Best Herbs for Skin Are in Your Own Backyard
Some my favorite herbs for skin from the Chinese Herbal Pharmacopeia might actually be growing right in your backyard here in North America! Realize that there are many varieties or species of these plants and the ones used in Traditional Chinese Medicine are those species that are native to China and eastern Asia.
Jin Yin Hua (honeysuckle flower): Jin Yin Hua might be my all-time favorite herb for treating skin issues. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, honeysuckle is in the herb category of Clear Heat, Eliminate Toxins (it also Dissipates Wind-Heat). It has the ability to help heal all kinds of dermatological lesions: chicken pox, shingles, measles, syphilis, boils, ulcerations, sores, common warts; pretty much anything that is red and/or oozes or is pus-filled. From a scientific perspective, it has antibiotic properties and anti-inflammatory effects. In the last couple of years, Jin Yin Hua has become exceedingly expensive to purchase in bulk because its demand has increased world-wide but its supply has been reduced due to severe weather damage in the regions of China where it is grown for medicinal use (earthquakes, late freezes, droughts and floods). The demand for Jin Yin Hua has increased due to its effectiveness in treating many viral and bacterial illnesses, such as the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. I sure do hope the supply of this wonderful herb increases and the prices go lower, because it is an important ingredient in many of Zi Zai’s herbal skin care products. To harvest your own Jin Yin Hua, simply pluck the blossoms before they fully open. You can use them fresh or dry them on a screen. The fresh herb is more potent than the dried herb. Soak the fresh flowers in distilled water for a few hours and use this as a rinse for your face or in a poultice to treat red/irritated skin.
Lian Qiao (forsythia hulls): This herb is also in the herbal category of Clear Heat, Eliminate Toxins and it is frequently combined with Jin Yin Hua. Forsythia is the lovely, very common, yellow weeping shrub that blooms around the end of April. It is not the flower of this plant that is used medicinally, but the hulls of the buds. It has properties very similar to Jin Yin Hua (antibitoic and anti-inflammatory), and is used to treat many of the same skin conditions. Harvest the buds before the flowers open and save the hulls. Typically this herb is used internally, but the infusion can be added to topical skin care products.
Pu Gong Ying (dandelion): The part of the plant used medicinally in TCM is the aerial part – the green part above the ground. The specific species used in TCM is Taraxacum mongolicum (Asian Dandelion). But the weed growing in your yard will have similar properties. Pu Gong Ying is also in the Clear Heat, Resolve Toxins category but this herb also Clears Damp-Heat and is better to Dissipate Lumps than the above-mentioned herbs. It is often combined with Jin Yin Hua and Lian Qiao to treat the skin lesions listed above. Pu Gong Ying is superb at treating mastitis (breast-swelling). Just mash up the plant (not the flower) and apply directly to the inflamed skin. Since dandelion is so good at Resolving Toxins, maybe this summer I will muddle it into a mojito (it might be a bit too bitter, but there’s only one way to find out!)
Zi Hua Di Ding (violet, viola): I love just saying the name of this herb (“tseh hwa dee ding”). Also in the herbal category of Clear Heat, Resolve Toxin, this is one of the best herbs for treating eczema. It is bitter and cold in nature, so this herbs should be used with caution on skin that is not red or inflamed. You can just crush the plant and apply it topically as a paste.
Ye Ju Hua (wild chrysanthemum flower): Again, this is an herb from the Clear Heat, Resolve Toxin category. This flower also has antibiotic effects, but in comparison to the herbs listed above, Ye Ju Hua has the additional ability to relive itching. It can also be used topically: soak the fresh flowers in distilled water or make an infusion by pouring hot water over the dried flowers and letting them steep (like tea). Use the infusion as a wash or a poultice. If you happen to live near Fort Collins, Colorado, you can find Ye Ju Hua growing wild along the Hewlett Gulch Trail in the Poudre Canyon.
Mei Gui Hua (rose buds): Mei Gui Hua (“may gway hwa”) are the buds of Rosa rugosa (also cultivated for their rose hips). Mei Gui Hua is in the herbal category Rectify Qi. It is used internally to Move the Liver Qi, Harmonize the Stomach Qi and also has the energetic ability to Harmonize Blood. It is a lovely, delicate herb to help lift depression and is often used in herbal formulas to treat PMS. With regard to skin conditions, I use this fragrant herb most often in facial formulas. Its beautiful scent lifts the spirit and I can’t think of a better flower to add to a facial steam. Boil water and then remove the pot from the stove. Place it on a towel (so you don’t burn your table) or pour the water into a large bowl. Toss in a handful of Mei Gui Hua (buds picked from your own rose bushes, or even just the flower petals from open blossoms). Hold your face over the steam (throw a towel over your head to capture the steam) and breathe in the beauty. Use the towel to release excess heat so you do not scald your face.
RECIPE FOR MEDICINAL SKIN OIL:
This is a simple infusion you can make yourself and keep on hand to treat a variety of mild skin conditions such as bug bites, sunburn, cracked lips, or itchy skin rashes. *Do not use oil-based products on anything that oozes and if you suspect infection, see your doctor. Make this infusion from thoroughly dried herbs (do not use fresh ones because the water content will spoil the oil quickly). To dry herbs, place clean herbs in a brown paper bag or onto a screen (I use and old, but clean, screen window) in a dry area.
Collect a combo of your clean, dried herbs: Honeysuckle flower, forsythia hulls, dandelion plant, violet plant & flower, and/or wild chrysanthemum. Chop or grind (using a clean coffee grinder) the dried herbs. There are 2 ways to make the oil:
Fast Method (using a crock pot):
- Place chopped dried herbs in a crock pot that has a Warm setting (the temp of the Low setting is too high for this process).
- Cover the herbs with the oil of your choice (Olive oil, Jojoba Oil, Safflower Oil, or Sunflower Oil). I prefer Extra Virgin Olive Oil for this particular recipe. Some people have a sensitivity to Jojoba Oil (even though it is very easily absorbed into the skin and great for skin care products).
- Gently warm the oil on the Warm setting for 12 hours, stirring at least once per hour of you can.
- Strain the herbs from the oil using a mesh strainer lined with a piece of cheesecloth (or a coffee filter, though I prefer cheesecloth). Once most of the oil has seeped through the cheesecloth, carefully lift up the cheesecloth and squeeze any remaining oil out of the herbs. This can be messy, so have paper towels handy. Try not to get any herbal material into the strained oil. Compost the herb dregs.
- Store the oil in an airtight glass jar in a cool, dark place. It should last you from 1 to 3 years. You could put a small amount into a plastic squeeze bottle for convenient use, and refill the little squeeze bottle from the main jar as needed.
Jar Method (6 weeks):
- Follow the same steps as above to prepare your herbs but instead of placing them into a crock pot, put them in a glass jar (like a Mason or Ball jar with a lid).
- Be sure the herbs are fully covered with oil (I prefer Olive Oil for this recipe).
- Place closed jar in a dark, cool place for 6 weeks.
- Shake the jar everyday so all the surface area of the herbs comes into contact with oil.
- After 6 weeks, strain the oil as described above.
Publish Date: April 15, 2011 *Articles may include updates since original publishing.