Briscoe White is owner and master grower at The Growers Exchange, an all-natural online garden center that specializes in rare and traditional herbs for culinary, aromatic and medicinal use. He has been in business for more than 20 years. He is a member of many garden and nature-related organizations including the Garden Writers Association. When he's not tending his greenhouse or writing for his blog, Briscoe’s Seeds For Thought, he spends what little free time he has planning his next garden and playing with his dogs on his family farm in Charles City, Virginia.
With temperatures heating up and summer in full swing, the one thing most people forget to consider is their skin. Whether you’re hitting the beaches, tending your garden, or simply driving with your windows down, your skin is constantly being pummeled with harsh UV rays. Rather than buying expensive, name-brand products full of artificial and synthetic chemicals to help restore your skin, why not go straight to the source and treat your skin right, the natural way? There are five herbs that will do wonders for maintaining your healthy skin this summer, without using the gooey mess you buy over the counter
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Calendula has long been revered for its antibacterial, anti-viral and antioxidant properties and has been used to treat everything from indigestion to cuts and burns since the 12th Century. Tinctures, teas and poultices can be made from this wonder herb’s marigold-like flower petals, which contain extremely high amounts of beneficial A and C vitamins, carotenoids and natural flavonoids. Flavonoids are naturally occurring antioxidants found in plants that help repair cell damage from UV rays. Because the beneficial properties in calendula plants increase blood flow to affected areas and aides in the production of collagen proteins, researchers believe this is why the plant can help heal cuts, minor infections, burns and bruises so quickly. Recently proved to prevent dermatitis caused by radiation in patients suffering from breast cancer, calendula proves to be a very valuable herb for repairing and restoring skin.
Super easy to grow in your own yard or garden, give this annual a try for a soothing summer salve. To make your own calendula treatment for after sun care, just harvest one to two cups of fresh calendula flowers and steep them in three cups of boiling water until the water has cooled. Strain the flowers from the infused water by pouring it through a coffee filter or cheesecloth and discard the used flowers. Place the calendula water in the refrigerator to cool for an hour. Once cooled, you can apply it to affected areas with a soft towel.
Another skin rejuvenating herb that you can easily grow at home is lavender. Long loved for its soothing fragrance, lavender oil can quickly help heal sunburned skin, as well as reduce scarring. An important medicinal herb since the Ancient Greeks coined the name “lavender” after the Latin word meaning “to wash,” lavender plants have been used to help heal and clean wounds and burns for centuries. Lavender oil was discovered as a modern treatment for burns completely accidentally by French chemist, Rene-Maurice Gattefosse in 1928, after he accidentally applied lavender oil to a burn he sustained while in his lab. After applying the oil and monitoring its recovery time, he noted that the area treated with lavender oil healed much more quickly. This is also because lavender contains collagen regenerating properties that help skin regrow quickly, aided by its anti-fungal and antibacterial properties that thwart infection at the site of the burn. The best variety of lavender for medicinal use is any one of the Lavandula angustifolia varieties, which include ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’. One of the safest oils you can use directly on the burned area, lavender oil is extracted from the flowers of this aromatic herb and will not only help cure but also help clean and prevent stress, scarring and pain. You can buy the essential oil, which can be found at health stores, or you may steep the flowers in hot water and make an infused tea. This can be added to lukewarm baths or dabbed on the burned area with a clean towel to help heal the skin and reduce painful blistering.
Not only used to soothe your mind after a stressful day, chamomile can also soothe your skin after a bad burn. Used traditionally to treat cramps, digestion issues and stress, chamomile is one of the most popular herbal remedies for relaxing, so it is not surprising that this sweetly-scented herb is beneficial to our skin as well. Easily grown and made into tea form, you can either drink this to help you sleep (as we all know, pain from a sunburn can keep you awake all night, making it feel that much more uncomfortable) or a cooled version of this same stress reducing tea can be added to your bath to heal sunburned skin. Similar to calendula, chamomile contains regenerating flavonoids, and anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties that will have you forgetting about your sunburn and recovering in no time!
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This fragrant herb’s blue, spike-like flowers contain anti-inflammatory properties and tons of flavonoids to help repair sunburnt skin after a long day spent outside. When steeped into an infused tea and cooled, or by applying the extracted essential oils to the burn itself, hyssop can help your body repair the burned skin cells by instigating new growth. This herb’s astringent and expectorant properties have long been used to treat respiratory infections, digestion issues and minor cuts, and its sweet perfume helps soothe frayed nerves, much like lavender oil. Easy to grow if given full sun and well-drained soil, this shrubby perennial will also attract useful pollinators that will benefit your other plants, making a terrific addition to any butterfly or medicinal garden.
An all-around great plant to have in your garden for its use as a compost activator and natural fertilizer, as well as a potent medicinal herb, comfrey is a self-seeding, high yielding herb that can save your skin from the summer heat. Among other great properties, comfrey contains allantoin, which naturally moisturizes, promotes cell regeneration, and increases water content in the damaged skin layers, which promotes smoother skin and quicker wound healing. Allantoin also acts as an anti-irritant and is commonly synthesized for over-the-counter sun-care products and cosmetics. By extracting the juice from fresh comfrey leaves and stems, you can produce a concentrated liquid to apply to burns that will reduce pain and swelling.
There are lots of other herbs that can be lifesavers when you’ve had too much sun, like aloe vera and St. John’s wort. Your best bet to fighting sunburn is to preempt it with a plant based or natural sunscreen applied generously and often to avoid burning at all. Remember to drink lots of water to stay hydrated, and try to limit your time spent outside to early morning or late afternoon, when the sun isn’t as intense. Growing your own summer herb garden with these medicinal herbs in mind will keep you prepared for the summer heat. You certainly won’t regret it if you love the sun as much as I do, and they’ll be close at hand if you do get a little too crispy.