Better living through nature
Susan Meeker-Lowry is an herbalist who lives in Fryeburg, Maine. She owns Gaia's Garden Herbals, a home-based, herbal skin-care business offering creams, salves and other herbal goodies made in small batches, many using herbs she grows in her organic garden.
The beautiful flowers from our gardens and fields uplift our spirits with their color and presence. These three flowers are some of the most common and important herbs for healing the skin, and I have included a recipe that will give you a great medicinal oil without much fuss.
Calendula officinalis is one of the best skin-care herbs ever! It’s easy to grow and blooms prolifically from summer to frost in sunny yellows, oranges, and even reds and maroons. Calendula is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory. It promotes skin regeneration, minimizes scar tissue, is an excellent skin moisturizer, and helps heal rashes, burns, sores, ulcers and skin problems associated with radiation therapy. It also works wonderfully as a massage oil, and is gentle enough for treating and preventing diaper and heat rashes on a baby’s tender skin.
There are many varieties but I love Rosa rugosa for use as a medicine and in my skin care regimen. Growing up, I called them wild roses or, when I was near the ocean, beach roses. Flowers range from pale pink to deep magenta, and they are, of course, wonderfully fragrant. Rose-infused oil is suitable for all skin types especially dry, sensitive, irritated and mature skin. And over time, rose’s astringent effect will greatly diminish those tiny red capillaries close to the skin’s surface. It takes a lot of rose petals to make rose-infused oil, so if you’re not blessed with a large hedge nearby, you can use dried organic roses. Pure rose essential oil is costly but worth it, and can be used when it is added to a quality carrier oil such as jojoba. Be aware that if you choose the essential oil, there are two kinds that will be available. Rose otto, extracted through steam distillation, is lighter in color with a softer fragrance. Rose otto is considered the most therapeutic—and is therefore, more costly. Rose absolute is obtained through solvent extraction, and it is thick, reddish and very fragrant. It is often available diluted in a carrier oil (10 percent dilution is most common). When making a cream, I like to use both so the result is both powerful in its healing properties and wonderfully fragrant.
St. John’s Wort
Hypericum perforatum isn’t a flower you’d put in a daily cosmetic cream, but it heals burns, wounds, cold sores, herpes, shingles and stings, and can help with bruises and nerve pain. Considered a “noxious” weed by many, St. John’s wort's sunny yellow flowers are most welcome in my garden—although I wildcraft it as well. It is a powerhouse of healing: classified as anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiviral and antioxidant, it is often referred to as a “heal all.” When harvesting, only the flowers are used. Pick when they are newly opened and be surprised by the gorgeous red pigment hiding inside.
A couple of reminders before you start playing in the fields and making flowery friends:
+ Regardless of what herbs or flowers you’re gathering, avoid roadsides and fields that may have been sprayed with pesticides!
+ Know what you’re picking.
+ Don’t use roses from the florist.
+ Don’t over harvest. Take no more than 10 to 25 percent from any given area, or none at all if there are just a few plants around.
How to Make Infused Oils
1. Pick newly opened, unsprayed flowers.
2. Wilt your harvest in a single layer on screen or paper to evaporate excess moisture. This will take 2 to 3 days for “juicy” calendula, a couple of hours for St. John’s wort, and a blink of a butterfly’s wings for roses.
3. Fill clean jar 2/3 to 3/4 full with flowers. (Chop your flowers if they are large like calendula.)
4. Add oil to the top. (Organic olive oil works wonderfully)
5. Make sure to remove air bubbles, and cap tightly.
6. Place jar in a sunny window, and let steep for 4 to 6 weeks.
7. Strain through cheesecloth and squeeze out all the oil.
*Note: If cloudiness settles on bottom, carefully pour clear oil into another jar.
This oil can be used as is or made into healing salves and creams. Making flower oils is fun and cost effective. Plus, you’ll be rewarded with healthy, radiant skin.
Check out Susan's products at her Popy Swap online shop, Gaia's Garden Herbals. Use the promotional code HERBCOMP for 15 PERCENT OFF your next purchase!