holistic herbal summer skin care

Herbal Summer Skin Care Inside & Out

It’s finally looking a bit like summer here in Halifax, and especially after a long winter indoors, our skin is more susceptible to sun damage. Incorporate these herbal remedies into your summer skin care routine for healthy, happy skin.

In this post we’ll share some practical ways to reduce sun exposure, herbs that have healing benefits for different skin conditions, and ways to use those herbs in skin care recipes to nourish and protect your skin. We’ll also talk about healing your skin from the inside with nutritive teas and a healthy diet.

PRACTICAL SUN CARE

The best way to reduce sun damage is to reduce exposure during peak sun hours. I know you probably want to run outside and soak up every drop of sun while it lasts, but it’s best to start gradually in early summer so you don’t burn. It’s ok to get some sun exposure, but the most critical risk factor is burns. It’s most important to avoid sun burns to prevent disease. Avoid getting burnt with these practical tips. 

  • Gradual exposure in early summer
  • Avoid peak sun exposure during the summer, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
  • Cover up with light clothing
  • Seek shade during peak hours
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Avoid burns
  • Get enough sun exposure – small, frequent doses

Sunscreen is not a failsafe method of avoiding burns, so it’s important that you don’t fall into a sense of false security, thinking that because you used sunscreen, you’ll be fine. Sunscreen wears off over time, and in water and sweat, and can’t be relied upon for complete protection from the sun.

Topical Summer Skin Care

Our skin is sensitive and absorbent to what is applied to it. Chemicals found in skin care products will soak through to deeper tissues of the body, which can then make their way to urine, blood and breast milk.  There are short and long term cautions and potential harm stemming from the use of certain chemicals found in sunscreens and other skin care products.

Read the ingredients when choosing a sunscreen and look for ingredients that are effective and not harmful.

Choosing a Sunscreen

A great resource for helping you choose a sunscreen is this website.

Environmental Working Group – 13th Annual Guide to Sunscreens

https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/

Types of Sunscreen to Avoid

Skin is not an impermeable barrier, and many harmful chemicals that can be absorbed into the skin. Some chemicals in sunscreen are potentially toxic, and hormone disrupting. Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone, PABA and trolamine salicylate, vitamin A.

Although Vitamin A is beneficial when ingested, it is harmful when applied topically and combined with sun exposure. Vitamin A might be listed under other names such as Retinol, Retinals, provitamin A, or beta-carotene.

Avoid artificial fragrances, and choose sunscreens with pure essential oils instead.

Spray sunscreens may seem convenient, but they are a respiratory irritant and potentially toxic. It’s best to smear on sunscreen the old fashioned way.

Higher SPF (sun protection factory)  is not necessarily better. There is also debate about whether or not the really high spf sunscreens (40, 50+) offer any more benefit than SPF 30. The SPF scale is not linear, and although SPF 30 sounds like twice as much protection as SPF 15, that’s not actually the case. In reality, SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays, so it’s better to focus on getting a high quality sunscreen rather than a really high SPF.

Ingredients to Look For in Sunscreen

Titanium dioxide and Zinc oxide, which are safe, effective sunblocks.

Even though you’re choosing a safe, effective sunscreen that meets all the right criteria, it’s not a foolproof solution.

  • Sunscreen alone is not enough protection.
  • Melanoma on the rise, despite the increased use of sunscreen.
  • Sunscreens are designed to prevent sunburn but don’t necessarily offer protection against UV damage to DNA and skin cells.

Don’t forget to wash off your sunscreen at the end of the day.

Uses for herbal summer skin care: after sun care, heat rash, treatment of burns, protection from skin damage, bug bites, wounds, infections

Herbs for Summer Skin Care

Medicinal herbs can also benefit your skin. Some nourish your skin from the inside, and some can be used in luxurious recipes to pamper your skin, or soothe it after sun exposure.

There are several herbs that are especially beneficial to the skin, for a wide variety of ailments, including summer sun care.

Calendula is easy to grow, and it has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties when applied to the skin. It’s not too late to grow right now. You can still plant it in Halifax and get a late summer harvest.

Wild rose petals are fabulous for skin care. You can get rose water from most Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grocery stores, and you can use it as a nice cooling spritzer in the summer.

