Herbs are a gift from nature and add flavor and variety to our foods. They can also be used to keep us healthy and happy. For example, sipping an herbal tea reminds us to be mindful and present. Taking an herbal-infused bath after a long, stressful day helps us release tension and let our cares float away. Herbs can also be used as ingredients for taking care of your body, such as in a salve or poultice to address a particular concern.
Here are a few ideas and tips to get you started using herbs.
Using ordinary kitchen ingredients (like fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products), you can create natural, nourishing facial masks. And with the addition of an herb or two, it’s easy to customize your creation—to moisturize or remove excess oil, unclog or reduce pores, soften skin, and/or heal blemishes, for example. Masks are easy and fun to make and will smooth and enliven your complexion.
Whether you’re digging into seasonal sprucing-up projects or giving a room its weekly once-over, herbs can make cleaning tasks pleasant and rewarding. Making your own safe and effective cleaning products is inexpensive and easy.
Body, Hair and Skin Care
Don an herbal face mask while you stretch out with a good book, soak your sunburned skin in a soothing herbal bath, or nourish your hair with a warm oil pack while you pick flowers or herbs in the yard.
Try following your shampoo with an herbal hair rinse. It’s the perfect way to top off your hair cleansing routine. Herbal hair rinses can cleanse the scalp and remove residue from the hair shaft (from hair care products such as sprays, gels, and conditioners), soften the hair, and add shine and subtle highlights
When your skin is feeling parched, itchy, or just plain dry, herbs can help nourish, relieve, soothe, and refresh. Blemish-prone skin can flare up, especially in the summer. Use an herbal steam to calm the skin and to keep pores beautifully clean.
Potpourri or Sachets
A softly scented room is a treat for the senses. It can soothe or inspire, refresh or intrigue—and it always delights. Potpourri is the perfect way to add aroma (as well as beauty) to your environment. And by making your own, you can craft a mixture that perfectly suits the occasion, season, room, or individual.
Natural Egg Dyeing
If you’re dyeing eggs in celebration of spring, engage nature in the process this year. Natural ingredients like herbs and spices offer an endless variety of hues for dyeing eggs—from the soft purple shades of hibiscus to the rich gold tones of turmeric. Dyeing with nature takes a bit more patience, and a bit more openness to whatever nature decides to deliver. But that’s what makes the activity such creative fun—and the results so subtly stunning.
Poultices, Salves and Balms
For herbal poultices, herbs are crushed or bruised to release their potency, then applied topically, often over a warm or cool piece of cheesecloth or other light cotton fabric. Salves and balms combine herbal oils, beeswax, and herbs to provide a soothing way to apply the benefits of herbs externally.
By adding herbs to your tub, you can customize and boost the effectiveness of bath time. A good soak can cleanse, soften, and nourish the skin, rejuvenate a tired body and spirit, and address sore and aching muscles. (Note that even some normally safe herbs are unsafe during pregnancy.)
There are several types of “teas,” or herbal beverages. An infusion is made by steeping hot stems, leaves, and flowers of herbs to extract their benefits. Hard materials, like roots, woods, barks, and seeds, need to be boiled, then steeped, for best results. (This is called a decoction.) And a cold extract, which is recommended for the most delicate plants, is made by soaking the herbs in cold water. Ratios and steeping times depend on the plant and the strength desired.
Concentrated extracts of herbs (made by steeping herbs in alcohol, glycerin, or vinegar) are taken directly, or in warm water or juice. While not always great tasting, they are excellent when quick absorption is desired.
Infused herbal oils are easy to make and inexpensive. It’s simply a matter of soaking dried or fresh herbs in high-quality vegetable, seed, or nut oils. They are wonderful for massage oils and form the basis of herbal salves and ointments.
Reprinted with permission from Frontier Co-op, which sells a variety of herbs. For recipes and more information, visit www.frontiercoop.com.