Once upon a time an orphaned girl wept by the cinders as her step-sisters left for a royal ball dumping her behind. Her Fairy Godmother made her wish-come-true by transforming her into an exquisite damsel by a magical potion of the choicest herbs.
Beautification through herbs doesn't just hold true to fairy-tales. Indeed, since time immemorial, herbs have been used, in a host of civilisations, to groom women into beautiful Cinderellas.
If Western herbal cosmetics tradition was derived from Greek and Roman cultures, herbal beauty care, in the Orient, has been the domain of ayurveda and Chinese herbal medicine - two ancient medicinal systems.
To go back in time again. Italian women, for instance, used macerated rinds of green oranges in olive oil to restore colour to hair when it faded. European gypsies made lip balms of a healing paste of nettle tops simmered to a pulp. In Japan, geishas wore lipstick made of crushed safflower petals and used rice powder to colour their face, the contours of the eye and nose.
Yes, you guessed it right. The etchings in Ajanta and Ellora caves and Khajuraho depict men and women adorned with herbal cosmetics. As naturopath and beauty therapist, Nirmala Shetty, puts it, "Nature is the mother beautician."
Herbal vs synthetic
Herbs are plants grown for culinary, medicinal, beautification and spiritual purposes. Though the green leafy part of the plant is used for therapeutic purposes, the seeds, berries, bark, root and the fruit, all have healing powers. Indeed, many edible fruits and vegetables may be considered as herbs in the context of their medicinal value, beauty enhancement properties, make-up and other cosmetic uses.
Says Shetty, "With daily exposure to smoke, pollutants and harsh chemicals, it is far more safer and healthier to use natural cosmetics, than chemical variants, as they are made of natural substances. The ill-effects of one chemical, so to speak as some of us believe, can't really be removed by applying another chemical."
The inference is obvious: pure herbal cosmetics help flush toxins from the body and boost our immunity. Here goes -
- Traditional knowledge of herbal remedies has been passed on from generation to generation. This has stood the test of time
- Our herbal repertory's age-old wisdom is based on a unique combination of local knowledge, psychology, and thorough understanding of the therapeutic value of herbs and plants. As herbalist Shahnaz Hussain says, "I do not sell products. I sell an entire civilisation in a jar"
- Herbal therapies reduce mental and physical stress. One has to just experience the soothing sensation of a scented herbal bath, aromatic oil massage, or a fruit facial
- Herbal cosmetics just don't go skin-deep, they go a long way to beautify us physically, mentally and spiritually. The ayurvedic approach to herbalism, for instance, first identifies a person's dosha [vata, pitta or kapha]. Herbs are used to heal one's vikruti [emotional, physical or mental conditions] too.
- Herbal beauty care is popularly known as self-help treatment as they are easily understood by the layperson. It doesn't require expert skills to grow herbs in one's own herb garden and use them
- Ingredients of herbal cosmetics are endowed with medicinal value and have healing attributes
- Thyme and lemon lotion are used to treat acne. Cinnamon tooth powder is used to strengthen sensitive teeth
- Ingredients of herbal cosmetics are also made from the edible parts of plants high in nutritious content. Little wonder that herbal products are renowned for providing nourishment for the skin and hair. Honey, for instance, provides succour to the skin. There are a wide range of herbal oils to revitalise the hair.
- Though dairy products and eggs are sometimes added to herbal products, they don't contain by-products obtained from animals
- Generally, herbal cosmetics are packaged in environment-friendly containers which are recyclable and biodegradable
- Most herbal cosmetics are safe, with no side-effects.
To herb, or not to herb
Herbal gardens are easy to grow. Herbs grow earlly and, therefore, don't require rich, highly-cultivated soil. Just get a catalogue from a specialist seed supplier of herbs and plant them. It would also be useful to know the botanical as well as the local names of herbs.
Always pick the herb before it has flowered early in the morning, because the harsh noon sunlight destroys natural oils. Avoid picking wild herbs as you may never know if they are contaminated by exhaust fumes, and pesticides. Always use the freshest ingredients and not those lurking in damp cupboards for months.
Herbal preparations can also be made with simple ingredients in your kitchen.
If you don't have a smattering of herbs it is always better to consult a naturopath beautician for the correct herbal recipe. Because, incorrect experimentation may lead to far more harm than good. You may, for instance, not know to which herb you may be allergic too. Also, it must be remembered that certain herbs like poison ivy, deadly nightshade and hemlock are dangerous.
Another caveat. Avoid quacks and consult a qualified naturopath beautician, who'll prescribe the right product for you after a complete holistic evaluation.
There was a time when some of us erroneously thought of herbalism as witchcraft. Herbalists were often burnt at the stake and branded as shenanigans. Unfortunately, the magical powers often believed to be associated with herbs were once feared to bring harm rather than good.
Misconceptions regarding herbalism have now been replaced by scientific knowledge of its benefits. Today, herbalism is a global rage with wide-spread awareness, thanks to our herbal armamentarium's amazing benefits.
Coming back to the supposed magical quotient of herbs, you would very well know what can happen. Basil oil may cure your acne as well as work as a spiritual balm to protect you from evil and negativity, attract love and shower you with wealth and prosperity.
Henbane, for example, is believed to reduce perspiration as well as bring rain if sprinkled on water.
Myrrh is a natural mouthwash and toothpaste; it is also used to consecrate ritual tools.
Rinsing your hair with saffron may give you a lovely red hue as well as make you clairvoyant! The list is endless.
Spot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!