Before the big cosmetics companies took over, women often invented their own beauty aids. Here are a few of the herbal beauty tips my grandmother left behind.
Some old fashioned herbal beauty tips are extremely simple. For example, to bleach, your skin rub cucumber slices on your face.
For centuries, herbs were the main source of beauty aids, then along came the big cosmetic companies and the world was swamped with (sometimes dangerous) chemicals. Lately, however—as we rediscover organic recipes—herbs, fruits, and vegetables have found their way back onto milady’s makeup table.
As a matter of fact, I recently read a magazine article in which a duchess and a princess (folks who can certainly afford “the best”) recommended the use of exotic plants for beauty care. About that same time—as I searched through some old family hideaways for my grandmother’s salve recipe—I came upon a list of herbal beauty tips that Grandma had once written out for her daughter (my aunt).
There wasn’t that much difference between royalty’s road to loveliness and Grandma’s either, except the old girl didn’t buy most of her materials—she grew ’em!
Here’s the advice that my grandmother wrote down for her daughter those many years ago:
IN THE MORNING: Mix a handful of oatmeal with enough spring water to make a paste, and put this mixture on your face and neck. When it dries, rinse the paste off with whey, then with water, and dry your skin with a soft rag.
AT NIGHT: Rub a mixture of honey and glycerin onto your face, then after awhile wipe it off gently with a soft cloth.
ONCE A WEEK: Add a teaspoon of honey to one mashed apple, mix them together, and put this “cream” on your face and neck. Leave it in place for half an hour, and then rinse with whey or cold milk. (Make sure your husband will be gone awhile before you start this treatment!)
TO SMOOTH WRINKLES: Apply barley water and a few drops of balm of Gilead to your wrinkles every day.
TO BLEACH YOUR SKIN: Rub cucumber slices on your face.
FOR SOFT HANDS: Shake a half cup of glycerin, a half cup of rose water, and a quarter cup of witch hazel in a jar. Apply this to your hands after they’ve been in the water.
TO HEAL CHAPPED HANDS: Rub them with damp table salt.
FOR BRIGHT HAIR: Add vinegar to the rinse water after washing your hair, or make a rinse of mullein, nettle, sage, or burdock tea.
TO DARKEN GRAY HAIR: Boil an ounce of chamomile or sage in a quart of water for 20 minutes. Rinse your hair with this brew, and use a hairbrush dipped in strong chamomile or sage tea.
TO PREVENT DANDRUFF: Rub a tea made from the leaves and bark of willow into your scalp. Rinse the area with marshmallow tea.
FOR A RELAXING BATH: Hang a bag of dried comfrey or rosemary In the bath water.
FOR PERFUME: Fill a jar with pressed rose petals (or any sweet-scented flowers), add as much glycerin as the container will hold, and cover It tightly. After three weeks, you can pour the perfume off into a bottle.
TO MAKE A SACHET: Combine one ounce each of powdered cloves, caraway seed, nutmeg, mace, and cinnamon with six ounces of powdered orrisroot. Put the mixture in fancy bags and place them in closets and dresser drawers.
Now, some of the ingredients that Granny mentioned may not be familiar to you. Take “balm of Gilead,” for example. That’s just plain ol’ balsam. And “marshmallow tea” sounds like a sticky mess, but Grandma wasn’t talking about the soft, white candy. She was referring to the root of the marshmallow plant. “Orrisroot,” another name that may be puzzling to modern folk, Is the dried, powdered root of various European Iris plants.
Grandma foraged or grew most of her ingredients, but you can often find them in health food stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies, or even still growin’ wild along the roadside.
Naturally (no pun intended), I started to use some of these old-time recipes and found that comfrey does make a nice skin softener, while oatmeal leaves the skin silky and is especially good on oily teenage complexions.
However, a word of caution: Anyone can be allergic to almost anything, so check out any unfamiliar substance before you rub it all over yourself. To do this, just place a small amount on the tender skin of your inner arm and cover the area with an adhesive bandage. Then wait 24 hours and have a look. If the patch shows any reaction, such as redness or obvious irritation, that ingredient just isn’t for you.
My grandmother often said she didn’t feel a bit older at 80 than she did at 16, and she didn’t look her age either. Did this wonderful woman’s organic beauty rituals account for her natural glow and glamour? Well, let us just say that—after a few weeks of using some of Grandma’s “secrets”—I’ve begun to believe that they did!
