A l l  N a t u r a l  I n f o  -  A Viewpoint

From the beginning of time, humans have been using plants for their grooming and beauty needs.  Relatively speaking, it's only been quite recently that we've changed over to using synthetic ingredients.  But does that mean that synthetics are an improvement?

Beauty The Herbal Way

By Sharon Houghton

     Have you ever wanted to make your own herbal concoctions, but were too intimidated to try?  Like any new hobby or course of study, one must approach the subject with an open mind, and a willingness to learn.  The study of herbs is a never ending process.  There is so much information on the subject that it will take a lifetime for you to take it all in.  But if you study and experiment at your own pace, it will be a lifetime of enjoyment.

     The first book that I bought on the subject  was "The Herb Book" by John Lust.  Today my copy's pages are  yellowed and dog-eared.  I still use it quite often as a source of reference.  It was this book that opened up my eyes to how extraordinary the plant world is.  This particular book lists hundreds of plants, all having properties that have some type of benefit to us, if and when we need them.  Just like most people would go to their medicine cabinet to find a solution to their medical need, someone that understands the use of herbs would go to their herbal cabinet, or garden.  Modern medicines are based on plant properties, but they are made synthetically.  Herbs actually are the plants with their specific properties.  Which ones do you think are healthier for you?

     Once you understand the concept of herbal properties (ex. sedating, astringent, antiseptic, etc...) you can understand how they would be useful for different beauty needs.  Sedating properties are good for both the mind and body as well as an inflamed or irritated skin.  Astringent properties would be helpful for an oily skin condition to help tighten the pores.  Antiseptic properties could be beneficial for a skin that has acne.  These are the same principles that the un-natural cosmetic preparations are based on, they are just made with ingredients that were manufactured in a lab.

     Now the next two things that you need to know are... How do you extract these properties out of the plant?  And... How can you use them?  There are several ways depending on the part of the plant that you are using, and your own personal preferences.  Here are a few ways:

Infusion -

This method of extracting the properties is like brewing tea.  It's best for flowers, leaves and stems.  Boil the water first.  Turn off the heat.  Add your herb, cover with the lid.  Let it steep for about 10 minutes.  Never use metal, use a glass or enamel pan with a tight-fitting lid.  Use about a pint of water to every ounce of herb.  Strain, use liquid.

Decoction -

Roots, bark and seeds do best with this method.  You'll need the same non-metallic pan as above, but this time you will actually keep the plant parts at a slow rolling boil for at least 10-15 minutes with the lid ajar.  A good idea is to use a mortar and pestle to gently grind the roots or other hard parts of the plant before you boil them to help them release their properties further.  After boiling, cover and steep for another 5-10 minutes.  Strain, use liquid.

Cold Extract -

This method will preserve even the most volatile of ingredients because there is no heating involved.  Add double the amount of plant materials as listed above to water in either a non-metallic pan or a large jar with a tight fitting lid.  Let it sit for 8-12 hours or overnight.  Strain the mixture, use the liquid.

Juice -

If you have a juicer, you already know how to do this method.  By pressing the plant parts with either a manual or electric juicer, adding a small amount of water and then pressing again, you will be using 100% of the plant parts, and keeping the full activity of the ingredients.  You must use the juice immediately after juicing for the healthiest results.

Powder -

Using a mortar and pestle, grind dried plant parts into a powder which can be mixed into a liquid base or poured into capsules for ingesting.

Syrup -

A perfect way to give children their treatment.  By boiling the plant parts gently in honey or a store-bought syrup until you have a nice consistency, you can deliver the medicinal parts of the plants in a gentle, soothing way.  Strain out plant parts, use syrup.

Tincture -

In a bottle with a tight fitting lid, blend 1-4 oz of powdered herb with 8-10 oz of alcohol (made for human consumption of course, such as vodka, or brandy).  Let it sit for 2-4 weeks in the refrigerator.  Make sure to gently shake the bottle about once a day.  Strain and pour the liquid into a bottle for storage.  Because of the alcohol content, tinctures last for a long time.  You will only need a very small amount at a time because it is so concentrated.

Ointment -

After using one of the first three methods of extraction, put the liquid into a double boiler with some kind of a vegetable oil such as olive or almond oil.  Simmer until the water evaporates.  Add a little beeswax to make a thicker consistency.  Stir and heat slowly until completely melted.  Pour into a small jar with lid.  A drop of tincture of benzoin per ounce of fat may be added as a preservative.

Poultice -

By bruising or mashing the plant material and heating it, it can then be applied to an area of the body that needs to be soothed, irritated or detoxified.  A good way to do this is put the paste inside a hot moist towel that is continuously kept hot by placing new hot towels over the first as it starts to cool.  Clean the skin thoroughly after the treatment.

