Beauty means something unique and different to every person, across the world and across different cultures. No matter what beauty means to you personally, there are certain broad parameters accepted across the world such as – smooth skin, rosy glow, lush hair and a certain aura of vitality. All of these signs come automatically with good health. The Ancient Indian science of Ayurveda has for thousands of years dealt with not just health, but also beauty and vitality. It suggests a healthy diet as per the specific doshas in the human body thereby giving you pure blood, a healthy complexion and internal health which reflects on the outside. Ayurveda also has advice for those seeking to augment their diet with extra help for beauty – external application for problem areas, or simply to increase glow and vitality – and that is the aspect I will cover in this post.
It is not the aim of this post to educate everyone about everything Ayurveda has to say on this subject – it will probably take a mighty fat book to cover even half of the vast subject. I intend to bring your attention to the hidden treasures in your own everyday garden. You might not know about them, or even if you do, might not be aware of all the benefits (I don’t claim to know all the benefits either); or simply might find them cumbersome for your lazy self. The intention of this post is to jerk you into action, so that you reap the manifold benefits out of those plants you’ve probably had for ages and never considered as sources of ethereal beauty.
Please click on the images to enlarge them.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you must have heard of Aloe Vera. Its botanical name is Aloe Barbadensis Miller. It is a highly used component in numerous skin creams – from moisturisers to sunscreens to anti-aging. You often might have wondered whether it really is any good at all. Well, Ayurveda says it is. It is known as Ghritkumari and is mentioned as Amrit-tulya meaning “comparable to elixir” for the body and skin. You can consume Aloe Vera juice or apply the gel on your skin. Aloe Vera gel is great for burns, for moisturisation, for relief on any skin irritation such as rashes or insect bites, for lightening scars of any past acne or burn marks; it has anti-aging benefits and can also be used as a pre-make up skin hydration treatment. It is also a great moisturiser for dry scalp and can be used on hair as well!
All that is good, you say, but what does this have to do with my garden? What you’re missing here is how easily Aloe Vera is found in people’s gardens. People often doubt whether they have the correct one. Aloe Vera is a succulent – a low water and low maintenance plant. It is very commonly found in India and if you have this green plant speckled with white dots, you have the right one 🙂
Extracting the gel from Aloe Vera is also very easy. I’ve done so myself from my plant, but unfortunately didn’t take any pictures; hence I will take you through it with the help of pictures from across the web.
Step 1: Pluck a fat juicy leaf from the plant, try to get the whole leaf from the base or else the gel will start dripping.
Step 2: Clean it thoroughly with water.
Step 3: Make a longitudinal slit along one side and open the leaf like you would a book. You can also alternatively peel the green skin off using a potato peeler, but this will only work on very sturdy leaves.
Step 4: Use a spoon to scoop off the white transparent slimy substance in a container.
Step 5: Wash off any yellow liquid from your gel, very carefully. The yellow liquid is known as Aloe latex and is not to be applied on the skin, or taken internally, for it is a strong laxative. If you do need a laxative, however….. 😉
And, your Aloe Vera gel is ready to use 🙂 You can store it as such or give it a run in your blender if you want a smoother consistency. Stored in a freezer, it can be saved for 2-3 months in your freezer and about 2 weeks in your fridge. You can put in your ice tray and use Aloe ice cubes whenever you need a quick Aloe treat 🙂
I have already waxed eloquent about Tulsi earlier. Tulsi is not only medicinal, but also great for skin and hair. Its botanical name is Ocimum Sanctum. It holds such immense religious value for Hindus, that it is invariably found in every Hindu household. Even if you aren’t Hindu, chances are you have a Tulsi because of its multiple medicinal benefits. If you don’t have one, go get one now! It is very easy to grow from its seeds!
