Antioxidant Powerhouses, In and On the Body
Probably one of the oldest known sources of food, berries have been sought after by humans since much before the dawn of agriculture. When we learn about the nomadic hunter-gatherer societies that existed before what we today call civilization, the gatherers (primarily women) spent their time foraging mainly for nuts, berries and herbs. What is particularly interesting is that this instinct to seek out berries has persisted through the evolution of humankind and today they are widely recognized as powerful, antioxidant-rich superfoods. It hardly seems surprising then that they are still a vital source of nourishment today!
While primarily studied for their nutritional benefits inside the body, they also happen to be vital sources of antioxidants and essential fatty acids for the outside of the body, for the skin. We’ve been researching and using berry derivatives (oils) for some years now, and considering that many of them grow wildly and comfortably on our land, we are particularly fond of them. Their antioxidant richness is actually one of the main reasons our foundational skin care product, the Extrait de Maison Restorative Antioxidant Serum, is first and foremost a formula designed to supply a bounty of antioxidants to the skin for the nourishing, rejuvenating, and graceful-aging benefits that they induce.
When I first began studying berries like red raspberry, elderberry, black raspberry, blackberry, cranberry, and strawberry, I was first perplexed as to how they even make oil from the berries of these fruits where the seeds are so tiny and difficult to separate from the fruit! Without diving too deep into the subject, basically the oils are the product of a byproduct. Most berries are cultivated either for juice or jam, and it is the waste-byproduct of this processing (called pomace), that is then further processed to make oil from the seeds. The pomace is first dried and then the seeds are mechanically separated from the dried material in order to be able to be used in an extraction method for the oil (I only use oils from cold-pressed seeds).
As a sidenote, most of the aforementioned “berries” are technically not actually berries, at least from a botanical perspective. For the botanists out there, a berry is a fruit that forms from the ovary of a single flower with a seed, or multiple seeds, inside of the fruit. Therefore bananas, avocados, and pumpkins are all scientifically berries, as well as cranberries, blueberries, and elderberries. The others, (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries) are technically called “aggregate fruits” and are not officially berries.
Once the oils are extracted from the berries, you are left with all the vitality that is found inside the seeds of the berries. We covered the reason why seeds provide such magnificent benefits in our post on the magic of plant oils here, but to summarize quickly, seeds contain the elements for the life of a new plant, and it is these elements that house important bioactive compounds that are immensely beneficial to the skin.
When looking at the oil from these pressed berry seeds, it contains, as I mentioned before, a strong amount of antioxidants, most prominent of which: polyphenols. These chemical compounds are free radical Terminators, that protect the berries from light, air, and microbial attacks. Many of these compounds are lipid-based, meaning that they can be present in the cold-pressed oils of the seeds. If you’re interested in how antioxidants work in neutralizing free radicals (or what free radicals are), we did a whole post on antioxidants here.
These chemical compounds (sometimes referred to as phenolic compounds) have the ability to stabilize of the free electrons through the aromatic ring of the antioxidant compound. That’s right, you can literally smell the antioxidants when you get your hands on the oil (and therefore our serum as well!)
Aside from the antioxidant powers of berries, they also not only contain a high amount of essential fatty acids but also deliver them in more or less the right ratio when thinking about the skin. “Essential” fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid, Omega 3, and linoleic acid, Omega 6) because these are the ones that the body cannot produce on its own. They are essential to humans for life and vitality, and only come from outside resources, like berries.
Berries found in the Maison/Made garden
and in Maison/Made products:
RED RASPBERRY (INCI: Rubus idaeus)
I may be biased towards red raspberries because I eat them almost every single day (I love them so much…), but the oil is also simply fantastic. Definitely in my top-10 favorite oils, if not top-5. Of course it is incredibly rich in antioxidants, but it also possesses an exceptionally high proportion of alpha and gamma tocopherols (Vitamin E), making it, like blackberry, also resistant to oxidation and rancidity. It is also rich in pro Vitamin A (carotenoids) and contains up to 83% omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, giving it some wonderful anti-inflammatory properties, more so than avocado, grapeseed, hazelnut, and others. This makes it a great tool when battling with acne, eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions that can be long-term conditions. Now, there has been a lot of talk recently on the broad spectrum protection that raspberry seed oil provide against UV-A and UV-B rays. While there has not been any definitive “proof” on this claim, it is widely considered by herbalists and natural skincare formulators to be an excellent sun damage protector. All in all, red raspberry seed oil is a nourishing and healing addition to any skin care formulations.
BLACKBERRY (INCI: Rubus fruticosus)
Blackberry seed oil is one of my favorite oils, and not only because it smells incredible. Obviously possessing the aforementioned antioxidant properties, blackberry seed oil also contains a good ratio of omega 6, 3, and 9 and a stable shelf life longer than many other vegetable oils, which can actually help these other, less stable, oils keep their potency longer. These properties make it an ideal oil for blemished, damaged or maturing skin and an obvious choice for a vibrant antioxidant-rich serum like our EDM.
ELDERBERRY (INCI: Sambucus nigra)
Elderberries are probably most well-known for their syrup for when you have a sore or itchy throat, quite popular as a remedy for children since the syrup tastes very yummy. Lesser known for skin care, but not because it isn’t powerful. Elderberries have significant levels of pro vitamin A, making it an ideal option for fading age spots and lessening wrinkles. The flower extracts of elderberry have skin-soothing effects that can relieve discomfort from rashes and sunburns as well as help to restore the complexion and skin tone.
We use both the elderflowers and then what the flowers later in the summer turn into: the berries. The elderflowers make an excellent addition to our signature Extrait de Maison blend as they transfer some of their power into the extraction, while we also use the elderberry seed oil as a stand-alone ingredient. Needless to say that we’re big fans!
STRAWBERRY (INCI: Fragaria ananassa)
A beautiful deep green oil, strawberry seed oil is a light oil that makes it a particularly good oil for the summer months. It is a good source of Vitamin A (retinol) and has a remarkable amount of linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids (Omegas 6 and 3 respectively) and its relatively low content of palmitic and stearic acids means it goes on easy without leaving a greasy feel. Oh, and it’s one of the few oils that actually smells like the berry!
I think it’s safe to make the conclusion that we are proud to incorporate these wonderful ingredients into our formulations. I love the idea of using these precious plants that have been nourishing and sustaining humans since the dawn of our species into the work that I do.They truly are ancient medicine, and now that we know how to look at their individual components we can understand why they are so important to our bodies. Being able to translate their medicinal properties into the products I make is a special feeling and truly in tune with the process of creating holistic skin care. Be sure to try them yourself, whether through our serum below or on their own!
- Ganora, L. (2009) - Herbal Constituents: Foundations of Phytochemistry. Louisville, CO: Herbal Chem Press.
- Parker, S. (2014) - Power of the Seed. Port Townsend, WA: Process Media
- V. Van Hoed et al. (2009) - BERRY SEEDS: A SOURCE OF SPECIALTY OILS WITH HIGH CONTENT OF BIOACTIVES AND NUTRITIONAL VALUE. Prosser, WA: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
- PubMed Health: Berry antioxidants: small fruits providing large benefits. [accessed 2019 July 20] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24122646
- PubMed Health: Berry fruits: compositional elements, biochemical activities, and the impact of their intake on human health, performance, and disease. [accessed 2019 July 20] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18211023
- PubMed Health: Antioxidant activity in fruits and leaves of blackberry, raspberry, and strawberry varies with cultivar and developmental stage. [accessed 2019 July 20] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10691606