Friday, July 1, 2016

The grass is always greener … but surely it has utility: about chameleon plant lotion


For ages, I patronized Lavender Water of Neal’s Yard Remedies for skin moisturizer. My skin has a slight symptom of atopic dermatitis, and their product worked superb. Decades ago, the product was difficult to find in Tokyo. Actually, there was only one place where we could find it (a-hem, in Roppongi Wave, a legendary – for some – shopping venue during pre-bubble Tokyo), and I commuted the shop only for the Lavender Water. Then, I read an essay by Banana Yoshimoto who also had a similar tendency for her skin as mine, discovered the Lavender Water almost at the same time as I did, and praised the thing with zeal. I was like, “You see, you see, you see!!!?”  … Japan has spent more than “lost 2 decades” since then. Neal’s Yard expanded their Japanese business to become nothing-special shop in our nearby shopping centers. One day a couple of years ago, I saw shocking news in their storefront. Neal’s Yard decided to discontinue the Lavender Water. I was, honestly, panicked. Whaaaaaaat!? I visited 4 Neal’s Yard shops in Tokyo and Yokohama to collect the last inventory of Lavender Water. My inventory has gone about half a year ago ... and I decided to be pro-active this year. Let me try traditional Japanese herbal remedy with chameleon plant. Actually, chameleon plant lotion has enthusiastic followers as you can find in Amazon entry here. It costs about 2000 yen per 200cc. My approach would be more cost effective.

芭蕉Natsu-kusa ya/tsuwamono-domo ga/yume no ato
(Mounds of summer grass
- the place where noble soldiers one time dreamed a dream).

Chameleon Plant どくだみ, aka Houttuynia cordata, is ubiquitous in Japan. Especially in June and July, they bear white orangy scented flowers that make us realize the arrival of rainy season. If you google chameleon plant, you may find “Don’t plant them! They are really invasive.” Oh yeah. Unless you live in upstairs of a high-rise apartment, a shady part of your garden or forest in Japan will have chameleon plants aplenty even for a tiny space. They are damned strong and vigorous. They spread by rhizome hard to eradicate. The upshot is, they have been used widely in Asia for herbal remedies. This US-NIH site says the plant really has useful phytochemistry that renders numerous medicinal benefits, including anti-cancer effects. The most convenient usage of chameleon plant in forests of Yokohama comes when we have cut or abrasion. We look around for the leaves of houttuynia cordata, harvest few of them, rub them between the fingers, and apply it to the wound. According to the NIH site, the plant has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial effects, so that our traditional treatment in forests are in the end scientific. If it is so, it shall be effective for my sensitive skin! This is my theory.

For them, no problem with a tiny space ...

There are two methods to make chameleon plant lotion: with alcohol or without alcohol. For me, with alcohol is a kind of no-no. So, in this post, I report you my adventure for chameleon plant lotion without alcohol, found here. Though, using alcohol is certainly easier. FYI, you collect leaves, wash them, dry them with towel for sure (otherwise the leaves become moldy), and preserve them in white liquor (35°+, 180cc for 100g of leaves) for about 6 months to 1 year, just like home-made fruit liquor. When the color of the liquid becomes amber, it is ready for skin lotion. ½ tsp. of vegetable oil of whatever (olive, grape seed, etc.) is mixed with 200cc of the plant extract for skin care. The leaves after the extraction can be stored in refrig to be used for bath-additive. With or without alcohol, the first thing we have to do is collecting leaves. Actually, it is not difficult in any forests of Yokohama; we can find tons, probably literally, of them from late May till September. Many recommend not to pick the plants on roadside as they are covered with car exhaust that is hard to be washed off. Harvesting time may be also important. Some say when they are in full-bloom before the leaves turns red, the effective chemistry is the strongest. So, early June this year, I visited a nearby forest in Yokohama, and harvested about 120 stems of chameleon plant. If you think I overharvested, we are sure you have never known chameleon plant. Collecting them too much is really difficult for an individual to do. Oh, yes.

Lots of lots of lots of chameleon plant!
They are also everywhere along trekking roads in forests.