Tulsi finds its mention in the Charak Samhita, one of the oldest texts on Ayurveda. It has anti-inflammatory properties, which help in reducing painful acne. It lightens scars, brightens skin, helps in skin irritations and is an ideal anti-ageing herb because of high amounts of anti-oxidants. Tulsi paste on your hair is helpful in dry scalp, dandruff and hair fall.
You can simply pluck a few fresh leaves, mix them with milk or rose water and make a paste in your blender. Apply it on your skin and not only will not skin benefit, the aroma will soothe your nerves and help in stress. A paste of Tulsi in water can be applied on hair. Or you can save the leaves when you prune, dry them and make a powder which will last longer. You can prepare your own Tulsi oil too – by heating coconut or sesame oil, adding dry leaves and heating on low flame till the oil changes colour – similar to putting tadka or chhaunk in your curries and dals; you can filter the leaves out of the oil or leave them be 🙂
For more details on Tulsi and its importance in the Ancient Indian culture, refer this post.
Hibiscus, also known as Hibiscus Rosa-Sinensis or China Rose, is known as Gurhal in Hindi. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just the Chinese who have been using Hibiscus as a herb. It is extremely important for the Hindus as well, and finds its mention in Ayurveda under the name JavaKusum. It is also believed to be one of the most beloved flowers of the Goddess Durga, and her worship is considered incomplete without it. It is a very commonly found plant, flowers abundantly and can be found in most Indian homes.
My plant is small yet usually has about 2-3 flowers everyday. The flowers last only until twilight, so it is ideal to harvest flowers and prepare concoctions in the morning.
Hibiscus, or JavaKusum is known in Ayurveda to be the reason behind the thick black hair in old age that Indian men and women used to be famous for. Hibiscus helps in hair problems most of us are beginning to suffer from and dread. It prevents hair fall and premature greying; it works as a conditioner and makes hair softer.
You can make Hibiscus oil the same way as Tulsi oil – heat Coconut or Sesame oil in a contanier till it is hot but not smoking. Add crushed Hibiscus flowers as well as leaves (you can grind them roughly or use a mortar-pestle) and boil on low flame till oil changes colour. Switch off flame and leave oil to cool. Filter out the flowers and leaves, or not 🙂
You can also make hair masks from Hibiscus flowers and leaves, with Yoghurt, with Amla, with Fenugreek seeds and with curry leaves. All of them have their own hair benefits such as anti-dandruff, anti-greying, anti-hairfall etc. and combined with Hibiscus, they form a potent hair medicine. You can use Hibiscus infused water on its own as a hair conditioner as well – just do the same extraction process as the oil, this time with water. Use the flower and leaf pulp on your scalp, leave it for a while and wash off with the Hibiscus water.
Hibiscus is very good for skin as well. In fact it is such a potent anti-aging flower due to its high Vitamin C and alpha-hydroxy acid content that it is also known as “The Botox Plant”. Paste of fresh flowers, or powder of dried flowers, mixed with milk is considered a potent anti-aging face pack in Ayurveda. It helps in treating rashes and eczema. It also evens skin tone.
What is there to say about this magical plant that hasn’t already been said? Known to be one of the most potent anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-septic plants, Neem is definitely the quintessential “bitter medicine” of nature. Ayurveda texts are replete with benefits of Neem, whether by ingestion or topical application. It is one of the few trees, every part of which is used in Ayurvedic medicine in some way or the other. The word Neem is derived from Sanskrit Nimba – Ayurveda describes it as “nimbeti swasthyamdadati” which means “Nimba gives good health”. In East Africa it is also known as “Muarubaini” (Swahili), which means “the tree of 40”, as it is said to treat 40 different diseases.
Neem, or Azadirachta indica is a part of the Mahogany family and is found extensively all across the Indian subcontinent. It purifies air; one of major reasons why it is planted not only in homes but also in parks and on sides of roads by the Government.
