Hello dear friends!
I'm sure you know by now how much I love herbs and use them in my day-to-day life. I make my own herbal medicines using dried herbs, use essential oils in just about everything, and use fresh herbs whenever I can find them, for things like teas, infused honeys, and smudge rolls.
I've struggled with skin issues for as long as I can remember. My body has a hard time healing from things like scratches and bug bites, and I scar very easily. I also have dealt with acne, redness, and irritation over the past 15 years or so. And trust me, I've tried it all! I've tried fancy, expensive lotions, serums, and treatments. And while some of these worked somewhat, they often came with toxic ingredients, wasteful packaging, or outrageous price tags.
Once I started doing my herbal training, and experimented with my own medicines, I realized that there are so many wonderful plant allies that can help with skin conditions! Too many to put into one blog, I assure you, but I wanted to start with these few. These are fantastic infused into oils, made into salves, or added into other body products. I use nearly all of these on a daily basis, to help calm inflammation and soothe my sensitive skin!
Granted, all of these plants have WAY more medicinal properties than just skin-related ones, but for today's purpose, we'll stick to the topical use!
So, without further ado, let's jump in. Here are some of my favorite skin-loving herbs:
Many people appreciate lavender (Lavandula angustifolia or Lavandula officinalis) for its fragrance. Lavender is a common ingredient in soaps, shampoos, and sachets for scenting clothes. The name lavender comes from the Latin root lavare, which means "to wash." Lavender may have earned this name because it was frequently used in baths to help purify the body and spirit. However, this herb has also been used as a remedy for a range of ailments from insomnia and anxiety to depression and fatigue.
A number of studies have reported that lavender essential oil may be beneficial in a variety of conditions, including insomnia, alopecia (hair loss), anxiety, stress, and postoperative pain. Lavender is also being studied for antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Aromatherapists use lavender in inhalation therapy to treat headaches, nervous disorders, and exhaustion. Herbalists treat skin ailments, such as fungal infections (like candidiasis), wounds, eczema, and acne, with lavender oil. It is also used in a healing bath for joint and muscle pain. One study evaluating treatments for children with eczema found that when parents used massage with lavender oil, the dry, scaly skin lesions were significantly lessened. Another study found that lavender oil may improve pain control after surgery.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is widely used as a spice when cooking, especially in Mediterranean dishes. It is also used for fragrance in soaps and cosmetics. Traditionally, rosemary has been used medicinally to:
- Improve memory
- Relieve muscle pain and spasm
- Stimulate hair growth
- Support the circulatory and nervous systems
It is a powerful herb for circulation and wound healing, and has been shown in studies to improve blood flow, reduce blood clots, and stimulate growth of new cells.
In the lab, rosemary has been shown to have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants can neutralize harmful particles in the body known as free radicals, which damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Also, rosemary oil appears to have antimicrobial properties (I even confirmed this finding in an undergraduate microbiology lab!!)
Applied topically, rosemary oil is sometimes used to treat muscle pain and arthritis- just make sure you dilute it!
Legend has it that yarrow (Achillea millefolium) was named after Achilles, the Greek mythical hero who used it to stop the bleeding in his soldiers' wounds. Popular in European folk medicine, yarrow contains flavonoids, plant-based chemicals that increase saliva and stomach acid to help improve digestion. Yarrow may also relax smooth muscle in the intestine and uterus, which can relieve stomach and menstrual cramps.
Few scientific studies have looked at yarrow as an herbal medicine. Traditionally, it was used in 3 ways:
- Applied to the skin for wounds and minor bleeding
- Taken by mouth to reduce inflammation, especially in the digestive tract
- Taken as a sedative to relieve anxiety or insomnia
Today, yarrow's skin-specific uses include: Halting menstrual cramps and muscle spasms, fighting infection, reduce bleeding, speed wound healing, reducing fever, and reducing overall inflammation.
If you are allergic to plants in the aster family (chrysanthemums, daisies, and ragweed), you may be allergic to yarrow, either taken by mouth or applied to the skin.
The flower petals of the calendula plant (Calendula officinalis), or pot marigold, have been used for medicinal purposes since at least the 12th century. Calendula is native to Mediterranean countries but is now grown as an ornamental plant throughout the world. However, it is not the same as the annual marigold plant that is often grown in gardens.
