can now be found cultivated in many places across the globe. Peppermint essential oil has recently become very popular not only for its delectable aroma and taste, but for it’s medicinal properties as well.


The name of the genus (Mentha) comes from the ancient Greek story of Minthe and Pluto.Mentha_×_piperita_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-095 Minthe was a Greek nymph who became the lover of Pluto, god of the underwold. When Pluto’s wife learned of the affair, she murdered Minthe. Pluto, however, brought Minthe back to life as a fragrant plant. And the rest, as they say, is history!

Although peppermint wasn’t cultivated until the seventeenth century in England, history has revealed tales of  peppermint and its varied uses throughout time. For example, in the Ebers Papyrus (an ancient Egyptian medical text from the 1500 BC era) mint is listed as calming for stomach pains. Egyptians even used peppermint as a form of currency.

More recently, peppermint has been touted as an alternative treatment for everything from nausea, indigestion, colds and coughs to headaches.

Chemistry and Uses

Peppermint is highly prized for its many medicinal and commercial uses. Peppermint is commonly found in products to provide flavor, such as toothpastes, chewing gum and food.  It can be found in skin care products, teas and even pesticides. For some, peppermint essential oil may even be found in the medicine cabinet in the form of cough drops or cold medicines.

Peppermint essential oil is obtained from the leaves of the plant by steam distillation. The chemistry of the oil is very complex and even variable depending on the climate and stage of plant development!

Research has shown us that peppermint essential oil contains more than 100 different components. The two most predominant components are menthol and menthone:







Menthol is responsible for the cooling sensation of peppermint when inhaled, eaten or applied to the skin. Menthone is a naturally occurring pesticide that is even used in some commercial products.

Many research studies have shown that peppermint essential oil possesses antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant activities. Even the aroma of peppermint has been studied for its possible memory and alertness enhancing properties. Most exciting, perhaps, is that peppermint oil is under preliminary research for its potential as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint oil has also been used internally as an antispasmodic of the upper gastrointestinal tract and externally for muscle pain and nerve pain.

As research continues, it will be exciting to see how peppermint can be used to solve new and old medical dilemmas. In the mean time, peppermint will still hold a special place in aromatherapy and herbal medicine. How do you enjoy using peppermint?

Find all of Wild Earth’s peppermint products by visiting the Etsy shop: Wild Earth Apothecary


Article written by Lauren Beihoffer, a biochemist and lover of natural, holistic skin care

Plantain: Not Your Average Weed

Plantain1Plantain (Plantago major, also known as broadleaf plantain, white man’s foot, or greater plantain) is a perennial plant that most people think of as a weed. But in fact, plantain is one of the oldest, most trusted medicinal plants on the planet. This plant originated in Europe and central Asia, but is now found all over the globe. Since it was spread by humans from Europe to the rest of the world, the Indians named it ‘White man’s footprint.’ This nickname is reflected in the official scientific naming of the plant– the genus name Plantago (from the Latin planta,) meaning sole of the foot.


PlantagoMajorThe use of plantain as a wound healer was first described by the Greek physician Diocorides in the first century. Throughout history, we find written evidence about the use of plantain in healing wounds and skin infections. From the Vikings to even Shakespeare, we find many mentions of the medicinal use of plantain!

Romeo: Your plantain leaf is excellent for that.

Benvoleo: For what, I pray thee?

Romeo: For your broken shin.

                                -from Romeo and Juliet


Medicinal Properties

Although history has taught us much about the medicinal properties of plantain, scientific and clinical studies have verified the wound healing properties of this plant as well. In fact, research for other medicinal uses is currently underway.

It is known that a poultice of the leaves can be applied to wounds and sores to facilitate healing and prevent infection. The active chemical components are aucubin, allantoin and mucilage (a thick, gooey substance that reduces pain.) The naturally-occurring alcohols contained in the waxy leaves have been shown to facilitate wound healing as well. Interestingly, plantain is also edible and nutritious, being high in calcium and vitamins A, C and K! A tea made from the leaves can even be ingested to treat diarrhea and stomach upset.

aucubin-an antimicrobial molecule


allantoin-a cell regeneration molecule




Due to these remarkable medicinal properties, Wild Earth Apothecary uses plantain as an ingredient in their best-selling healing salve. Experience the time-tested healing power of plantain yourself this summer—from bug bits to sunburns, Wild Earth healing salve has you covered!

Purchase Wild Earth healing salve by visiting the Etsy shop: Wild Earth Apothecary



Article written by Lauren Beihoffer, a biochemist and lover of natural, holistic skin care.



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