Lavender flower, like rose and calendula, is soothing, especially if you’ve had a burn. Lavender essential oil is a great thing to be included in a skin care recipe.

Violet grows wild all over Nova Scotia. It has a heart-shaped leaf, and white or purple flowers. The heart shaped leaves have both tannins and mucilage, which makes them both toning and soothing. 

herbs for summer skin careRose water is also astringent, tones and tightens the pores. If you’re in Halifax, you can get rose water at Mid East Food Centre

Plantain is a common weed that is abundant in lawns. Like violet, it’s both mucilaginous and astringent. It can be used the same as violet, and it’s also good for stings, and mosquito and black fly bites. Chew it up in your mouth until it gets pulpy, and apply it to your sting or bite. Leave it on for about 10 minutes. It will alleviate the pain and itching.

Chickweed is a common weed that is specific for itchy skin. After mosquito bites, you can chew it into a pulp and apply it like plantain, or use it in a cream or lotion. Chickweed is also a good addition to a herbal tea mixture, because it’s cooling and refreshing, and can soothe you from the inside out. Chickweed is also helpful for moving lymph, so if you’re one who gets really swollen from bites, chickweed will help reduce the swelling.

Chamomile is another cooling, anti-inflammatory herb that is good for topical care. Chamomile and lavender are a great combination if you’ve got a bit of a glow from too much sun.

St. John’s wort is not a herbal sunscreen, as some believe, but it is good for after-sun care. It’s particularly helpful for inflamed skin and burns. It would be a good addition to a herbal oil, lotion or cream.

One thing to note is that taking St. John’s wort internally makes us photosensitive, so if you know you’re going to be in the sun a lot, it’s a good idea to avoid taking St. John’s wort internally, either in tincture or tea form.

Oats are great for itch and inflammation. If your whole body is itchy or needs some cooling after-sun TLC, take a bath in coconut milk and oats. Bree Hyland of Barre Studio recommends pouring a can of coconut milk into your bath and add a sock full of oats. When the oats are good and steeped in the bath water, squeeze the milk out of the sock.

If you want to go out foraging for these herbal treasures, we’ve got some wildcrafting tips for you.

Summer Skin Care Preparations

Baths

Baths are great for full coverage, when your whole body needs attention.

Make a really strong tea with calendula, rose, lavender. Double or triple the proportions that you would for drinking tea.

To make 2 L of tea, steep a full cup of dried herbs or 2 cups of fresh herbs in 2L of boiled water, then add it to the bath.

Lotions, oils, salves.

Oils infused with herbs are excellent for after sun care.

Oils are herbal infusions in an oil such as olive, almond, sunflower, or grapeseed. The oils have the ability to extract the plant chemical into the oil. You can use the oil directly on your skin, or you could prepare an oil and then convert that into a salve.

Salves or ointments. A salve is an oil-based preparation mixed with beeswax to make it solid so it’s a bit easier to apply.

Lotions are water based. You would mix a herbal water or tea with oil and emulsify it.

Compresses & Poultices

Compresses & poultices are local remedies involving wrapping up the skin with herbal medicines. A compress refers to making a strong herbal brew, soaking a cotton cloth in the tea. and wrapping up the area.

A poultice is similar to a compress, but instead of making a tea, you actually make pulp with the whole plant material and put it in direct contact with your skin.

Spritzers

Spritzers are great for cooling relief after too much sun exposure. Rose and orange flower water are available at most middle Eastern food stores. If you can find chamomile or lavender floral waters, they are also excellent for skin.

Herbal summer skin care from the inside

In addition to after sun care, and remedies for bug bites, it’s also important to get the right nutrients to keep our skin healthy. We can get nutrients from plants in herbal teas, herbal vinegars, and eating a healthy diet.

Herbal Teas

Herbal teas offer antioxidants, which are important for protecting your cells. Calendula, thyme, rosemary fresh from the garden make a yummy and uplifting tea that is rich in antioxidants. Some other high-antioxidant teas are green tea, dandelion leaves, parsley, and watercress.  

Herbal Vinegars  

Nutrition is another important element of healthy skin, and herbal vinegars are a great source of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium,

Making herbal vinegar is a great thing to do with spring greens. Chop up some greens and steep them in apple cider vinegar for a couple of weeks. Strain the vinegar, and then you can use it in salad dressings. There are LOTS of types of greens you can do this with, including horsetail, dandelion, evergreen tips, stinging nettles and more.

