We’ve hit that point in the winter. The season’s biting chill is no longer a nice excuse to stay indoors. And while the fire in the fireplace is raging, you have the heat cranked to help warm your bones, and you’ve got herbs steeping for tea, the temperature extremes between indoors and out are doing nothing good for your skin. In fact, your skin is probably downright parched.
Cold winter winds and low indoor humidity can wreak havoc on your skin, making it feel itchy, red, chapped or flakey. During the time you’re not spending in the garden, why not cultivate a little love for your body’s largest organ? In fact, some of your garden friends can help. There’s a whole host of herbs that can soothe and nourish your skin when winter takes its toll. Here are a few to try.
1. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula (pictured above) is a go-to herb for any skin condition. It’s soothing with vulnerary properties that can even help heal some of the worst cracked or chapped hands and lips that have braved the winter elements. You’d be wise to keep a calendula-infused oil on hand in any season, and winter is no exception. Use it by itself or in combination with other skin-soothing herbs to make a lip balm, salve, body butter or lotion, and apply it daily.
2. Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita)
The herb known for inducing a relaxing sleep is often overlooked for its skin-soothing benefits. When applied externally, it can help with itchy skin and even help heal wounds. Use it like you would calendula for the skin—you can even combine the two.
3. Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)
Marshmallow—the plant, not the sweet you put in your hot cocoa—is extremely mucilaginous, meaning it imparts a gooey quality that excels at soothing inflammation. While the root of marshmallow is often used internally for the digestive tract, the flowers are used for bringing relief to sore skin. Consider making a bath tea with the petals to not only warm you up after your outdoor chores but to tone down the red of those wind-burned cheeks and fingers.
4. Rose (Rosa damascena)
The petals of the damask rose make a great addition to any number of skin-nourishing salves. It’s known as the star ingredient in rose water toners. While it alone won’t necessarily boost moisture in dry skin, it is a great cleanser for all skin types, including dry skin, and can increase the skin’s suppleness and elasticity.
5. Oats (Avena sativa)
Typically when using oats as an herbal remedy, you’d reach for milky oats, the fresh-off-the plant, green, whole oat. However, when it comes to nourishing your skin, the dried cereal does the trick. Oats are another mucilaginous herb, and when ground and applied to the skin create a barrier to lock in moisture. To make your own moisture-locking cream, grind oats in a blender or coffee grinder and mix with a bit of oil (such as olive oil) to form a paste, and apply to the most chapped parts of your body. You can even add a drop or two of your favorite anti-inflammatory essential oil, such as lavender, for extra healing benefit.
When healing dry winter skin, herbs can do wonders. But the oils you infuse them into do a lot, too. There are many oils you can use to cultivate healthy skin, including many found in the pantry. Here are a few you might consider.
- Avocado oil: Avocado oil is a penetrating oil that is wonderful for dry skin. It’s high in vitamins A, D and E as well as protein and fatty acids.
- Olive oil: One of the best oils you can use on your skin, olive oil is great for all skin types, imparting a healing and calming effect on the skin. Its traditional use helps slow the aging process.
- Sesame oil: Sesame oil is one of the most important oils used in Ayurveda, the traditional health care of India, particularly for people who tend to have excessive dryness. It’s high in antioxidants, keeping the skin soft and supple.
- Jojoba oil: A light oil that readily absorbs into the skin, jojoba oil does a great job on the face in particular. It’s high in vitamin E, which is critical in the healing process.
- Almond oil: Another great option for dry skin, almond oil contains fatty acids, minerals and vitamins that help nourish with a neutral scent that many cooking oils don’t offer.
You can infuse your herbs into the oils through a number of methods including solar infusion, in a low-temperature oven or in a double-boiler on the stove. While you can always infuse combinations of herbs, I recommend infusing each herb separately and then combining oils to make any number of skin-healing products.
While cold weather can be tough on the spirit and the body, make time to properly care for you skin with herbs you’ve grown on the farm, and you’ll exude a radiance that will help lighten the dark days of winter until the spring sun shines upon us.