Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Do you know the difference between Conventional Cotton versus Organic Cotton Fabrics?

In this article we will discuss cotton in agriculture, the historical use of cotton, and conventional versus Organic cotton cultivation and textile manufacture, and Aquarian Bath's switch from conventional to organic cotton fabrics.

The Cotton Plant
Cotton (genus Gossypium) is a native plant to tropical and semi-tropical places around the world. Cotton plants can be perennial, however for optimal cotton production they are grown as annuals. The cotton shrub requires lots of sunlight and around a five month long growing season. Cotton is highly susceptible to temperatures below freezing, so it does not grow well in the United States above the latitude of 46 degrees north. Also, the seeds take longer to ripen than the growing seasons found in much of the U.S. The plant itself reaches two to six feet tall, with branching stems and hairy leaves. The ideal growing temperature for cotton is 90°–95°F. The flowers of the cotton plant range in color from white or yellow with purple spots near the center, with some flowers turning rose color with age. After the flower petals fall, a hard capsule or boll remains, within which the cotton develops. Once the bolls are ripe, they burst open, revealing the cotton fibers. The cotton seeds are buried deep within the fibers, and can be pried out with some effort. The cotton crop requires significant fertilization. Drought, including droughts caused by climate change are a significant concern to Cotton farmers, both Organic and Conventional. The water requirements of this crop put it in direct competition with crops grown for food during severe drought periods.

In the U.S., the process of commercially picking and processing cotton is entirely automated. In others countries, such as India, farmers still rely on the handpicking process for harvesting the cotton in their fields. Here in Florida, Aquarian Bath raises what was received in a trade as a "native Florida cotton," pictured below. We grow the cotton for use in doll making, first aid, and for seed sharing and preservation.

Flowering Cotton plant in Florida.

A Brief History of Cotton
Cotton has played a big part in human history as far back as 7000 years ago in the Middle East, and cotton cloth dating to around 5800 BC has been identified in a cave in Mexico. Although different cultures around the world used cotton even in ancient times, huge production of cotton did not really start until the Industrial Revolution in Britain at the end of the 18th Century. At that time in 1738, Lewis Paul and John Wyatt, of Birmingham, developed spinning machines able to create large quantities of cotton cloth. To feed these spinning machines, the British relied on cotton raised in the U.S. South. After Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a mechanical device or “engine” which performed the function of removing the seeds from the cotton, the production of cotton in the South boomed, as did the dreadful use of slaves to handle this labor intensive crop. During the U.S. Civil War, from 1861 to 1865, Britain lost its primary source of cotton and had to look for other places around the world where cotton could grow, including Egypt and India. Cotton remains one of the staple crops in the Southern U.S. today. Other countries that supply a significant amount of cotton for the world market today include Brazil, Australia, India, China, Turkey, Argentina, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Oklahoma Cotton Field 1897--98.
Modern Conventional Cotton Cultivation
Did the cotton industry ever recover morally and ethically from the days of commonplace slavery in the US south? Today cotton growers who would like to be certified as up to Global Organic Trade Standards must also be compliant in terms of fair trade and, labor must also not be forced. These standards also set forth a living wage, prohibition of child laborers, and provision of hygienic conditions. Below you will find some of the hazardous materials that conventional cotton farm workers are exposed to during cultivation.

The level of toxins generated by the cotton industry is frightening. One of the most disturbing aspects of conventional cotton cultivation is the large amount of chemicals needed to raise cotton from seed to harvest. Three of the top 10 pesticides used in conventional cotton agriculture, Aldicarb, parathion, and methamidopho, are among the most dangerous. According to the Organic Trade Association, cotton is the worlds dirtiest crop with around 45 million pounds of pesticides used on 11 million acres of cotton planted in the U.S. in 2010 alone, which breaks down into 4.1 pounds of pesticide per acre. Approximately 90 percent of cotton seed raised in the U.S. is genetically engineered to be “Roundup ready.” Roundup, the flagship herbicide for the U.S. chemical company Monsanto, is the most popular herbicide used on cotton fields in the U.S. The studies of its key ingredient, glyphosate, show that this chemical causes birth defects in study animals, as well as genetic damage, cancer and endocrine disruption in mammals. Despite Monsanto’s claim that glyphosate passes through the human body without leaving any residue, a recent study shows that glyphosate is found in human breast milk. Also, scientists have discovered significant levels of glyphosate in both water and air samples in the watershed of the Mississippi River, which means this chemical leaves the field where it is applied and enters the wider environment. Besides round up ready GMO cotton seeds, GMO Bt cotton crops, which are cotton plants engineered to create their own pesticides, are failing in India.

