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Herbal Cosmetics

DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

Creams, Lotions, Gels The Herbal Bath Massage Oils Perfumery Herb Extract for Skin Resources

There is an incredible amount of self-satisfaction in being able to replace many store-bought synthetic cosmetic products with your own homemade versions. What cannot be supplied from the kitchen may be obtained at the local health food store, through mail order sources, or internet stores (see Resources). Even some of these items could be homemade if you decided to experiment further and become involved in soapmaking. There are a number of successful cottage industries now based on soapmaking and related products.

The simplest way to ease into cosmetic herb use is to first learn how to prepare an herbal bath. Iron-close tea bags are available in an extra-large size especially for this. They also make excellent sachet containers.

The Herbal Bath
An herbal bath can be a simple luxury or a prescription for aching joints. At other times it is a "bone-tired, dog-day" necessity for body and soul. There are two ways to use herbs in the bath.

1. Herbs are combined and ground in a blender, or else with a mortar and pestle, then placed in a muslin bag. When using oatmeal or skim milk powder in a bath recipe, a muslin bag, or large tea bag, is used. Grind your dried herbs and oatmeal as finely as possible using the blender or coffee mill. Fill the bag, then place in the tub or hang from the spout where the water can run through it as the tub fills.

2. An infusion or decoction of herbs is prepared, then strained (or has been prepared using a tea bag) and added to the bath water.

A strong tea is made by steeping the herbs for 10 minutes. Do this by pouring boiling water over the herbs which are in a container of stainless steel, enamel, crockery or glass. Never use aluminum as it reacts with some plant materials. Cover while steeping to keep the essential properties of the plant material from escaping in the steam. A cover can be a dish or other suitable item.

Used to extract the properties from harder plant materials such as roots and seeds. Gently simmer in recommended amount of water for 15 to 20 minutes, covered, until the desired potency is reached.

The infusion or decoction is added when the tub is filled, then swished about in the water.

To avoid serious injury, always transport your hot infusion or decoction to the tub in a covered container.

Taking a Bath
I realize this heading sounds presumptuous. After all - there isn't much to know about taking a bath. However, the purpose of a bath is to soothe, relax, rejuvenate, cleanse and especially feed your skin. Your skin is the largest organ you possess and should be treated accordingly. It's your first line of defense in fending off whatever the world has to throw at you. Too often the skin is actually robbed of its integrity by an overzealous soak.

A bath should not exceed twenty minutes in length

That is the optimum period of time for experiencing the beneficial effects of a bath. After that, the process begins to reverse itself and becomes a 'drain' on the body, if you'll pardon the pun.

Whether a muslin bag or an infusion is used, ten minutes of soaking is all you get before showing some movement (wiggle your fingers and toes to get the blood moving). If using the muslin bag, then try lifting one of those fully relaxed, leaden arms out of the water to locate it. Rub the herb-filled bag over your skin to take full advantage of their properties.

At this mid-point of the bath, you should have at hand 1 tbsp of olive oil, almond oil or other fine oil to which 1 to 2 drops of your favorite fragrance of essential oil has been added. Add this scented oil to the bathwater (the hard part is now over and you can relax again).

Soak for 10 minutes more. As you leave the water the oil will lightly cover your skin. This oil follow-up is not necessary, but for dry or tired skin is naturally healing. If you do not need the oil treatment, add 2 or 3 drops of fragrance oil to your bathwater for the sheer luxury of it.

The reasoning behind the time limit is that it requires twenty minutes for water to be absorbed by the skin. The oil-follow-up seals the moisture into the skin and helps keep it there. Oil used at the beginning of a bath actually prevents the skin from absorbing the much needed moisture. Staying longer in the water begins to drain the system rather than replenish it.

During the summer and fall months, harvest and dry the herbs you desire for bathing.

In preparing combinations do not worry about exact measurements. Also, if you do not have a particular herb on hand, look in your cupboard for another with similar properties or do without that particular herb. You wil benefit from the others in any event.

Following is a list of the most common herbs to keep on hand.

Bay leaves can be found on the spice rack of the local market. Anything you cannot collect yourself is available at bulk herb outlets (see Resources).

