Old-Time Herbal Beauty Tips

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!

bars of soap

Recipes to Make Your Own Soap, Lotion and More

You can easily make safe, effective toiletries — including lotion and deodorant — at home, using simple, healthy ingredients.

$50 off the Botanical Skin Care Course for a limited time!

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.


Body Butter

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.

herbal infusions

 

Discover over 200 herbal recipes in the Botanical Skin Care Course

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!

Old Fashioned Medicinal Lavender

His Aunt Jobiska made him drink
Lavender water tinged with pink
For she said, ‘The world in general knows
There’s nothing so good for Pobble’s toes!’
 
Edward Lear, ‘The Pobble Who Has No Toes’
 
The old herbals constantly sang the praises of lavender for medicinal purposes. John Gerard wrote in his Herball {1597}:
The distilled water of Lavender smelt unto, or the temples and and forehead bathed therewith, is refreshing to them that have the Catalepsie, a light migram, and to them that have the falling sickness and that use to swoune much.
The floures of Lavender picked from the knaps, I means the blew part and not the husk, mixed with Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Cloves, made into powder, and given to drinke in the distilled water thereof, doth helpe the panting and passion of the heart, prevaileth against giddinesse, turning, or swimming of the braine, and members subject to the palsie.
French Lavender hath a body like Lavender, short, and of woodie substance, but slenderer, beset with long narrow leaves, of a whitish colour, lesser than those of Lavender, it hath in the top bushie or spikie heads, well compact or thrust together; out of the which grow fourth small purple flowers, or a pleasant smell. The seede is small and blackish: the roote is harde and woodie.
But long before physicians like Gerard wrote of the virtues of Lavender it had been highly regarded for its medicinal uses. Dioscorides wrote in 60AD:
Stoechas grows in the islands of Galatia over against Messalia, called ye Stoechades, from whence also it had its name, is an herb with slender twiggs, having ye haire like Tyme, but yet longer leaved, & sharp in ye taste, & somewhat bitterish, but ye decoction of it as the Hyssop is good for ye griefs in ye thorax. It is mingled also profitably with Antidots.
lavender and hyssop seem to have been used in similar ways. The Angus Castus of the 14th century made the same comments as those of Dioscorides some 1300 years later:
Lavandula is an herbe men clepe lavandre. This herbe is moche lyk to ysope but it is mo lengger lewys thenne ysope and it hast a flour sumdel blew and also the stalke growith other-wyse. The vertu of this herbe is ef it be sothyn in water and dronke that water it wele hele the palsye and many other ewyls.

LAVENDER, COMMON OR ENGLISH

Ruling Planet: Mercury
 
Lavandula augustifolia or
Lavandula officinalis
 {Culpeper: Lavandula spica}
 

USES

 

Medicinal:

A strong antiseptic with antibacterial properties, lavender oil was used to treat cuts, bites, stings, burns, coughs, and colds, chest infections, rheumatic aches, giddiness, and flatulence. As a soothing tonic for nervous and digestive disorders, the herb was prescribed to relieve tension, insomnia, and depression.
William Turner, the ‘father of English botany’, said that ‘the flowers of lavender, quilted in a cap, comfort the brain very well.’ A sprig of lavender placed behind the ear was reputed to cure headaches. Culpeper warned that the oil ‘is of a fierce and piercing quality, and ought to be carefully used, a very few drops being sufficient for inward or outward maladies.’ The herb was also used in the form of lavender water, and tea.

CULINARY:

Lavender leaves were added to salads and used to flavor jellies, jams, pottages, and stews. The flowers were also crystallized.

MISCELLANEOUS:

A native of the Mediterranean region, lavender was introduced into England by the Romans. Its botanical name Lavandula derives from the Latin for to wash, a reference to its use by the Romans as a scented additive to their bathwater. Grown in medieval monastic gardens, it was not only valued for its medicinal properties, but for its beauty and fragrance, and as a strewing herb, insect repellant, and a mask for unpleasant smells.
The dried flowers were added to potpourri’s, herb cushions and sachets for freshening and keeping moths away from linen. The oil was used in varnishes, perfumes, soaps and cosmetics.
lavender water

Recipe: Lavender Water.

Of course, this can be bought commercially. My favorite comes from Norfolk Lavender in England. But for home purposes, you can enjoy making up your own supply.
In a clear glass bottle steep 100 g of lavender flowers in half a liter of alcohol {brandy or vodka are both good}. Place in the sun for a few days, then strain. Repeat until the fragrance is very strong.
Strain and seal in a glass bottle. If your hair is weak, falling out and breaking, try an old idea and rub lavender water into your scalp several times a week. Try it too as a rub for rheumatism. It has a long tradition of usage for both problems.

