An expert forager shares beauty benefits from plants that grow in the wild
As someone who picks her own edible plants and mushrooms for family meals, perhaps it was only a matter of time that I started foraging for beauty ingredients straight from the wild, too.
Free-range botanicals thrive across meadows and fields around the country, and, who knows, may even be flourishing right in your own backyard or garden. [Note: It’s always best to go foraging with an expert naturalist first, who can show you what is safe and what is a poisonous lookalike. Luckily, there are more and more foragers who are leading tours around the country.]
I find that the pleasures of gathering these plants is not just enjoying their health properties, but also knowing exactly where they came from. After a nice rinse or dunk in fresh water, these plants are good to go. Here are a couple of my easy recipes for wild beauty.
Wild Skin Salve
I’ve suffered from bouts of stress-induced eczema for years, and have purchased dozens of creams and ointments that have disappointingly fallen short of the mark. These days, my favorite way to stem a rash’s bloom is to forage for a common plant like chickweed, and to create a natural skin salve or infused oil that is as refreshingly green as it is healing.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a tiny sprawler of a plant, with shapely, spade-like leaves, that grows throughout the year, even in the dead of winter. A great microgreen atop salads, chickweed not only tastes like corn, but has skin-soothing properties that make it an excellent treatment for bug bites and eczema. It can be found in meadows, parks and college campuses across the country, where it enjoys sunny to partial shade.
How to: Warm an oil of your choice—I favor olive or coconut oil—in a heavy-bottom pan under low heat. Roughly bruise a handful of freshly washed chickweed, and add it to the heating oil, stirring occasionally. Cut the flame until just before the oil begins to boil (you don’t want the plant material to burn), and allow the oil to cool to room temperature. You can bottle the oil at this point, and opt to strain the chickweed now or in a week (after which the oil has reached full potency).
This nourishing skin salve can be applied to bug bites or eczema whenever necessary. It is so gentle that I use it on my two-year-old, who is also allergic to mosquito bites. Stored in the refrigerator, the oil can last up to two months.
One of my favorite beauty routines is to use pure honey for a fantastic, skin-tightening facial. This lovely product from the plants and honeybees is a natural antibiotic that can be used for minor topical wounds as well. (I applied it once after my face was singed by a tiny campfire spark, and my cheek healed without a mark.)
I had my first introduction to wild honey some years ago, when I helped relocate a swarm of honeybees slotted for extermination. Wild honey is not just a culinary wonder—it’s the most flavorful honey I’ve ever tasted, where each batch reflects the flavor of the different wildflowers of the season—but it also makes for a delightful facial as well.
How to: Simply apply the honey in short strokes across your entire face with your fingers, and relax under a hot, moistened towel as the sweet concoction tightens and nourishes your skin. When I’m low on the wild stock, store-bought honey works just as well, applied straight or mixed with yogurt. Rinse with warm water.
Ava Chin is the author of Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life Love and the Perfect Meal (Simon & Schuster). A professor at CUNY, she forages with her family throughout New York City and in England.