Remember to consider skin type when choosing formulations. Use astringent herbs for oily skin and soothing, emollient herbs for dry skin.

Properties Guide to Herbs
Aches & Pains (1)
Astringent (2)
Cooling (3)
Fragrant (4)
Soothing (5)
Stimulating (6)
Tonic (7)

Bath Herbs
Basil (6)
Bay leaves (1-2-4-6)
Beebalm leaves (5)
Blackberry leaves (7)
Burdock root (1)
Calendula flowers (5-6)
Catnip leaves (5)
Chamomile flowers (5-6)
Chervil leaves (3)
Comfrey leaves/root (2-5-7)
Dandelion leaves (7)
Elderberry flowers (5)
Evening primrose flowers (5)
Fennel leaves/seeds (6)
Hyssop leaves/flowers (5)
Marjoram (6)
Marjoram, Sweet (4-6)
Mints (3-4-6)
Mugwort leaves (1-7)
Mullein leaves/flowers (1-5)
Nettle leaves (6-7)
Orange peel (4-7)
Oregano (1-6)
Raspberry leaves (2-7)
Rose petals (2-4-5)
Rosemary leaves/flowers (2-4-5)
Sage (1-6)
Savory (6)
Southernwood (4)
Strawberry leaves (1-2)
Lady's Mantle (2-6)
Lavender flowers (4-6)
Lemon Balm (5)
Tansy flowers (5)
Thyme (6)
Valerian root (5)
Violet leaves/flowers (5)
Yarrow flowers (2)

Generally Speaking

The following recipes are a starting-off point to familiarize yourslf with the process. The serendipitous thing about herbs is that we develop affinities for certain ones to suit our own individual natures. You should feel free to add or subtract those ones you choose as only you can fully know what effect you are trying to achieve. If you feel stressed out and one particular herb or fragrance always lifts you up and makes your troubles disappear, then go with your instincts and add it to your bath. Many healing recipes have been developed in the same manner.

In the beginning keep it very simple.

As you use the herbs, one by one, learn about each of them from whatever resources are available to you. Don't overlook your public library. Even the poorest of them generally have a good selection of books on herbs.

It is best to store herbs in as much of a whole state as possible since they retain their properties longer in this manner.

Powdered herbs usually have a shelf life of short duration when compared to a stored, whole leaf which will maintain its vitality at least three times as long, or approximately one year.

When using the herbs, release their properties at that time by crushing, chopping or running them through the blender or a coffee mill depending on their nature. Most dried leaves will crumble nicely right in your fingers. There are some types of leaves though which tend to be leathery and require something a bit more forceful like a blender of coffee mill. Roots require a coffee mill. A mini food processor is a handy countertop appliance for working with herbs and is especially good at making powder out of oatmeal. With a little more elbow grease, a mortar and pestle can be employed in the traditional manner of bruising and breaking the dried materials. The easiest hand method I have ever devised occurred one evening when I was long on exhaustion and short on patience. Quite simply, it is a wooden bowl and a pizza cutter. It worked quickly and produced lovely cut flakes of herb for my muslin bath bag.

  • Blender or mini food processor
  • Coffee mill for harder materials
  • Mortar & Pestle (traditional)
  • Wooden bowl and pizza cutter
  • Large tea ball or fine mesh strainer or coffee filter for infusions
  • Muslin bath bag or large iron-close teabag
  • Favorite Essential Oil
  • Small container for holding oil which will sit on the side of the tub

When you are faced with deciding which variety of herb to use (such as - which mint?), let your nose and senses guide you. Open the bottle and sniff. If it pleases your senses and seems to blend with your mood, then use it. Do not forget the essential oil. The fragrance should be compatible with the general fragrance of the herbs being used.

A note about parts:
Beginners are often baffled by the term "parts" which is seen in herbal literature and in old herbals in particular. Whether you are using something non-specific such as a teacup or jelly jar to measure, or, a specific 1-cup measuring container, then this (whatever volume the container holds) is your "one part". Everything else is measured from there. A half part would be your container being half full and a quarter part would be one-fourth full.

