Although my training is in aromatherapy, a year or two ago I learned about the amazing things herbal preparations can do for skin care. In this article, we will discover the benefits of green tea, calendula flower, chamomile flower, and comfrey root. We will also learn about infusions, tinctures, and decoctions.
I recently became more confident in the benefits of herbs when a certain lady friend of mine applied my aromatherapeutic balm to a part of her hand that was burned recently. She commented that there was no flakiness on the skin on the affected part of her hand.
Herbalism (also referred to as herbology or herbal medicine) is the use of plants for medicinal purposes and is also the study of botany for medicine. (1)
Infusions, Tinctures, and Decoctions, Oh My!
Oftentimes, plant materials (herbs) are combined with liquids such as carrier oils, alcohols, witch hazel, etc. Doing this extracts the constituents of the herbs into the liquid, which acts as a solvent.
An infusion is a method of soaking plant materials in a liquid, such as water. The act of brewing tea is an infusion. Infusions are typically used when the herbs you are using are leaves and flowers of a plant. Sometimes seeds and roots will be used. Simple as that. (2)
The liquid does not have to be water; a carrier oil or blend of carrier oils can be the liquid medium. Infusing herbs in carrier oil will result in a preparation having the properties of the oil(s) and the herbs. An infusion can be performed at room temperature, which takes a significant length of time (minimum of two weeks), or at a higher temperature, as with boiling water, which shortens the time to 10 minutes or more.
A tincture is similar to an infusion, except that tinctures are typically made with alcohol, vegetable glycerin, or vinegar. Tinctures are usually more potent than infusions and decoctions. (3)
A decoction is similar to an infusion, but is preferred for harder herbs like roots, barks, and seeds. (4)
My aromatherapeutic balm starts out as an infusion of: green tea powder, calendula flower powder, chamomile flower powder and comfrey root powder in a blend of carrier oils. I will describe each herb below.
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) appears to exert sun damage protection by quenching free radicals and reducing inflammation, owing to the presence of anti-oxidants. Topical green tea polyphenols exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and could possibly slow down the development of some signs of aging. (5)
Green tea has a certain class of antioxidants – known as catechins – which are especially potent. In particular, the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg) is particularly beneficial in fighting the affects of aging and makes up a large percentage of the catechins in green tea. EGCg has been found in research to reactivate dying skin cells. Tannins in green tea act as an astringent which shrink pores. Green tea’s antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and astringent properties help fight acne and blackheads when applied topically. (6)
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) aka pot marigold, has a powerful chemical extract that can be removed from the stems and leaves of the plant. This extract is rich in a variety of organic compounds, including glycosides, saponins, and other powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. Applying calendula flower oil to cuts, scrapes, bruises and insect bites can quickly speed the healing process, partially due to the anti-inflammatory properties of the oil, in addition to the unique antioxidant compounds found in this plant. Calendula extract protects against infections, allowing them to heal more rapidly. (7)
German Chamomile (Marticaria recutita) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) possess calming and anti-inflammatory properties in addition to antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-allergenic characteristics. (8)
Chamomile enhances the appearance of dehydrated or damaged skin by reducing dry flaking and restoring suppleness. The plant’s flowers are rich in flavonoids, such as apigenin, quercetin, patuletin and luteolin, which contribute to the anti-inflammatory, anti-erythema (reddening of the skin) and anti-pruritic (itchiness) properties of Chamomile that help damaged skin heal more quickly. The plant is often used as a natural treatment for various skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis. (9)
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) contains allantoin, a substance that promotes cellular growth, in addition to other substances, such as rosmarinic acid and tannins, which can reduce inflammation and maintain healthy skin. Comfrey ointments have been used to heal bruises and pulled muscles and ligaments. (10)
Carrier oils infused with comfrey is ideal as a base for salves and has been used in folk medicine to treat wounds and skin infections. Comfrey-infused oil can address skin issues such as scratches, rashes, insect bites, and shallow wounds. It is also helpful for easing pain from arthritis, muscle aches, and soreness. (11)
Comfrey-infused oil appears to work as an anti-inflammatory, an analgesic, and an aid in the healing of sprains and broken bones. It is also effective in assisting treatment of atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and eczema. (12)
There are some precautions regarding comfrey; it is contraindicated for oral consumption, due to the presence of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are toxic to the liver. Comfrey-infused oil or the herb itself should not be consumed by mouth or applied to skin having deep cuts or wounds. Comfrey is safe for strictly topical application in small amounts. (13)
A mixture of four powerful herbs, green tea, calendula, chamomile and comfrey root, when combined with carrier oils, can yield a superior skincare product. I picked these four herbs for my aromatherapeutic balm because of their anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, which help heal wounds faster. I will add that as I stated above, my training is in aromatherapy, and I am not a herbalist. I do not advise taking any herb internally without the guidance of a trained herbalist or physician.
Do you have any experience with herbalism, whether it be for skincare or other purposes, such as culinary pursuits? Please feel free to leave a comment in the form below.
(10) (11) (12) (13) Comfrey Oil: Beneficial or Merely Controversial?