Sour Food & Drink

In Ayurveda, the ancient science of healthy lifestyle, the six tastes are associated with the increase or decrease of specific energetic properties. The sour taste is cooling, so it’s great to sip on a sour drink in summer. You can make a delicious, refreshing iced tea with hibiscus, rosehip, and hawthorn berries. Add the herbs and let them simmer for about 15 minutes, then cool it with ice and float some orange slices in it.

Diet

Increase your intake of antioxidant nutrients that offer protection from free radical damage from the sun.  These include vitamins A, C and E, and zinc and selenium. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables (5-9 servings per day), whole grains, nuts and seeds will supply these and other important nutrients for protection at the cellular level. In the spring and summer, it should be easy to get all your veggies.

Nuts and seeds have Vitamin E and Zinc. A great way to add these to your diet is adding walnuts or sunflower seeds to pesto. You can even add some other spring greens in there besides basil, and you’ll be getting a variety of minerals, too.

The skin is nourished and hydrated by adding essential fatty acids to the diet – fish, flax and hemp seed oils can be used in salad dressings and smoothies. If you eat fish, go for mackerel, sardines, wild salmon if you can get it.

Vitamin D: the “sunshine vitamin”

Vitamin D is another important consideration when it comes to summer skin care. We need sun exposure on our skin to activate the synthesis of Vitamin D in our bodies. Vitamin D is linked to the prevention of colon cancer and other cancers, diabetes, allergies, and many other ailments, and it’s known to improve bone health. Vitamin D production may be inhibited by sunscreen. It’s important, especially in northern climates to make sure we get enough sun exposure. This is a great reason to enjoy the sun, and to not approach the sun with fear.

With all these ways to take care of your skin with herbal remedies and nutritive herbs in your diet, there’s no reason not to get out there and enjoy the sun!
Have a great summer!

Winter Forest Herbal Medicine Remedies

Herbal medicine is available for harvest throughout the year, even here in Nova Scotia. Pine and spruce are abundant. In this video you’ll learn some ways to identify them and use them to keep you healthy in winter.

Transcript:

I’m here in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and as you can probably see it’s winter here. It’s January. This park has edible and medicinal plants available to us year round, and in the winter we’re looking for the evergreens, some of which can be found at our feet, and we have many evergreen trees. Today we’re going to learn about pine and spruce, both abundant trees here in Nova Scotia.

These trees share many compounds in common, including acids, resins, essential oils, and anti-inflammatory compounds, so they have similar benefits to us. So I’ll start with the pine.

White Pine

This is white pine, and typically here in Nova Scotia, white pine grow to be quite tall and majestic. This is a young one, and you’ll know it’s a white pine because at the stem, they’ll have 5 long needles growing together from a single point. So that’s how you know the white pine from some of the other pine here. And I mentioned acids – ascorbic acid – pine is very high in ascorbic acid, which is Vitamin C. You can extract this by steeping it in apple cider vinegar for a few weeks, and it’ll not only extract the Vitamin C, but many other minerals and medicinal compounds.

Pine is one of my favourites for the urinary system. It’s a diuretic so it increases flow of urine, and will be helpful in cases of uric acid buildup, gout, and bladder infection. It has anti-infective properties for the bladder, also for the respiratory system and the sinuses.

Spruce

Much like its neighbour over here. So next to it we have a small spruce tree, another evergreen common in Nova Scotia. This tree, as you can see, the needles are much smaller, and they are rollable in the fingers, so you can detect the squarish, rollable quality of spruce. And spruce is probably my favourite winter remedy for the sinuses, so it’s very good to clear sinus congestion and inflammation whether that’s from a cold or flu, from allergies, or from a simple sinus infection.

Herbal Medicine Steam

And a herbal steam is a great way to make use of it for that purpose. You simply simmer the spruce tips in some water, put a towel over the head and inhale those fumes deep into the sinuses and also into the lungs if you have a lower respiratory infection. Within minutes you’ll have relief and breathe much better.

