Ethnobotanist and Herbalist Kerry Hughes, M.Sc, shares the fascinating science behind the benefits of botanicals and explains why we should be eating flowers and smelling more plants for better health.
Ethnobotanist & Herbalist
Kerry Hughes, MS, principal for EthnoPharm, is an ethnobotanist, herbalist, and author with a 20-year record of success in natural product development. Hughes is driven by a "tenacious fascination with the potential health-enhancing role plants can play." Kerry’s love of natural products has compelled her to write and speak frequently on a variety of subjects. Her writing includes the recently published Botanicals With Benefits, and more.
Maria Marlowe: [00:00:34] Welcome back to the Happier and Healthier podcast. Today we’re talking all things plants with Kerry Hughes, an ethnobotanist, herbalist and product developer. Now, I don’t think you need a clinical study to tell you that nature is good for you, although they do exist. And Kerry is going to share some of these insights on just how powerful and medicinal nature can be. Now, while I’m sure you’re familiar with the health benefits of eating plants and even walking through nature, today Kerry’s going to share some insights on the benefits of eating flowers and smelling plants. Two things that I think we don’t maybe do very often, but that do have medicinal and health benefits.
Maria Marlowe: [00:01:25] This episode is brought to you by BioSil, a beauty collagen, clinically proven to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and strengthen brittle hair and nails. Unlike most collagen supplements you see on the market, BioSil is not animal derived collagen. It’s a vegan supplement containing the patented ch-OSA complex. This naturally derived complex has been clinically proven to generate and protect your body’s own collagen. This two and one effect helps ensure plump-looking skin all year long. I learned about BioSil four years ago from a friend who had glowing skin, gorgeous, long, shiny hair and long and strong nails. I asked her secret, she said BioSil and I’ve been hooked ever since. Get 20 percent off your first bottle on Biosilusa.com with the promo code MARIA20 and get ready to glow from the inside out.
Maria Marlowe: [00:02:23] Kerry, thanks so much for being here.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:02:25] I’m so happy to be here.
Maria Marlowe: [00:02:28] So you’re an ethnobotanist and an herbalist. So first, let’s break down both of those terms. What exactly do you do?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:02:37] Yeah, well, I get that question a lot, but usually after a blank stare. An ethno-what? So ethnobotany is really just somebody who studies the relationship between humans and plants. So it can be as simple as that. Most ethnobotanists tend to work more having to do with useful plants, having to do with maybe medicine or other uses as well. There’s a lot of ethnobotanists that are solely academic. So working with different cultures around the world about how they use plants, not really characterizing what those plants are, but then the various uses that they have. So the plants might be used, if you can imagine all the uses we have for plants, there are medicines, there are foods, there’s shelter, there’s clothing. Plants really give us pretty much all we have. And you can survive just on plants. So you can imagine it’s a pretty vast field and has a lot of different applications.
Maria Marlowe: [00:03:45] So what would be the difference then for anyone listening who is unclear? So an ethnobotanist, you’re studying plants, you are studying the relationship of plants and humans. And then what would be the distinction between a herbalist which maybe people are a little bit, a little bit more, but maybe not 100 percent familiar with?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:04:02] Yeah, herbalist is another one of these kind of vague terms as well. And in the United States, we have no licensure for herbalists. So you can’t go to your doctor and get your insurance to cover you or something like that. But obviously, herbalists have a very long tradition. And most people think of herbalists as somebody who is advising on the use of herbs for health. So medicines or nutrition. And in this market, here in the US, most herbalists are focused on nutrition because that’s how the rules are. They can’t really be practicing medicine. And yeah, I mean, a lot of food is medicine if you want to really get into the philosophy of it. And so, I’m a clinical herbalist, so I have a certification to do that and I have a small practice. But really most of my work is focused on more of the education and other aspects of developing markets and developing products having to do with that.
Maria Marlowe: [00:05:03] So walk us through. Because I feel when I read your bio and looked at the books you wrote, you have my dream job. If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now, I would love to do what you are doing. Just hang out with plants all day. So day to day, what does that look like and how are you applying these two fields in your work?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:05:24] Good question. Actually, I get that a lot. A lot of people think this is my dream job. I would love to hang out in the garden all day long and that could be one way of being an ethnobotanist or an herbalist. But really, to be honest, my job has a lot to do with research and sitting in front of the computer more than you would imagine. But I do get to get out into the field and have amazing journeys and getting to know people and plants and how they’re used in various areas of the world, that this knowledge is still alive. And I mean, even here and this is kind of the focus of these books now that I’m working on, is a lot of people think about, oh, those medicines that came from the rainforest or something like that, some far off exotic thing.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:06:15] But really, I want people to look in their own backyards, because the plants that surround us here in our own backyards, in our own gardens have amazing uses. And so it’s getting those uses out to people and inspiring people to really think differently about their place on this earth. And I mean, when you say you have my dream job, you could actually have that role more in your garden because your role in your garden is super important to biodiversity and to the environment. And we are not just isolated humans. We are part of nature. And I think that it’s important for people to start really seeing themselves as that and seeing that they could have a positive role.
