Teas as tonics?
Let’s get to know the real cosmetics of our grandmothers now. Beauty ingredients had to be found around the house, because it could not be imported from tropical countries. Thank God that today is a time of abundance, but we should not forget the treasury that grows around us. It is said that tonics like this are very cheap because you will spend as much as you spend on buying a tea packet. And it’s a very cheap story, an average of 1-2 euros per box. It is important that they are prepared fresh every day, because like every aqueous extract they are sensitive and prone to spoilage, both microbiological (contaminated with microorganisms) and due to oxidation (oxygen reaction) of medicinal compounds. They can last for a day at most, so you can make them in the morning and apply them once or more a day, as desired. That is their only drawback, because we will have to make additional efforts to make them. There is another drawback- aqueous extracts of plants are more likely to irritate and cause allergic reactions, although this is very rare. Hydrolates, which contain less substances than aqueous extracts , are a better choice for people extremely prone to allergic reactions.
Despite the fact that all these plants are classics in phytotherapy, most of the plants listed here are based entirely on traditional applications. If you want to, understand it as a reflection of some other time and a little nostalgia for the past.
Before we dedicate ourselves to plants, let’s repeat first what water extract means. In the Croatian language we have a big linguistic mistake because we call everything “tea”, although it should be a term reserved for black or green tea. Foreign languages know such differences. In them, for teas that are not made from the tea plant, they are called infusions or decoction (decoct), depending on how they are made. Today, these terms are mostly used only by pharmacists and people who deal with medicinal herbs. In addition to these two forms, some plants are used to make water macerates. What do these terms mean in general and how are they made?
Infusions are obtained by pouring boiling water over a certain amount of herbal material, leaving it covered for 5-20 minutes (usually 10 minutes), depending on the plant, and then straining it. How much plant material? It depends on the type and purpose, but in the context of a tonic it is usually 1 tablespoon per 2dcl of water. Smaller amounts of infusions can be prepared, but then the amount of herbal mass should be reduced proportionally. Infusions are made from herbal material that is soft and easy to get wet. These are usually flowers, leaves, green plants (aboveground part of the plant).
Decocts are made by cooking the plant material, usually for 5-10 minutes, and then straining it. It must not boil intensively- it is enough to keep it at a very mild boiling temperature. Decoctions are made from plants and plant parts that are harder and from which it is more difficult to extract the active substances. These are mostly bark, roots, seeds, but sometimes plants that are firmer, such as field horsetail.
Macerates are prepared by placing plant material in lukewarm water and leaving it unheated for half an hour to two hours. It used to be a popular way of making plant extracts, even from those from which we usually make infusions and decoctions. Today, this is the main way to make plants with mucus, such as flax and marshmallow root, which we will mention here. The reason why this is done in this way, is that it takes time for such substances to dissolve in water, and heating would destroy the active substances of the plant. Maceration is generally a process where plants are “immersed” in an extraction agent, water, ethyl alcohol, glycerol, vegetable oil and then left for a certain time for the process in which the active substances dissolve to occur.
There are two important notes before making such preparations:
- Pay attention to water quality! The water must be soft, not hard tap water. This is important in order for the active substances to be better extracted from the plant, but also so that the limescale does not create a harmful film that clogs the pores. You have a choice of everything- water purified through filters, distilled and demineralized water, rainwater, purchased drinking water (but not sparkling water). Choose for yourself.
- If you make macerates with lukewarm water, boil the water beforehand to reduce its microbiological load, and only then pour it over the plant material when it cools.
- Preparation of infusions, decoctions or macerates for external application has its own specific addition. As in tonics in general, glycerol is added to water but before we add the plant material. It is enough to put half a teaspoon, up to a maximum of one, in 2dcl of water. Glycerol, in addition to moisturizing the skin and making it soft, helps the extraction process of active substances from plants. Therefore, it is worth noting that you add it to water before preparing any of the extracts. Fortunately, glycerol is very cheap and it is not a burden on your budget.
Let the strainer have as fine a mesh as possible, in order to remove undesirable larger particles that irritate the skin. If you want to me meticulous, then it would be necessary to filter the solution through filter paper (chemical or for tea and coffee) or cotton wool after separating the plant mass with a strainer. We cannot do this with extracts that contain mucus (flax, marshmallow root, fenugreek, comfrey root) because the filter paper will clog immediately and you will not get the extract. Even extracts of other plants clog the pores on the filter paper very quickly, so you will probably skip this procedure, to no one’s detriment. However, if you like experiments, give it a try. It doesn’t cost you much.
The prepared tonic of aqueous plant extracts is stable for one day, so a fresh tonic should be prepared every day. They are applied by spraying on the face or by moist cotton pad once to twice a day. if you spray, tako into account that the spray on the bottle is also easily clogged with small pieces of plant material.
