Have the Oil, Hold the Olay
By Sarah Todd
Based on the number of articles singing the praises of edible oils these days, you might think the liquid fat industry has an excellent new publicist. Olive oil wards off heart attacks and strokes! Avocado oil lowers blood pressure in a single bound! But many oils really do appear to come with a wide variety of health benefits—and not only the internal kind. That’s why a number of health-minded types are tossing their expensive face washes and creams and slathering oil on their skin instead.
Atalanta Sunguroff, the Cheshire-based herbalist behind Wake Robin Botanicals, hand blends herbal oils to accommodate the skin care needs of her clients. She envisions her role as that of a chef creating recipes that appeal to particular palates. “I love being with plants and harvesting and concocting mixtures,” she says.
But while oil blends can be customized for skin issues from dry skin and wrinkles to rashes, some tend to be crowd-pleasers. One DIY-friendly option is calendula oil, made from the small, deep-gold blossoms that are a close relative to common marigolds. (See recipe below.) “It’s pretty easy to grow in the garden, and it’s a beautiful flower,” Sunguroff says. And calendula’s healing properties can’t be beat. “It has anti-bacterial properties, it’s gentle and protecting to the skin, and it has very fast results,” she says. “People describe it as an herb of the sunshine.”
Another one of Sunguroff’s favorite infused oils combines violet leaves and dandelion blossoms with olive oil. “That one’s really good for lymphatic massage, since we’re still transitioning out of winter and cleansing,” Sunguroff says. The violet leaves moisturize and soothe skin, while refreshing dandelion blossoms tighten pores and help lighten blemishes.
Locavores may also want to try gathering the tips of pine needles from eastern hemlocks or white pine and infusing them in olive oil. “That will have a really sweet, yummy smell to it; it’s great for any aches and pains,” Sunguroff says. “It’s also anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.”
Like Sunguroff, Beacon herbalist Sarah Elisabeth draws her expertise from her extensive knowledge of the natural world. She interned at the Brookyln Botanic Garden and went on to study herbalism at the New York Botanical Garden, where she got to know plants from aloe to zucchini. Today, she spreads her natural knowledge with outdoor classes, leading herb and weed walks that teach people to recognize the healing plants growing in their own backyards.
When it comes to using oil for facial care, Sarah’s top pick is jojoba oil—a liquid drawn from the crushed seeds of the jojoba plant that grows in the southwestern United States. Her nightly skin care routine is to tone her face with witch hazel, than splash on jojoba oil, which offers light, softening coverage. “It keeps the skin nicely conditioned,” she says, “and it’s good for being out in the sun since I’m a farmer.”
Now that spring’s blue skies and sunshine have people hitting the hiking trails, Sarah recommends that outdoor adventurers carry a bottle of plantain oil to treat cuts, insect bites, and bee stings along the way. This plantain isn’t the stout banana used in Latin American cuisine, but a small plant with flat green leaves growing in a rosette. “It’s called ‘white man’s foot,’ she says, “because the colonialists brought it over from Europe. Everywhere they went, this plant grew.” Sarah mixes plantain leaves with olive oil for a natural, all-purpose, on-the-go ointment.
And if you return from your long hike with sore calves and shoulders screwed tight from heavy backpack-lifting, Sarah recommends smoothing on St. John’s wort oil to treat muscle pain. “It’s amazing, and it actually has the ability to heal the tissue on your injury,” she says.
The best thing about oils, Sarah says, is how subtle they are. People who’ve grown accustomed to ineffective skin treatments sometimes can’t believe how well they work—and how fast. “I know the first time I used St. John’s wort oil, I felt better in 30 minutes,” she says. “I was like, ‘Do I feel better, or am I just tripping?’”
An added bonus of using topical oil treatments is that they create the kind of plump, dewy skin that’s well-primed for natural cosmetics. To update your makeup routine for spring and summer, swing by SEVEN salon.spa’s makeup party on Friday, May 17, featuring Jane Iredale’s mineral cosmetics. Iredale makeup artists Lisa Lape and Sabrina Fortier will be on hand to teach beautifying tips and tricks. And if you’re more into spas than making your own herbal oils, try an ayurvedic oil massage at Kripalu in Lenox. One of Kripalu’s most popular treatments is shirodhara, in which a therapist pours a steady stream of warm herbal oil over your forehead for 45 minutes. The cascade relieves stress and helps you think clearer, sharper thoughts—perfect for contemplating oil’s coming world domination.
Atalanta Sunguroff’s Calendula Oil Recipe
Deadhead the calendula by pinching off the blossoms with your fingers or snipping them with scissors.
Let the petals dry, then place them in a jar and fill it with organic, unrefined olive oil.
Infuse the mixture in the sun for about four weeks.
Drain the petals from the oil and pour it into an airtight container. The oil lasts for up to a year.
SEVEN salon.spa Makeup Party
Friday, May 17, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
7 South Street
Stockbridge, MA 01262
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