I recently was asked by our local garden club to speak about Natural Skin Care. In preparing for my talk I came upon this great article which I want to share.
This was published by Tanya Anderson @lovelygreens.com
So many skin caring plants and flowers can be grown by you in your own garden. Calendula for skin healing, rose petals for sensitive toning, and thyme for treating acne just to name a few. In this post I introduce some of the plants you can grow for specific skin types and issues.
There are scores of plants you can use to form your handmade beauty arsenal but choosing the ones best for your skin might seem overwhelming. Some plants are great at soothing irritated skin while others moisturize and yet others help clear up spots and acne.
I’ve categorized a selection of the beauty plants you can grow based on some of the main criteria you’ll want to consider in your beauty regime: Healing, Astringent/Toning, and Moisturizing. I’ve also included herbs that are great for Mature skin, Acne, Lightening/Darkening, and soothing Inflammation resulting from allergies or Eczema.
Plants for Healing Burns & Damaged Skin
Calendula (Calendula Officinalis) – Extracts from the golden petals of this flower soothe the skin, reduce inflammation, and heal burns, sunburns, acne, eczema, and skin abrasions. Use the oil or water infusion method for extraction and possible uses include balms, creams, lotions, toners, and rinses. It’s also possible to make a tincture from Calendula which can be dabbed onto pimples to promote healing.
Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis) – While not strictly a garden plant, Aloe Vera can still be grown indoors. The gel inside its leaves can be used to calm and repair skin damaged by sun and heat as well as reduce inflammation. Aloe can also be used as an oil-free moisturiser though regular use may over-dry normal to dry skin. Extract by cutting open the leaves and scooping out the gel inside. Aloe can be used on its own but also in creams and lotions.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) – Echinacea extract is more commonly taken internally but when used on the skin it can help speed up skin regeneration, reduce inflammation, and treat acne. It’s also a gorgeous flower that would look beautiful in any garden. Use a decoction of the roots or infusion of the flowers as a toner or to drink, or to make creams and lotions.
Comfrey (Symphytum offinale) – An oil infusion made from the leaves is soothing and healing and can be used to treat Acne and Psoriasis while a tincture made from the roots can be used directly on Acne. The leaves and flowers of this plant also have powerful anti-inflammatory properties so an infusion can also be made from these parts to be used as a toner or in creams and lotions. Growing tip: Comfrey can be a bit of a pest in the garden due to its tendency to self-seed. Fortunately there is a sterile variety available called Bocking 14.
Herbs for Acne
Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) – This might seem like an exotic plant but Green Tea can easily be grown in Britain and other temperate zones. Requiring a sunny spot in slightly acidic soil, green tea leaves can be grown for both consumption and beauty products.
While Green Tea is most known for its antioxidant’s ability to improve the condition of aging skin, these same antioxidants have been shown to control sebum (oil) production, inhibit bacterial growth, and reduce inflammation. Make an infusion of the fresh or dried tea leaves and use in creams, lotions, or as a facial toner.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – A common and fragrant garden shrub, Lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that make it beneficial for those with skin irritation and inflammation. Lavender oil has also been shown to help speed the healing of cuts, burns, and abrasions. Use fresh or dried flowers to make an infusion and use in creams, lotions, or as a facial toner.
Burdock Root (Arctium lappa) – While the other herbs in this list are meant to be used topically, Burdock root is the exception in that it should mainly be taken internally. Burdock is a cleansing herb and works from the inside to dispel toxins and help heal acne, boils, psoriasis, eczema, and other skin disorders. Drink a decoction of the root daily for up to a month.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – Recent studies have shown that humble Thyme is more effective at clearing acne than over the counter treatments using Benzoyl Peroxide. Scientists used a tincture (herb infused in alcohol) to conduct the study but if you’d like to use a less drying medium, try infusing Thyme in Witch Hazel.
Plants for Mature Skin
Roses (Rosa) – Rose Water is a mild astringent and toner that is excellent for all skin types but in particular, mature skin. It helps cleanse and tone while encouraging regeneration and boosting moisture levels. Make your own ‘Rose Water’ using this infusion method. Both wild and cultivated rose petals are suitable.
Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) – Also appearing in the section on Acne, Green Tea has been shown to help repair skin damaged by age and environmental factors. Drink as a tea or use the infusion as a toner or in creams and lotions.
Ladys Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) – Found in anti-wrinkle creams, Ladys Mantle helps firm the skin and decrease the size of pores. Use an infusion of the leaves as a toner or in creams and lotions.
Helichrysum (Helichrysum italicum) – An effective botanical for skin conditions ranging from acne to aged and damaged skin, Helichrysum has natural anti-inflammatory properties that reduce redness and promote regeneration. Use an infusion of the flowers to help diminish fine lines and wrinkles. The infusion can be used on its own as a toner, or in creams and lotions.
Astringent and Toning Herbs
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) – Used in many commercial toners, Witch Hazel contains naturally high levels of astringent Tannins which helps remove oil and tighten the skin. Use an infusion of the leaves as a natural toner.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – Every garden has ‘weeds’ but some are more useful than others. In a beauty garden you might want to encourage Yarrow, a common wild plant that has been used in herbal medicine to treat wounds. An infusion of the leaves and flowers can be used as an astringent toner, helping remove oil, improve skin tone, and reduce inflammation.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) – A lemony and minty plant that works as a refreshing toner for oily and acne-prone skin. Use an infusion of the leaves as a toner or for use in creams and lotions.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – An infusion of Rosemary leaves can be used as an aromatic astringent for all skin types. It also helps in promoting healing by stimulating blood flow to the skin. Use an oil or water infusion of this herb in making massage oils, toners, creams, hair rinses, balms, and lotions.
Plants that Moisturize the Skin
Violet (Viola odorata or Viola canina) – Fragrant and only slightly astringent, the extracts from Violet leaves and flowers are juicy and moisturising. Perfect for dry skin, Violets are also anti-inflammatory and help heal cuts and wounds. Infuse fresh plant material in oil or water and use the extract to make creams, lotions, balms, massage oil, and toners.
Common Plantain (Plantago major or Plantago lanceolata) – Another ‘weed’ that you’ll find happily growing in most gardens, the leaves from Plantain contain rich mucilage that help moisturise the skin. It’s also an effective skin healer and can be used in the same way as Comfrey extracts to help heal wounds and bruises. Prepare the leaves by water or oil infusion for use in creams, lotions, balms, and massage oils.
Roses (Rosa) – An infusion of rose petals used as a skin spritzer or in creams and lotions can help moisturise the skin. Roses are an excellent extract for all skin types but especially for those with sensitive and mature skin.
Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis) – Though found growing in the wild in both Europe and North America, Marsh Mallow can also be grown in the garden. It’s a plant set best at the back of your borders since the flower spike can grow up to seven feet tall!
The roots. leaves, and flowers of Marsh Mallow contain rich sources of mucilage, pectin, and sugars that soften and moisturize the skin without the need for added oils. Infusions from this plant create a silky texture in creams and lotions.
Plants that Naturally Lighten and Darken
Elderflower (Sambucus) – The flowers of this wild tree blossom in late May through June and are used in making sweet cordials, wine, and desserts. Lesser known is that infusions of the flowers can be used to help fade freckles, age spots, and scars. The extract is also anti-inflammatory and can help condition mature skin.
Sage (Salvia officinalis) – Although this herb has natural astringency that helps to cleanse oily and acne prone skin, you can also use it as a rinse for dark hair. Infuse the fresh or dried leaves in water and apply to hair daily. Though it wont permanently tint your hair like chemical dyes, it can gradually darken hair. Grey or coarse hair may be resistant to picking up color though. Tip: use in combination with rosemary, crushed black walnut hulls, nettles, and coffee for increased darkening effects.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Rosemary can be used similarly to Sage (see above) in helping to darken hair. Use as a water infusion as a rinse for the hair.
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Chamomile is a calming and healing herb that can be used for both skin and hair. In hair care, Chamomile is a natural lightener. Use a water infusions of the flowers as a hair rinse or in leave in conditioners. If you want to increase the lightening power of Chamomile, use it together with a small amount of lemon juice.
