6 Herbs for winter skin ailments

Expert Louis van Aswegen reveals how you can use homegrown herbs to remedy cold-weather skin woes like itchy, dry patches and chapped lips. These herbs for winter skin will help with those pesky winter symptoms. 

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“Topical creams and ointments may bring relief,” says Louis van Aswegen of Healthy Living Herbs, “but skin problems are more than skin deep. Using herbs to treat the cause rather than the symptoms, results in longer term relief.”

Thymus vulgaris

This bushy little perennial is frost hardy, needs full sun, tolerates poor soil and responds well to regular trimming. “It’s an infection fighter,” says Louis. The leaves are strongly antiseptic and contain thymol, an effective antifungal remedy. It’s an excellent tonic herb for strengthening the immune system and for fighting respiratory infections. Make an infusion with the leaves and sip it like a tea.

Note: Don’t drink more than three cups of thyme tea a day for longer than a week as it may affect iron absorption.

Culinary tip: Use thyme to flavour slow cooked beef, lamb and chicken dishes.

Herbs for winter skin

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Known as the cold sore herb, its lightly lemon-scented leaves have an antiviral action that combats the herpes simplex virus. It’s also a traditional tonic for relieving anxiety, mild depression and stress. A member of the mint family, it’s not invasive, growing 60cm high with small white flowers loved by bees. Pure cow’s milk sprayed onto the leaves will prevent rust which tends to occur in autumn. In very cold areas the plant can die down in winter but will resprout in spring.

Culinary tip: Use young leaves and flowers in summer teas, salads, stuffings and sauces for poultry or fish.

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Herbs for winter skin

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

This is an excellent anti-inflammatory herb for soothing the skin, but should only be used externally. Apply the green leaves as a poultice or add a strong infusion of the leaves, with coarse sea salt, to bathwater to ease irritated skin. In winter when the leaves die down, dig up the roots, wash and chop them and infuse in aqueous cream to make a soothing topical ointment (see recipe overleaf). It’s an excellent foliage plant that grows in sun or partial shade.

Garden tip: Use the leaves as a compost activator and infused in water as a liquid plant food.

Herbs for winter skin

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia)

One of the most important natural antiseptics, it’s very strong, especially the essential oil which should be diluted with a carrier oil as recommended by the health shop. Louis’ advice is to only use it externally as an infusion to wash an infected area before applying a cream or ointment. It can also be used as a mouth wash for ulcers. Tea tree grows into a large drought-tolerant, 4m-high shrub.

Household tip: Rub a few leaves on windowsills to repel flies and mosquitoes.

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Herbs for winter skin

Bulbinella (Bulbine frutescens)

This indigenous herb can be used externally to soothe and heal insect bites, scratches, stings and cuts. Simply rub the juice from the leaves onto the skin problem. This clump-forming succulent with yellow or orange flowers is drought tolerant. It grows well with Tulbaghia violacea, which repels insects with its strong garlic fragrance.

Garden tip: Bulbinella is one of the few plants that can grow in dry shade under trees.

Herbs for winter skin

Calendula officinalis

This is an easy-to-grow, sun-loving winter bedding plant with yellow or orange flowers. Its petals are antiseptic with antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. Creams and ointments containing the petals can be applied externally for most skin problems, as well as fungal conditions like ringworm, thrush, athlete’s foot and nappy rash.

Taken internally as an infusion, it’s a cleansing herb that helps treat the toxicity underlying many infections and systemic skin disorders. It also helps to balance the digestive system.

Culinary tip: Sprinkle the petals as a garnish on salads and desserts, or use to colour rice during cooking.

Herbs for winter skin

For more information, visit: Healthy Living Herbs