By Fatima Costalaurent
Certified IIN Health Coach and EWC Herbalist
Summer is here and long days under the sun are upon us. Sunshine is so good for our health, increasing our Vitamin D levels and Nitric oxide production. The first one keeps all our systems healthy, including our immune system, while the second one wards off depression and anxiety, lowers blood pressure and boosts our immunity. However, too much of a good thing can harm us. If we spend too much time in the sun and get sunburnt, we cause damage to our cells that might set us up for future disease. Therefore, as an herbalist, I keep a few plant allies with me at all times. These plants have super powers that help protect our skin from the inside out, heal it and make it more beautiful. I’d like to share some of my favorites with you today.
The first one is Chaga mushroom, a fungus that grows on birch trees, collected in Siberia and historically used in China, Korea, Japan, Russia and the Balkans. It is high in melanin, the compound that gives our skin, hair and eyes those beautiful colors. Our melanocytes are the cells that synthesize melanin, when exposed to UV light, they increase in numbers and we tan. Plant melanins are some of the strongest antioxidants, conferring sun protection for our skin, among other benefits. Sun burn occurs once our skin runs out of protective antioxidants. Each one of us has a different amount of them in our skin, when you notice you’re turning red, it means your supply is running low and it’s time to find shade. Chaga, being rich in these powerful antioxidants, may become our inner sunscreen. To properly use Chaga, you need to boil the mushroom chunks for 1-2 hours, strain and drink as coffee.
Calendula flowers belong to the marigold family. It is the queen of tissue healers. Loaded with anti inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. It is rich in carotenoids which help prevent UV damage to the skin. As an infusion it may heal the digestive tract, a sore throat, strengthen the immune system. While applied on the skin, it will disinfect and help skin regenerate. In recent studies it has been determined that an oil infused with calendula flowers may offer sun protective benefits, as in a low grade spf. Also, it has been shown to increase collagen production, another win for beautiful skin! Traditionally, it has been used to heal skin irritations, burns, sun burns, cuts and scrapes. I love mixing mine with other lovely oils to create a healing salve which we use for all skin related concerns. I’ve also used it, as an infusion and poultice, to heal my kid’s sunburnt shoulders and as a sore throat relieving gargle. Do NOT use when pregnant, it is known to induce a period.
Horsetail is another of my favorites. I love making a tea, mixed with Nettles and comfrey leaf, two more of these beautifying herbs. Horsetail is a prehistoric grass, rich in healing wonders. Rich in antioxidants, anti inflammatory and skin brightening, tightening agents. It’s rich in silica, a mineral that increases collagen production, which helps keep our skin tight, hair thick and healthy and our nails strong. Internally it has been used to heal bronchitis and tonsillitis, since it is highly anti inflammatory. Drink it freely, year round or put a tsp of horsetail extract into a soup or smoothie to reap its many benefits.
Elder flowers are lovely, fragrant and bursting with healing powers. I use them to stop a cold in its tracks, as an immune booster for the colder months or in cough syrups. But this beauty also has a multitude of skin protective benefits. It is rich in anti inflammatory, anti viral and anti bacterial compounds, hence it’s cold and flu fighting powers. They have been historically used to brighten and soften the skin, when used topically. In recent studies they have shown to offer acceptable UV protection. Make a nice sun tea or infusion and sip liberally throughout warm summer days.
Last but not least, chocolate! Who doesn’t love chocolate? But not the milky sugary kind, the rich, dark, bitter type. And the darker the better. Cacao is rich in antioxidants that keep our skin protected from damage, inside and out. Eating dark chocolate has been proven to increase skin hydration, antioxidant levels and elasticity. So enjoy your 85% cacao and up chocolate and have glowing skin this summer.
I must mention that these allies do not substitute sensible sun exposure and the use of hats and protective gear whenever you are out in the sun for prolonged periods of time. Also, look at nature’s summer bounty: vibrant colored fruits and vegetables, color being a sign of antioxidant richness. It’s there to help us stay protected under our amazing, life giving star. So, load up on produce, those tasty salads, try some of these herbs and enjoy your summer in the sun!