Riverdale Country School

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Middle School News & Stories

Middle School Project Week: Modern Apothecary
Posted 01/27/2016 10:47AM

If it smells good, and feels good, does it actually do good?

During the “Modern Apothecary” workshop during Project Week, a group of Middle School students learned about bacteria, botany, and personal care products. Can spices arrest the growth of bacteria? Can tree oils make your skin softer? Can fragrances affect your mood and overall wellness? (The answer to all three questions: Yes!)

Led by Phoebe Coles, Megan Abramopaulos, and Siobhan Armstong from the science department and Manisha Doran from the physical education department, the workshop was designed to give students gain “an appreciation for the natural world, what it provides, and why it is important to protect it,” said Coles. “We also wanted them to consider the power they have as a consumer to be smart about what they put in and on their bodies, and how they can influence best practices within the community.”

Doran said the workshop gave students a personal perspective on how natural products are created. “There is something about nature that grounds us and brings us back to the very essence of life,” she said.

To test the germ-fighting properties of spices, the students created cultures adding E coli or B cereus to petri dishes containing fresh ginger, black pepper, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, cloves, and cinnamon. The petri dishes were then put in an incubator and heated to 98.6 degrees over a two-day period.

The experiment required strict protocol: lab coats, safety glasses, gloves, and biohazard receptacles. Students had to wipe down their work surface afterwards to kill any traces of bacteria. The results: clove and cinnamon offered the greatest resistance but all the ingredients retarded the growth of the bacteria to some degree.

To learn more about the medicinal uses of plants, the students visited the New York Botanical Gardens and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. To learn about how natural cosmetics are made, the students went to a Lush cosmetics store.

The culmination of the workshop was the opportunity to create their own bath bombs, lip balms, room spray, soap, or salves for coughs, colds, muscle relief or relaxation. They had a host of fragrant essential oils to choose from: tea tree, peppermint, spearmint, orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, bergamot, jasmine, geranium, rose, patchouli, clary sage, marjoram, rosemary, lavender, calendula infused coconut oil cinnamon, clove, ginger, and eucalyptus.

“They now know how to create environmentally-friendly products for themselves, items such as healing salve with eucalyptus, lavender, and tea tree oil; lip balm made with all-natural ingredients and plant oils such as organic shea butter from Africa, grape seed oil from pressed grape seeds, and organic coconut oil that's rich with anti-inflammatory properties and helps hydrate and soften our skin; aromatherapy sprays to uplift our mood; bath fizzles, and soap with soothing oatmeal and dried fruit and herbs for color,” Doran said. “Just to see the looks on their faces and how happy they were making (and sharing) their own creations made it memorable for us all.”

 

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