Au Natural Factual: Elderberry


Elderberry or elder (Sambucus nigra, S. Canadensis) has traditionally been used on the skin to treat wounds or taken as medicine to treat respiratory illnesses like the cold and flu. Elder is a large deciduous shrub or small tree that grows in wet or dry soil in sunny locations. Native to Europe, Africa and parts of Asia, it is also widespread in North America. The flowers and berries are the components used for medicinal purposes. The elder flowers and berries must be cooked before they are collected to be used. Using raw and unripe berries can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and can be poisonous.

Many beneficial properties in elderberry have led to the belief that the flowering plant has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticancer properties. Elderberry has been used for sinuses, nasal and chest congestion, back, leg and nerve pain, as well as for chronic fatigue syndrome.

It is a great natural remedy for injuries, infection and various skin conditions. Elderberry has also been proven to boost the immune system and improve health due to its many beneficial components such as bioflavonoids, tannins, amino acids, carotenoids, vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin c. As a result of it’s many health benefits, some people also prepare elder flowers as food or use the flowers for tea and the berries for wine, jelly or jam. Taken internally, elder is said to cleanse the body and strengthen one’s immune system.

Elderberry/elder flower is also a popular ingredient used in personal care products for its natural benefits on skin and hair. Due to its emollient and mild astringent properties, elder is beneficial in calming sunburn, reducing eye puffiness or enlarged pores. It is also a great aftershave tonic for men and can be used as a calming bath herb. For hair, elder provides moisture and nourishment to dry hair and can be found in many shampoos, conditioners or hair rinses.

Elder blossoms are often found as an ingredient in facial steams, cleansers, scrubs, lotions, moisturizers, soaps and toners. Elderflower water, regarded as a natural beauty secret of many women, is traditionally used as a facial toner.


Sources: Herb WisdomPangea Organics, University of Maryland Medical Center, Web MD, Wild Edibles, Wikipedia

Images: Mother Earth Living, Carolina Nature, Food and Hearth (Cool elderberry recipes!)

Book Talk: “Mastering the Art of French Eating” by Ann Mah

Unlike my mother and my sister, I have never had a strong desire nor much skill towards culinary endeavors. In fact, my mom often shoos me out of the kitchen because she says I just hover over the food too much instead of making myself useful. It may be the journalist in me which prompts me to just observe the ingredients, the cooking techniques and understand the way in which someone else cooks rather than have the urge to try it myself. But, I love to eat. If there’s one thing about cooking I do enjoy, it’s learning about food and trying every and any type of food dish.

My love for food and not specifically the cooking part, is probably why I enjoyed reading Ann Mah’s new food memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love From a Year in Paris. I didn’t expect I’d like this book as much as I did since, like I said, cooking isn’t really my thing. But Mah’s clever ode to Julia Child’s classic cookbook title, Mastering the Art of French Cooking should’ve tipped me off that this isn’t your ordinary food memoir.

When her diplomat husband announces his next assignment is in Paris, Mah’s dream city, she envisions nothing but adventures and food excursions galore in the City of Lights with the love of her life. Nearly months after moving to Paris, her husband is suddenly called away to a last-minute post to Iraq for a year and Mah is left alone in a bustling foreign city, losing sight of her dreams for Paris.

I missed my husband like an internal organ, and the city, which had seemed so quaintly formal when we were together– with its bonjours and bonsoirs, and four-course-dinner parties, and cheek kisses instead of hugs– felt a little cold now that I was alone. (3)

Finding solace in food and French culture, Mah decides to channel her loneliness and passion for food by uncovering the origins and history behind true French cuisine. She begins to learn more about herself, French cuisine and love while on this journey. This book covers many dishes and distances, her story starts in Paris to uncover the city’s famous steak frites, traverses to Britanny to cover crepes, ambles to Alsace to learn about choucroute and stumbles to Burgundy to discover Julia Child’s signature dish, boeuf bourguignon among many other places and dishes Mah writes about.

The fries were hand-cut, hot enough to sting my fingers, a glass of red wine was cheaper than bottled water, a pile of nondescript steamed green beans turned oddly addictive when dipped into the tarrag0n-scented bearnaise sauce. I pursed my mouth and sawed at my steak, took a bite and chewed, put down my fork to circle an address in a restaurant review. I felt almost Parisian. (23)

Ann Mah takes you on a culinary, wander-lusting journey across France investigating quintessential French dishes and telling the traditions behind these foods. The only adverse effect this book had was that I would always feel so hungry that I didn’t think I could continue reading. Mah’s delectable imagery, honest and emotional prose and hilarious and humble stories left my stomach growling at every chapter and my fingers racing to turn the pages. I may have even gotten more inspired to step into the kitchen myself.