Maria Marlowe: [00:07:03] Yes, I have an internal garden as I live in an apartment building and my dream is to have an actual garden. But for anyone listening, well, maybe, actually, let’s start with you, as I’m sure you have a garden.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:07:15] Yes.
Maria Marlowe: [00:07:16] So what are some of your favorite plants or must-have plants in your personal garden?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:07:23] Well, it’s a little bit difficult because you’re always limited by climate, right? So there are plants that I can’t do in my current place of residence that I would love to be able to grow more of the tropicals, which I can’t do here. Because where I live currently is in the mountains and we get snow. And so you need cold hardy plants or plants that you can use as annuals and grow them to the warm season. But even still, with those parameters, there’s a lot of interesting things. I mean, even, for example, in the new book that’s coming out, the aroma book, I talk about Lilac, and Lilac is something that’s really common to a number of gardens, very common in the East Coast and is very cold hardy. And yet people don’t realize that actually beyond its beautiful smell, which it does have, the flowers are edible and can be used for making a Lilac jelly or other things that are really beautiful beyond just looking at them and going, oh, that’s a pretty plant. So, yeah, that’s just one thing.
Maria Marlowe: [00:08:32] And speaking of… Okay, you could eat the Lilac and you could smell the Lilac, so your first book is all about flowers and you like to encourage people to eat more flowers. So let’s just jump off on that topic.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:08:48] Alright.
Maria Marlowe: [00:08:48] Flowers are beautiful. And I do sometimes see them at the grocery store, the edible flowers on little packages and they look so pretty. And I do sometimes pick them up. I maybe put a couple in a salad, but first of all, I don’t even know what flowers are in there, and I feel like I just throw them in a salad, but why should we be eating more flowers? Why do you think it’s so important? And then how do we start eating more flowers?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:09:16] Oh, well, that’s a good question. Well, first of all, coming back to what you said earlier, that is a lot of people’s experience with edible flowers, That if I can’t get it off the grocery shelf, then should I be eating it?
Maria Marlowe: [00:09:31] I mean, even I buy them. I do buy them sometimes. And then I’m scared to eat them, to be honest with you. I’m like, uh, I don’t know if I should be eating this.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:09:41] Yeah, well, if it’s packaged as an edible flowers, certainly it should be edible. And there are a number of flowers that you can eat that are normally flowers that people only think they’re just pretty to look at. So some examples would be like a pansy or a viola, johnny jump up. All those little plants and those can be grown pretty much anywhere in the warm season. And some places they grow all year round and flower all year round depending on your climate. And it really you could just pop off those little flowers, stick them in your salad. That’s probably the easiest way to do it. So you could just stick them in your salad and your salad looks amazing all of a sudden, you know. But you can also float them in soups. You can float them in drinks.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:10:26] One thing that’s really cool about flowers that not many people think about is that flowers have a long tradition in traditional medicine as well. And so there are like Aboriginal cultures, indigenous cultures that use flowers in healing ceremonies and use flowers as medicine. And one easy kind of approach area of that for flowers is something called flower essences. And these are like extracts made with flowers, but they’re super dilute. So they’re kind of like homeopathic, so they’re super safe and anybody can use them. They are self-regulating. You’re not going to hurt yourself. And, you know, they’re more of kind of what you would call like a vibrational essence where there’s kind of spiritual, emotional qualities involved. And that’s a really fun way to get involved with flowers and consuming flowers in a way.
Maria Marlowe: [00:11:22] Is that like a tincture? What’s the form of that?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:11:25] Yeah, it’s in a tincture. Usually, they’re liquid drops and you just put them under your tongue a couple of times a day and you can get a book depending on… So the first line of these that were out in the early nineteen hundreds was the Bach Flower Essences. And now there are actually flower essence companies in various regions throughout the world that have built on this tradition and they’re really amazing, I have to say, which is funny to hear me say, because usually I’m very scientific, and oriented around what the clinical studies say and how plants are used in that way. But flower essences are really just a really fun and beautiful way that you can use flowers. And I would even say that when we’re talking about floating them in beverages or something like that.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:12:16] There’s also this really cool tradition called the Victorian language of flowers. And in the Victorian times, people were very you know, there was a lot of modesty and men and women were not allowed to mix freely in polite company, kind of a thing. And so there were little signals that were happening with flowers and women would have little flowers to signal what they wanted to intend with a man. And men would give flowers with that same signal. And so the different kinds of flowers given actually had little hidden messages in them. And so that’s something I talk about a little bit in the book and how well, wouldn’t it be interesting to make these messages for our friends? Let’s have a cocktail to celebrate a victory and use the flowers for that or something to give you courage and the various things that you’re celebrating or wanting out of life, basically. I mean, it sounds a little woo woo, but it’s really fun. And I think that if you’re a foodie, then this is the next place to go.