Neem is a godsend for those with oily or acne prone skin, regular use keeps your skin oil and germ free thereby eradicating the root cause of acne. It is used in bathing water to avoid skin rashes and cure insect bites. Neem is the primary active ingredient in hundreds of skincare lotions and potions because of its Vitamin C content and oil controlling properties. Localised application of Neem oil helps prevent blackheads. It is also an active anti-aging herb, as it has a good amount of Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
When used as a facepack, in a paste with turmeric and water, Neem gives flawless skin by not only removing pimples but also fading scars. A traditional Indian grandmother’s secret to supple and youthful skin even in old age is a face pack containing powdered Neem and Tulsi leaves and some turmeric 🙂
Twigs of Neem were used as toothbrushes in India until a few decades ago. Nowadays, you can find toothpastes with Neem extracts. It is excellent for oral health. Even if chewing a twig instead of brushing every morning doesn’t appeal to you, you can use Neem infused oil or water for a final rinse after brushing to keep germs at bay all day.
Neem is great for hair as well, apart from treating scalp dryness, itchiness and infections, it also helps in hair fall and promoting fresh growth. Regular use of Neem and yoghurt mask helps in growth of new hair follicles. Neem oil is extracted from its fruit and is used as an essential oil, or on the skin by diluting it in water. However, using the method discussed for Tulsi and Hibiscus, you can make your own Neem oil as well, for use on face or hair.
In case of infections or wounds in ear or nose piercings (or anywhere these days 😉 ) Neem twigs (thin enough, of course) are inserted in the piercing and left undisturbed for a few weeks. Even when they come in contact with water regularly while bathing, Neem twigs do not rot easily. The antiseptic properties of Neem heal the wound or infection and your ears/nose (or anything else) are as good as new 🙂
Neem is known as the “Rambaan” meaning “The arrow of Ram” in Hindi – which means that it cannot miss its target just as Ram’s arrow never missed its target. Even if you do not have a Neem plant at home, you can easily find a Neem tree nearby and use some of its millions of leaves for your benefit 🙂
Rose – the epitome of beauty, against which women and their skins and lips and cheeks and fragrance have been compared since centuries. Rosa Indica or the Desi Gulaab is another very commonly found plant in Indian gardens. It is the Indian variety of Rose, deep pink or magenta in colour and very fragrant.
Rose water is known to be one of best nature-based skin treatments available. It’s a toner, a coolant to parched skin, the perfect medium in which to dissolve powders to make face packs. But let’s face it, you aren’t really going to make rose water, are you? It is so easily available in the market, and is not unrealistically expensive like Aloe Vera gel either. So let’s focus on those uses of rose petals that you might actually implement.
Dried and ground rose petals make an excellent exfoliant and are also anti-inflammatory and can be applied to any boils or zits, or even on hair for treating scalp irritations. Rose petals have sugars, which act as humectants – meaning they lock in moisture. A simple paste of rose petals with water can be used after showering to avoid dry skin. The rose petals-water paste can be applied to under eye area as well, it lightens dark circles.
You can mix fresh petals with any of your favourite skin care face packs to derive the benefits. The fragrance of roses has a soothing effect on nerves and reduces stress, which shows in the form of glow on the face – simply sprinkle a few petals on your pillow before taking your beauty sleep 🙂
The high Vitamin C content of rose makes it a great anti-aging ingredient and a paste of fresh rose petals with milk is one of oldest methods used by women to maintain their youth. It is said that the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, famous for her beauty, used to bathe in milk infused with rose petals everyday.
Just pluck a couple of flowers, grind with milk and apply on your face regularly and let the world wonder about the secret behind your rosy glow 🙂
This post is intended to awaken you to some of the fountains of youth that lie neglected in your own balcony. I hope you like this post and implement some of these suggestions to reap benefits from a small part of the ancient Ayurvedic treasure. These are some of the most commonly found plants in Indian homes. If you have a kitchen garden, however, the scope is widened manifold; but, that is for another day and another post – this one is already turning into a book 😛
Let me know in the comments, and share with your friends if you like the post! Until we meet again 🙂