If you like making your own skincare products then summer is prime time for gathering herbs and making the basics that you will use for your skincare all year long.
Here are 3 herbs that can be wild-crafted or foraged to either dry or infuse in oil, alcohol, or vinegar: plantain, St. John’s wort, and yarrow. All of them are available or ready for harvest around mid-summer (the month of June) or soon thereafter, depending on the weather and local factors.
Drying the herbs or infusing them in oil or vinegar or vodka are ways to both preserve the herbs for longer use than if you only use them fresh, and also to make their properties more readily available to your skin, as well as make them available for a wide range of uses.
Dried herbs can be used in poultices and compresses, as infusions for washing or rinsing the skin, in baths, and facial steams. Herbal oils can be used directly on the skin or hair, or as the basis for salves, lotions, scrubs, massage oils, and more. Herbal vinegars can be diluted and used for skin toners, hair conditioners, and to treat rashes and other unpleasant skin ailments. Tinctures can be a great asset in quickly treating bites, rashes, scratches, pimples, and other skin discomforts.
Here are the 3 herbs to wild-craft now:
Plantain (Plantago major, Plantago lanceolata): Parts used—leaves
Both species are perennial herbs with rosettes of leaves and flowering stalks that stand above the leaves. The two species, both introduced from Europe and naturalized in the U.S., are used interchangeably.
P. major, greater plantain or broad-leafed plantain, has wide leaves that mostly stay close to the ground; P. lanceolata has narrow leaves that are more upstanding.
I tend to harvest the leaves throughout the season, as I am able to grab them and deal with them, drying them or infusing in oil. However, I find that the leaves are in the best shape (less insect and fungus damage) earlier in the season, and I don’t have to pick through so many leaves to find the best ones. If you are drying the leaves, spread them out well and dry them quickly, so they are less likely to discolor.
The fresh leaves of either species can be used to help with bug bites, rashes, stinging nettle, and so forth when outdoors. Simple grab a leaf or two, chew it up to release the juices, and put it on the bite or sting (please note: if you are allergic to bee stings, this won’t help). It will have a soothing effect. You may have to replace it in a little while to get complete relief.
Properties: Astringent, emollient, anti-allergy
Plantain can help reduce swelling and itching, and reduce to some extent excretions from the skin. It soothes, tones, and heals the skin, also making it feel better. And it helps heal wounds.
What to do with it: Dry the leaves, or infuse them in a good quality oil. (Directions for infusing oil here.) I usually use the infused oil in healing and all-purpose salves.
St. Johns’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum): Parts used: The flowering tops
St. John’s wort is a generally short-lived perennial, 2’ to 3’ high, with cheerful yellow blossoms starting around mid-summer’s eve, and continuing sporadically throughout the summer into fall. I infuse this plant in oil for skincare uses and don’t usually bother with drying it.
To harvest it, you pick about the top ¼ of the plant, including flowers, buds, possibly beginning seeds, leaves, and stems. Actually, I usually cut off a bit of the top and then the side stems, leaving the main stem to continue producing. I go back to the plants that are still blooming throughout the summer to gather small quantities that I can then infuse in oil.
Properties: Anti-inflammatory, astringent, vulnerary
St. John’s wort relieves inflammation and pain and helps wounds heal. It helps speed the healing of wounds, bruises, varicose veins, and mild burns. It is especially good for sunburn. I have seen it help with allergic rashes and eczema. It is useful for injuries to areas rich in nerve endings and can help with nerve pain topically. It is considered one of the best skin herbs.
What to do with it: Infuse in a good quality oil, or infuse in apple cider vinegar. The flowering tops can be dried for use in washes and other herbal preparations. I prefer the infused-oil or vinegar products, and use the oil far more than the dried herb.
(Directions for making St. John’s wort oil here.)
To dry the flowering tops: put into small bunches and hang to dry, or lay them out on a basket or screen. When dry strip off the leaves and flowers and compost the stems. Store in a glass jar or paper bag.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Parts used—flowers, leaves
The finely feathered leaves of this perennial are a delight to see, and the flowers are sturdy and dainty at the same time. For medicinal and skincare purposes the white-flowered yarrow is used. It can grow singly or in patches, and is easily found along roadsides and in fields. Often you can find the leaves well before it is in bloom. Don’t confuse them with the leaves of Queen Anne’s lace or tansy.
This is an easy plant to dry. You can harvest the flowers and tie them in bunches to hang until dry, then store in a glass jar or paper bag. The leaves can be treated the same way, or laid out on a plate or screen to dry, then stored with the flowers. It is recommended to harvest the plant while flowering, in which case you can just cut as much of the plant as you can get and hang it to dry. I usually strip the leaves and flowers off of the stems once dry and compost the stems.
Yarrow is very good at helping to stop bleeding. People have taken the fresh plant and chewed the leaves to put on a cut to stop the bleeding, or taken some of the dried leaves, crushed or already in powder form, and applied them to stop bleeding. I use the tincture for this purpose.
Properties: Astringent, styptic, antiseptic, antifungal
Yarrow is known for its ability to help stop bleeding and heal wounds. It also a lovely anti-itch herb because of its astringency. It helps prevent infections because if its antiseptic properties, though if you have other, stronger antiseptics it is advisable to use them as well, just to be on the safe side.
For years I have carried a tincture of half yarrow and half shepherd’s purse to use for any cuts, scrapes, and scratches that occur in my travels. I also have both a spray bottle and a dropper bottle of this tincture in my bathroom. Though I like using shepherd’s purse with the yarrow, you can use the yarrow tincture alone for the same effects.
The tincture is great at slowing bleeding and helping to keep it from recurring, though you may have to reapply the tincture a few times. It helps wounds heal faster as well, and reduces the chance of infection (the alcohol in the tincture helps here as well).
Since yarrow has an astringent affect, it is helpful for rashes, itchiness, and oily skin.
What to do with it: Dry the flowers and leaves, infuse in alcohol for a tincture, or infuse in apple cider vinegar. Tinctures can be used for skin problems, and vinegars can be used in skin toners and similarly to tinctures. The dried plant can be used in rinses and washes, poultices, and more.
I hope you are able to find all of these abundant, superbly useful plants and add them to your skincare routines!