Maria Marlowe: [00:13:23] I love that. And, you know, I do find these things very fun and very interesting. And I was just doing another interview with an MD and she’s talking about the placebo effect and how it actually works. Right. The sugar pill sometimes works, and that’s okay. So if you’re eating a flower or drinking a flower that’s supposed to give you courage, whether it actually does or not, it doesn’t matter because you’ll feel that way. So I really like that. Is there a particular flower essence that you always have in your cabinet or that you really like or you think if people were to get one flower essence, what should it be?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:14:05] Well, right now, I have to tell you, I am obsessed with the Australian Bush Flower Essences. Okay. And I was living in Australia for a few years and just fell in love with the place. You can imagine that the botanical scene there is amazing. Lots of plants, nowhere else can you find them. And there is a company out there that does the Australian Bush Flower Essences. And so one that’s really popular that I use with a lot of people, friends, and clients, is called Crowea. And it is really good for calming and sort of… Like a lot of people right now, especially with the pandemic ending or going on, just a lot of anxiety out there, a lot of worry. And people are not at ease. And this is one of the most popular flower essences. And it really is used heavily for this around the world. People love it. And I’ve had really good results with people in that way as well. So that’s one of my favorites.
Maria Marlowe: [00:15:09] Anything calming is probably a good one for everyone to have on hand.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:15:15] Right.
Maria Marlowe: [00:15:16] Okay, let’s go back to the garden question. So Lilac. Let’s just say I’m moving to my first house where I have a garden. What are maybe three to five plants I should put in there if I want to use it? Maybe like as every aspect, maybe as medicine, as a beautiful aroma. What should I have?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:15:38] Yeah, well, so one of the easiest that I always tell people is Lavender. I think Lavender is a really good starting plant for a lot of people because well, a lot of people love the scent. I mean, it is a little bit overused now. We have Lavender in everything that you can imagine. I mean, it’s in our cleansers, in our floor cleaners, in our air products. It’s everywhere. And so probably some people are getting sick of it because of that. But as a garden plant, first of all, it’s very beautiful and it does come in different forms. So you can have a taller form and you have a shorter form. It’s easy to grow. It’s drought-tolerant. You know it can take a lot of sun and then the flowers are edible. So you can put it in salads. You would want to take off the hard parts of the flower, just a little tender parts.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:16:29] And you can also make teas out of it so you can make just a simple tea, take it straight from the garden. You can also use the leaves. That’s very safe. And what a lot of people don’t realize, at least in the US, is that Lavender is used pretty heavily in certain cuisines, actually. Maybe not heavily, but it’s one of the very common ones to use, like in French cuisine. And so you can start playing around with it on that level, too. You can put it in your desserts. It’s really nice.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:17:00] In fact, in my Edible Flowers book, I do talk about Lavender and I talk about making, well, different recipes and how you can make a simple syrup basically with Lavender or other herbs that you can have on your shelf and use whenever you want and then have that essence of Lavender, in ice cream, over ice cream, in a latte, you name it. So there are lots of ways that you can use it in cuisine and play around with it and it’s safe and then you can even take it and put it in your bath. You know, it’s very relaxing. You know and I talk in my second book here that’s just coming out now, the Aroma book.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:17:43] So the two books are part of a series called Botanicals with Benefits. And really there are plants in one book that could be put in another book because they’re about the multiple use of plants. So they’re about garden plants and it’s about all these multiple uses that our garden plants have that we don’t realize. And so in the Aroma book, I talk about using plants for aromatherapy. We just talked about flower essence, but also aromatherapy and Lavender actually happens to be one of the aromas that has the most amount of clinical substantiation behind it. So a lot of people think of aromatherapy as kind of this woo woo field again, because it just sounds weird, like, oh, I’m going to sniff this and it’s going to do something for me. Yeah, right.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:18:33] But actually now there’s actually quite a few clinical studies showing that this is true. And it’s been used in hospitals, in hospital waiting rooms, and it’s shown to significantly reduce anxiety scores and also pain scores sometimes. It’s got such a good effect on us. And I think the reason for that is because it really affects that old part of our brain, which is the smell center. This is where our scents directly go and that’s also the part of the brain that is responsible for relaxation in some of our really basic processes of health. So Lavender can be used in your bath. It can be used in your food. You can make little bouquets, you can use them for ornamental reasons, you name it. It’s got a lot of different reasons, medicinally as well.
Maria Marlowe: [00:19:23] Lavender, I think is definitely ubiquitous in kind of all aspects from food to cleansing to home, like all of it. There are so many different ways to use it. I’m curious, what are your thoughts on, well speaking of aromatherapy, usually use essential oils for that. So, yeah, I guess real plants vs. Essential oils, like maybe if someone doesn’t have a garden using essential oils would be a good option. Do you want to just talk a little bit about that, like when and where we should use those?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:19:57] Yes. Actually, that’s a really good question, because, you know, in both books, I really do want people to realize that even if you don’t have a garden, if you live in apartment, you can still connect with plants and you can still have useful plants. And your role with that is still important. And one of the things that I think is really important is that, number one, we all crave a connection with nature. And so, you know, we think of going out to nature a lot of times as a luxury, but actually our brains are wired to be in nature. And so being in an environment like a city where there’s a lot of hard lines and surfaces and things like that is actually been shown clinically as well to not be very good for our brains.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:20:47] And when we are taken into a rural landscape, it’s better. Our brains function better. Our health is better. And so even being in an apartment, having a plant is going to improve your health. And there are certain plants that are known to be useful, in an apartment setting. So in my second book, in the aroma book, I talk about Hoya, which is a common house plant, and it’s a very beautiful house plant. It’s got really thick, waxy green leaves. And the flowers, if you get it to flower, which is a little difficult, you have to have it in the right spot, they are the most incredible little flowers and they look like they’re fake. They’re so incredible. They’re waxy and they smell like heaven. They’re incredible.
