Saturday, 28 February 2015

More signs of Spring and healing herbs for skin

Spring greens

On Friday I visited the allotment to see what is coming up and to harvest some fresh Nettles to make Nettle Pesto for dinner.  The uncultivated edges and wild end of the allotment have wild herbs that can be harvested such as Nettles and Cleavers, they will be useful to me and picking them will keep them from spreading where they are not wanted.  I have a designated bed to grow herbs in, this already has some herbs growing in it such as Sage and Mullein, but there is plenty of room to grow useful herbs that we don't already have growing in the allotment or the woods.

Allotment gateway

 Young Nettles coming up by the hedge

 Cleavers starting to come up

 My herb bed

 Sage in the herb bed

 Mullein rosette

I used the Nettles I harvested to make Nettle Pesto for dinner.

Recipe for Nettle Pesto

Wash a couple of big handfuls of spring Nettle tops, pick out dead leaves and roughly cut with scissors, discard the stalks.  Cook in boiling water for about 2 minutes.  Drain and add some freshly grated Parmesan, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves, a handful of pine nuts and about 80ml of olive oil.  Add salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Blend in a blender or with a hand blender until smooth then spoon over pasta or gnocchi for a simple delicious nutritious meal.

Nettle Pesto with Gnocchetti

Healing herbs for skin

This month I have been tasked to research the function of blood and skin, in particular to look at why people develop acne and eczema and herbs that could be used to help control and alleviate these.

The blood transports oxygen,nutrients and hormones and removes waste products all round the body.  The skin works with the circulatory system to maintain body temperature by dilating or opening blood vessels and via sweating.  The skin is one of our main organs of elimination.  It is responsible for the excretion of about a quarter of the body's waste products.  The skin relies on nutrients brought to it by blood vessels.  Healthy skin needs a well-balanced diet including protein, essential fatty acids and anti-oxidants from fresh fruit & vegetables.   Nutritional deficiencies, toxins and allergies can cause and exacerbate skin conditions such as acne and eczema.

Acne is an inflammation of the sebaceous glands in the skin with inflamed pustules, infected cysts and scarring in severe cases.  It particularly affects teenagers, due to excess hormones which cause overactive sebaceous glands which make the skin oily.  This blocks hair follicles, causing inflammation and infection.  The body's ability to metabolise fats & carbohydrates is also a major factor.  Metabolic problems or an excess of these foods in the diet can cause or exacerbate acne so it is recommended to cut out or reduce foods containing dairy products, gluten, sugar & fat.  Nutritional deficiencies, toxicity, food allergies and stress are also factors in acne. 

Eczema is a common skin condition.  The term covers a range of skin conditions.  The symptoms are red inflamed skin patches, itchiness, oozing serum from raw patches and bleeding in severe cases.  From a holistic point of view it is an indication of deeper imbalances, both physical and psychological.  It is a systemic problem, not just an external irritation.  Allergic reactions to foods such as dairy products or external irritants such as dust mites and chemicals are often involved.  Problems with other eliminative pathways such as the bowels and kidneys can lead to problems with immune reactions in the skin.  The health of the skin can also be affected by dietary deficiencies, poor digestion and stress. For a detailed account of factors to consider with eczema and holistic approaches to treating the condition see this excellent post by my herbal mentor Sarah Head

Herbal treatment for these conditions needs to address the internal factors underlying the problem, not just the external irritation.  Antihistamine herbs such as Chamomile, Yarrow, Feverfew, Nettle or Lemon Balm can soothe allergic reactions.  Cleansing herbs such as Burdock, Red Clover, Cleavers, Nettle, Dandelion and Milk Thistle help to support the liver in detoxification which reduces skin inflammation.  Burdock root can be very effective in long-standing skin conditions, it enhances fat digestion and strengthens the liver and kidneys which purify the blood.  Dandelion roots help the body dispose of unwanted skin bacteria and also stimulates digestion.  Dandelion leaves are full of vitamins and minerals which help maintain healthy skin.  Nettle is particularly useful if eczema is associated with poor circulation and is also specifically recommended for children's eczema and nervous eczema as a tea drunk 3 times a day.  Liquorice has potent anti-inflammatory properties, it acts in a similar way to steroids but without the negative side effects.

Various herbs can be used to make an infusion (made as a tea then left to cool and strained) to rinse the skin when suffering from acne such as Chamomile, which is purifying, Yarrow which helps eliminate toxins, Catnip which is antiseptic, Lavender which is calming and anti-septic and Thyme which is a strong anti-microbial.  Spots can be dabbed with neat lemon juice to kill germs, soothe inflammation and improve circulation.  Rosewater made with rose essential oil is very soothing and has a natural antiseptic action.  Witch Hazel extract is useful for cleaning affected skin.   Lukewarm Yarrow tea can be used as a wash for acne, it also helps dissolve scars.  Anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory herbs such as Echinacea and Turmeric help to clear the skin.   Garlic has antibacterial & antiseptic action, rub the affected area with a cut clove. 

Oils or creams of herbs such as Chamomile, Evening Primrose Oil, Marigold, Chickweed, Comfrey, Lavender, Viola or Aloe Vera gel can soothe inflammation.   There are various oils that can be used as carrier oils - see for oils that are good for eczema.  Some recipes for creams and gels can be found in 'Grow your own drugs' by James Wong.  A poultice or compress of Mallow calms irritated skin.  Freshly crushed plantain leaf is soothing for acne.  Chickweed is particularly known for easing irritation and healing lesions, applied as expressed juice or as an ointment or cream or as an infused oil added to bath water.  Comfrey soothes the skin and speeds healing by promoting skin cell growth.  Cucumber oil or salve is soothing for aggressive red eczema.  Oats soothe and moisten skin, a sock containing oatmeal can be put in  bathwater and used as a sponge on itchy areas, this can be combined with Chickweed or Chamomile.  Chamomile flowerheads can be added straight to bathwater to soothe eczema.


'Grow Your Own Drugs' James Wong.
'Holistic Anatomy' Pip Waller.
'Practical Herbs 1 & 2' Henriette Kress.
'The Complete Book of Herbs' Lesley Bremness.
'The Complete Herbal Tutor' Anne McIntyre.
'The Herbal Drugstore' Linda B White and Steven Foster.
'The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal' Penelope Ody
'The New Holistic Herbal' David Hoffmann.

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