Herbs for health and beauty


The desire to appear beautiful is nothing new. The cosmetic use of plant materials to enhance beauty is found in all ancient cultures. The Native Americans – as well as other cultures – used plant-based dyes to adorn the body. Seven thousand years ago, the early tribes of the Nile Valley painted and anointed their dead, both to preserve the body and to make it more attractive for the world beyond.

The Egyptians who followed assimilated their practices and developed them into an elaborate routine of beauty preparations for religious rituals and ceremonial occasions. But it was the ancient Greeks who worshiped youth and beauty that were responsible for changing the focus of cosmetics from ceremonial to personal, developing a philosophy of all-round health and beauty akin to modern concepts.

Hippocrates formulated the study of dermatology and recommended diet, exercise, bath and massage for improving physical health and beauty. The indulgent Romans furthered the art using aromatic rituals and body pampering. The famous Roman writer Citro, wrote four books on the subject during the first century AD including recipes for bleaching, tinting and greasing the hair, avoiding wrinkles, and dealing with body odors- something other than drowning body odor with perfume which was the standard of the day.

By the time of the Renaissance there was an awareness of skin care as separate from medicinal disorders. Recipes for soaps, creams, and herbal waters were collected and recorded in herbals and stillroom books, which were handed down from mother to daughter for generations.

As Americans became more and more obsessed with youth and beauty, we led the way in the organized industry of production of costly cosmetics. Theron T. Ponds offered his Ponds Extract to the public and other manufacturers soon started their own product lines. The innovative use of preservatives and mass production created an unprecedented choice, and the rest is well, history.

Today’s commercial products are often expensive, with vast amounts of money spent on advertising, packaging, distribution and testing which many times includes cruelty to animals. As we the consumer become more aware of our health, including our skin, the demand has risen for more natural ingredients and alternatives to the chemically laden potions on the shelves. Most of us are not into making our own cosmetics as it can be time consuming (although rewarding) so here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you’re looking for cosmetics and other beauty preparations.

Cosmetics containing petroleum jellies are not good for any kind of skin type. They may seal the skin against dirt or grime but they also attract it. It also seals the skin against moisture that is naturally absorbed from moistened air, or from the ingredients that were combined with it to moisturize.

The kind of oil used is important – almond, avocado, wheatgerm, carrot, coconut and nut kernel oils are particularly skin enriching. Castor oil disperses in water, making it a good vehicle for scented bath oils. Lanolin, a thick, sticky fat obtained from sheep’s wool softens and nourishes the skin.

Honey, another common ingredient used in cosmetics, softens, heals and binds ingredients together. Vinegar is used to soften, cleanse and soothe. Natural astringents such as rose, nettle, and witch hazel can give the skin a clean smooth feeling. Lemon, chamomile, cucumber and lavender all have soothing properties that heal and soothe. Remember too that skin health and beauty can be achieved more naturally if you choose a diet of healthy whole foods, pure water and air.

Till next time, Rebecca.