By medical herbalist, Clare McQuade
Many of my patients will know that what set me on my path to study herbal medicine was my own journey through psoriasis, which began with a severe flare up in my early teens. I was 90% covered in inflamed, painful lesions that would split and bleed when I scratched. I couldn’t regulate my body temperature and I felt miserable. None of the treatments the doctors tried were having any effect, and months went by like this before my mother found a herbalist and nutritionist for me, on whose (strict) protocols I managed to heal my skin completely. The effect this had on my life was huge, and the power in those remedies has stayed with me since. Now I see many patients in clinic with a variety of skin disorders, and feel passionately about empowering those patients to restore their balance.
Whether it’s a simple matter of a congested complexion, or a longstanding case of eczema, most skin complaints will benefit from some lymphatic stimulation and clearance. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels which move lymph fluid thorough the body; it plays an important role in immune function – infection fighting and inflammation control, maintaining fluid balance, and is responsible for the movement of waste products from the cells into the blood stream for elimination. Keeping the lymphatic movement healthy will help to brighten the skin by shifting the toxins out of the cells; it will aid in cooling and calming the inflamed heat of eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and the sluggish inflammation of acne; it will bring immune active cells to balance bacterial levels and improve the skin’s microbiome and aid in balancing skin hydration.
My favourites for lymphatic movement have to be Clivers (Galium aparine), Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica folia), Red clover (Trifolium pratense), and Pokeroot (Phytolacca decandra). You will find Clivers and nettles galore to wild harvest at the start of Spring (do give them a good wash, they tend to be at a good height for dogs!) and juice at home – a wonderfully fresh and potent way to kick start the lymphatic system after a slow winter. Otherwise, they extract very well with water and make a wholesomely green tasting tea infusion; or you can tincture them to use through the later months of the year. Both are mineral rich too, so as well as cleansing the skin they also enrich it, bringing strength, and combine beautifully with Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) to this effect.
To bring healing to damaged skin, Marigold (Calendula officinalis) is a must – the vibrant orange-yellow flowers are a wonderful vulnerary which can be used in most skin complaints and from infancy to old age. They brew nicely into a tea, but also tincture well, and can be used topically to good effect in infused oils, balms, creams or poultices.
Horsetail, as mentioned above, is teeming with silica content, amongst other minerals, to strengthen damaged or broken skin; I find it most useful in very dry skin types particularly eczema prone skin to heal the barrier and help prevent splitting and cracking.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) deserves a mention here as well, as a skin healer, with the added benefit of being an uplifting adaptogen – a herb which supports the adrenal gland function, balancing our stress response and the effect that stress can have on our bodies.
No skin remedy would be complete without some liver support – the liver being our primary organ of toxin elimination and blood cleansing. Of particular note for the skin are Burdock (Arctium lappa), Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus), and Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis radix). Taking plenty greens in the diet will aid in this also, if you can use bitter greens – try putting those dandelions to good use and harvesting some leaves to add to salads.
All this only scratches the surface of what can be done to help the skin to balance! There are so many ways to support the skin around this as well; by balancing stress levels, hormones, digestion… so, you can happily try some of these remedies at home, or some of our over the counter skin blends. Do come in and see us in clinic if you need some help getting started.