Maria Marlowe: [00:21:37] Wow, I most definitely want one of those.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:21:39] Yes. But even more amazing is that there has been in a scientific study of house plants, it was rated as one of the highest ratings for basically getting the pollution out of our air. So in the house, it can really improve your air quality, which is really important, something that most people don’t think about, that our air quality in our homes is very poor.
Maria Marlowe: [00:22:05] It’s so important. And so it’s Hoya? That’s interesting. So I know NASA did some research on house plants, I want to say in the 70s or 80s and they came up with this idea or came up with this term of sick building syndrome, which was, we had moved into the cities and everything airtight and sealed and in some buildings in New York City, you can’t even open the window. And people were starting to get sick because the paint is off-gassing, the furniture is off-gassing. We’re using our stove and that’s polluting the environment. People were getting sick just from living inside and living disconnected from nature and fresh air. So, yeah, I find it so interesting. And NASA has a whole list of plants that clean the air very well. I wasn’t aware of this Hoya plant, but it sounds amazing. So I’m definitely going to look into this and see where I can source one from.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:23:03] It’s a pretty common house plant, actually. I think you’ll find it pretty easily. The trick is trying to get it to flower because it’s so beautiful. But even without it flowering, it’s still going to help your air.
Maria Marlowe: [00:23:14] I love that. Okay, so let’s go back because I’m already imagining my future garden. So I’ll have some Lavender in there. I know I definitely want Jasmine. I think Jasmine is the most beautiful scent. And I remember a long time ago reading this magazine article about someone’s garden and they had planted their garden in such a way that when the wind would blow at different times of day, there would be different scents and they would set up their bench over here. So when the wind blows and they’re reading their book, they smell this scent, and then in the evening, the wind blows that way and they smell the scent. So anything you can tell us about Jasmine?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:23:55] Oh, yeah. So Jasmine is actually in my aroma book, the book that’s coming out very soon. And it actually has uses across all of my areas, across all my fields. So it’s got food uses. It’s got medicine uses. It’s got aroma uses, edible flower uses. It’s used in cosmetics and personal care. It’s got use as a cut flower and also symbolism if you’re into that and it’s got an industrial uses it, even agroforestry is one of the things I cover. So it’s used in traditional medicine, like in Chinese traditional medicine is where we know most about it, I’d say. And it’s also used in aromatherapy till today, quite a lot.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:24:42] And in traditional Chinese medicine, it’s known to be one of the main plants that’s got an action for regulating your chi, regulating your energy and also calming the spirit. And it’s warming and able to lift the spirit. And it also helps with, if your energy is kind of stuck, stagnated, and also for women’s conditions as well. So it’s really useful across the board, I’d say. And if you’re going to start using it in your garden, like you said, it’s one thing that’s easy to just plant and appreciate because it’s beautiful and it smells really good. But then you can start getting into some of the uses on your own, yourself. One of the easy things is start with a cut flower and go from there.
Maria Marlowe: [00:25:31] And I love… I have this really great body oil that is infused with Jasmine and it’s just intoxicating every time. And it’s real Jasmine. Okay, so jasmine. And what about for the immune system? I know a lot of plants have antimicrobial properties. If you could only choose one that you would have on hand for maybe when you feel a cold or something coming on. What would that plant be?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:26:00] Well, Echinacea is really an easy one, and that’s popular. And it does have a lot of scientific substantiation. I think in the West, it was one of the first plants when herbalism became kind of big here in the United States. And in the nineteen nineties, it really kind of everybody started Echinacea. How do you spell that? What is that? And then everybody was… There was a lot of good press about it and a lot of good studies. And then all of a sudden there were some studies that said, well, maybe it doesn’t really work. And now since and so then people kind of lost their focus on it. It became old news.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:26:38] But really, actually, the newer studies on Echinacea show that it really does have a immunomodulators effect. And it is helpful. It does work. It’s easy to grow in gardens and it’s beautiful. So even if you don’t want to use it yet and you just want to dip your toe in that area, you can grow it in your garden for its beauty. It’s really gorgeous. You know, one of the main Echinacea species, Echinacea Purpurea is a common garden plant. It’s cold hardy, does really well in areas where those very cold climates and will grow back. It’ll die down in the winter and then come back every year. And it’s got beautiful purple flowers with kind of a spiky center. It’s weird as the flower. It’s like a Daisy and as the flower matures, the spiky center kind of gets elongated and gets more spiky. In fact, they say that the Native Americans used to use that as a comb, that part.