Conventional Cotton Textile Processing
The chemical bath for conventionally grown cotton does not end in the field. Once the conventionally grown cotton is taken to the factory to be made into cloth, the cotton is whitened with chlorine bleach, which can potentially be released into the environment. The warp fibers are stabilized using toxic waxes. The cotton is finished with synthetic surfactants in hot water, along with other chemicals, including the possibility of formaldehyde and arsenic. To make all the pretty colored cloth, conventional cotton material is dyed with heavy metal based dyes and sulfur content with the possibility that the pigments enter rivers and streams through water runoff. Residue from these chemicals can remain in the finished fabric.

Organic Cotton Cultivation
The answer to cleaner, better quality cotton lies in organic cotton cultivation using non-GMO seed. The problem of cotton pests, such as the cotton boll worm, is solved by a combination of methods. First, organic cotton farmers practice crop rotation, which eliminates a constant supply of food for harmful insects, along with adding increased organic matter to the soil. Organic cotton farmers also introduce beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, lacewings, spiders, parasitic wasps, beetles and ants to their fields to help destroy the harmful insects. Trap crops like okra, sorghum, sunflowers and hibiscus are grown next to the cotton. The trap crop attracts otherwise harmful insects and spares the cotton. If an insecticide is thought necessary, organic cotton farmers use organically sound products made from natural ingredients, such as neem spray, which is an extract from neem seeds (Azadirachta indica), or pyrethrum, which is made from extracts of chrysanthemum flowers. Organic cotton is now grown in 23 countries with most production is being made in India, Syria, China, Turkey, and the United States.

Organic cotton farmers and conventional cotton farmers considering to switch to Organic farming methods face various issues. A major problem farmers face is finding enough organic cotton seed. The vast majority of seed available is genetically modified seed, and many organic farmers report saving at least a portion of their cotton seed to replant next year. Other problems for organic cotton production include pressure from neighboring conventional cotton farmers, friends and family who don’t accept the benefits of organic farming. As other types of organic farming grow more popular in an area, organic cotton farmers find it easier to switch to organic practices. Also, organic cotton farmers still struggle with getting the word out about the environmental benefits of Organic cotton and advantages of Organic cotton textiles, therefore we are writing here to educate others about this industry.

GOTS Organic Cotton Textile Production
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is an international organization that sets the definition of what Organic fabric should be. During organic cotton textile production, the warp fibers are stabilized using non-toxic cornstarch. To whiten the fibers, organic manufacturers use peroxide instead of bleach, a safer alternative. To finish the fabric, it is put through a soft scour of warm water and soda ash, which changes the pH of the water to 7.5-8. Dying and printing occurs using natural dyes or low impact fiber-reactive dyes, neither of which contain heavy metals.

Aquarian Bath now offers Hot and Cold therapy pillows made with GOTS Organic cottons
With the amount of organic cotton raised as of 2011 (the last available statistic) at less than 1.5 percent of total cotton production, we have worked very hard to locate the Organic cotton fabric suitable to be used in our line of single layer hot/cold therapy pillows. These flax seed neck wraps or facial pillows can be heated in the microwave for warm therapy, or put in the freezer for cold therapy relief. Our selection of therapy pillows now includes pillows made with GOTS Organic cotton, with eight new prints from the companies Harmony Art and Cloud 9 Fabrics. These fabrics are a bit more expensive to buy, but they are guaranteed GOTS cotton, which means they are certified Organic cotton, without pesticides and without tons of harmful chemicals used in processing of the cotton.  The fabrics are also produced without child or forced labor.
Here is one of our favorite canvas pillows made with GOTS cotton. The Line Leaf print is designed by Eloise Renouf for Cloud 9 Fabrics, and is available from us in black or blue.

