This collection of common garden plants can be used to make your own beauty products and treatments. When you are ready to prepare your garden, keep in mind that all of these plants grow well in sunny locations. Also, cucumbers and luffa sponges love to climb. They will be happiest positioned next to a fence or trellis.
• Calendula (Calendula officinalis): This bright annual flower has colorful, cheerful blooms that are perfect skin cleansers and softeners. Fresh or dried calendula petals can be added to creams, lotions and baths. Calendula also is a soothing antiseptic and an excellent skin conditioner.
• Cucumber (Cucumis sativus): This green vegetable has been used as a beauty aid for centuries. You can add fresh cucumber juice to creams and lotions. The pale green liquid makes a soothing cure for sunburned skin and insect bites because it is naturally cooling. To make fresh juice, simply process in a blender or food processor until smooth and strain off all solids.
• Lavender (Lavandula spp.): This aromatic perennial plant is a garden staple that can easily be dried and enjoyed year-round. Lavender has strong antiseptic properties, which makes it a good choice for blemished or troubled skin. Add a few sprigs of fresh lavender to a bottle of witch hazel for a simple yet effective cleansing toner.
• Luffa (Luffa spp.): These easy-to-grow vegetable brushes belong to the same family as the cucumber. The plants love to climb, and they thrive in hot weather. The skeleton of the luffa is what is used to scrub your skin. Harvest when the skin has turned brown, then soak them in a bucket of water to soften the outer skin. Peel and allow the inner skeleton to dry completely. Gently rub over wet skin to remove dead skin cells and surface dirt. You also can add bits of luffa to melted soaps for added scrubbing power.
• Mint (Mentha spp.): Known for its energizing scent, mint comes in a number of varieties, from old-fashioned peppermint to the more exotic chocolate mint. Chew fresh mint stems and leaves to freshen your breath and settle an upset stomach.
• Parsley (Petroselinum crispum): Rich in vitamins, minerals and antiseptic chlorophyll, parsley is the ultimate “green.” This well-known natural deodorizer and breath freshener also is very beneficial to your hair and skin. Used as a rinse, it leaves the hair soft and clean. Added to facial masks and lotions, parsley is very soothing to dry skin. It also works as an antiseptic for small cuts and insect bites.
• Sage (Salvia spp.): Like mint, sage comes in a variety of scents, from cinnamon to pineapple. Clary sage is the most common cosmetic variety. Its leaves appear in many facial steams and astringents, as it has strong cleansing properties that deep-clean your pores. You also can try making a hair rinse with fresh sage leaves; with regular use, the rinse will help darken gray hair. To whiten your teeth, rub them with a fresh leaf or brush with a powder of ground, dried sage leaves. Finish up with a mouth rinse of strong sage tea.
Janice Cox is the author of Natural Beauty from the Garden (Henry Holt and Company, 1999). She recently co-authored a book with her daughter, Lauren Cox, called EcoBeauty—Scrubs, Rubs, Masks, and Bath Bombs for You and Your Friends (Ten Speed Press, 2009). Look for it in bookstores this fall.
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Body & Soul: Grow a Complexion Garden