Evergreen Herbal Tea & Herbal Bath

Both of these would make a good tea, herbal tea for the respiratory system, and also a bath. During the winter when we’re chilly to the bone, and maybe our spirits are a little low. Both of these have an aroma that’s really uplifting to the senses, and awakening, just to help lift us out of the winter blues. And for that you’d make a very strong — about a litre and a half of tea, using a couple handfuls of each, simmered in the water for about 15 minutes and add it to the bath.

And for making a cup of tea for internal use, you just need a little bit, like one small length of either of the stems in a single cup of tea, simmered for about 10 minutes will do it, and then a half to one cup of tea a day is sufficient. They’re both quite very strong.

So while you’re out enjoying your winter walks, be on the lookout for these, take a few along the way, and enjoy them at home.

Be well. Thank you.

Fireweed

Transcript

Hi, You can see we’ve found a beautiful patch of fireweed, also known as Rosebay Willow. It’s covering the roadsides here in Nova Scotia right now, and it makes a really good summer tea. You just chop the leaves and steep them for about ten minutes and you’ll have a herb to help with mild urinary issues, for skin complaints and it’s generally detoxifying, and it tastes delicious. It’s widespread throughout Canada – it’s a traditional medicine here, and throughout Europe. Just enjoy the pink-ness of it all — the bees are, and I hope you will, too!

Coltsfoot

Transcript:

Hi, I’m out on the last day of March on a walk, early spring, and  I’m delighted to find one of my favourite medicinal blooms, the first medicinal bloom on spring, which is right here – this bright yellow flower, called coltsfoot, which is often mistaken for dandelion. The yellow blooms look like dandelion, in fact they’re closely related, but the main difference here is that coltsfoot produces the flower before leaves, unlike its close relative over here, the dandelion. You can see the greenery appears first like it does with most plants, then later on the stem and the flower appear. So coltsfoot is early this year. It usually appears a week or two into April, and you can see it likes gravel — it will grow through the roughest conditions.
And I’m excited to find coltsfoot because I will use it in a tea or in a herbal honey to help with colds, to help with those lingering coughs and congested lung states. It’s very good to just clear the way – clear winter out of the way and make our way into spring, and we have an early spring this year. I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am, and enjoy the ever-blossoming events of spring. Bye.

 

April 2016 New beginnings!

Spring greetings! Welcome to my new website and first blog post. T’is the season for new beginnings. I am excited, and I’ll admit, a bit overwhelmed, by the technology at my disposal, yet I am ready to explore its worth – which to me is connecting more closely with you, my fellow herb enthusiasts.

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Herbs to Keep You Warm in Winter

Herbs of Fire

Naturally, when it is cold we effort to keep warm.  Some tolerate the cold better than others, just like some thrive in the summer heat while others wilt – it depends on ones constitution.

As a Nova Scotia resident you likely have well established rituals and habits for keeping warm during our cold winter season, like staying indoors more, cooked foods, wool, whisky, and fires.  My best winter survival techniques are soups, teas, and baths, and they all involve herbs.

If you want to warm up quickly, eat some horseradish.  It is traditionally eaten with meat and fatty foods to improve their digestion.  It also goes well with eggs, beans, fish, and sushi.  Horseradish has been used as a medicine for centuries.  It is a powerful circulatory stimulant.  It can be used internally and topically for arthritis, gout, and inflammation.  It is one the most effective remedies for clearing lung and sinus congestion.  Eat ½ tsp. 2-3 times daily to clear up a persistent congestive cold.

Ginger is always in my winter teapot, either fresh or dried.  In addition to being a good cold and flu remedy, it is a digestive stimulant, anti-inflammatory and a remedy for nausea.  It makes a great poultice for congestive colds.  To 2 cups boiled water add 1 tsp. ginger powder. Soak a cloth in the liquid, wring it out then drape it across the chest, covering up with blankets to keep warm.  Repeat several times on the front and back.  Try it in a foot bath – in a basin full of hot water add 1 tsp. ginger powder, soak for 15-20 minutes to take the chill off.

When I need to thaw out after being out in the cold, nothing feels better than a hot soak. With the addition of herbs, an ordinary bath can become fragrant and therapeutic.  Herbs have been used as part of bathing rituals for centuries. In addition to immersion, water was sprinkled, splashed, poured and sweated to heighten the spiritually cleansing aspect of bathing.

