Native beauty: discover British beauty secrets

It's the perfect time of year to travel throughout the UK and enjoy the colours and the aromas in the countryside. You might also have enjoyed the eye candy of this year's Chelsea Flower Show. But there's more to flowers than meets the eye and nose: for centuries, the British landscape has provided the secrets to our health and beauty success. Jen Marsden writes.

While there is much attention on sourcing ingredients ethically from overseas, many herbs are still being cultivated for British natural and organic beauty brands, offering convenient solutions for today's time-pressed green beauty kings and queens.

British pride

With BigGreenSmile.com's most recent customer-friendly function, you can search for brands that are made in the UK, often with locally sourced ingredients. This prevents the need for shipping finished products around the world, therefore minimising environmental impact and huge carbon footprints, while supporting the economy and boosting employment within local communities.

Due to the unpredictability of British weather patterns and harvest yields, brands that use natural and nature derived ingredients from the UK consequentially require patience and sensitivity to their environment.

Bentley Organics, Organic Surge, Evolve, Simply Soaps, Hedgerow Herbals, This Works, Balm Balm, Simple Blossom and - a true emblem of Britain - Bulldog, are just some of the many Great British beauty brands. Plus, there are internationally eco-considerate companies like Weleda and Method who manufacture their some or all of their products destined for the British market in Britain too.

The purist ideals of natural and organic beauty brands ensure ingredients are carefully selected based on the recognised benefits they deliver. This encourages biodiversity of the countryside, particularly if organic and wild-harvested. By only taking the minimum amount of herbs needed leaves remaining plants for future harvests. This builds sustainability of the soil and protects our long-lived flower power heritage.

If you're not all too familiar with these roots, then let us remind you now.

Rich history

Photo credit: Joss Smithson

With a quick flick back through the history books, raw herbal ingredients have always been potent stuff across the lands. Both peasants and kings alike utilised herbs including, notably, King Henry VIII. Chelsea Physic Garden is one of the many natural gardens still welcoming visitors that specifically grew herbs for medicinal benefit.

English Christian monks wrote widely on healing herbs and Scottish medieval hospitals were brimming with powerful herbal remedies that acted as natural anesthetics, while Welsh Celtic legends were passed down generations of oral storytellers containing significant herbal knowledge, prior to being written into The Red Book of Hergest by Rhiwallon of Myddfai in the 13th Century. The content of this book is still celebrated and being explored today as it contained 500 methods for utilising the fresh juices and infusions from 200 locally grown herbs.

Lavender fields forever

During the World Wars, the public heeded the appeal of government to grow wild herbs that could be used to treat the wounds of British soldiers on the front line. Calendula officinalis, also known as Pot Marigold, aided the quick healing of burns, while common English lavender – with slightly different properties from mountainous French lavender – was an inexpensive, accessible anti-inflammatory and antiseptic.

The deep purple of sweet smelling lavender fields can still be seen on the South Downs today and attracts fauna such as butterflies and wild birds, including goldfinches who feed on its seeds during the colder seasons.

While we may not have the time or the space to cultivate our own lavender for some homemade beauty treatments, Bentley Organic and much of the Organic Surge range use lavender, and, as a relaxing, soothing herb aids sleep by relaxing the muscles and benefitting any conditions relating to the nervous system, such as stress headaches. Showering with Bentley Organic's Calming and Moisturising Bodywash with Lavender, Aloe & Jojoba is a particularly delightful way to start or end a day.

Photo credit: Minette Layne

The soft touch

Beauty products that contain English chamomile such as Hedgerow Herbals AAAG Bath Bag can aid sleep, lift the mood, reduce anxiety and tend to have rich comforting, skin calming and soothing effect. It's also used in Bentley Organic Conditioner and the aptly named Blissful Daily Moisturiser by Organic Surge.

Calendula continues to treat warts and bee stings and soothe skin irritations, hence why it's such a popular ingredient in nappy rash cream. It's widely used in Balm Balm products, as well as in the Cowshed Baby range.

Balm Balm's Rose Geranium Face Balm, Winner of the Best Organic Beauty and Bodycare Product 2007, also uses the beneficial properties of the primary ingredient rose geranium to treat dry skin conditions like eczema, bruises and acne, as does Organic Surge Night Cream.

Consider, also, the gorgeous 100% natural Simply Soaps Geranium and Rose Petal soap.

It's the perfect time of year to switch from your conventional products to natural beauty and smell the roses, so what are you waiting for?

Disclaimer: Herbs are powerful ingredients and can occasionally cause allergies, so discontinue use if irritation occurs and seek medical assistance from your GP. Before experimenting with fresh or dried herbs or essential oils, (either internally or externally), consult a herbalist or homoeopathist for expert advice.

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