Years before we started Chagrin Valley Soap, my husband and I were creating herbal blends for culinary use. We have a large herb garden and often use our own fresh and dried herbs to make herbal infused vinegars, herbal infused oils and to blend herbal rubs for cooking.
As Chagrin Valley Soap grew, my interest morphed into researching the benefits of herbs in skin care. So our next few blogs will be devoted to some herbal basics for culinary and therapeutic use.
How did we take care of our skin before
synthetic commercial cosmetics and skincare products?
We looked to nature!
For centuries herbs have been used to enhance the skin’s appearance, help treat skin problems and improve skin quality.
Our SKIN, remarkably thin and amazingly complex, cannot discriminate between synthetic and natural, or between harmful and beneficial. We all want healthy looking skin and herbs can help because they rely on their natural therapeutic properties, not synthetic chemicals.
What is an Herb?
The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of an herb is “a seed-producing annual, biennial or perennial that does not develop persistent woody tissue but dies down at the end of a growing season. They are plants or plant parts that are valued for their medicinal, savory, or aromatic qualities.”
In the culinary world, the term "herb" usually refers to the leafy green parts of a plant. Other parts, including seeds, berries, bark, root, and fruit, are generally called spices.
A great example of the differences in culinary terminology is the coriander plant (Coriandrum sativum).
Its fresh or dried leaves are referred to as Cilantro or Chinese Parsley. We use cilantro in guacamole and ceviche dishes.
But the brown seeds from the same plant, with their warm, nutty, spicy flavor are known as the spice, coriander.
In medicinal use, any of the parts of the plant might be considered "herbs", including leaves, roots, flowers, seeds, resin, bark and even berries.
At Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve, our goal is to create wholesome products, inspired by traditional and contemporary herbal wisdom.
How Do We Formulate Our Products?
FIRST, we research the herbal properties that are desirable for use in skincare. Although the benefits of herbs have been passed down for generations, science has now been able to isolate many of the therapeutic properties of herbs by extracting and analyzing their components.
Basic Herbal Properties for Skin Care:
Emollient: Herbs with emollient properties soften, soothe, condition and protect the skin. These herbs have a high content of mucilage, a complex mixture of polysaccharides that become gelatinous when mixed with water. Mucilage, particularly good on sensitive areas, gives skin a silky feel and attracts and retains moisture. In hair care mucilage coats and softens the hair shaft and provides slip for detangling. Marshmallow and Burdock (left) roots and Plantain are rich in mucilage.
Soothing: For sensitive skin, we look for herbs that are healing and soothing due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Calendula, Chamomile (left), Mullein, Plantain, and Lavender are good examples.
Healing: Many herbs have healing properties due to their antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Black Walnut, Calendula, Comfrey, Goldenseal, Helichrysum, Lavender, Mullein, Plantain, St John's Wort (left) and Thyme are great healing herbs.
Astringents: Astringents cleanse the skin, tighten pores and can even help reduce acne by controlling oils and removing impurities that usually lead to breakouts. They are great for problem skin. Although over-the-counter astringents often contain alcohol, we can get great astringent properties from herbs like Thyme, Lemongrass, Strawberry Leaf (left), Elder Flowers, Dandelion, and Sage.
Stimulating: Stimulating circulation helps with dry skin mature skin, musculoskeletal aches, and even scalp problems. Arnica, Basil, Cayenne (left), Chamomile, Fenugreek, Horsetail, Nettle, Lavender, Parsley, Rosemary, and Peppermint are good stimulating herbs.
Toning: Skin toners are a mild product that helps firm, tighten and hydrate skin. A toner is great for dry skin and aging skin too. Some herbal examples are Basil, Lemon Balm, Thyme, Elder Flowers, Strawberry Leaf, Juniper Berries (left), Rose Petals and Yarrow.
Antioxidants: Topical antioxidants can improve cell function, improve elasticity and help with skin problems, which promotes healthier, youthful looking skin. Green Tea (left), Hibiscus, Sage and Holy Basil are some examples.
Obviously many herbs fit into more than one category. Furthermore, when developing a product for a specific skin condition we use a variety of herbs with a variety of therapeutic properties to achieve the best results.
For example, to create the most effective product for eczema we would use herbs that are soothing, emollient, anti-inflammatory and cell stimulating. Then we add Chickweed, which helps soothe the itchiness that comes with irritated skin conditions.
SECOND, we decide: What goal are we trying to achieve with our herbal concoction? For example:
For the Body: relaxation, joint relief, muscle soreness, congestion
For the Skin: irritated skin, acne, dry or oily skin, sensitive skin, aging
For the Hair: Dandruff/irritated scalp, tangles, hair loss, dry or oily hair, color
THIRD: Once we know our goal and what herbs we will use, we ask, “how do we want to use the herbs?” In other words, “what is the best method of preparation and dispensing our herbal preparation??”
Come back and join us over the next few weeks as we discuss . . .