Maria Marlowe: [00:27:36] Oh wow! That’s another use.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:27:36] Yeah, that’s another use and you can even take a flower and just pull it apart. And if you just taste the receptacle, you’ll taste kind of, there’s some of the active components. And Echinacea have kind of a mouth-numbing feeling or sensation taste to them. And those are actually the active components and they also are the active components that are responsible for soothing your throat if you have a sore throat. So you can actually just kind of eat parts of it like that or you can make an extract or a tea. And so those are different ways you can use Echinacea. Both the flowers, you can use also the roots. And it’s easy and beautiful to grow that. So that would probably be a top choice for immunity.
Maria Marlowe: [00:28:22] And for anyone that doesn’t have a garden, it’s pretty readily available now as a tea or tinctures. I feel I see Echinacea especially now during this pandemic. I think every company has put out an Echinacea product. So you can get it. Actually, that brings up an interesting question. We’re seeing more and more herbs in products, and I know that’s something you also help with as product development from supplements, teas, personal care products. How do we know we’re getting a good herbal product and what do we want to avoid?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:28:59] Right. That is a really good question and it’s something that I think everybody should look into it if you’re going to be buying these kind of products because herbs are, they’re they’re complex mixtures of chemicals, really, and as our foods. So you don’t have to think of them as like scary mixtures of chemicals. A lot of them are just foods or teas or whatever. But what they are is a lot of different components, a lot of different chemical compounds in there, and so there is no such thing as a generic herb. So, you know, like you go to the pharmacy and you go, I want to get this branded cold medicine. But this other one that the pharmacy has says it’s the same. Is it really the same? And those are called generics. And in the pharmaceutical industry, they are the same. And they have the same active component. They are nothing else but one component usually. And that’s why they can do that.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:29:56] But with herbs, if you can imagine, you’re growing something in a certain environmental condition, that’s going to vary from place to place and from year to year, even sometimes. So I would say the important thing to look for is to develop your relationship with the brand basically. Find brands that you think are saying all the right things and have longevity on the market and look like a reputable brand. I think that’s the best thing you can do. Sometimes also certifications. If it’s organic, it’s usually… At least there’s a good quality control kind of process going along to make sure that there’s a chain of custody throughout the production process, things like that. But yeah brand is important.
Maria Marlowe: [00:30:45] Do you have any favorite brands? If you were not going to get them from your garden if you were going to buy some herbs, where would you source them from?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:30:55] Well, I do have some favorite brands, but because I work with a number of different brands, I really don’t want to say a particular brand. But I would say, like I said, just look what does the brand say about their quality? And there are some brands that say we have the best quality or whatever, but look a little further. Do they say, do they do testing? And what is their philosophy on sourcing and that kind of thing? Those are always good signs.
Maria Marlowe: [00:31:26] And the transparency with where it’s coming from, where it’s grown. I know, I’m going to say maybe it’s Gaia. They have… I think you can even kind of trace it back to exactly where it came from.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:31:39] I would also say a lot of the professional brands like the brands that like a doctor might prescribe are really top-notch and you kind of can’t go wrong there. And so if you do a search for what is a professional brand of herbs, that would be a place to look. And usually those professional brands have other dietary supplements because that’s how they’re regulated as dietary supplements in this market. In fact, one thing I want to say along the same lines is I want to dispel a myth. There is a myth that goes around out there that says herbs aren’t regulated. Supplements aren’t regulated. It’s very false.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:32:19] There’s a lot of regulation actually with them. It’s just that they’re regulated differently than a pharmaceutical or even from food. I mean, they’re more closely related to foods, how we regulate them, but more strict. But they don’t have a pre-approval process before you get to market. So there’s still a lot of things that are required for the manufacturing, for the quality, for the safety, all that. But it’s just not the same kind of pre-approval process that the FDA has.
Maria Marlowe: [00:32:48] And I feel it’s really on the brand, the manufacturer, the quality aspect of things. I think that’s kind of what your meaning is that once they create the product. It’s not like they have to send it to the FDA and FDA will test it. And they’ll say, Okay, green light. You can put this on the market. No, you’re relying on the brand to do the testing and do everything that it has to do before it puts it on the market and of course, there’s always these stories about supplements that have ingredients that are not supposed to be in there or have heavy metals and things like that. So I think that scares people around herbs. And again, it drives home the point where you want to know where you’re buying it from.
Maria Marlowe: [00:33:31] And the generic brand isn’t always great. Like I can say, I have gotten very interested, obviously, I’m interested in plants and vegetables and herbs and essential oils and all these things. So a couple of years ago, I did an aromatherapy course. I have been using essential oils on my own for years. And I just don’t know why, you think I would know better because I know that obviously, foods are different and where you get your food from makes a very big difference in the quality and taste and everything. Nutrition. But I was like, oh, I’m just buying these generic essential oils that’s a health food store brand, private label. And I use them and they were good. They were fine. But then when I used a professional brand of aromatherapy-grade brand of essential oils, I was like, oh my gosh! What was I doing all this time? They’re completely different.