Without love, my work felt a bit meaningless; just as when I cooked for myself– the food never tasted as good. (122)
Images:, Bon Appetit

Au Natural Factual: Carmine = Bugs + Lip Color

cochineal-cactus image

Out of all the color options in a seemingly endless rainbow of lipstick, my favorite lip color has always been a tried and true, classic red. Look at most food products or cosmetics with red coloring and you’ll probably find “Carmine” or “Carminic Acid” in the ingredients. Also commonly listed as Cochineal, Cochineal Extract, Crimson Lake and Natural Red 4; carmine is a red pigment/dye derived from the scales of the cochineal beetle, an insect native to South America and Mexico.

Cochineal beetles are parasites that feed on cactus plants. The beetles are crushed to create the deep red pigment that you may find mixed in many cosmetics, food products and textiles. Carminic acid is highly concentrated in cochineal insects. Extracted from the insect’s body and eggs, the substance is then mixed with aluminum or calcium salts to make carmine dye, commonly used in coloring products and called, cochineal.

Traditionally, the Aztecs and Mexican Indians collected and used the powder of cochineal insects. The pigment interested the Spaniards who later exported the dried insects to Europe where the Europeans and the world became quite smitten with the bright, scarlet hue. Cleopatra was also an ancient beauty who favored using cochineal beetles to tint her lips red.

While the process behind extracting carmine may have a “gross” factor for some, it has been determined to be a safe colorant for humans and has only caused rare cases of allergic reaction. The EWG’s Skin Deep database lists carmine with a low score of 1 for toxicity.

After many complaints from consumers, in 2009 the FDA required any food or cosmetics containing cochineal to be declared on ingredient labels.
Recently, Dannon and Starbucks made headlines regarding their individaul use of cochineal for coloring in products. Like everything, consumers should use at their own risk based upon personal health and beliefs.

Here are types of products you may find carmine to be used in:
Food Industry – Frozen fish, meat, etc.
Beverage Industry – Soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, etc.
Alcoholic Beverages – Products with low pH requiring red or orange tones
Dairy Industry – Yogurts, ice cream and dairy based beverages
Confections – Candy, fillings, syrups, chewing gum, etc.
Fruit Preparations – Canned fruits such as cherries, Jams, Pulp, etc.
Cosmetic Industry – Dispersions close to eye area, eye shadows, lipsticks, etc.
Others – Ketchup, powdered drinks, dehydrated soups, canned soups, etc.   (Source:

Images from Business Insider. Sources: Business Insider, Environmental Working Group, FDA, Gentle World, Huffington Post, NPRSnopes

Au Natural Factual Friday: Chia Seeds

Cha-cha-cha-Chia! I’m not going to be talking about those cute plant creatures that grow in a tabletop pot, but Chia seeds, the seeds from those plants.

Chia seeds have been all the health-food rage since it’s 2012 induction, dubbed as a super-foods supplement, chia seeds are super-nutrients that helps control hunger and enhance one’s diet. Chia seeds are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and are also considered a concentrated food as the seeds are loaded with antioxidants, carbohydrates, fiber, calcium and protein.

It’s no wonder why I couldn’t turn a corner at work without seeing ladies spilling this into their yogurts, mixing it into their drinks, or just plain munching on some seeds. And it seemed my own encounter with chia seeds was inevitable as I walked to work and health-food promoters practically threw packets of free chia seeds to me on the street. (Seriously.) 

A couple of these Chia Shots were thrown to me while walking to work…

Chia seeds are derived from a flowering plant known simply as the Chia plant (salvia hispanica) which are native to many areas in central/southern Mexico. The use of chia seeds date back to the times of the Mayans and Aztecs when chia seeds were also eaten as a staple food and believed to be an energy booster. It’s still used in Mexico today as a nutritious food source, ground or sprinkled into drinks or on food.

Not only are these super-nutritious seeds good to eat, they’re also a beneficial natural beauty ingredient. When chia seeds are cold pressed into an oil they have proven to do wonders for skin. Chia seed oil is very moisturizing and hydrating to the skin and can also calm redness due to a high level of vitamin B3, a natural anti-inflammatory. The antioxidants in the oil also help protect skin from free radical damage such as aging and UV rays. Since Chia seeds are rich in omega 3-fatty acids, as an oil, the acids aid in encouraging collagen and elastin formation, allowing skin to stay firm and supple.

Although I’m not hooked on Chia seeds in my daily diet, I think they are a beneficial health supplement. I’ve seen so many more natural/organic beauty products using Chia seeds or oil as an ingredient and I’d love to try some out in my skincare routine! Would you add chia seeds or chia oil to your beauty and health routine?

Products with Chin seed/Chia oil ingredients:

One Love Organics Skin Savior Waterless Beauty Balm

I received a sample of this balm with a recent order from BeautySage and I love it! It’s great to moisture the skin, remove makeup and a favorite use of mine: tame flyaway hairs! I think I’ll purchasing a full-size in the future. The One Love Organics skincare line mostly features Chia seed oil.

