Seeking healthy, beautiful skin? Step away from the drugstore and into the nursery—a plant nursery, that is.
Plants you grow in your own garden or on a windowsill can ease many skin issues, from acne to toenail fungus. Growing them yourself not only gives you control over quality and purity, but it also enhances the treatment experience, says herbalist and acupuncturist Antonia Balfour, clinical director of Yin Yang Dermatology in Pacific Palisades, CA.
“It’s very fulfilling to see the process from fresh plant to homemade product to healing the skin,” she notes. “You’ll have a deeper, soulful connection with the product itself.” (Want a healthier diet and better skin? Then check out The Good Gut Diet to start healing from the inside out.)
While Balfour sings the praises of aloe for sunburn, bug bites, and itching, she says the aloe plant is just one of many dermatologic remedies you can find among your indoor or outdoor flora. Here, her top picks for home-harvested skin relief:
Like other plants in the family Lamiaceae—a branch of mint that includes rosemary, sage, and lavender—this aromatic herb is rich in beneficial plant compounds called phenols. In a head-to-head study by researchers at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK, thyme killed more of the zit-causing bacteria Propionibacterium acnes than benzoyl peroxide, the active ingredient in most acne-fighting creams, did.
Reap the benefits: Thyme enjoys full sun and dry soil. Soak the leaves in apple cider vinegar for 2 weeks, then strain. You can use the resulting liquid as a spot treatment for pesky pimples or as an all-over, daily toner to battle widespread breakouts.
This flavorful addition to soup may help speed wound healing by boosting the production of collagen cells and by calming inflammation, found an animal study in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The same antibacterial, antifungal powers that healed rodents can help humans, too, by preventing insect bites and cuts from getting infected.
Reap the benefits: Plant bay leaf in a spot with lots of sunlight and keep soil moist. Dry the leaves in a warm oven for 12 hours, and then soak in olive oil for 1 month. Strain and apply directly to the injured area. (Here are 8 plants you can grow to repel mosquitoes naturally.)
You may have turned to tea made from this herb—among the most popular in the Western world—to fall asleep at night. But the white-and-yellow, daisy-like flower also possesses anti-inflammatory powers that reduce facial redness and ease the irritating skin condition dermatitis. In a Brazilian study published in Phytotherapy Research, the German strain of chamomile (there’s also an English variety) sped wound healing even more than treatment with corticosteroids.
Reap the benefits: A hearty, drought-tolerant plant, German chamomile requires little care if left in a sunny location. Once it blooms, dry the flowers in a warm oven for 12 hours, then soak them in oil for as long as a month. Olive oil works well, or, if you’re acne-prone, try jojoba oil. Strain, then apply.
Depending on your genes and taste buds, cilantro might have a pleasant citrus tang or a disgusting soapy flavor. But regardless of whether you like the taste, you can harness the herb’s antiseptic and antifungal properties to banish skin blemishes. In one Scottish study, essential oils from the plant—also known as coriander—effectively reduced the growth of 26 kinds of microorganisms.
Reap the benefits: Grow cilantro in a sunny location with well-drained soil. Blend equal parts fresh cilantro leaves and lemon juice into a paste to use as a spot treatment for whiteheads and blackheads. Leave on 3 to 5 minutes before rinsing clean.
Nail fungus is not only super embarrassing, but it’s also notoriously difficult to treat. These annual garden flowers, which also go by the names touch-me-not, garden balsam, or rose balsam, offer natural relief thanks to fungicides known as naphthoquinones.
Reap the benefits: Grow rose balsam in moist soil and full sun or partial shade. Soak the flowers in vinegar for 2 weeks, then soak nails daily in the resulting solution. For the fastest possible relief, soak just before bedtime, cover nails with plastic wrap, and seal with tape to allow the solution to continue working overnight.
A recent Australian study showed that extracts from this plant, commonly known as pot marigold, protect skin cells from the wrinkle-producing ravages of free radicals. The researchers credit the antioxidants—called phenolic acids and flavonoid glycosides—in the plant’s bright orange and yellow petals.
Reap the benefits: This one grows best in full sun or partial shade and moist soil. Dry the flowers in a warm oven for 12 hours, then soak in rose hip or meadowfoam seed oil for 1 month. Dab the resulting serum under and around the eyes daily to ward off crow’s feet.