Maria Marlowe: [00:34:22] I remember the sensation of smelling my old store brand, essential oils. And it’s very short. It just kind of goes to your nose. Whereas when you inhale an aromatherapy-grade essential oil, it goes to your brain. It’s just such a different sensation. So with herbs, with any sort of plant products, quality matters so know where you’re getting it from.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:34:49] Yes, absolutely. And I mean, it’s good that you brought up aromas because actually they have a different regulatory body in the US than even supplements. So it’s true that they are probably even more important as far as if you really want a good quality product, you really need to look for the brand and make sure that the grade is correct on that because they are liable to be… I mean, there’s a lot of adulteration out there. I mean, even the Lavender scent that you get in your shampoo or your hand soap or whatever, usually is not real lavender, essential oil. It is actually just one of the volatile oils that are present in true essential oils. So it’s not that it’s bad for you necessarily or anything like that. It’s just different. It’s not the same. And if you really want to get into the complexity and understand the better product, then you have to like for aromatherapy, get into something that’s the real essential oil.
Maria Marlowe: [00:35:49] And what about synthetic fragrances? Now, I know I’ve seen in a lot of products, oh, Lavender scent. But there’s no actual Lavender in it. It’s a Lavender fragrance.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:36:00] Yes.
Maria Marlowe: [00:36:01] So, let’s talk about synthetic fragrances. Why do we want to avoid those?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:36:07] Well, I don’t know that we necessarily want to avoid them. I mean, I’ve had a long kind of… I have a friend of mine who’s a perfumer and he says, well, Kerry, you wouldn’t know a synthetic if you were presented with one. Maybe synthetics on their own don’t need to be avoided. I mean, a lot of our perfumes are synthetics. But there is just a difference. And I think it has to do with preference. And certainly, if you’re using something in an aromatherapy sense, you want to go with the real thing, because that’s not just a perfume.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:36:48] There are people, too, that really get sensitive to these, really kind of being hit over the head with the one artificial fragrance. I feel like I’m that way, actually, and whereas I feel like I react very differently to like a natural scent. Maybe it’s all in my mind. I’m not sure. But I really do think it’s different. And it’s true that the natural scents, unfortunately, have less longevity in the air usually and on the body as well. So that could help us as far as if something’s irritating you and it’s on you all the time or around you all the time and it’s hanging out, it’s not leaving. Then people would be likely to have reactions to that.
Maria Marlowe: [00:37:31] I feel I’m definitely sensitive to scents, like synthetic fragrances. I mean I can remember being in a taxi cab where they had the brand new air freshener in there and the windows closed. It must have been in winter. And I thought I was going to die in there. Another time I was in a cab, I went and I got my hair done and the woman just used so much hairspray. I mean, it was just like a bottle of hairspray in my hair. And again, I had to stick my head out the window because I was just being intoxicated by this chemical smell of hairspray.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:38:03] Well, that’s actually a really good example. I mean, it’s not just the scent. Usually, in those perfumes or other products, there are other things in there and in. I have another book and also I talk about this in the aroma book but I talk a lot about incense. I always have to enunciate so people don’t think I say insects. So incense is actually a really beautiful thing. And if you don’t get the real thing, if you don’t get real plant resins and oils and leaves, you know, that kind of thing, you could be inhaling like toxic glues and dyes and things that were never meant to be burned and inhaled. Certainly.
Maria Marlowe: [00:38:47] Doesn’t sound like anything I want to inhale.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:38:48] No. A lot of people have that feeling like you smell incense burning and you think, oh, that stuff is horrible. And that’s a lot of our exposure to it in Western culture. But there are real uses of incense. And we’ve been doing this since recorded history, really. And in fact, incense is used in almost every major world religion, which is interesting.
Maria Marlowe: [00:39:14] So when I think of incense, I think of those long sticks with some… It’s thicker on one end with whatever is on there. Is that… What is real incense without the glues and stuff? What does that look like?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:39:27] So I would say like ninety nine percent of those sticks that you’re talking about out there are synthetics. They have synthetics in them. Usually, honestly, they’re just sawdust that is glued together and then dipped in fragrance oils so not even real essential oils or anything. And so this is a totally adulterated view of what incense should be, honestly. Incense sticks though, you can actually get that are 100 percent natural. So they have no weird things. It’s like, you know, what they use usually is sandalwood powder, like the sawdust kind of and then mixed with other resins and sometimes dipped in essential oils, real essential oils. And if it’s made correctly, it should burn and smell wonderful. And it’s just not the common thing that you’re going to find on the street corner.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:40:18] And there’s no such thing as a banana scented incense stick. There’s no such thing as banana scent out there that’s real. And a lot of the other weird names that they have. But I mean, I guess a lot of people’s exposure to real incense might be like the Catholic Church where they swing the censers with the frankincense or the myrrh in there. And those are just plant resins that are dropped onto the charcoal. And it’s smelled. So it’s one of the oldest uses of aromatherapy and I would say one of the most spiritual uses of plants out there. And it’s not just Christian traditions. It’s a lot of major world religions, plus many smaller, earth-based spirituality around the world have that kind of use of plants and aroma.