Annmarie Gianni Anti-Aging Facial Oil

The chia oil in this product is said to provide an ulta-glowing face and lots of hydration.






Foods Alive Organic Chia Seed Oil

Last but not least, pure cold-pressed Chia seed oil from Foods Alive.







Sources (click for links): Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics The New York Times Well + Good NYC Organic Authority 

FDA Releases Long-Awaited Standard on Gluten-Free Labeling

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration finally introduced standards on labeling products regulated by the FDA with the term “gluten-free”. This long-awaited standard on gluten-free labeling has been augmented by the increase of individuals diagnosed with celiac disease. With nearly 3 million Americans suffering from celiac disease, a disease where individuals cannot process gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye, this seems to be an important regulatory milestone.

The published FDA guidelines define food and drugs with less than 20 parts per million of gluten as “gluten-free” and thus provides manufacturers with a specific standard to follow in regards to labeling products.  Here are the specific details which allow a product to be labeled as gluten-free by the FDA definition (as posted on the FDA website):

  1. an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains
  2. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
  3. an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten

The new FDA standard for gluten-free labeling poses many interesting outcomes for both consumers and manufacturers. Many gluten-free advocates have applauded the FDA in their release of the labeling guidelines as there will now be a greater reassurance among the gluten-free community when purchasing food and drugs. It is also reassuring for food manufacturers to actually have a standard to use and to produce products reflecting upon a specific definition.

Gluten free

However, like other FDA standard guidelines, such as labeling products as organic or cruelty free, there are still many loose ends where manufacturers can misbrand their products and use the “gluten-free” labeling standard to their advantage disregarding a consumer’s health. For example, the FDA even declared that water, fruit, eggs or vegetables may be labeled “gluten-free” because they do not specifically contain any gluten. Hmm…

The new standard on gluten-free labeling applies only to voluntary labeled products regulated by the FDA and manufacturers will have one year after the rule goes into effect to comply with the new definitions.

What is your opinion on the new FDA ruling?

Sources (click for links): NPR,  Food Safety News, FDA News, USA Today

Images:  WikiMedia Commons Images and glup.

Au Natural Factual Friday: Omega-3 fatty acids

Happy Friday! I’m going to be starting a series every Friday (or every other Friday, depending on my schedule) called, Au Natural Factual Fridays.

I’m excited to delve into this topic where I’ll highlight ingredients, additives, and chemicals prevalent in our food and personal care products (and ones that may be highly talked about) and why you should be familiar with them. I’ll give you basic facts and share tips. Let’s see how this goes!

Remember: everything we put in and on our bodies have potential risk for harm but it’s up to you to become educated and make your own choices when it comes to personal care and dietary habits. I’m just here to share information with you. 

This Friday’s we’re talking about: Omega-3.

Omega-3 (or Omega-3 fatty acids) are a group of fatty acids that are usually discussed in terms of supplemental health.

Omega-3 fatty acids aren’t produced within the body so we obtain these nutrients through food and supplemental products as they have been proven to be essential to body development, basic bodily functions and overall good health.

Fish oil capsules: a source of Omega-3s

Fish oil capsules: a source of Omega-3s

Omega-3s are classified into 3 different types according to the sources they are derived from. They are: ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). ALA Omega-3s are often found in plant oils while EPA and DHA Omega-3s are both commonly found in marine oils. Examples of ALA Omega-3s you may be familiar with are: flaxseed oil, canola, soybean, and Echium oil. While EPA and DHA Omega-3s are found in fatty fish. 

There are many health benefits that researchers have found regarding the intake of Omega-3s ranging from the reduction of heart disease, stroke, Cancer prevention and decreased risk of degenerative diseases. See this detailed list of tests performed by the Mayo Clinic showing proven and unproven benefits:

Recently however, Omega-3s have made headlines as the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shared a study which found an increased risk of prostate cancer in men with high blood levels of omega-3s either through regular intake of fish oil supplements or eating cold water fish (eg. Alaskan salmon, mackeral, or sardine).

While the risks and benefits of Omega-3s are still being further researched and understood, it has been concluded that adding more Omega-3s (at your own risk) in our everyday consumption generally benefits your health.

With data showing low levels of Omega-3s among must individuals, specifically low among the average American, and because these are fatty acids our bodies cannot create, eating a source of Omega-3s is important but reliant on your actionsTry to add at least one source of omega-3 fatty acids in your everyday diet by consuming foods with Omega-3 rich ingredients such as walnuts, canola oil, soybean and more regular (but controlled) amounts of fish. 

How I start my day with Omega-3s!

How I start my day with Omega-3s!

My new favorite breakfast cereal from Nature’s Path is a great source of ALA Omega-3s!

Do you eat foods with Omega-3s on a regular basis? Do you plan to include them in your diet and how? Any suggestions? Let me know!

Resources used (hover for links): The Mayo ClinicThe Health JournalHarvard School of Public HealthWikipedia