The Herb Lover’s Spa Book (St. Lynn’s, 2015), by Sue Goetz shows that you don’t need to go out for a relaxing spa experience. Her book walks readers through her extensive herbal knowledge, and how to best use each herb to ensure a natural and nurturing spa-like sensation in your own home. In the following excerpt, she provides a list of basic and common ingredients to get beginners started on their journey of herbal relaxation.
The Common Ingredients to Know
Alcohol: (natural grain alcohols): used as a preservative or carrier for herbs.
Apple cider vinegar: astringent, restores pH on skin. Use natural apple cider vinegar or “living vinegar” purchased at natural health food markets. Do not use white vinegar in body care treatments; it is too harsh on skin.
Avocado: used for its meat, made into pulp. Conditioning to hair and skin, high in vitamins A and E.
Beeswax: a natural wax, an emulsifier. Slight sweet fragrance adds a tinge of yellow to balms and salves. Purchase from a local beekeeper.
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate): balances skin pH, acid neutralizer. Good for itchy, irritated skin and also helps draw out impurities.
Castile soap: made from vegetable fat, not animal fat. It is a gentle basic soap, typically available in liquid form that can be infused with herbs to create personal, signature blends of shower soap or shampoo.
Cheesecloth: a natural loose weave cloth that is used to filter herbs and other sediment from liquids. Use 100 percent organic cotton.
Cocoa butter: a hard wax-like substance at room temperature, but easily melts on skin. Slight chocolate fragrance. This is a fatty wax that softens skin.
Coconut oil: a mild, non-fragrant oil that remains solid until it reaches about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Quickly melts on skin. Good addition to scrubs and massage oils. Suspends bulky herbs for use in a solid, spreadable form.
Cornmeal: ground corn that adds texture to scrubs to exfoliate dead cells from the surface of skin.
Cornstarch: finely ground corn. An absorbent powder material used to help soothe and dry skin.
Cucumber: the quintessential image of a spa facial: sliced cucumbers placed over the eyes. This vegetable is a cleansing agent that reduces puffiness and is soothing and healing to delicate skin, particularly the delicate folds of skin around eyes.
Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate): draws toxins out of the skin, soothes muscle and joint aches. Water softener that neutralizes pH.
Essential oils: an extraction of oils from plant tissues.
Grape seed oil: light green base-carrier oil. Good oil for massage and bathing. Light, non-greasy, fragrance-free with a very low allergen quality.
Ginger root: the rhizome of Zingiber officinale. Purchase roots and use fresh grated in body care recipes. Ginger is a warming spice that detoxes the body by promoting sweating.
Honey: used as a skin softener and also as a sweetener for drinking tea. To make herb-infused honey: Fill a clean glass pint-size canning jar 1/2 full with fresh or dried herbs. Pour honey (use local, fresh raw honey) to the top of the jar, leaving about an inch of head space. Cover. Place honey/herb jar in a pan of water on the stove and allow the honey to warm (do not boil). The warmth will help release the essential oils of the herbs. Remove from heat and allow to sit for a week. Strain out the herb and place in a clean jar. Cover tightly. Honey also acts as a natural preservative due to its high sugar content.
Jojoba oil: a base-carrier oil. Good conditioner for skin, scalp and hair. It has an excellent reputation as a base oil because it is technically a liquid ester, which is an oily substance very close to the makeup of natural skin oils. Good all-purpose carrier with a long shelf life.
Lemon and lime: fragrant and acidic fruits. The juice restores pH and is mildly bleaching to skin. The zest from the skin adds astringent qualities, coloring and texture.
Muslin: 100 percent cotton fabric with a tighter weave. Use unbleached muslin for bath bags and sachets. Also can be used as a filter to strain herbs out of liquids.
Oats, oatmeal (whole, natural): skin exfoliant. Adds natural skin softening to water and liquid blends.
Rice flour: uncooked rice, ground into a fine powder. Used for body powders and as a base to make paste for face masks.
Sea salt: natural water softener. Popular as an exfoliant. Use fine-ground in bath salts to easily dissolve. Larger, coarser grinds are useful for scrubs on tougher skin like hands and feet.
Sugars: good exfoliant in scrubs. Use natural organic raw, washed or coconut sugar.
Sweet almond oil: a good basic base carrier oil, for all skin types. High in fatty acids makes it good for restoring softness to skin. Has a limited shelf life; use opened bottles within 6 months.
Vanilla bean: the fruit of an orchid grown in temperate climates. It is one of the more expensive spices and is used to flavor lip balms and scent lotions and oils. Seeds scraped from the inside of the pods are used in scrubs, bath salts, oils and soap.
Vitamin E oil: acts as a natural preservative to slow oxidation of lotions, oils and balms. Healing and moisturizing. Use only 100 percent natural d-alpha tocopherol to avoid synthetic versions of this common vitamin.
Vodka: plant-derived alcohol base to preserve herbs. Use as a tincture base and in toner recipes. Use 100 proof, if available, because it has little to no fragrance to interact with the herbs aromas. Also good for cleansing storage equipment by removing oily residue from metal and glass.
Water: distilled or pure spring water, not tap water.
Witch hazel: cleanses pores and tightens skin.
Yogurt (plain): skin softener, mildly astringent.
More from: The Herb Lover’s Spa Book• DIY Lavender Heat Pillow
• DIY Herbal Oatmeal Bath Soak
Reprinted with permission from The Herb Lover’s Spa Book, by Sue Goetz and published by St. Lynn’s, 2015.