Friday, July 28, 2006

No Lavender for You, Young Man

Last year when I was visiting with a soap maker at the Midtown farmers market, she told me that the lavender-infused soaps tended to be soporific, and that she had, in fact, been known to fall asleep while making it. At the time I thought a lavender sachet under my pillow might be a good sleep aid, although I haven't tried it. Now I have an added reason to give it a try, although I come to this theory in a somewhat convoluted way.

An article in the July 1 issue of Science News suggests that products containing lavender essential oil may not be a good idea for children, especially boys, because both lavender oil and tea tree oil contain compounds that they say "mimic female sex hormones and interfere with male hormones."

There's a condition known as gynecomastia, wherein males develop enlarged breasts, that happens when guys experience an imbalance between the activity of estrogens and androgens. It's extremely rare before puberty, researches say, but pediatrician Clifford Bloch of Denver, Colorado, says he has seen a number of cases of this in boys age 10 or younger since the mid-1990s. Most of these kids had normal hormone levels in their blood, which meant it wasn't their glands that were at fault.

So this doctor did a little detective work and found out that at least five of the boys had been using a shampoo, hair gel, soap or other product that contained lavender oil. "A couple of patients were putting pure lavender oil on their skin," he told Science News.

He told the kids to stop using lavender products and their chests returned to normal boy chests within a few months. Later laboratory tests confirmed his hunch that the lavender oil does indeed stimulate estrogen-regulated genes and inhibit androgen-regulated genes. They also found this to be true of tea tree oil.

The article suggests that the early onset of puberty in some young girls may also be related to use of products containing these plant oils, but more research would need to be done to say for sure.

They don't seem to think there's an issue here for adults and maybe not even for older teens. But since kids prior to puberty have low amounts of sex hormones to begin with, it wouldn't take a lot to skew the balance. Still, I can't help but wonder if there's something here that could be helpful to women of a certain age in alleviating menopausal annoyances.

It made me think--hmmm, since summer, I haven't really noticed much in the way of hot flashes, and I've been using a sunscreen that contains lavender. Coincidence? Maybe, but now I'm intrigued and will have to see if anyone's done any research on the effects of these botanical oils on menopause symptoms. I'll let you know if I find anything out worth sharing.

(The lovely photo of lavender that appears above is from

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Meet my rose

This is my rose, Jude the Obscure. I got it last year from Heirloom Roses , which is a mail-order rose grower that only sells own-root roses (no grafts, so no bud-unions or suckering to worry about), and doesn't spray their roses, but favors what we generally call organic methods, so you know the roses aren't used to being sprayed and coddled and thus should be more resistant than most to pests and diseases. They also certify their roses virus-free, and although I don't know anything about rose viruses, that sounds like a good thing to me. I not only prefer to garden with such plants, but I prefer to support businesses that operate that way.

Last year in The Minneapolis Observer I wrote an article about organic rose growing and talked to a couple in St. Paul who are organic rose growers. If you want to read it, go here.

Jude the Obscure was named for the 19th century novel by Thomas Hardy. I haven't read it, so I can't tell you anything about it. It was developed in 1995 by David Austin, the noted English rose breeder. As you can see, it offered up a luscious blossom earlier this summer, less than one year after I planted it. It's supposed to bloom throughout the summer, but it only had two blossoms in June. I assume that's because it's so new. I chose it not only for it's ball of abundant petals, but also because it is rated "very disease resistant" and has a lovely fragrance described as "lemon/myrrh/peach." Describing rose fragrance seems to be a little bit like describing what wine tastes like. I don't recall this blossom being very strongly fragrant, but I do believe it had a pleasant scent nonetheless.

It's only rated hardy to zone 5 and we are in zone 4, though some people feel that the city itself may have a zone 5 microclimate. I covered it with pine boughs last winter, which was probably not enough to protect it in a normal winter, but it was a mild one, so, obviously, it came through just fine.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hello and welcome

In spite of the clear fact that the cyber world really doesn't need yet another blog, here I am, blogging. I suppose I am driven by the human urge to reach out to others and share what we believe to be useful, inspiring, amusing, or just plain interesting. Of course, it raises the question: should I really be taking time away from everything else to post messages here? Especially when I am such a finicky writer than even a short missive such as this can take me an inordinate amount of time (so far so good, though -- I've only invested about 10 minutes at this point into setting this up and penning this introductory message).

I do hope that those who either stumble upon this site or pay a courtesy call because I told them about it will find something they consider worth reading.

All the best,
Sharon Parker
(make that 15 minutes -- not that I'm keeping track or anything)