Anti-Inflammatory Herbs and Plants
Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) – An anti-inflammatory flower that is used to help relieve the redness and itch caused by eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions. It grows wild throughout Britain but makes a lovely addition to any garden. Use an infusion of the leaves and flowers as a toner or in creams and lotions.
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – A gentle herb, it’s used to soothe dry and irritated skin such as caused by dermatitis and eczema. However the extracts of Chamomile can be used to calm all skin types and a tea made from the flowers is a mild sedative when taken internally. Use oil or water infusions in balms, creams, lotions, toners, or massage oil.
Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) – A common garden vegetable, the moist flesh of cucumbers can be used to reduce puffiness, soothe irritation, and tighten the skin. Use a water infusion of cucumber in creams and lotions, puree the flesh and use it as a facial mask, or use the well known treatment of slices of cucumber over the eyes to soothe, tighten, and lighten dark circles.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) – A very common weed in many gardens, Chickweed can be eaten in salads, or given to your hens as a treat – this plant didn’t get its name for nothing! Chickweed is also an effective anti-inflammatory that when infused in water or oil can be made into balms, salves, creams, lotions, and other beauty products. It’s said to reduce redness and irritation and to soothe chronic itching.
NOW WHAT ??
Now that you have grown your skin care, how are you to use it? Oil and Water Infusions are the best way to reep the rewards of your hard work.
Some herbs and plants can be used in their dried and powdered states as beauty product ingredients and natural decoration. You’ll find that this is a common preparation for when the roots of a plant are used as a cosmetic ingredient. It’s also best to dry your herbs and flowers before using them in oil infusions if you intend on using the infusions in water-less products without preservatives.
Drying plant material can be done in a solar or electric dehydrator or in the oven at a very low temperature. Flower petals and thin leaves will take a very short time to dry (less than an hour generally) but fruit, thick leaves, and roots will take much longer depending on what it is, how thinly you sliced the material, and how full your dehydrator is. Don’t be surprised if it takes a couple of days.
Some thin plant material, such as flower petals, can be air dried within a couple of days when left on a paper plate or a metal screen such as a rack inside a food dehydrator.
With roots, dehydrate until hard and brittle and allow to cool. Use a coffee grinder or a food processor to break the dried roots down into a powder and then sift it to remove any large particles. Dried plant material can keep up to ten years.
Suitable for most herbs and flower petals
A water infusion is essentially a tea. Use approximately 14g/0.5oz dried plant material or 28g/1oz tsp fresh to one cup boiling water. Seep for twenty minutes and strain. Use the resulting infusion in creams, lotions, rinses, or on its own as a toner. If you’re using the infusion as a toner, refrigerate the liquid and use within a month.
Suitable for herbs and flower petals with low water content. Oil infusions also work for dried and powdered roots.
Many of the beneficial components of medicinal flowers and plants are oil soluble, meaning that instead of infusing them in water, you can infuse them in oil. Oil infusions can be used in creams and lotions but they’re even more important for creating waterless products such as balms, ointments, and massage oils. There are two ways to make an oil infusion:
1. Cold Oil Infusion: place 250g dried or 500g fresh* plant material into a glass jar. Cover with 750ml (3 cups) of high quality vegetable or nut oil such as olive oil, sweet almond oil, or sunflower oil, and place the jar in a sunny window. Leave it there for at least one week and up to four weeks, shaking once a day. Oil infusions generally have a shelf-life of up to a year.
2. Warm Oil Infusion: the cold oil infusion takes at least a month to make but there’s a quicker way of extracting the medicinal components of beauty plants. Place the same quantities of herb to oil as in the cold oil infusion in a saucepan. Place that saucepan into a another pan of simmering water (also known as a double boiler) and leave to heat for two hours, keeping a close eye on the pans. Afterwards, allow the oil to cool and then strain it through a muslin, discarding the plant material. Oil infusions generally have a shelf-life of up to a year.
* Oil infusions are best made with dried plant material since there will be a small amount of water in fresh. Any water in oil can mean creating a place for bacteria to take up residence. If you’re infusing material that has relatively a lot of moisture (i.e. flower petals) it would be best to use the resulting oil within a month and in products that include a preservative
Thank you for reading this edition of The Crunchy Corner. As always, please do your own research to make the best decisions for you and your family.
Until Next Time,