Bath Recipes

Tonic Bath
2 tbsp comfrey leaves
2 tbsp blackberry or raspberry lf
1 tbsp lavender
2 tbsp violet leaf
2 tbsp oatmeal, powdered
Prepare herbs and oatmeal. Combine in a muslin bag or tea bag. Place under water spout while filling tub, then add to bath water.

Oily Skin Bath #1
3 tbsp rosemary
3 tbsp chamomile
3 tbsp strawberry leaf
1 tbsp oatmeal, powdered
1 tbsp powdered almond nuts can be substituted for the oatmeal. Prepare, combine, and place in muslin bag or large tea bag. Place under water spout while tub is filling, then add to bath water.

Oily Skin Bath #2
2 tbsp lovage leaves or root
2 tbsp yarrow flowers
2 tbsp chamomile
Make infusion using 1 quart of water and add to bath.

Irritated Skin Bath #1
2 tbsp chamomile
2 tbsp comfrey leaf
1 tbsp skim milk powder
2 tbsp elder flowers
2 tbsp calendula petals
Milk may be omitted from this recipe and an infusion made of the herbs only. Prepare, combine and place in muslin bag or large tea bag. Place under water spout while tub is filling, then add to bath water.

Irritated Skin Bath #2
2 tbsp dandelion leaves
2 tbsp lady's mantle
2 tbsp elecampane root
2 tbsp calendula petals
Make infusion using 1 quart of water and add to bath.

Irritated Skin Bath #3
1 tbsp each of - mint, yarrow flowers, chamomile, elder flowers, rosemary, lovage leaves or root
Make infusion using 1 quart of water and add to bath.

Rejuvenating Baths
Make an infusion of any of the following combinations.

2 tbsp each of: calendula petals, lavender, sweet marjoram, mint of your choice (or rosemary)
2 tbsp each of: rosemary, mint, chamomile
1 tsp of sage (or savory or thyme)
3 tbsp each of: chamomile flowers and mugwort leaves
2 tbsp each of: sage, strawberry leaf, mint
2 tbsp each of: sage, mugwort leaves, lavender

Aching Body Baths
Make an infusion of any of the following combinations and add to bath water.

2 tbsp each of: grated burdock root, mugwort leaves, comfrey leaves
2 tsps sage
2 tbsp each of: bay leaves, strawberry leaf, mugwort

Relaxing-Calming Baths
Make an infusion using any one of the following combinations and add to bath water.

2 tbsp each of: catnip, chamomile, comfrey, evening primrose flowers
1/2 tbsp bay leaves
2 tbsp each of: hyssop, lemon balm, mullein leaf or flower, catnip
2 tbsp each of: rose petals, tansy flower, violet leaf, valerian root
3 tbsp each of: sweet marjoram, violet leaf, valerian root
2 tbsp each of: valerian root, lemon balm, sweet marjoram, hops

Cooling Bath

Make an infusion using 1 quart of water and 3 tbsp each of chervil (or parsley), lovage leaves or root, and mint. Add to bath water.

Pamper Baths
Make an infusion using any one of the following combinations and add to bath water.

3 tbsp each of: beebalm leaves, lavender, orangemint
1 tsp orange peel
3 tbsp each of: rose petals, lavender, sweet marjoram
3 tbsp each of: rosemary, sweeet marjoram, calendula petals
1 tsp southernwood

Olde Tyme Luxury Bath
Mix this combination and keep in a pretty jar where it can be seen and appreciated. Use one-half cup of the mix per 1 quart of water to make infusion and add to bath.

Combine equal parts of: Rose petals, rose scented geranium leaves, lavender, sweet marjoram, plus 1/2 part of orangemint (or lavender mint)

Wrinkle and Skin Softening Bath
Make an infusion using 1 quart of water and 3 tbsp each of fennel seeds or leaves, rose petals and elder flowers.

for Herbs, Essential Oils, Tools, Accessories and Hard-to-find Herbalware

Liberty Natural Products
Frontier Herb
Lavender Lane
Mountain Rose Herbs
Penn Herb Company

©1997 by Ernestina Parziale, CH