This summer, Boiron offered me a seat at Rachel Pontillo’s class, Herbal Skincare Preparations class at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA. We had a lovely day and I learned a lot, especially as someone new to DIY herbalism. This class is designed for those who wish to grow their own herbs and prepare them for skincare products. I’m not at that level yet, but I did learn a lot and wanted to share with you.
The Rodale Institute: What They Do
First, we were given an introduction and tour of Rodale Institute’s organic farm and how they help farmers who want to learn organic farming. Rodale Farms was founded by J.I. Rodale. When he wanted to become a farmer, he was instructed to use a number of toxic chemicals to treat the dirt. It didn’t make sense to him and he is known for saying in response, “How do we poison ourselves to health?” In the 70s, he and the Rodale family set up the Institute’s farms to create a completely organic and sustainable farm system to prove that organic is better. He believed that sound organic farming science could help clean up the environment.
Today, the Rodale Institute is not only successful, but they are also passionate about teaching anyone who wants to learn how to farm organically. Currently, they have numerous plant and flower farms, and raise and sell other products, such as pastured pork and have a farm store. They have also partnered with one of my favorite homeopathic brand, Boiron, who has a small medicinal garden on site. Rodale Institute encourages and supports organic and sustainable farming, and are also advocates of homeopathy and herbalism.
What Is Homeopathy?
Boiron gave us an introduction to homeopathy and how to use some of their products. We also had a chance to speak with one of their chemists to answer questions about the process and growth of homeopathic plants. Boiron’s most popular product, Arnicare, is cultivated high the Pyrenees mountains in France from the plant arnica montana. Based on the “principle of similars”, or “like cures like,” homeopathy uses tiny doses in measured amounts of the same thing you’re suffering from to heal. Additionally, homeopathy acknowledges that the body’s symptoms during illness, such as fever, are necessary defense mechanisms and teaches not to “suppress” your natural symptoms. (Homeopathy is also a common modality that can be used in treating autism.)
Boiron is our go-to source for all our healthcare needs, like sore muscles, flu onset, overindulgence, allergies, and minor cuts and burns. (I couldn’t really live without my Calendula Cream!) Visit their site for a coupon, and don’t forget your Boiron Ibotta rebates!
What Is Herbalism?
Called a “sister science” to homeopathy, herbalism uses natural herbs to treat conditions. The effect of herbal medicine depends on how deeply concentrated the solution is. For example, a concentrate would be used for local and acute symptoms. If it’s diluted, that can help systemic health issues. Further diluted solutions may work on emotions and energies.
Homeopathy vs. Herbalism
Despite being sister sciences, these two modalities differ in one key way: homeopathy is regulated by the US FDA, while herbalism is not. Homeopathic treatments have limited ingredients and can use petrochemicals. When used, Boiron makes sure these are purified and nonreactive. (They use them because otherwise, the products would be too costly to sell.) They are also highly diluted to be safe even for children.
As a result of not being regulated, herbalists need to be careful how they discuss treatments. They can refer to studies but cannot say any herbal treatments “cure” anything or make any drug-like claims.
Using and Making Herbal Skincare
Rachel’s class was interesting, even for a newbie! We learned about how to choose and harvest plants, and how you need to be careful to buy the right plant – always go by the Latin name. Plants have a kind of intelligence – they work differently for each person. When using it properly, you will only get what you need from the plant.
That day, Rachel taught us about calendula. This plant has a lot of skin and emotion benefits, and in fact, Boiron uses it for those purposes too. Calendula can be used as:
- a linament when used as a topical tincture
- herbal oils and salves are powerful ways to get the herb into your skin.
We need to keep in mind that our skin, our body’s largest organ, is our first line of defense. Pollutants can break down that defense so we need to fortify the barrier.
In fact, the relatively new science of the Human Microbiome Project has taught us that skin has 6 layers, rather than 5 as is traditionally taught. The top layer of the epidermis is comprised of bacteria and microflora that keep your skin healthy.
Finally, Rachel warned us to be careful when mixing preparations with essential oils as their purity is very important. She did not recommend any of the big name brands but prefers to use small batch oils herself.
The Benefits of Calendula
This great plant has so many possible benefits, including:
- antibacterial and antifungal properties
- wound healing
- benefits skin elasticity
- protects skin after sun exposure
- may be helpful for premature aging when used on healthy skin
After that, we mixed up calendula with oil and crafted a salve with beeswax and essential oil to take home. These products are wonderful! As Rachel taught, using the “right” oil is important. You’ll know you have chosen correctly when your skin absorbs the oil and doesn’t feel greasy. My mixture had an olive oil base scented with lavender and I use it on my arms and neck every night. I feel like my skin is softer and more supple, particularly after suffering sun damage a few weeks ago.
Where to Learn More
There was a lot more to learn, including how to create the salve, what to do with a poultice, and safety tips and precautions when creating preparations. It was fascinating and fun! Rachel has more information on skincare and herbalism at her website, Holistically Haute. In fact, this class has a part one at Rodale Institute – if you’re so inclined – in the spring. Check out their calendar for upcoming events and be sure to bookmark it for next spring!
If you’re interested in learning more, there will be another part teaching about the herbs themselves at Rodale Institute in the spring of 2017.