Throughout the ages and all over the world women have tried to be as beautiful as possible. Herbs have been used to improve and even colour hair, whiten teeth, strengthen gums, brighten and soothe eyes, cleanse the skin, remove freckles and spots, get rid of wrinkles and relieve aching limbs, as well as to alleviate headaches, menstrual pains and minor ailments. Now there is a revival of interest in these time-tested methods which are easy to prepare and light on the purse.
Basically, what are needed most of the time are infusions (that is a standard herb tea, left to brew and then strained) or a herb oil.
To make a herb oil you need 2-oz. of finely-crushed herbs of choice (you can pound them or put them through a blender), 8 fl oz corn or olive oil, 1 tablsp wine vinegar. Place herbs in a bottle or glass jar, pour oil and vinegar over and leave in the sun or a warm room for two weeks, shaking the container hard once a day. After two weeks, strain through muslin, squeeze any oil out of the herbs and discard them; using fresh herbs, use the same oil again and repeat the process as many times as is needed to get the oil to the strength when it smells strongly of the herbs. A good test is to rub a little on the back of your hand. Lavender, fennel, rosemary, tarragon are very good herbs to use. Try to gather the herbs (leaf part only, unless you use seeds for a special mixture) in the summer. For decoration add a sprig of the dried herb to the final jar. Make a selection of oils, some for
beauty, some to add to salad dressings and so on.
Hair is said to be a woman’s crowning glory. Make it so for you. Rosemary, chamomile and sage are recommended for hair itself; parsley and nettles for the scalp.
If you are a brunette, pour a rosemary infusion over your hair; you can use fresh or dried leaves, for the final rinse. This will add lustre and a delicate perfume. Blondes should use a chamomile infusion, and for black hair a sage one is best. Rosemary oil is good for dry hair. If the hair is particularly dry, as for instance when you have been sunbathing overlong with your head uncovered, massage oil into the hair the night before shampooing. Cover your head, though, to save the pillow. For normally dry hair, rub oil into head 15 minutes before shampooing.
Another recommended oil for dry hair is made with nettle leaves.
A strong infusion of nettles massaged into the scalp is said to alleviate baldness and a standard nettle infusion, strained and rubbed into the scalp, is an old remedy for dandruff; so is a parsley infusion, which should be massaged hard into the scalp twice a week.
A clear skin is a boon. A daily drink of parsley tea is an old way of ensuring a healthy skin. A good cold cream helps too. Gently warm up in a pan an unscented cold cream, add a little herb oil of your choice, re-pot, leave to get cold; apply nightly.
To get rid of unsightly spots apply an infusion of sorrel or tansy on cotton wool. To remove freckles, mix one rounded tablespoon grated horseradish with one teacup milk, bring to boiling point, strain and cool. Apply to face with cotton wool, leave to dry, and rinse off with tepid water after ten minutes. Repeat every other day as long as is required, making fresh lotion as necessary.
A face pack is not a modern invention; mixed herb leaves, boiled in a little water, mashed, cooled and applied to the face have been used for centuries. Another mask is made with white of egg mixed with a little lemon juice and finely-chopped fennel leaves. Smooth over face, avoiding eyes and mouth, let dry, leave on 15 minutes, rinse off with tepid water.
The water in which you rinse your face has also been considered important by women over the years. Recommended rinses are strained rosemary or lemon balm infusions, cold or warmed up just before using, and left to dry on the face.
Tired or dull eyes mar beauty. An infusion of lemon verbena, carefully strained and cooled and applied in an eye bath, works wonders.
A stye on the eye is painful as well as ugly. An old cure is to apply an infusion of tansy to the sore morning and night. For a black eye (should such ill fortune come your way), or for a bruise, press on crushed hyssop leaves.
A relaxing bath can sooth away aches and pains. Add a little of your favourite herb oil and try out different ones, such as bergamot, to maintain a smooth skin.
Infusions can be added to bath water or fresh, or dried herbs, can be tied in a bag and held under the hot tap as the water runs in. A bag of marjoram is said to relieve stiffness and rheumatic pains. Fennel infusion or oil is an ancient slimming method. Sprigs of rosemary or lavender, or chamomile (flowers too), floating in the bath, are believed to be calming after a busy day, and mint in the bath is held to be invigorating. An infusion should be plentiful and strong: make it with about four oz leaves and four pt water.
Depending a great deal on how badly your feet ache and if you are alone or not, here is a remedy for badly aching feet. Rub the soles and heels with garlic cloves, sit with your feet up for a while and then rinse them in cool water.
Beautiful teeth are an asset; rubbing sage leaves over teeth and your gums is the herbal way of keeping teeth white, gums strong and healthy.
Just as herbs have long been valued for home-made beauty preparations, so they have been for medicinal purposes. But don’t try to prescribe for yourself or for friends. In case of any possible or definite serious complaint, seek expert advice.
Infusions (teas) are usually taken for minor troubles.