The beautiful flowers in our summer gardens and fields uplift our spirits. Many also provide nourishment and healing for the skin.
Calendula officinalis is the best skincare herb ever! It’s easy to grow and blooms prolifically from summer to frost in sunny yellows, oranges, even reds and maroons. Calendula is antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory. It promotes skin regeneration and heals rashes, burns, skin problems associated with radiation therapy, sores and ulcers, minimizes scar tissue, and is an excellent skin moisturizer. It’s also wonderful as a massage oil, and gentle enough for healing and preventing diaper and heat rashes on baby’s tender skin.
Ah, roses! There are many varieties but I love rosa rugosa for medicine and skin care. Growing up I called them wild roses or, near the ocean, beach roses. Flowers range from pale pink to deep magenta, and are wonderfully fragrant. Rose infused oil is suitable for all skin types especially dry, sensitive, irritated, and mature skin. And over time rose’s astringent effect will greatly diminish those tiny red capillaries close to the skin’s surface. It takes a lot of rose petals to make rose infused oil, so if you’re not blessed with a large hedge nearby, you can use dried organic roses. Or you can add rose essential oil to a carrier oil like almond, coconut, olive, or jojoba. Pure rose essential oil is costly but worth it, and there are two kinds. Rose otto, extracted through steam distillation, is lighter in color with a softer fragrance, and is most therapeutic and more costly. Rose absolute is obtained through solvent extraction, is thick, reddish, and very fragrant (though not as therapeutic as rose otto). It is often available diluted in a carrier oil like jojoba (10% dilution is common).
While St. John’s wort (hypericum perforatum) isn’t a flower you’d put in a daily skin cream, it heals burns, wounds, cold sores, herpes and shingles, stings, as well as bruises, and eases nerve pain. Considered a “noxious” weed by many, St. J’s sunny yellow flowers are most welcome in my garden, though I wildcraft it as well. St. J’s is a powerhouse of healing: anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiviral, antioxidant. Only the flowering tops are used, picked when newly opened, staining your fingers maroon. When ready, the oil will be deep red.
To make infused oils: Pick newly opened, unsprayed flowers. Wilt in a single layer on screen/paper to evaporate excess moisture. Two to three days for “juicy” calendula, hours only for St. J’s, even less for roses. Fill clean jar 2/3 to 3/4 full with flowers (chopped if large like calendula), add oil to the top (extra virgin olive is excellent), remove air bubbles, cap tightly, place jar in a sunny window, and let steep for four to six weeks. Strain through cheesecloth. If any cloudiness settles on bottom, carefully pour clear oil into another jar. The oil can be used as is or made into healing salves and creams.
Regardless of what herbs or flowers you’re gathering, avoid roadsides, and fields that may have been sprayed. Know what you’re picking and don’t over harvest (take no more than 10 to 25 percent from any given area, none if there are just a few plants). And don’t use roses from the florist!
Making flower oils is fun and cost effective, and you’ll be rewarded with healthy, radiant skin.
Susan Meeker-Lowry lives and gardens in Fryeburg. She is the owner of Gaia’s Garden Herbals, a home based business offering high quality, made in small batches herbal creams, salves, and balms using many of the herbs she grows. Contact her or Gaia’s Garden Herbals at email@example.com.