By: Alexander Jones
Alexander M. Jones, Department of Environmental and Plant Biology, Ohio University.
This research was supported by the desire to assist in the education about ethnobotanicals as well as the importance and efficacy of modest homemade medicines from flora found in the field.
Any correspondence or inquiries regarding this article and the information presented herein can be directed to Alexander Jones, Department of Environmental and Plant Biology, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio 45701. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The topical ointment prepared from M. officinalis, C. nucifera, and O. europaea contains phytochemicals that exhibit skin hydrating, insect repelling, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory activity (Agero and Verallo-Rowell 2004; Foster and Duke 2000). A hot water extract of M. officinalis was prepared to isolate various phytochemicals including citronellol, a component of citronella oil known for its mosquito repellant activity. The organic semi-soluble components in the hot water mixture were then extracted into an organic solvent, extra virgin olive oil (derived from O. europaea). After collecting the newly acquired oil extract it was then added to liquid extra virgin coconut oil (from C. nucifera). The mixture was heated until bubbling and allowed to cool. Upon testing the cream, all human participants experienced significantly increased perceptions of physical beauty and health. The color of ones skin became ‘healthier’ and redness was greatly reduced. The hydration of cutaneous cells is due to the moisturizing nature of both oils (C. nucifera and O. europaea) used in the ointment (Verallo-Rothwell et al., 2008). Although the insect repellant properties went untested due to seasonal constraints, citronellol has widespread use being in citronella oil, vastly used as a mosquito repellant (Songkro et al., 2011).
Keywords: cutaneous emollient, coconut, dermatitis, extra virgin oil,
lemon balm, olive, wound healing, xerosis
Preparation of Topical Cutaneous Cream Utilizing an Extract Prepared from Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) and Extra Virgin Oils from Cocos nucifera (Coconut) and Olea europaea (Olive)
Melissa officinalis, more commonly known as lemon balm, is a perennial herb of the family Lamiaceae native to Mediterranean Europe. It is known specifically for its strong lemon odor attributed to the phytochemical citronellol (Dastmalchi et al., 2008). Traditionally it has been used as a soothing tea containing chemicals with mild sedative and antiviral properties (Foster and Duke, 2000). Despite the herb’s traditional use as an internal medicine, it has known mosquito repellant qualities attributed to citronellol: a component of Citronella Oil — about 10% by weight (Songkro et al., 2011).
Citronellol, due to its insect repellant qualities, could be considered a safer alternative to brands that largely depend on DEET (N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) for their insect repellant properties. DEET has been linked to CNS damage in humans as well as multiple seizures in children associated with prolonged and occasional use. DEET has also been found to leech into the human bloodstream continuously for up to 24 hours via dermal absorption after application. A plateau in blood concentration was observed rather than an abrupt peak that tapered off signifying cutaneous absorption of DEET occurs at a constant rate indefinitely until the product is washed off thoroughly. Adverse health effects occur due to DEET’s affinity to remain in circulation at a constant concentration and remain unchanged on the surface of the skin (USEPA, 1998).
The base of the ointment is made from extra virgin oils derived from Olea europaea and Coco nucifera. Both oils have been proven, through testing and experimentation, to have emollient effects and skin protectant abilities. The extra virgin oil from Cocos nucifera has been shown to be effective in healing burns and minor skin lesions by decreasing wound contraction and the period of epithelialization (Srivastava and Durgaprasad, 2008). Both oils used together display antimicrobial and antibacterial effects as well as being useful for treating xerosis and atopic dermatitis (De la Puerta et al., 2000; Sheshala et al., 2013; Verallo-Rothwell et al., 2008). Lemon balm also contains many chemicals that exhibit synergistic antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral capabilities. In traditional medicine, these findings have reinforced its long-term use to treat symptoms associated with herpes and cold sores (Foster and Duke, 2000). The antioxidant effect of the phytochemicals present in lemon balm and olive oil help in the metabolization of free radicals and their elimination from the body (Dastmalchi et al., 2008; Visioli et al., 2002).
On combining all three ingredients, a skin cream capable of ensuring the health and nourishment of cutaneous tissue has been created that is plentiful in antioxidants and emollients. Other local plants and herbs can be added in conjunction with, or in place of, lemon balm to create creams and salves with various medicinal properties (see Appendix for a table of plants and their associated medicinal value). One can adjust the amount of olive oil used if more plant material is used, keeping the ratio about 100 ml of oil per 10 g of leaves. If a different viscosity is desired adding more or less coconut oil will achieve a more or less solid ointment, respectively.