Allantoin and dexpanthenol can be added to all tonics- teas. But be aware that you will consume them faster, because you have to make such tonics fresh. Keep in mind that adding both allantoin and comfrey does not make sense, because comfrey itself contains plenty of allantoin!
Overview of important plants
Let’s now learn some of the stars of old home cosmetics from which decoctions and macerates are made.
Field horsetail (Equisetum arvense), is the oldest anti-aging plant that restores skin tone and works against wrinkles. It used to be a basic cosmetic for women. It is made as a decoction- 1 full tablespoon is boiled for 5 minutes in 2dcl of water. Remove from the heat, let rest for another ten minutes and strain. Horsetail contains flavonoids and silicon compounds as active substances, and we have already thoroughly described it in cosmetics from within. The plant, which normally works well on the kidneys, seems to be dedicated to firmness, both inside and out. Horsetail tonic has an unobtrusive scent.
Burdock (Arctium lappa) works against Gram-positive microorganisms, so they are an excellent supplement in the treatment for impetigo (bacterial skin infections). But it is also used to treat oily skin prone to acne. We have already mentioned burdock as the main plant that cleanses the skin from the inside, so don’t forget to use it that way. 1 tablespoon is boiled in 2dcl of water for 10 minutes, drained and applied with a pad 1-2 times a day. Burdock has a slightly unpleasant odor, but it disappears after application.
Flax (Linum usitatissum) is another classic from great-grandmother’s cosmetic kitchens. 1.5-2dcl of lukewarm water is poured over 1 tablespoon of whole seeds, and left to rest for 2 hours (or overnight). Drain on a strainer with a fine mesh, the resulting tonic is applied by gently rubbing the face once or more a day. Flax releases mucus into the solution, which gives tone, but it is also the oldest gel system that moisturizes the skin and soothes inflammation. It is still mentioned today in very strict books on clinical phytotherapy as a means of softening and moisturizing the skin. It is suitable for very sensitive skin prone to irritation, and is an ideal base for applying vegetable oils and natural creams. Flax also releases very small concentrations of cyanogenic compounds. They increase the metabolism of the skin in that concentration and are not harmful. Flax is a plant that works well on the entire digestive system.
A very similar effect is shown by marshmallow root (Althea officinalis). Macerate is made in the same way as flax and has the same effect. The thick mucus of marshmallow prevents drying, soothes inflamed skin, so it is ideal as a care after sunbathing.
Oatmeal is used in the same way. It is very popular in the care of dry skin and atopic skin. Interestingly, it is very rich in beta-glucan.
Comfrey root (Simphytum officinale) is an ancient folk remedy for minor skin damage. Comfrey contains the highest amount of anti-inflammatory allantoin you have already read about, it strongly regenerates the skin and is good for thin and damaged skin and after skin trauma. It heals small wounds perfectly. 1 tablespoon is boiled in 2dcl of water for 10 minutes, drained and applied with a pad 1-2 times a day. Just be careful,because comfrey should not be drunk, but only applied from the outside.
Oak bark (Quercus sp) is not for everyday use, but we will mention it when we talk about the wisdom of our grandmothers. A decoction of sessile or pedunculate oak bark contains a lot of tannin that has an astringent effect. Therefore, it was used for faster healing of sutures after surgery, but also in some inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis. Women often used it to rinse wounds inflicted during childbirth. Oak bark also had another interesting use- foot baths for people who are prone to heavy sweating of the feet! It is very effective so it can help you. 1 tablespoon is boiled in 2dcl of water for 15 minutes and the prepared decoction is used for the skin, or placed in foot baths.
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum), or fenugreek seeds, is a well-known phytotherapeutic drug for a wide range of applications, from weight loss treatments to cholesterol problems. As for flax, so for fenugreek the use on the skin is also mentioned in modern textbooks. It helps heal smaller wounds, it is good for dry skin, but also for “ulcers” on the skin. It is usually made by longer maceration: 1 tablespoon of seeds is put in 2dcl of water, left overnight, and then strained. But fenugreek has a smell reminiscent of soup, so some people don’t like it in cosmetics.
Most other herbs are infused (boiling water is poured over), but such teas need to be more concentrated. Pour 1 tablespoon of tea with 1.5-2dcl of boiling water, leave it covered for ten minutes and strain it. It is applied in both ways once or more a day.
Marigold (Calendula officinalis) is a classic anti-inflammatory plant. It is good for redness of the skin, minor inflammation, care for children’s skin and various forms of dermatitis. Marigold also works well for some people with dark circles after a sleepless night, so give it a try.
German chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium) have a similar effect. Yarrow also helps as well as comfrey to heal minor skin wounds and regenerate after trauma. Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) as a tea is still rare in Croatia, and the aqueous extract itself has a beautiful scent and some prefer it to German chamomile. All three herbs are a real boon for skin prone to irritation and redness, but be careful, because some people can sometimes be sensitive to the family Asteraceae to which these four classics of folk medicine belong.
Mountain arnica (Arnica montana), along with comfrey, has the best effect on skin regeneration and soothing inflammation. Be careful just like with comfrey: arnica is applied only externally and is not used orally.
Unlike arnica, woundwort (Anthylis vulneraria) is a completely forgotten plant. Regenerates the skin, but is suitable for everyday cosmetics when you want to rejuvenate the skin. It doesn’t make sense for this plant to remain just something from expensive commercial cosmetics, when you can use it for far cheaper homemade cosmetics. It is an easily recognizable plant of Croatian fields and we will talk about it in the chapter on macerates.
Common mallow flower (Malva sylvestris) gives interesting and aesthetically pleasing purple tonics. It is used to soothe the skin after sunbathing, but also after radiation (radiotherapy) for tumours. This is invaluable advice that really proves useful in practice.
Wild pansy (Viola tricolor) is also the already mentioned plant, along with burdock, for cleansing the skin. It comes to us from old folk recipes. Wild pansy tonics are used for acne, seborrheic dermatitis, but also for atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.
Sweet woodruff (Asperula odorata) is also Croatian forest plant, which you pass on hikes unaware that it was also the cosmetics of our grandmothers . It smells nice, and it is used to heal the skin.
Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum) is a common plant in Croatian forests. Almost erased from the collective memory, this plant was used by our ancestors to heal the skin, but also in almost all inflammatory skin diseases. It is often mixed with wild pansy, oat straw and similar plants.
Oat straw (Avena sativa) is an old folk remedy for seborrheic dermatitis and scalp problems. Even today, this plant is used in commercial preparations. It has also been shown to be good for atopic skin care, but with caution, as atopic skin reacts easily to a variety of substances. You can also dilute the resulting infusion as needed if applied to the baby’s skin.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is a newly discovered hit of medical cosmetics, while in fact it has long been known for treating the skin. Contains salicylates, but in an amount that does not irritate the skin. It gently exfoliates the skin and thus prevents the accumulation of sebum and clogging of the pores in oily skin and acne. In this it is far better than willow bark, which tightens the skin a little too much.
Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and broadleaf plantain (Plantago major). The broadleaf plantain miraculously stayed in the memory of younger generations as well. Fresh leaf has been used for minor skin injuries, and fresh is best one to use. Plantain contains two classes of substances- mucus and irioids. They soften and moisturize the skin, and at the same time have an anti-inflammatory effect. Although better known as a plant for the respiratory system, plantain infusion is an ideal plant for dry skin prone to irritation and redness.
Common grape vine leaves (Vitis vinifera) should preferably be harvested from neglected, unsprayed vineyards. It stimulates microcirculation and tones the skin, but also works against skin redness.
Lavender flower has an enticing scent and is also used as an anti-inflammatory plant and a very pleasant tonic for daily facial care.
Peppermint slightly cools the skin due to its menthol content, so it is ideal not only after sunbathing, but also for skin prone to redness and itching. Today, we mostly perceive it as a delicious tea, but was is an unavoidable ingredient of traditional cosmetics before the emergence of the cosmetics industry.
Common sage is Croatian famous plant. We know that it is often used for sore throat, but in cosmetics it is interesting because of the discreet action of tannins that give the skin tone, and it also has a mild antibacterial effect. It is mainly used for oily skin prone to acne.
Which plant to choose?
The list of these plants is the fruit of a selection that is both personal and literary. However, even this small list raises the question- which plant to choose? Although I will give some suggestions, it is best to simply try it on yourself. I repeat many times that the skin is a very individual organ, so immerse yourself in the search for your plant. Some like it more than hydrolates, some less. Some use them occasionally, when they have the time. The beauty of nature is just an abundance of possibilities.
General suggestions can be presented as follows:
- If intensive, rapid skin regeneration is needed, it is best to use arnica and comfrey. However, these plants should not be used for a long time, but only for a short time.
- Herbs that regenerate the skin and can be used for a long time are sweet woodruff and woundwort.
- Herbs that hydrate the skin and protect it with its gel-like properties are marshmallow root, common mallow flower, flax and fenugreek.
- The plant that helps thinned and mature skin is field horsetail and common grape vine leaves.
- Herbs that have an anti-inflammatory effect and can be used for a long time are yarrow, German and Roman chamomile, marigold, lavender and the plantains.
- Herbs that help oily and combination skin and acne include burdock root, meadowsweet and wild pansy.
- Plants that can help atopics include oat straw and wild pansy.
- Lavender flower, marigold, yarrow are useful for burns.