Adapted from “Women Healers of the World: The Traditions, History & Geography of Herbal Medicine”
Chronic skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and rashes can be itchy, annoying, and even debilitating, but there are natural ways to address these issues successfully, without resorting to steroid creams or prescription medications. Be aware of the foods you eat and incorporate these herbs into your daily routine for healthy, itch-free skin.
Here are top recommendations for maintaining healthy skin anywhere on the body.
Support the liver. An unhealthy liver may contribute to chronic skin diseases. Normally the liver metabolizes wastes such as spent hormones, toxins, and old cells, and sends these wastes through the digestive system. But if the digestion and/or the liver are compromised, these wastes are not metabolized properly, causing allergy and disease. Care for the liver using dandelion root drinks or tincture, and milk thistle seed tincture. Known affectionately as “hepatics,” these herbs have long been used to support a healthy liver (hepar is the Latin word for liver).
Stay hydrated with herbal teas. Drinking plenty of fresh, clean water is great for helping the body flush toxins–and it’s even better when the water is infused with healthful, nutrient-rich herbs. Some herbs, such as stinging nettle and oatstraw, provide calcium and other minerals that help the skin stay healthy; find them at your local health food store or grow nettles in a rich, shady area of the yard or garden. Be sure to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water or tea daily.
Use soothing herbs topically. My inspiration for the Sage Wound Ointment in the book Women Healers of the World comes from Native Nations women, including Cherokee naturopathic physician Jody Noe, who infuses fresh sage leaves in oil for skin relief. Other herbs to use include red cedar, thyme, comfrey, and yarrow. Chop 1 cup of fresh leaves into 1 cup of olive oil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Strain, reserving the oil, and add ¼ cup chopped beeswax. Pour into a jar and allow to cool; smear this ointment on chronic skin patches and areas that have become infected.
Indulge in a seaweed bath. Both relaxing and great for the skin, a bath with seaweed can become the most anticipated hour of the week. Inspired by Hawaiian healer Auntie Velma dela Pena, Holly created this recipe to help those with dry, flaky skin and chronic skin itching. Simply fill a large pot of water on the stovetop and bring it to a boil. Add 2 to 4 tablespoons of dried seaweed (kelp, dulse, or any other seaweed) and simmer for 15 minutes. Pour the hot seaweed tea into the tub with additional hot water, strain if desired, and soak in it for 20 minutes or more.
Apply a witch hazel liniment for rashes. As an astringent, witch hazel is wonderful for easing itchy rashes and toning skin that is weak from blisters or infection. It is also an ideal menstruum (or base) for other herbs that heal the skin. Choose soothing herbs (such as red clover or plantain) or antiseptic herbs (such as rosemary or sage); chop them and place in a glass canning jar. Cover them with witch hazel; cap the jar and shake it. Steep the herbs in the liquid for two weeks, then strain and apply to the skin with a cotton ball.
Remove excess sugars from the diet. Sugar can interfere with the body’s ability to perform at its peak. Explore your diet for possible foods that may be sabotaging your skin and resulting in eczema or psoriasis, and remove foods that are high in sugar. These include tropical fruits such as pineapple, grapes, refined flours and breads, alcohol (beer and wine), commercial cereals, even ketchup and peanut butter that have sugar added to them. Experiment for several weeks to determine if removing the foods (one or two at a time) helps clear the skin. You may also discover the digestion works better and the head feels clearer and more alert.
These recipes and others, as well as interviews with dozens of fascinating women healers, are in the new book, Women Healers of the World: The Traditions, History & Geography of Herbal Medicine (SkyHorse Publishers, $24.95).
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Holly Bellebuono (www.VineyardHerbs.com) is an award-winning herbalist, director of Vineyard Herbs Teas & Apothecary, and director of The Bellebuono School of Herbal Medicine, which trains and certifies practitioners in herbal medicine. She lectures nationally on natural health and women’s empowerment. Her new book, Women Healers of the World: The Traditions, History & Geography of Herbal Medicine (SkyHorse, $24.95), celebrates 16 world healing traditions and the 31 ancient and modern women whose stories, cultures, challenges, and triumphs inspire medicine today.