Common skin concerns such as rashes, breakouts, and clogged pores can be frustrating–and there are many different products and treatments available to manage them. However, sometimes the best skin remedies grow right in your own backyard or community garden. While every season brings a new batch of herbs for skincare, food, and medicine, it all starts in the spring with simple backyard herbs like chickweed, plantain, and dandelion. These three springtime backyard herbs are easy to identify, and have multiple uses for the skin, as medicine, and even as food.
Learning about the natural world is so important for people of all ages, and we don’t have to go far to do it! Helpful herbs–many of which are considered “weeds”– are springing up in your backyard or community garden now, that can easily be made into seasonal teas, salads, smoothies, and home or skincare remedies. In addition to boosting skin health and overall wellness, exploring backyard herbs is a great activity for individuals and families to help them connect to their own environment, and learn what food and medicine it provides.
Watch my segment, “Tips for using your backyard herbs for family games and skincare” on Good Morning CT at Nine:
3 Springtime Backyard Herbs for Skincare, Food, and Medicine
Plantain (Plantago major) has multiple skin benefits, and is great for everything from common rashes to burns to poison ivy to bee stings, and can even help with clogged pores. It naturally contains anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiseptic, and antioxidant, and wound-healing properties, and is known for its powerful drawing properties. What this means is that it has the ability to draw substances out of the skin that aren’t suppose to be there.
You can mash it up and apply that pulp right to the sting or rash, or make it into a tea and apply it as a compress or use it as a pore-cleansing facial toner. You can also infuse the leaves into an oil and apply it as a facial serum, or turn it into a salve by adding beeswax. Plantain can even be used to soothe the skin post-sun.
Plantain begins as small oval, flat leaves that grow low to the ground in a rosette pattern. They are smooth on top, and have five prominent straight ribs on the underside. Later in the season, they sprout a vertical “flower” which looks like a spike with tiny buds coming out of the center of the rosette. It can grow up to 12″ tall. The leaves are edible, and can be eaten raw in salads and smoothies, or sautéed and added to stir-fry dishes. The leaves can also be steeped in water and taken as a tea. Plantain is a bitter, and is known to help with digestive issues. Please note that this plantain is the “weed”–not the same as the banana-resembling fruit.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is one of the first herbs to appear in early spring, and is one of the most versatile–it can be used as a tea or in a salad or smoothie to support healthy digestion, respiratory function, and skin health.
Topically, fresh chickweed can be applied as a poultice, or its tea can be made into a compress. It can also be infused into an or salve to soothe common skin issues such as breakouts, rashes, dryness, itchiness, simple cuts and scrapes, burns, and diaper rash. In fact, it is one of the best known backyard herbs for skincare, because of its high vitamin C content as well as as well as vitamins A, D, B, iron, calcium and potassium.
Chickweed is fairly easy to identify. The flowers, leaves, and stems are tiny, and only grow a few inches above the ground. The leaves are teardrop-shaped, and grow opposite each other along the stem. The flowers feature five white petals with “deep clefts that might lead you to believe they are actually ten.” Sometimes they appear to be in groups of two for that reason, other times, they may appear more evenly spread out. The flower stem and the the leaves around the base of the flower are covered with a single line of very fine hairs.
One of the best and most useful “weeds” is dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). The flowers and leaves are edible (the flowers can actually be made into a delicious wine and the leaves are wonderful in salads, stir fry, and smoothies), and the roots can be dried and made into a detoxifying tea.
Dandelion greens are highly nutritious for the body inside an out, as they contain vitamins A, C, E and K; in addition to folate and other B vitamins; linolenic acid, and carotenoid and polyphenol antioxidants. They are also a rich source of minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Dandelion root is rich with inulin, which is a natural sugar that functions as a prebiotic–food for both the skin and gut microbiome. For the skin, dandelion brings powerful humectant properties that hydrate the skin, as well as calming, analgesic, and antioxidant properties.
Dandelion flowers and leaves can be used as a poultice or made into a tea that can be used in various ways in skincare. Dandelion flowers can also be infused into a carrier oil, which can be used on its own, or made into a salve, butter or cream to reap the oil soluble nutrients in the plant. The root can be decocted into a tea as well.
Dandelions are easy to identify, and are the bane of most suburban homeowners’ existence–however there are a few important distinctions in their features to know since dandelions do have some less-than-beneficial doppelgangers. Dandelion leaves grow in a rosette pattern, flat to the ground. They are long, airless, and serrated/notched, with one deep taproot, and can produce several flowering stems. The stems contain mucilage. The flowers start as a densely-packed, bright yellow circle, and then of course they turn to a light gray, wispy seed that children (and children-at-heart) love to wish upon.
How to turn exploring backyard herbs into a fun game!
My favorite way to explore your backyard or community herbs is with a game I like to call “What’s in My Backyard?” Here’s how you play:
Find a plant you want to identify, and use an app like Picture This or a book on backyard herbs to identify it. Once you’ve identified it, research its uses to see if it can be used as food, a delicious tea, or even as a skin or wellness remedy.
Use common sense
While it might be fun to identify plants on the side of the road or in public parks or open spaces, these have most likely been treated with pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and other chemicals that you would not want to ingest or apply to the skin. If you use pesticides or fertilizers in your own yard, the same caution applies. Only use plants for skincare or medicine that grow in areas that have not been treated with these substances, and do not closely border land that does.
Some plants look alike, and not all of them are edible or should be touched, so make sure you are sure about what it is before you use the plant! Even after you’ve made a positive identification, it’s also important to understand that you allergies are always possible, and can develop at any time, at any age. Do a patch test of any herbal preparation before applying it in large amounts to the skin, and taste a small amount before committing to a whole meal containing that herb. Consult with a trained herbalist or naturopathic physician if you have an existing health concern, or take medications. Discontinue use and seek care from a licensed healthcare provider should you have a reaction.
Have you experimented with your own backyard herbs for skincare?
What did you use and how did you use it? Please share your experience in the comments below!