Aquarian Bath also has a few pillows made from a base of blended organic cotton and hemp, and a washable pillow cover created from GOTS certified organic fabric like the one below.  We will be writing more on hemp and how it compares to cotton next month.  We added these double layer pillows to our line in 2013, and the added pillow cover makes them a bit more expensive. Aquarian Bath is in the process of phasing out all conventional cotton products used in our hot and cold therapy pillows.
Please be sure to follow our blog for a chance to win 2 of our Harmony Art flax seed pillows. We will be giving away 2 pillows for Mother's Day. One pillow will go to one of our blog followers, and one to that follower's favorite mom. The contest will start next week.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mahyco GMO Bt Cotton Now Banned in Parts of India

Following failure the failure of genetically engineered Bt Cotton crops in 7 districts in the state of Karnataka, India, the GMO Bt Cotton seed from the small biotech company Mahyco Ltd has been banned.

A major concern with cotton production today is the use of genetically modified (GMO) cotton seed, and most of the cotton seed available today is GMO. The rationale behind the GMO cotton seed is that farmers no longer have to spend as much money on herbicides or pesticides, because the seed is engineered to fight off pests on its own, howevever GMO crops are associated with pesticide resistant insects and secondary insect infestation. The companies that produce GMO Bt cotton seed have introduced a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt that encodes a protein in cotton plants which acts as a pesticide. Under normal circumstances, Bt is a bacterium that lives naturally in the soil, and it is sometimes used to kill garden pests. However, studies, such as the reports available at Organic Trade Association and Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, indicate that Bt cottonseed has its own set of problems. First, by eliminating the pests most susceptible to Bt, the door is left open to secondary pests, whose presence in the field is normally held back by competition with the primary Bt susceptible pest. In the case of cotton, the cotton bollworm is susceptible to Bt. With the removal of the bollworm, other damaging insects, such as aphids, thrips and mealy bugs, are on the rise in cotton fields in India and other cotton growing countries.

The second problem with GMO cotton seed is that the primary insect pest, the cotton bollworm, is showing signs of developing a resistance to the genetically modified seed. This forces farmers to use stronger pesticides to kill both the bollworm and the other secondary insect pests.

Finally, studies indicate that humans and animals exposed to the GMO cotton can develop serious health issues from the plant matter. In India, farmers report their livestock become ill or even die after grazing on cotton field residue. Farmers who handpick the Bt cotton have reported respiratory or allergy-like symptoms after handling the cotton plants. Also, scientists have found that Bt is more toxic to humans and other mammals than previously thought. The report at collective evolution states that mammalian red blood cells are damaged in the presence of Bt exposure.

Another aspect of GMO cotton seed is the human cost, as documented in Miched Pelad’s 2011 film, Bitter Seeds. The GMO cotton seeds have had a devastating effect on Indian cotton farmers. The combination of high cost of GMO cotton seeds and massive crop failures has created a situation where the farmers can no longer afford to keep their land or support their families. The end result is a high suicide rate among Indian cotton farmers.

At Aquarian Bath we introduced hemp and Organic Cotton fabrics to our line of flaxseed pillows in 2013 in response to a growing awareness about the issues with conventional and GMO cotton and conventional cotton textiles.  We are continuing to add Organic cotton flaxseed pillows to our line this year and will discuss the differences between Organic cotton Textiles and versus conventional cotton textiles in a future blog post.  

Flax pillow made with GOTS certified Organic Cotton fabric from Cloud9Fabrics.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Herbal Giveaway: Signed Copy of Matthew Wood's Book of Herbal Wisdom

Last month I picked up a new copy of one of my favorite herbals which is herbalist Matthew Wood's The Book of Herbal Wisdom.  Within three days of receiving the new book, I found my other copy, which I had put away safely on one of my hard to reach book shelves.  I think this copy must be meant for someone else, so I am giving it away on our blog.  It was signed by the author, and was only used once by me to review the chapter on Teasel, the medicinal plant which is pictured below.  The root of Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum, syn. D. sylvestris, has been used successfully by Matthew Wood and other herbalists to resolve cases of Lyme Disease.  I will share a DIY Lyme extract recipe that I made in a later blog post. 

Some of the other medicinal plants discussed in this book include some of my favorites: Calendula, Yarrow, Chamomile, Burdock, Goldenrod.  Over 40 plants are discussed in detail.  I enjoy this book so much because Matthew discusses examples of using these herbs successfully with different clients.  I have used his suggested allergy formula from this book with much success.  