Recipes to Make Your Own Soap, Lotion and More
If you’ve ever read the labels on health and hygiene products, you know it can be a challenge to find a product that doesn’t contain long lists of ingredients you can’t even pronounce, let alone know what they are or what they’re for. Plus, there are the occasional headlines that yet another standard ingredient in the products we use every day turns out to be counter to the very health and cleanliness the product is supposed to promote. Sometimes the easiest way to ensure that you’re using the best, healthiest products — from soap to toothpaste — is to simply make your own. You can easily make safe, effective toiletries — including lotion and deodorant — at home, using simple, healthy ingredients.
Try your hand at one or all of these basic recipes and rest assured that your body is getting the best care you can give it. You should be able to find the basic ingredients listed below at your local pharmacy or health food store.
Shea Butter Soap
2 cups glycerin soap base, melted in a double boiler
2 tbsp shea butter, melted separately
Several drops of your favorite essential oil (optional)
Mix well, pour into molds (you can use regular food storage containers), and cool.
Whitening Sage Tooth Powder
Mix together 1 tsp each of baking soda, table salt, and dried sage.
Scoop onto a dampened toothbrush and brush as usual.
1/4 cup grated cocoa butter
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp avocado oil
1 tbsp grated beeswax
Combine all the ingredients in an ovenproof glass container. Place the container with the mixture in a pan with a 1- to a 2-inch water bath. Melt the oils and wax gently.
Pour the melted mixture into a clean jar and allow to cool. Stir the cooled mixture.
Spread the butter on your body and massage into the skin. Yields 4 oz.
Basic Deodorant Powder Formula
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup cornstarch
Antibacterial essential oils such as cinnamon, rose, birch or lavender, as preferred
Place the baking soda and cornstarch in a glass jar. Add the essential oils; stir and cover. Dampen a powder puff, cotton ball or sea sponge and dab into the mixture (or sprinkle the mixture on the sponge); pat underarms. Makes 1 cup.
Herb Infused Waters for Summer Hydration
Hydration is key when summer hits, and while I love ice water, sometimes a hint of flavor can make the water feel a bit more special. Plus, herb-infused water is an easy upgrade when entertaining, your guests will be impressed!
You can use any combo of herbs, fruits, and edible flowers that you like, here are some of my favorite combos:
1. Lemon Balm and Mint: lemon balm has a sweet lemony flavor that adds brightness while mint will add that refreshing cooling effect. Lemon balm is known to relieve digestive problems, anxiety, lower blood pressure, aid in concentration and is antiviral (1). Mint is known to also relieve digestive bloat, upset stomach, and vomiting (1). A lemon balm and mint water infusion would be great on a hot day when you might need a mood lift or feel extra stressed.
2. Watermelon and Basil: cubed watermelon adds a touch of sweetness while basil pairs well with summer fruit. Basil improves circulation and soothes headaches while being antimicrobial (1). The contrast of pink plus green makes a great spring and summer refresher. Watermelon can also be substituted with strawberries for a fun twist.
3.Mint and Cucumber: cucumber water is a classic ‘spa water’. Add sliced cucumbers to impart a touch of flavor and add mint, which can relieve upset stomach and cools you down at the same time.
4. Chamomile: alone, chamomile has a sweet apple flavor, pair it with lavender, lemon balm or stevia leaves for a sweeter twist on herb water. Chamomile is known to promote relaxation and relieve stress, ease stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea (1) and is also loved by children. The cute white flowers will give this infusion a feminine look, great for a girls day or night.
5. Strawberry and thyme: strawberries add vitamins, sweetness and a pale pink hue. Thyme adds a distinct herbal flavor and brings benefits such as soothing sore throats, stimulating the immune system and can help fight urinary infections (1). Together they make a tasty pairing fit for any summer entertaining, or as a treat after an afternoon working in the garden.
Water infused with herbs is a healthy, sugar-free alternative for any time of the year, but especially refreshing during the warm months. When infusing waters, roughly chop, tear or bruise the herbs to release their oils and scent. In a pitcher or large mason jar, infuse water and herbs for a least 2-4 hours before serving for the best flavor. Throw in a few edible flowers such as calendula, pansies, borage, rose petals or chamomile for an extra layer of color and interest. There is no wrong or right combination when it comes to infusing water with herbs- use the flavors you like and use the herbs you have on hand!