Natàlia Palahí, known online as Naturmentallers, is a florist, an expert in medicinal plants and natural cosmetics. She has always lived surrounded by plants and nature, but it was not until she was 26 that she took the step of training. His journey began in a bulk store, which served as a turning point: "there my vocation began to awaken, and it was the beginning of my training in fields such as phytotherapy, aromatherapy and natural cosmetics with the use of plants as main ingredients.
She has participated in television channels such as "Va de verd" and, currently, she has a space on the "Sense Control" program on Channel 4 Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, where she makes cosmetic formulas and talks about the uses of medicinal plants. In addition, Natàlia is dedicated to giving workshops to adults and children, in person and online.
You have dedicated your professional life to learning about the power of plants for natural medicine and cosmetics. What can nature teach us about science and technology? What have you learned in that search?
Nature is the source of conventional medicine. In other words, we must not forget that before the pharmaceutical industry, ailments and diseases were treated with medicinal plants. The plants were the remedies that were used, they were the medicine, and it was like that for a long time. Thanks to the assets of these plants, medicine was born and we currently have it.
Plants, like nature itself, have always been and will always be great teachers and inspirers, and they continue to teach us. To give an example, the "velcro" is inspired by the mechanism of the burdock flower, whose flower has that mechanism. And so, many things.
Wild plants are, for example, indicators of the nutrients of a land, they give information to farmers about the state of the land (nitrates, potassium), that was something that surprised me a lot. Depending on which plants grow naturally, they know if the soil is good or if it lacks some type of nutrient
What advantages do medicinal plants have compared to conventional medicines? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
In my opinion, natural and conventional medicine should not be separated or opposed. As I said before, one stems from the other and they are perfectly complementary. Medicinal plants are preventive health, prevent or delay certain pathologies or tendencies, such as Alzheimer's (with Ginkgo biloba), pumpkin seeds (to prevent inflammation of the prostate), in addition to treating the individual as a whole (this includes mood as well) and to relieve certain symptoms (tummy aches, nerves, anxiety, coughs, colds...) This does not mean that we do not need conventional medicine to treat more acute diseases or symptoms, when we require it.
To me, the advantage of medicinal plants is that they act in synergy, since they contains various active ingredients and it is this set that makes them so complete., in addition to oils, vitamins, minerals. They are, in general, less aggressive and invasive, what is certain is that they act more slowly, you have to be constant.
Instead, the conventional one, isolates the active principle that interests you from that plant or synthesizes it by increasing its concentration, leaving behind the rest of the active ingredients. They usually treat the ailment in general terms (headache, paracetamol for everyone), he does not pay attention to the origin of that headache (nervous, lack of sleep, lack of nutrients...), something that natural medicine or phytotherapy does.
“Natural and conventional medicine should not be separated or opposed. One is born from the other, and they are perfectly complementary”
How can we incorporate ancestral knowledge about medicinal plants into modern medicine?
As simple as going back to include plants in our day to day. Whether in infusion format, in the kitchen or in green smoothies. If we drank an infusion of thyme every day, we would prevent many colds and also increase our immune system and maintain a good intestinal flora, as it is antiseptic. Cooked nettles are a great source of vitamins, it is a very complete plant, full of iron (ideal for anaemic people). It is about recovering recipes and habits that, not so many years ago, our great-grandparents did in a normal and daily way. People went out to the fields to collect plants, either to cook or to dry and store in the medicine cabinet, this information was passed from generation to generation.
How do natural ingredients work in cosmetic products?
Within natural cosmetics, there are several categories. Some are made with organic products, others with % of vegetable origin, others with % of natural origin, etc. What they do have in common is the fact that they do not use raw materials considered toxic such as certain parabens, some dyes, additives and petroleum derivatives, among others.
The great part of a cosmetic is water. Natural cosmetics usually use hydrosols (floral waters) that contain an active part of the plant, homemade cosmetics use infusions (even with more assets available), the conventional one uses only water.
Conventional cosmetics use paraffin or mineral oil (both derived from petroleum) in many cases, natural cosmetics uses vegetable oils from plants, seeds and fruits, rich in properties and with an unsaponifiable fraction which makes them very interesting as cosmetics. That makes the product more expensive, but at the level of cosmetic properties and concentrations, there is no comparison.
The natural cosmetics industry is often not regulated in the same way as the conventional cosmetics industry, how can we ensure that natural cosmetics products are safe and effective?
That's not true at all. Natural cosmetics are regulated and in a very strict way, much more even than conventional ones. In natural cosmetics, the margins for it to be considered ecological, vegan, etc., are very, very narrow.
What I do agree is that there is a lot of deception with the word "natural" or "without parabens", etc. When something becomes fashionable… You already know, the big brands seek to attract these customers using words or filling a shampoo jar with drawings of plants. And, as if that were not enough, they look for synonyms or other names to call oil or any controversial ingredient.
They are forcing us to learn to read the Inci (list of ingredients) of the labels to make sure that everything it says, we understand. A certified natural cosmetics will have seals, be it the organic, cosmos, fair trade seal... There are many seals.
What role can health professionals play in promoting natural medicine and natural cosmetics?
Well, they have a fundamental role when it comes to disseminating the use of plants and recommending the use of more natural products on our skin. We cannot prescribe at the first opportunity. Maybe you don't need ibuprofen, but you still need to relax, then take plants like lemon balm, passionflower, valerian... Also, try do some activity like yoga, Pilates... to relieve that tension and manage it differently. Health professionals have the obligation to help improve a person's state and that also includes focusing on other fields (emotional, physical, mental), because we are not only physical people, that is only the final manifestation of an imbalance. We can occasionally treat with a pill, but natural medicine goes further, it seeks to try to adjust that imbalance, it investigates the origin of that pain.