To make houttuynia cordata lotion without alcohol, we make infusion of the plant. The standard method is making chameleon plant “tea leaves,” i.e. drying them. I collected the plant, discarded the flowers and those damaged or insects-eaten leaves, washed them well, and hung the bundle from a well-ventilated ceiling without direct sun light.  In Yokohama, after 1 week or so, they were nicely desiccated – keeping their green somewhat, but certainly rustling. I cut them in approx. 3cm pieces by scissors. Now chameleon plant “tea leaves” were ready. In traditional Chinese medicine, the drink is laxatives and diuretics, to be taken 3 times a day. I don’t think it is not a cordial drink, but really a medicinal potion to be prescribed with caution. Besides it’s not tasty, they say. It is a popular “medicine” for weight control. NIH site says it was effective in mice with high-fat-diet-induced obesity. Well, try it, if you dare.

Chameleon plants are being dried. It’s their 2nd day.
Dried chameleon plants. They are not brown, you see?
Both stems and leaves were cut by scissors.
In total, they weighed about 50g.
To store, we can use Ziploc with moisture absorbents.

To drink it, or to make skin lotion, we have to use non-metallic pot without boiling the water. Especially when the pot contains iron and / or copper, they react with the chemical component of chameleon plant, which changes the structure of them, i.e. make the potion useless. I used an earthen pot to cook rice. The plant also contains useful chemicals that can be destroyed by intense heat. So, we have to put the pot on low heat to keep the liquid 60° - 70° C for about 30 min to 1 hr. The recipe says with 30g of “tea leaves” we add 500cc of water and wait for approx. 1 hour until the contents becomes half, i.e. 250cc or so. The liquid should be strained immediately in order to prevent the leaves from absorbing back the effective components. The hot potion can be drunk as medicine. For skin lotion, after it is cooled we have to add the same amount or more of glycerine in Pharmacopoeia for long-term preservation. … Well, yeah, glycerine is OH-, just like liquors, but at least my skin does not react with proper amount of glycerine. So, that’s that.

This time
I used 25g of dried chameleon plant leaves
with 400cc water.
This is how glycerine
in Japanese Pharmacopoeia
looks like.
My pot.
Our family memory told us our great-grandma did not use lid
when she infused h
outtuynia cordata.
So, the lid was not used.
25g leaves with 400cc water looked like this.
Heating with very low fire.
It soon started to bubble.
Keeping 60
° - 70° C was tricky.
30 min. later.
The liquid had more than 80
° C. Woops.
The kitchen was filled with very “clinical” aroma.
1 hour later.
I thought the liquid was reduced to the half.
The content was strained immediately.
Thank you mom!
The product. The liquid is drinkable.
We can put the used leaves in a sachet
and throw it in a hot / cold bath.
They say it is effective for heat rash and sun burn.
It might be handy this summer, so it went to our refrig.
Oh, by the way,
liquid of infused chameleon plants stain cloth,
which is difficult to remove.
Unless you plan to dye your white shirt earthy brown,
be careful.
Cooled potion.
It was less than 200cc. Hmmm.
So I add slightly less than 200cc of glycerine.

The chameleon plant potion + glycerine is stored in a bottle with a good lid. Important: we have to keep it in refrig, and make skin lotion once a week or so to be used up promptly. The lotion is so natural that it can be moldy if it’s left for days at room temperature. For making standard lotion, add 80cc of purified water to 20cc of chameleon plant undiluted potion. Mix well, and it is ready for use. The ratio of water and the potion can be changed according to your skin. The undiluted chameleon plant potion (with glycerine) can be used directly as a kind of remedy for very dry skin. 

Undiluted potion for my new skin lotion.
It now stays in our refrig snuggly

My google search told me chameleon plant is eaten as salad leaves and for other dishes in Asia where we have enough rain. I guess too much of them will let us commute to toilet after dinner. Come to think of it, lavender oil is almost only one essential oil we can apply directly to our skin. Chameleon plant skin lotion would be a lot stronger than lavender water … In any case, it would be wise to do patch test before using it, I guess. I’m OK with it, and my skin lotion problem is solved now. *Relief*


By the way, I found the other day
this acorn flour sold in Korean Supermarket
in Shin-Okubo, Tokyo.

Home-made bread with it became sweet with nutty flavor. J

The City Office who’s in charge of execution of Green-up Plan is

Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau 横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-671-2891
FAX: 045-641-3490

http://www.city.yokohama.lg.jp/kankyo/

ha ha

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