Calendula has high amounts of flavonoids, plant-based antioxidants that protect cells from being damaged by unstable molecules called free radicals. Calendula appears to fight inflammation, viruses, and bacteria.
Traditionally, calendula has been used to treat stomach upset and ulcers, as well as relieve menstrual cramps, but today, calendula is often used topically for skin conditions.
Calendula has been shown to help wounds heal faster, possibly by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the affected area, which helps the body grow new tissue. It is also used to improve skin hydration and firmness. The dried petals of the calendula plant are used in tinctures, ointments, and washes to treat burns, bruises, and cuts, as well as the minor infections they cause. Calendula also has been shown to help prevent dermatitis or skin inflammation in people with breast cancer during radiation therapy.
Calendula tinctures, ointments, and washes are often applied to the skin to help burns, bruises, and cuts heal faster, and to fight the minor infections they cause. Calendula cream is also used to treat hemorrhoids. Professional homeopaths often recommend using ointments with calendula to heal first-degree burns and sunburns.
In the 1st century CE, Pliny the Elder recorded thirty-two different medicinal uses of the rose.
Roses were grown in medieval gardens more for medicine and food than for beauty. Ironically, the Cherokee rose is native to China, but now grows throughout much of North America and is the state flower of Georgia. It was used in China to treat diarrhea.
In the 19th century, it was proven that roses contain essential oils, which can be distilled from the petals and used in aromatherapy.
Rosehips are extremely high in bioavailable vitamin C, which is great internally for fighting off infections, but also for firming and toning the skin. I use rosehip oil in my facial serum, and it's been fantastic!
The botanical name of the wild rose (R. canina species) comes from its traditional use for treating rabid dog bites in ancient Roman times.
Some of the skin-specific uses of the wild rose include:
- Compresses soaked in infusions of the dried flowers make a good anti-inflammatory remedy for the eyes or any other inflamed area of the body and applied cool for headaches.
- Creams from the essential oil are used to treat dry or inflamed skin.
- Lotions from the essential oil are combined with lady’s mantle tincture for vaginal itching.
- Rosewater combined with equal amounts of witch hazel is used as a moisturizing lotion for skin prone to pimples or acne. (Rosewater is a by-product of the steam distillation of Bulgarian rose oil)
- A few drops of essential oil can be added to bathwater for all-over softness.
- Massage oil is made by mixing a few drops of essential oil with a neutral oil, and used to relieve stress and exhaustion or for sluggish digestion.
Chamomile is a traditional medicinal herb native to western Europe, India, and western Asia. It has become abundant in the United States, where it has escaped cultivation to grow freely in pastures, cornfields, roadsides, and other sunny, well-drained areas. The generic name, chamomile, is derived from the Greek, khamai, meaning "on the ground," and melon, meaning "apple." The official medicinal chamomile is the German chamomile Matricaria recutita.
Chamomile was revered as one of nine sacred herbs by the ancient Saxons. The Egyptians valued the herb as a cure for malaria and dedicated chamomile to their sun god, Ra. Two species of this sweet-scented plant, Roman chamomile and German chamomile, have been called the true chamomile because of their similar appearance and medicinal uses.
The aromatic flower heads and leaves of both Roman and German chamomile are used medicinally. They are highly scented with volatile, aromatic oil, including the heat-sensitive Azulene, which is the blue chamomile essential oil (this is a popular post-waxing skin treatment). This bittersweet herb acts medicinally as a tonic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-allergenic, and sedative.
An infusion of chamomile is also helpful to treat toothache, arthritis, gout, and premenstrual tension. It may also be used in douche preparations, or sitz baths, especially post-partum. As an external wash in strong infusion, or decoction, or as part of a hot compress, the herb can soothe burns and scalds, skin rashes, and sores. Chamomile can be used as a gargle for mouth ulcers, as a soothing eye wash for conjunctivitis, and as a hair rinse to brighten the hair.
So friends, which of these herbs have you already incorporated into your skincare routine? Which herbs do you want me to cover in the second part of this blog? Tell me in the comments below!
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~