Maria Marlowe: [00:41:10] Yeah. And just to round out this little aroma fragrance conversation, I will just say with artificial fragrances, because I’ve had a lot of functional medicine doctors on the show and they generally advise against using them regularly because they are known endocrine disruptors. So I just want to put that out there.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:41:30] Yes.
Maria Marlowe: [00:41:31] And I just feel like natural is the way to go. And that is the unfortunate thing. When I changed my lifestyle pretty drastically towards a more healthy lifestyle and trying to get rid of chemicals. Not all chemicals, obviously, but toxic things in my life, one of the things I got rid of was perfume and natural perfumes just don’t do it. They smell for about two minutes and then the scent is gone. So I’ve kind of gotten used to not using them. And then if I really want, I still have some of my toxic, well I don’t want to call them toxic, my endocrine-disrupting perfumes. And if I want to use them on a special occasion, I’ll just spray my clothes and try not to spray my skin. So that’s one way that I get around that.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:42:13] Right. So that’s I think that’s a good way to look at it and not to douse yourself with these. Because I do. I feel like a lot of people, if you’re not sensitive, somebody else will be in the room but the natural ones are better in that sense. And there’s also a lot of different ways you can play around with the natural ones and having a balm you carry with you which can be really can feel really kind of soothing if you’re sitting around with people and you feel a little anxiety. Put a little balm on or something like that, that can be really nice. So there are different ways you can incorporate that into your life that are just different than spraying on the perfume and leaving the house.
Maria Marlowe: [00:42:53] Yeah, the cloud.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:42:57] Yeah, the cloud!
Maria Marlowe: [00:42:57] So you talk about also plant communication and plants communicate with each other. They communicate with insects and potentially even humans. So you want to share a little bit about that?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:43:08] Yeah. So actually, I mean, this is kind of one of the cool things about plants is that you know, okay, first of all, if you look at a timeline of life and plants have been here for an incredibly long time and so much longer than we have. We’re like a little blip on that timeline. So a lot of our body processes actually react to and mirror what plants do. And most people don’t think about this. It’s like, oh, do these herbs work? Of course, they work. We’re kind of built on them and we evolved from them. And, you know, if you think about it, plants are kind of these strange beings. They just kind of sit there or they stand there and they don’t seem like they do anything.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:43:57] But actually, if you look at it, they tell us when they want you to come to them. They tell us when they want us to stay away from them and we actually obey. So one of the ways they do this is through these plant chemicals. So we know, if you come to a plant and it smells really good, you really want to come and you want to do things with that plant. That’s the success of the plant. They wanted that to happen, whereas if it’s toxic, usually it smells toxic and we stay away from that.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:44:30] So there are some interesting things like plants don’t just communicate with each other because they do. And science is kind of going, Woah, we can’t believe this, even though why wouldn’t they? You know, they’ve been here for a very long time. They’re just different beings that we didn’t really understand. And they will, you know, one plant gets attacked by an insect and they have signals to be able to tell all the rest of the plants in the forest, okay, now start producing these oils to keep that insect away or start toughening up your leaves or something like that. There are different processes that happen from the communication signals they get from each other.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:45:10] And then there’s the birds and the bees. So obviously plants have flowers that then have not only colors, but also scents, aromas, and then also hormone signals too that attract insects, which are their pollinators. And this is how plants successfully reproduce. So this is sexual production and they require the pollinator to visit the flowers. Sometimes the wind will do it. Sometimes the flower will pollinate itself. But we’ve all heard about the birds and the bees and pollinators, and that’s a form of communication as well. And isn’t it funny that this thing that plants use to get themselves reproduced is also the thing that we use to attract each other, is perfumes?
Maria Marlowe: [00:46:00] Yeah, that’s true.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:46:02] So it’s kind of fun to think of it that way. But yeah, certainly plants do communicate. And there are some interesting books out there if you’re interested in this area. There’s one called The Secret Life of Plants. It talks about… You hear stories about people singing to their house plants and things like that. And it shows that there were experiments done in this and this actually might be true, that plants can understand us, understand our intentions, understand our love, and not just because we’re watering them or taking care of them physically, but if we have malintent or that kind of thing, that there’s some other communication that we don’t really understand. And so that’s a newly developing field and that book is an old book. But there’s been a lot of science that has built on that, showing that there are things going on and that we don’t really know but we’re discovering every day.