“A daily spiritual bath is an easy way to start paying attention to your spirit and soul as well as your body.” ~ Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. and Herbalist

A herbal bath can ease the stresses of daily life, bringing a peaceful state of mind. If you don’t have a full tub, a hand or foot bath will work. I recommend herbal baths for people who have anxiety and insomnia.  To prepare a healing bath you simply make a super strong tea and add it to the bath.  In 3 lt boiled water, steep 1 cup of your chosen herb (s), covered, for 20 minutes.  Strain the liquid and add to your bath water.

For relaxation: lavender, hops, hibiscus, lemon balm, rose, and chamomile

For skin irritations such as eczema or rashes:  calendula, lavender, yarrow, and chamomile

For sore joints and muscles:  lavender, chamomile, wintergreen, rosemary

For colds:  peppermint, elderflowers, thyme, pine needles

A hot bowl of soup is comfort food at its best.  Hot soup can help to banish sickness and increase vitality.  Herbs are great when making stock – many are mineral rich and will enhance the nutrition of your soup – nettle, burdock root and dandelion roots and leaves are good choices.  Astragulus root is a powerful immune tonic and I add it to all of my winter soup stocks to prevent colds and flu.  Shiitake mushrooms are equally valuable for strengthening the immune system – they go in the pot too.  For extra fiery potency add ginger or chili powders to intensify the medicinal value of your soup.

Speaking of fire – don’t forget to get a daily dose of sunshine.  Brave the cold and get outside on your lunch break or for an afternoon walk to enjoy the beautiful and shapely trees that line our city streets.  We need as much sun exposure as we can get to chase away the winter blues.

Keep warm!

Winter Tree Medicine

We are fortunate to have many  trees in our city and surrounding area.  Trees and other plants oxygenate and purify the air we breathe.  I value trees simply for their beauty; at this time of year I love to see their tall, slender, naked branches reaching for the sky, and I value the vibrancy of the ever-greens.  Trees bring me comfort and peace.  I am one of those people you may see hugging a tree on your walk through the park.  Trees give the best hugs, try it, you’ll see.

At this time of year there is very little wild medicine to be found.  You can always dig through the snow in the forest and find goldthread roots and wintergreen leaves.  Up above we have access to several trees offering winter medicine.

My current favourite is the balsam fir.  It is found all over Nova Scotia.  In some places it is called “the church steeple” due to its upper spire-like form.  It is widely used as a Christmas tree.  It is easy to identify due to the raised resin blisters found on the trunk of young trees.  The needles are flat, and are white underneath with a green line running through the middle.

Balsam fir has a pleasant and stimulating scent which is released upon rubbing the branches.  The resinous sap that oozes from the blisters is very tasty and fragrant.  American First Nations people used it on cuts, burns and sores as an anti-septic and analgesic. The leaves are high in vitamin C, and are used in a tea for coughs, colds and asthma.  I had the dry, persistent cough that was going around in January; finally it was a decoction of balsam twigs and marshmallow root that cured me.

Balsam is a strong medicine; ¼ cup can be taken two-four times daily.  It should be avoided by those with kidney disease and during pregnancy.

White Pine is another of our medicinal trees.   They grace our forests with their majestic height and branches that sing with the wind.  It is the tallest growing conifer in eastern Canada.  The bottom 2/3 of the tree is often branchless.  The long needles are grouped in clusters of five.

This tree was used extensively by our first nations peoples.  The pitch was used topically to draw out fluid and infection from abscesses and boils, for rheumatism, broken bones, cuts, bruises, and inflammation.  The bark, needles and twigs can be steeped to make a tea for cough, colds, and sore throat.  Like the balsam fir, the needles are rich in vitamin C.  It would be far more sustainable if we derived our winter vitamin C from tree tea than from oranges imported from Florida!

Pine is used as a flower essence to help people overcome guilt and self-blame, and for those who tend to be hard on themselves.  It helps us to forgive ourselves for past errors or life events.  Dr. Bach, discoverer of the Bach Flower Remedies wrote “One trace of condemnation against ourselves, or others, is a trace of condemnation against the Universal Creation of Love, and restricts us, limits our power to allow the Universal Love to flow through us to others.”