What are some medicinal plants that you consider essential to have at home?
Thyme, is excellent. In addition, it is an easy plant to collect, and fortunately we have handfuls in the Mediterranean. It is an SUV that relieves stomach pains, is digestive, raises our defences, relieves cough… And that was already known, with the famous thyme soup that has been made all its life, and now it seems that the younger generations are being forgotten.
Salvia, if you are a woman, it is a plant for you. Regulates menstruation, helps hot flashes, treats excessive sweating… A plant that is very present in preparations to alleviate the symptoms of menopause, along with others, such as red clover and hops. Sage is also present in cosmetic creams for combination or oily skin and in all kinds of deodorants.
Balm, another essential if you suffer from anxiety or nerves in the pit of your stomach before a meeting or interview. It is wonderful for the nervous system, which also facilitates digestion and has antispasmodic action.
Maria Luisa, apart from having a great taste, it is perfect to relax and to have a good digestion. It makes a very good synergy with lemon balm, which is blander in flavour.
Licorice, it's one of the best! Perfect for people who have reflux, an infusion of licorice after eating and that's it. Of course, in case of hypertension, it is better not to take it, since it tends to raise it.
"The part of citizen responsibility is fundamental, and that is collecting well"
How can we ensure that the use of natural resources for plants is sustainable?
I would summarize it in three essential points: good practices, responsibly and respect. We have in our hands more options than we think for that to be completely possible, and I am going to name a few.
Having at home our own plants for medicinal and culinary use. I understand that not all of us have a garden, an orchard or a balcony, but plants like rosemary, mint, basil, thyme, sage, lemon balm, lavender... They are plants that we can perfectly have in our house in a place to have clarity. Have a look at the extensive list we have. Some are annual (that is, they live for a year). Does the silver die and we throw it away? Big mistake, we all know that plants flourish and reproduce seeds, why don't we use them to plant them again? If we collect them, we will make sure that we always have our plants available at home, we can extend their lives with that simple gesture. In addition, the dry plant is organic matter, pure fertilizer for our plants.
We are lalso ucky that in the wild we can find such common and useful plants as nettle, chamomile, elder, linden, chestnut, plantago, mallow, dandelion, chicory... The list is long. If we learn to identify them, "the mountain is full of food".
Every year I give a botanical outing to learn to identify live plants that live wild in our territory, where people learn to identify them and learn about their uses and properties.
An important part is citizen responsibility. Good practice means not uprooting any plant, always leaving flowers and a productive part of the plant so that it can continue to develop and follow its life cycle, cutting with suitable and disinfected tools, respecting natural spaces. If you cut all the flowers, the plant will not be able to reproduce, next year, you will not find it any more. It's that simple, you can create an impact for better and for worse, your actions have consequences.
Another precious thing and that he usually does personally and in children's workshops, iscollect the seeds and spread them in other spaces, as long as they reproduce in other places and expand the species, just as birds and animals do. A nice act of thanks which I often do on my walks when the summer ends.
Everything is possible with respect, good practices and doing our bit.
In the world of natural medicine and natural cosmetics, there is often a lot of conflicting information and unclear advice. How can we help people distinguish between true and false information in this field?
It is complex, because as you say, there is contradictory information. The great luck we have is that there are more and more good professionals in the fields of natural medicine who can help us if we want to treat ourselves. Medicinal plants are not harmless, there are contraindications and if we suffer from any chronic pathology, it is always better to consult with our doctor and put ourselves in the hands of a professional in the field. We are talking about medicine, it should not be taken lightly.
On a cosmetic level, if we are really interested, the ideal is to buy our creams in herbal diets or stores specializing in natural cosmetics. That they have their stamps and know a little how to read the Inci. If we read an ingredient that we don't know what it is, I recommend looking for information on serious pages (Pubmed, fitoterapia.net), or ask the manufacturer directly.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to start in the world of natural plants?
It's a world where you never stop learning; that’s beautiful, and you can learn a lot from nature, and I'm not just talking about properties. I encourage you to contemplate the plants, their smells, their touch, their flowers... During your walks and to consider them for what they are, living beings in constant change, like us, with their cycles, with their processes and defence, reproduction and communication.
Do you think that we are increasingly leaning towards more respectful cosmetics and recovering the use of plants, many of which are forgotten?
Completely. We are increasingly aware that everything has consequences. That if we know how to use the natural resources that we have within our reach, such as wild medicinal plants and with them create our ointments, creams, syrups, infusions, etc... We will be more sustainable, we will be more in touch and in tune with nature, and we will be more self-sufficient.
Do you think there is not enough content about plants in the educational field?
Of course. Those of us who live in cities are very disconnected from nature. I think that it is essential to work from a young age in that contact with nature and integrate it into early childhood education. There are children who do not know where a carrot or a potato comes from. I do workshops to disseminate plants to adults, but also at the family and child level, precisely to strengthen, educate and teach everything that nature offers us. Something that caught my attention, as well as curiosity, is that, on one occasion, during a workshop, a girl was disgusted by touching the earth, she didn't want to get dirty... That really caught my attention. Something as vital as the earth, which produces in a child that feeling and fear of being able to get dirty, is alarming. Not only does the weight fall in schools, we all have the responsibility, teachers, parents, relatives, friends... what we do and what we say, we are the mirror of our little ones.