In recent years there has been renewed interest in using plants and herbs as natural remedies and beauty treatments, alongside an interest in healthier lifestyles and a more natural approach to tending to our body's needs. Although some natural uses for plants and herbs can be perhaps a little too complicated for most people to tackle, there are a number of simple recipes and techniques anyone can try for themselves and experience some of the wonderful effects plants and herbs can have on our lives and health.
Simple health remedies using plants and herbs
Unlike many herbs and plants whose properties have been well known for hundreds if not thousands of years, it was only during the 1970s that the abilities of feverfew to sooth headaches was fully recognised. It is particularly effective against migraines. As with most herbal remedies, you can buy feverfew in tablet form. Alternatively eat up to five leaves a day between a slice of bread to help alleviate migraines.
Peppermint has long been prized for its ability to sooth indigestion and the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Make a tea of peppermint leaves steeped in hot water. Peppermint also has anti-bacterial properties and this combined with it fresh aromatic flavour makes it a good mouth wash to combat bad breath. Peppermint oil can also be used in massage to help relieve muscular pain.
The astringent, anti-bacterial properties of witch hazel make it a very useful remedy for spots and pimples. You can make a simple gel by boiling up some young witch hazel twigs, mix the liquid with some gelatine to make the gel and add vodka as a preservative. It will keep for up to six months if refrigerated.
Marigold flowers have many healing uses. The flowers have antiseptic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. A compress of marigold flowers can be used to treat burns and stings. They are also effective against chilblains. A cold infusion can be used as eyewash to treat conjunctivitis.
Juniper berries contain strong anti-inflammatory and astringent substances and can be used as oil in massage to stimulate circulation and help relieve back pain. A healing ointment can be made from juniper berries to help treat scratches and relieve itching.
The properties of sage, rosemary and wormwood are well known as insect repellents. Make a pot-pourri from the leaves of all three to help deter flying pests.
Lavender oil is probably the most popular and versatile of all essential oils. For hundreds of years it has been used for its soothing properties. The oil can be used as a remedy for burns and stings and its anti-bacterial properties can help heal cuts and scratches. A few drops on a pillow or burned in an oil burner can help promote sleep. Rubbed on the temples, lavender oil is also effective in soothing headaches. You can distil your own oil but the process is laborious so it is probably easier to buy lavender oil from a good herbal shop.
Simple beauty remedies
To strengthen your hair and stimulate growth make a simple hair tonic from the leaves of nettles and use as a final rinse after shampooing.
For an uplifting and refreshing bath, add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to your bath water. Or use as an inhalant by adding a few drops to a bowl of boiling water, place a towel over your head and the bowl and breathe in. It will both clear your senses and stimulate your facial skin.
Make a useful face scrub by mixing ground almonds and oat flakes with cider vinegar and basil essential oil. The basil helps to kill bacteria and the almond flakes and oats remove dead skin cells.
Strawberries have long been used by the cosmetic industry. Make a face mask by mashing the fruit to extract the juice and apply to the face to lighten freckles and other blotches. You can also apply sliced strawberries to your face to help relieve slight sunburn.
An infusion of chamomile can be used as a hair rinse to lighten blond hair. Likewise, and infusion of rosemary leaves has a darkening effect on dark hair. Many face creams contain extract of marigold. Marigold flowers, used as a skin lotion can help reduce the size of pores and nourish the skin.
The properties of aloe vera encourage skin regeneration and it is therefore be used in hand creams, shampoos and face lotions.
Plants and perfume
Perfumes made from plants have always played an important part in our lives. Perfumes stimulate the senses. Fragrant plants like roses and scented geraniums can be grown in garden planters and placed in places where there stimulating scent can be best enjoyed. They have traditionally been used in religious rites, in the promotion of good health and for aesthetic purposes. Perfumes can be flowery, citrus, woody, aromatic or sweet. Perfume from flowers and plants can be extracted and used in a number of ways. Drying plants helps to preserve scent and the dried material can then be made into pot-pourri to fragrance our houses. Oils from fragrant plants can be distilled to greatly enhance their scent. These essential oils can then be burnt or applied to base oils to rub into the body.
You can make a simple toilet water or eau-de-cologne from the leaves of your favourite flowers. Fill a small bottle with the fresh leaves of rose or lily of the valley and top up with vodka and leave for a week. Strain and replace the leaves for as long as they are freshly available and eventually the alcohol will become saturated with the scent of the flowers.
Make a soothing herb pillow by adding some of your favourite dried herbs to a small pillow or bag. Add a few drops of essential oil such as lavender or bergamot to promote a calming effect. Dried or fresh flowers and leaves from fragrant plants can also be made into bath bags and sachets and soaps.
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