If you are a US resident over age 18, and yo would like to win this book, you may enter below using the rafflecopter widget. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, March 17, 2014

Save the Bees by Growing these Common Annuals, Perennials and Herbs from Seed

With Bee populations still unstable, we should all do our part to provide them more nourishment in our growing areas. Artist Hannah Rosengren of Portland, Maine offers these attractive and useful prints in her shop to educate people about what gardeners can plant to provide more food for bees. Hannah includes the following recommendations in her poster:

Herbs: Lavender, Sage, Cilantro, Thyme, Fennel, and Borage
Perennials: Crocus, Buttercup, Aster, Hollyhock, Anenome, Snowdrops and Geranium
Annuals: Calendula, Sweet Alyssum, Poppy, Sunflower, Zinnia, Cleome and Heliotrope

The Borage is blooming in our garden right now. The flowers are so pretty. This is the first year that I have grown it.  I thought I was going to loose it when it dried out once, but it was very resilient.

I have found in our garden that the bees are most attracted to the Dotted Horsemint, Monarda punctata.  This makes a lot of sense considering that Dotted Horsemint is a type of Bee Balm. The leaves of this plant taste a lot like Thyme. I use it to make cough syrup. It can also be numbing for tooth ache. There is always a swarm of bees around our plants in the summer, especially when it first starts to bloom.

We are having a seed pack giveaway on our blog right now with one day left to enter. Some seeds for bees from Hannah's poster including Alyssum and Cilantro are included. Be sure to check it out and enter to win, or look for seed packs of these common plants from Organic growers and seed suppliers.  It is best to grow from seed, or buy plants from a grower who does not treat their plants with pesticides. Big box stores such as Home Depot sell plants which may be contaminated with pesticide that are neurotoxic to bees according to this study by Friends of Earth.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Calendula Spotlight: Properties, Cultivation, and Use