Maria Marlowe: [00:46:56] That’s so interesting. And I think a great reminder that we still don’t know everything and there’s still a lot to learn about plants. I’m curious because you were talking about how the plants communicate with each other and say, okay, insects are coming, produce this chemical or toughen your leaves. There’s been a lot of talk lately about anti-nutrients and certain plants. Sort of demonization of certain plants and why we shouldn’t eat them like nightshades or because they’re high and lectins or phytates. As an ethnobotanist, what is your take and recommendation on this?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:47:34] I’m glad you asked that because I think that whole lectin thing is just ridiculous, honestly. So cultures have been eating rice and beans since as long as we know. I mean, legumes are very important in our diet. And yes, you can get rid of some of the anti-nutritional factors by soaking or sprouting or things like that. But is it really a problem? Probably not. It’s not. It’s really is not. Unless you have a really unbalanced diet and maybe you’re only eating, I don’t know, tofu that’s bad quality or something like that. You know, I’d say the whole anti-nutritional thing is not something that the average person should worry about at all.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:48:18] I would say, and this goes with every diet, that you find out what works best for your body and your lifestyle and do that. And really the diet that has the most amount of plans in it usually is the one that wins. You know, there’s a lot of emphasis right now on these kinds of paleo diets, which are very protein-based, and people are avoiding plants because they think plants have carbs or whatever. And I think that’s really wrong because we know that our microbiomes will suffer from that.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:48:53] And so for nothing else, you won’t get all of those antioxidants which are anti-aging nutrients, super important for the integrity of your veins and all of your membranes in your body if you’re not having plants with pigments and colors. Different colors and then also the antioxidants that you can’t really see through color. So plants with colors we know are antioxidants, right? But there are also other antioxidants in plants that you don’t think of. Not as color, really. But all of those compounds are very important for our health and to avoid them is a big mistake. So generally, I think the advice is just eating more plants. And animal things are fine as long as you do it in moderation.
Maria Marlowe: [00:49:41] High quality.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:49:41] And high quality, definitely. Yeah, better meat and less meat than what the average person does is the way to go.
Maria Marlowe: [00:49:54] Definitely. Yes. I agree with you there. So one last question. If you can leave our listeners with one tip or one piece of advice to live a happier and healthier life, what would that be?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:50:08] Go outside! How about that? I mean, that’s the advice, is to get out there and get your hands dirty, get your feet dirty, go take a walk in the forest. There’s this cool thing that people are talking about now called forest bathing. And this is a Japanese custom and it really is just taking walks in nature. But now we know through clinical studies that actually just doing that affects a lot of different inner processes. So our bodies respond to nature in a really healthy way. And so this simple thing can really improve your health. And if you want to just kind of think of a really weird thing about that, we found there are a little aroma scent kind of molecules that the trees are giving off that we are actually reacting to without even… It’s not a smell thing necessarily or a consuming thing. But we know that that they are affecting us during that forest bathing process. So even just being in the forest chemically, we’re somehow being changed and we are somehow reacting and in a good way.
Maria Marlowe: [00:51:23] In a positive way. I love that you brought that up. And it’s so funny because it’s actually something I talk about a lot. And even my last guest also talked about it and said how important it was. And it’s quite interesting. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but inhaling that forest scent, improves our immune system and increases our white blood cells, and helps us fend off infection more. And doctors actually will prescribe it. That’s kind of how it gained popularity. Doctors were telling their patients, go walk in the forest. And don’t jog through the forest. Don’t go do a workout in the forest, just walk leisurely. Be mindful about it. That’s all you have to do, right?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:52:05] Actually, could I add one more thing to this piece of advice?
Maria Marlowe: [00:52:08] Sure.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:52:10] Actually, and this is something that I feel really passionate about and also with the Botanicals With Benefits books, I’m trying to kind of drive home is, is to learn about plants. Learn just one plant. Start with one plant, like Lavender. We talked about lavender. Learn to recognize it. And then it’s amazing when people learn to recognize one plant, all of a sudden you see it everywhere. Right? It’s kind of like when you are shopping for a car then all of a sudden, there’s a million of those cars on the road or something like that.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:52:39] And when people start that journey, it seems overwhelming because look at all the plants around us, right? I want people to not see the world around them as a green carpet anymore. This amorphous green carpet. You drive around, it’s just this green, it doesn’t matter. There are no individuals. It’s just weird. It’s plants. I want people to go Oh, there’s Lavender. Oh, look at that Lavender and then go to the next plant. How about learn a Daylily or learn a Lilac or learn Camomile. Learn to recognize things one at a time, and then all of a sudden your life will be richer, you will be less lonely, you will be connected to nature, and you can learn the uses of these plants because now you know what they are. And so that’s really what the Botanicals With Benefits books are all about.
Maria Marlowe: [00:53:32] Yes, I love that advice and I’m excited to dive into these books even more. The books are Botanicals With Benefits, the two volumes we talked about today where one was on edible flowers and the latest one, aroma. This is coming out soon, right? It’s not out yet.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:53:47] Next week. Yes.
Maria Marlowe: [00:53:49] Oh, awesome. So actually, by the time this airs, the book will be out, so I will link them in the show notes over at mariamarlowe.com/podcast. And where else can people find you if they want to connect?
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:54:01] Well, I have a website, so ethnopharm.com and I have a contact form there and I have some videos and a blog and that kind of thing. The blog is only about plants. I’m very plant-oriented. Maybe I’ll branch out one of these days, but there’s lots of plant stuff there and my books and whatnot are there. I do sit on a few boards for brands out there and so you can probably search for me and find me there as well. And I do write and speak pretty frequently as well. But yeah, I would love to hear people’s journeys with the plants.
Maria Marlowe: [00:54:38] Awesome. Thank you so much.
Kerry Hughes, M.Sc.: [00:54:40] Thank you, Maria. I’m so excited to hear how people go into their health and wellness journeys with plants and through your podcast.
Maria Marlowe: [00:54:51] Definitely.