- 20-30 g fresh M. officinalis leaves
- 250 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 500 ml extra virgin coconut oil (one must add more if an ointment or salve of greater solidity is desired; less if a more fluid ointment is desired)
- 2000 ml distilled water
- Coffee filters
- Coffee maker (if one is not available the large pot can also be used: see method b. of M. officinalis extraction)
- Funnel to aid in pouring oil off the top of the water
- Glass storage container (750-1000 ml)
- Large jug for mixing contents during extraction
- Large pot for combining and heating final mixture
- Small container with closable valve to decant waste liquids
- Source of heat; such as a stovetop or burner
- Table salt
- Talcum powder (if desired to reduce sheen the on the surface of the skin)
- Wooden or glass stirring instrument
Preparation of Ointment
M. officinalis Hot Water Extraction
- Place all collected leaves into a plastic freezer bag and freeze them for more than 48 hours. After sufficiently frozen remove the bag and gently crush the frozen ball of leaves using one’s hands. After a sufficient lemon aroma has filled the room, place the fresh leaves into either a coffee maker, if one is available, or a large pot with 8 cups of water for each. Depending on the availability of a coffee maker, either option a. or b. can be used interchangeably for initial hot water extraction of M. officinalis.
- M. officinalis extraction using coffee maker
i. Brew consecutively at a strong setting until the volume of water has condensed to about half. Be sure to stir and add more leaves if all did not fit into the maker the first time. Press the leaves down between brews to obtain maximum phytochemical concentration.
ii. After brewing the strong tea allow it to cool to room temperature before proceeding.
- M. officinalis extraction using stove and large pot
i. Begin to heat the leaves and water just before the point at which boiling is achieved. Stir frequently as to not let the leaves burn or stick on the inside of the pot.
ii. Once a dark brown color is achieved and strong lemon odor is noticeably emitting from the pot it is acceptable to remove the pot from the heat source. Immediately strain the water through a coffee filter and press the leaves to obtain the last of the juices inside of them.
iii. Return the collected liquid to the heat source and begin to condense it to about half that of the original volume.
iv. Allow the darker liquid to cool to room temperature before proceeding to the next step.
- Pour the newly collected brown liquid into the large jug with the aid of the funnel and set aside. This newly collected liquid contains most of the phytochemicals that were easily extracted from the leaves and soluble in the hot water.
M. officinalis Olive Oil Extraction
- Add 70 ml of olive oil to the mixture and cap tightly. Shake the mixture for a few seconds and carefully open the cap to let out gas that was previously pressurizing the container. Cap the container again and shake for a few more seconds. Open again and let the gasses escape. Once gas ceases to be heard bubbling out of the lid it isn’t necessary to open it again. Vigorously shake the mixture for a few minutes and allow it to settle for an hour or two. After some separation has occurred, some solid looking material should be present in the oil layer. Pour off the oil layer into a collection vessel with a valve. Repeat procedure with 80 ml of oil but shake once more after settling for an hour, and allow settling for an additional two to three hours. After the portion of 80 ml of olive oil has been poured off add the last of the olive oil (100 ml) to the top of the mixture.
- Next add table salt to the oil and water mixture until it is not readily dissolved in a few shakes of the container. This will draw the organic soluble chemicals into the oil from the water by saturating it with sodium and chloride ions from salt. Cap the mixture and begin shaking until no salt is present and the mixture looks homogenous. Quickly it should start to separate out into two distinct layers. Once it has nearly separated shake the container again. Repeat this procedure adding a few ice cubes along with two to three tablespoon of salt each time. It is sufficient to stop once little to no more salt will dissolve into the water. After one last shake allow the mixture to settle overnight. Pour off the last of the oil into the collection vessel.
- Vigorously shake the collection vessel to homogenize the mixture and allow it to settle for an additional 24-48 hours. After the mixture has settled remove any excess water with the aid of the valve. There should be solids visible within the oil and should be a more noticeable golden color; contrasting the original translucent greenish hue of the olive oil. Once all the oil has been collected the water and salt mixture can be disposed of.
Creation of the Salve Using Coconut Oil
- Melt coconut oil into a liquid state in a large pot and stir in the oil extract of M. officinalis. Be sure to constantly stir the mixture as it is heated to avoid excess burning of the coconut oil. Heat the mixture to bubbling until a film is present on top of the oils. This should take about 10 minutes to achieve full coverage on top of the oil. Reduce the heat and continue stirring an additional five minutes.
- Remove the oil mixture from the heated surface and immediately transfer it to the glass storage container. Continue stirring the mixture in the container for about five minutes. Slowly add talcum powder to the mixture to dull the sheen on the surface of the skin. The olive oil can leave the surface of the skin looking oily if too much is applied and talc aids in dulling down the reflective properties of the oil. Cap the container and place somewhere to settle undisturbed for 12 hours.
- Shake the product thoroughly and place product in a cool dry place to finish settling. Refrigeration usually is the preferred method. Depending on the content of olive oil, the product will be more or less solid at room temperature. For best results and longevity of the ointment be sure to always store it in a refrigerator to maintain freshness and consistency in the disbursement of material throughout.