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a herb with a long history of medicinal uses. Even its name, “calendula,” refers to the Latin word calends because of the belief that calendula blossoms on the first day of each month. It a perennial herb in some parts of the world where the temperature rarely dips below 32° F. Most other parts of the world raise calendula as an annual herb.
Also known as pot marigold, this plant should not be confused with that other common plant with the golden flowers, also called marigold or French marigold, of the family Tagetes. Calendula is a bushy plant that produces daisy-like double or single flowers from spring to fall. It is native to the Mediterranean Sea region of the world, and can tolerate almost any kind of soil.
Historical and Modern Uses
Calendula flowers and leaves have been used as medicine historically. In ancient Roman times, calendula was used to bring down fevers and for skin problems. Calendula spread with the Romans and became a popular cottage garden plant in Great Britain, where it was an important component in skin salves. When the Pilgrims first came to America, the calendula seed rode along with them in the Mayflower, and became an important medicinal herb these settlers couldn’t do without. Medical doctors in the American Civil War also relied upon Calendula to help treat soldiers’ wounds.
More often in modern times, just the flower petals are used. The key to calendula’s medicinal power is its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities, caused by the high amounts of flavonoids found in the flowers. Flavonoids are anti-oxidants found in plants that defend cells from free radical damage. Calendula also contains phenolic acids and saponins, chemicals which add to calendula’s effectiveness.
And just how effective is calendula in treating skin problems? A study reported by the Georgetown University Medical Center at stated that calendula can cause significant healing for skin burns, dermatitis, cuts and other wounds. A toothpaste containing extracts from calendula even showed promise in curing gingivitis problems.
Noted botanist James Duke, who worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 30 years, writes in his book, The Green Pharmacy, that creams containing calendula are very good for helping to heal sunburn, because this herb reduces inflammation and causes new cells to grow faster.
At Aquarian Bath, we’ve had very good luck using calendula petals in an eye wash for eye infection and inflammation. It even helped to speed healing for a pet cat that injured her eye during what we suspect was a rather nasty cat fight. After a few days of using a calendula wash, the cat’s eye was much better.
Skin Care
Another way to receive benefits from calendula is to make a facial mask from a mixture of powdered calendula petals and clay powder, with enough pure water added to make a spreadable mask. Your face will thank you as the combination of clay and calendula removes impurities from the surface of your skin. Another way to enjoy the healing powers of calendula is in salves, balms, creams and ointments. Often these formulas include other healing herbs, such as aloe, yarrow and comfrey, and natural oils like extra virgin Olive Oil or Jojoba. Salves and Balms which include calendula can be very soothing on rough, dry skin.
You can even add calendula petals to your cooking. Used fresh, they go well in salads and sandwiches, and can be mixed into butters to add an extra touch of golden color and flavor to your breads and biscuits. Dried and powdered, calendula blossoms live up to their old nickname of “poor man’s saffron.” Added to rice, the powdered calendula gives the rice a warm flavor and color reminiscent of the much more expensive saffron spice.
How Do You Raise Calendula in the Garden?
Calendula is easy to grow in your own garden or herb bed, and does well as a potted herb, if given plenty of moisture and drainage. In Central Florida where we are located, our growing season is the Fall and Winter, since by summer, it’s too hot for the calendula to grow. If you live in an area that experiences winter and temperatures colder than 32° F, you plant calendula seeds in your garden or herb bed after the last frost for your area. To determine your last average day of frost, do an Internet search for a “last day of frost for the U.S. map,” which will give you a ballpark estimate of your average last frost date. It also helps to talk to gardeners in your area, who have plenty of experience with the quirks of your region. At our Aquarian Bath garden in Central Florida, the weather is very warm, we raise calendula as a Winter annual by planting seeds at the end of September.  February and March are harvest months for calendula, and this year we have a bumper crop of flowers.
You can buy calendula seed in many regular gardening catalogs that feature flower seeds as well as vegetables. However, if you are looking for a high quality medicinal calendula seed, check out Mountain Rose Herbs. They sell a variety of calendula that is strictly of medicinal value. Plant your seeds in a sunny location in soil that is rich in compost and water well, because calendula likes plenty of moisture.
Once your plants begin to produce flowers, you can start harvesting your calendula blossoms. The best time to harvest calendula is when the flowers are young, and recently opened. Avoid older, ready to go to seed blossoms, because the healing ability of these older blossoms is of a lesser quality. Collect the flowers on a dry days. Late morning is usually the best time to harvest. Dry the blossoms in a place out of the sun. When thoroughly dried, separate the petals form the rest of the flower, store the petals in an air tight container out of the light.
Calendula reseeds itself easily, so once you have plants established, let some of the flowers go to seed. You can then harvest the seed for next year, or just let the seed fall to the ground, where it will germinate next year. We wait until towards the end of the flowering period to let our plants go to seed, and save seeds for the following year.

Three Great Aquarian Bath Products That Use Calendula
If you are interested in experiencing the soothing qualities of calendula firsthand, we offer the following three balms which you can order from our Aquarian Bath website.
Skin Soothing Salve: For dry, chapped skin, try our Skin Soothing Salve. Besides our homegrown organic calendula petals, we infuse our organically raised comfrey and yarrow in extra virgin olive oil. Then we add candelilla wax, a natural vegetable wax, to make the Skin Soothing Salve soft enough to spread over your dry, cracked hands, but firm enough to remain a balm on even the hottest day.
Skin Regeneration Balm: When you try Aquarian Bath’s Skin Regeneration Balm, you are really getting serious about giving your skin a pampering. The active ingredients of this balm include calendula petals, comfrey leaves, plantago leaves, yarrow, rose geranium and German chamomile. All of these healing herbs are infused in extra virgin olive oil. Then the olive oil is enriched with raw Organic cocoa butter, non-GMO Vitamin E and tamanu oil, a luxury oil used often in the prevention or treatment of scars.
Black Drawing Salve: If you enjoy being active in the great outdoors, you’re going to like having a jar of Aquarian Bath’s Black Drawing Salve on hand as defense against irritation from insect bites and stings, splinters, scrapes, or even coral cuts. The key ingredient in this salve is Activated Coconut Charcoal.  Activated Charcoal is a toxin-binding material with an incredible surface area and binding capability.  When combined with the drawing forces of Rhassoul and Bentonite clays, the activated charcoal functions to neutralize itch and toxicity from scrapes, cuts, bites and boils.