Fomentation -

This is the same idea as a poultice, but calls for a series of towels being saturated by the warm herbal solution of your choice and being placed consecutively on the affected area.  This method is not quite as effective, but it is less messy.

Cold Compress -

The only difference between this method and fomentation is that the solution and the towels are not hot, they are cold.  The solution is applied with the towel to the affected area and kept there until it is warmed by body heat, usually about 15-20 minutes.

Vapor Bath -

This method is used for both the respiratory system as well as skin detoxification.  Place the plant material into boiling water, turn off the heat.  Let the herbs steep for at least 10 minutes with the pot covered.  Then, using a towel over your head to keep the steam directly on your face, lean over the uncovered pot.  Make sure to be careful that the steam is not too hot before you put the towel over your head.  If it's too hot, either wait until it cools to a comfortable temperature, or add a small amount of cool water.

Hydrotherapy -

Taking a bath in herbal properties can be very effective.  Make sure that the temperature of the water is neither too hot or too cool, 90-95 degrees is perfect for most.  Minerals such as sea salts can be added, and/or herbs.  Making an infusion or decoction first and then adding it to the bath is probably the most effective way to make an herbal bath.  Another way would be to hang a tea bag filled with herbs under the spigot.  The running warm water releases the properties of the herbs.  Footbaths with stimulating herbs are ideal for tired feet that need a pick-up.  It's also a nice idea to add herbs with antiseptic properties for a thorough cleansing.

     Since this is a basic introduction to using herbs, I haven't discussed the use of natural preservatives at any great length.  Most of your homemade beauty products will only last for a day or so in the refrigerator (just like food).  In most cases they won't last as long as the un-natural versions, but the pay-off for you is that they are 100% natural.

     Now that you have an idea of how to extract the properties from the herbs, and what to make them into, it's time to say a few words about the safety of using them.  Only work with herbs that you know for a fact are safe for your purposes.  Invest in at least one good herb book that will tell you which herbs do what.  Buy your herbs from a reputable source.  Make sure that the herbs are either certified organic or wildcrafted (or wildgathered).  This means that a certifier has made sure that they have not had any pesticides used on them or they have been collected out in a natural place where they have been growing on their own.   Some herbs are safe when used topically and are dangerous when taken internally.  You must know this kind of information before you attempt to use any herb.  This is not meant to scare you.  This is just meant to be a warning against the possibility of endangering your health.  Whether it be a natural ingredient or an un-natural one, people have allergies and reactions.  So err on the side of caution.  Less is more when using herbs.  Work with them carefully, getting to know them one by one.

     Having said that, have fun.  When working with common natural cosmetic ingredients, you should be safe.  You may even come up with some new and exciting beauty recipes!  I find that working with herbs not only makes me feel like I'm doing something really healthy, I get lost in it the way I do with anything creative.  Time flies, and at the end of the day I have my own beauty products, made personally for me, by me!

     If you're wondering what herb to start with, I would say Aloe Vera!  In my opinion, there is no other plant that comes in handier when I have any kind of abrasion, bite or burn.  Because it's a succulent, it's tolerant of almost anyone's neglect.  So even the non-gardeners will enjoy owning this plant.  I use it fresh by taking off one of the outer leaves.  I run my fingernail up the center and peel back the top two sides.  This exposes the juice inside the leaf which I place directly on the affected skin.  Usually I will gently press this in place until the stinging or burning sensation has completely gone away.  It always amazes me how quickly and affectively Aloe Vera works.  It actually heals the skin.  And does so very quickly .    Aloe Vera will be a wonderful addition to your herbal medicine cabinet.  It also is a fantastic natural beauty product ingredient.  You can use it as a base for some of your formulas.  Of course, with Aloe Vera, you will just squeeze the juice out of the leave and use it fresh.  There's no need for heating or any of the extraction methods listed above.

     I've just mentioned one herb.  There are so many more to learn about.  I hope that you are inspired to do so.  Again, I recommend getting a good book that can further your herbal studies.  I feel that the best way to get to know any herb is to plant it in your garden.  You form a relationship with it.  You nurture it... and it will teach you


The information given is not a diagnosis, treatment, or cure for any medical condition and is certainly not meant to replace your healthcare practitioner's advice or services. Use any of the advice given here at your own risk.  Neither the author or SharAmbrosia accept responsibility for any effects that may arise from using any herb.  Although many species are known to be safe for many people, it is not possible to predict an individual person's reactions to particular species.  Therefore, neither the author or SharAmbrosia can accept responsibility for any personal experimentation.  If you have any serious medical conditions that need attention, please seek the aid of your physician or healthcare provider.  The information given here has not been evaluated by the FDA.




All views expressed in the articles on the "All Natural Info" page are those of the various authors, they are presented here for your enjoyment and enlightenment.  These views do not necessarily represent the views of SharAmbrosia or the "all natural beauty" website. 

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