Test of Efficacy
The ointment was applied topically to the skin of the hands and arms of five participants. An unmeasured amount was applied liberally to the surface of the skin and allowed to soak in while being rubbed gently. The participants noted a superficial soothing feeling on the surface of the skin and immediately, within seconds, each of the five participants experienced enhanced hydration. The appearance as well as the color drastically changed in that dry, chafed and red skin became soft, pliable and natural pigmentation was restored. The change in color is due to the anti-inflammatory nature of the phytochemicals found in both M. officinalis as well as olive oil (De la Puerta et al., 2000; Foster and Duke, 2000). The moisturizing effects of coconut oil were noticeable after hours even after the hands had been rinsed with water. One participant with severe windburn and xerosis experienced significant relief from the pain associated with cracking, dry hands. Agero and Verallo-Rowell (2004) concluded that the effectiveness of coconut oil was an equally effective skin emollient as mineral oil and their research supports using this ointment in the treatment of mild to moderate xerosis. Another participant with severe dermatitis, unable to be controlled by the use of corticosteroids, experienced drastic changes in the appearance and texture of their skin. Most notable was the disappearance of the flakes characteristic to eczema, or atopic dermatitis. Verallo-Rothwell and colleagues (2008) conducted research testing both coconut and olive oils for their efficacy to aid in relieving eczema and it was determined that both exhibited sufficient evidence to be suitable candidates for use in a skin cream.
[1.]Agero, A L; Verallo-Rowell V M (2004). “A Randomized double blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis”. Dermatitis, (3): 109-16.
[2.]Dastmalchi, K; Damiendorman, H; Oinonen, P; Darwis, Y; Laakso, I; Hiltunen, R (2008). “Chemical composition and in vitro antioxidative activity of a lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) extract”. LWT – Food Science and Technology, (3): 391–400
[3.]De la Puerta, R; Martinez-Dominguez, E; Ruiz-Gutierrez, V (2000). “Effect of minor components of virgin olive oil on topical anti-inflammatory assays”. Z Naturforsch C, (9-10): 814-9.
[4.]Foster, S; Duke, J (2000). “A Field guide to medicinal plants and herbs: of Eastern and central North America”. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin
[5.]Sheshala, R; Ying, L T; Hui, L S; Barua, A; Dua, K (2013). “Development and antimicrobial potential of topical formulations containing Cocos nucifera L.” Antiinflamm Antiallergy Agents Med Chem, (3): 253-64.
[6.]Songkro, S; Hayook, N; Jaisawang, J; Maneenuan, Duangkhae; Chuchome, T; Kaewnopparat, N (2011). “Investigation of inclusion complexes of citronella oil, citronellal and citronellol with β-cyclodextrin for mosquito repellent”. Journal of Inclusion Phenomena and Macrocyclic Chemistry 72 (3–4): 339
[7.]Srivastava, P; Durgaprasad, S (2008). “Burn wound healing property of Cocos nucifera: an Appraisal”. Indian J Pharmacol, (4): 144-6. doi: 10.4103/0253-7613.43159.
[8.]United States Environmental Protection Agency (1998). Reregistration eligibility decision (REA) DEET. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/002red.pdf
[9.]Verallo-Rothwell, V M; Dillague, K M; Syah-Tjundawan, B S (2008). “Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis”. Dermatitis, (6): 308-315.
[10.]Visioli, F; Poli, A; Gall, C (2002). “Antioxidant and other biological activities of phenols from olives and olive oil”. Med Res Rev, (1): 65-75.
Locally Medicinal Flora: Containing useful portions and their associated medical value
|Scientific Name(Common Name)||Useful Portion ofthe Plant||Accepted MedicinalValue|
|Albizzia julibrissin(American Mimosa)||bark||Soothes abrasions and skin lesions|
|★Cannabis indica x sativa(Medical Cannabis)||leaves and flowers||Contains CBD and THC, newly ‘rediscovered’ chemicals with anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, and anticancer properties|
|Foeniculum vulgare(Fennel)||seeds||Antibacterial and weak muscle sedative|
|Frageria vesca(Strawberry)||fruit||Possibly slow tumor growth and metastasis|
|Impatiens capensis(Jewel-weed)||leaves and stalks||Contains lawsone, a phytochemical with anti-inflammatory and anti-dermatitis activity|
|Nepeta cataria(Catnip)||leaves||Mosquito repellant similar to citronellol|
|Oenothera biennis(Common Evening Primrose)||roots||Relieves bruises and eczema while restoring fatty acid imbalances|
|Passiflora incarnata(Passionflower, Maypop)||Rhizome and leaves||Reduces the appearance and size of boils, bruises, cuts, and inflammation|
|Pimpinella anisum(Anise)||rhizome||Relieves pain associated with burns|
|Polygonatum biflorum(Solomon’s Seal)||rhizome||Relieves pain associated with cuts, bruises and sores|
|Solidago canadensis(Goldenrod)||rhizome||Relieves pain associated with burns|
|Trifolium repens(White Clover)||leaves||Contains genistein, a cancer preventative, and many antioxidants|
|Zea mays(Corn)||seeds||Contains allantoin which has tested wound healing properties|
(Foster and Duke, 2000)
★Although it is federally illegal, many state legislatures have enabled Cannabis to become treated as medicine to combat debilitating diseases.