A Few of Our Favorite Old-Fashioned Lavender Ideas for the Home

Sweet Scented Armchair

In one of my favorite old books Pot Pourri from a Surrey Garden {1900}, by Mrs. C.W. Earle described a delightfully fragrant household idea: ‘On the backs of my armchairs are thin Liberty oblong bags, like miniature saddle-bags, filled with dried Lavender, Sweet Verbena and Sweet Geranium leaves. This mixture is much more fragrant than the lavender alone. The visitor who leans back in his chair, wonders from where the sweet scent comes.’
This is a Victorian elegance developed from early ideas described by Parkinson in the seventeenth century of tying fragrant bundles of lavender, costmary and rosemary to ‘lie upon the tops of beds.’
A more sophisticated way of dealing with the ever-present problems of moths in clothing was developed in the seventeenth century. Clothing was sprinkled with a fragrant concentrated moth-repellent liquid before being folded.
Here is a seventeenth-century recipe:
To make a special sweet water to perfume clothes in the folding being washed. Take a quart of Damask-Rose Water and put it into a glasse, put unto it a handful of Lavender Flowers, two ounces of Orris, a dram of Muske, the weight of four pence of Amber-greece, as much Civet, foure drops of Oyle of Clove, stop this close, and set it in the Sunne a fortnight; put one spoonful of this Water into a bason of common water and put it into a glasse and so sprinkle your clothes with it in your folding.
Lavender Wash Days
Plant a bush, or better yet a hedge, of lavender near the laundry door-French, Mitcham or English-and on sunny days dry lingerie and pillowslips over the bushes.
An old tradition.
We grew lavender in our old Maryland garden and the sheets in my Mother’s house always smelled of it. What sweet slumbers come to one between Lavender-scented sheets!
Louise Beebe Wilder, The Fragrant Garden
 Store sheets fresh from the sun and wind with lavender bags between each folded sheet.
Lavender Tea Cozy
Nothing could be more old-fashioned or more deliciously fragrant than the warmth of a hot pot of tea releasing the fragrant oil of English lavender flowers.
Make a tea cozy from a flower sprigged cotton with wadding between the layers. Fashion two large pockets to line the two inside layers of the cozy. Place inside each pocket a large flat sachet of lavender potpourri. This way of making the tea cozy allows you to remove the old potpourri and replace with fresh when necessary. A pot of herb tea with the fragrance of lavender floating in the air is one of the most relaxing of indulgences in the middle of a tiring and busy day.
Lavender Insect Repellent
Lavender oil is a powerful insect repellent.
Rub a few drops diluted in a little safflower oil on your skin before indulging in the great outdoors to repel flies, midges and mosquitoes.
Or throw a handful of the dried stalks and branches left over from the harvest onto the barbecue or picnic fire.
With stored fruit, sprinkle dried lavender leaves over it.
Moth Repellent Sachet Mixture
Lavender oil and lavender flowers have long been recognized for their powerful insect repellent properties.
Lavender was always an ingredient in moth repellent sachets to store among winter woolens.
Here is my favorite mixture of dried herbs for moth bags which are made of voile or silk or organdie and tied with bows of satin ribbon.
2 cups dried lavender flowers
1 cup dried lightly crushed camphor laurel leaves
1/2 cup dried lightly crushed costmary leaves
1 cup dried wormwood leaves
1/2 cup dried pennyroyal
1/2 cup dried peppermint
1 cup dried lavender leaves
This fresh mint-and-lavender scent with astringent undertones really seems to keep the moths at bay.
Hang a sachet on hangars and pop one in each drawer.
Lavender Incense
If you have a little incense burner, this is an easy incense to make and use. It is particularly useful in the sick room that has remained closed up for some time, quickly dispelling mustiness.
Even better, it need cost nothing.
2 tablespoons fine sawdust which has been sieved to remove coarse pieces
2 tablespoons finely crumbled dried lavender leaves and flowers
5 drops essential oil of lavender
Bath toiletries and cosmetics are another way of incorporating sweet lavender fragrance into your life.
Make your own soap is a great deal easier than many people imagine. Homemade soaps can be incredibly luxurious, rich, fragrant and good for your skin!
Making soap to save money is a very minimal goal. You should consider making soap because it is fun, because it is creative and because it opens up a whole new world of fragrance experiences-and yes.at the end of it all, you will save money.
Washing balls are a good way to start working with soap products. They are a very old idea. The washing balls are compounded with a finely grated pure quality unscented soap such as Castile, mixed with skin softening and aromatic ingredients.
Ipswich Balls were once very popular. For ‘almond cake’ use 14 g of finely ground almond meal from your health food store or other suppliers. Oil of spike is lavender oil. Use a few drops of oil of musk or tincture of musk in place of the musk and ambergris in the recipe and you will have a creditable Ipswich Ball.
Here is a famous recipe from The Queen’s Closet Opened by W.M., Cook to Queen Henrietta Maria, published in 1655.Take a pound of fine white Castile Sope, shave it thin in a pinte of Rose-water, and let it stand two or three days, then pour all the water from it, and put to it half a pint more, and let it stand a night more, then put to it half an ounce {14g} of powder called sweet Marjoram, a quarter of an ounce [7g} of powder of Winter Savoury, two to three drops of oyl of Spike, and the oyl of cloves, three grains of Musk, and as much Ambergris, work all these together in a fair Mortar, with the powder of an Almond Cake dryed, and beaten as small as fine flour, so roll it round in your hands in Rosewater.

The final rolling in rosewater helps to smooth, polish and scent the ball. Let it stand for up to six weeks to harden otherwise the ball is used up too quickly. The soap is prevented from darkening if you add 14 g of powdered gum benzoin to the original recipe.
Here is the ‘delicate washing ball’ described in Ram’s Little Dodoen in 1606:Take three ounces {83g} of orris, half an ounce {14g} of cypress, two ounces {37g} of Calamus aromaticus, one ounce {28g} of Rose leaves {petals}, two ounces of Lavender flowers: beat all these together in a mortar sieving them through a fine sieve, then scrape some Castile sope, and dissolve it with some Rose-water, then incorporate all your powders therewith, by labouring of them well in a mortar.

Form the mixture into small balls about the size of a large golf ball and set aside to dry thoroughly for six weeks.
It is possible to fashion all manner of fragrant soap balls based on finely grated Castile soap and incorporating finely ground cosmetic aromatic herbs, herbal oils and finely ground almond meal.The only limitation is one’s imagination.