Below are some examples of herbs used in the treatment of eczema, acne and herpes simplex, three common skin conditions seen in herbal practice. However, it is important to keep in mind that herbs are always prescribed on an individual basis.
This is a very common complaint seen in herbal practice, which causes itchy, red, inflamed patches of skin, usually inside the elbows or knees. There is a usually a family history of allergy and the condition may have been ongoing for a while.
Sometimes it is possible to pinpoint the source of the allergy (eg. particular foods or food additives, dust mite, mould) and avoid it – other times, it is necessary to support the person’s overall health and immune system in order to break the cycle of disease. Herbal treatment for allergic eczema therefore focusses on correcting digestion, reducing inflammation, supporting liver function, calming the nervous system, modulating allergic pathways and helping the patient incorporate long-term dietary solutions into their daily routine.
Herbs often used in childhood and adult eczema are burdock, dandelion root, violet leaf, chamomile, skullcap, nettles, barberry, cleavers, echinacea, chickweed, oats, calendula and blue flag. Topical creams are often prescribed for symptomatic treatment along with either teas, tinctures or tablets (including nutritional supplements) to take internally, and herbal baths can also be very beneficial.
Whether it happens during puberty or in adulthood, acne is another condition that will have different triggers in different people, usually involving hormones, stress pathways and food intolerances. It may be the result of a deeper hormonal condition, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or a side-effect of certain medications. The effects on a person’s self-esteem are not to be underestimated, which can cause low mood and further contribute to ill-health.
Herbs are used internally to address hormonal fluctuations, calm the nervous system, control blood sugar levels and work on any other areas of physiology that are ‘out of whack’, such as digestion, circulation and detoxification. Topically, herbal cleansers help to control sebum production and tone and nourish the skin.
Herbs commonly used include Vitex agnus-castus, white peony, liquorice, chamomile, barberry, agrimony, echinacea, adaptogenic herbs such as withania or astragalus, lymphatic cleansers like poke root and calendula, blood-sugar balancing herbs like gymnema and cinnamon, and topical anti-septics such as tea tree, myrrh, witch hazel and rose.
Viruses take hold of the body when defences are down, so it is important to support the overall physiology and immunity of a person suffering from recurrent oral or genital herpes sores. There is also a significant amount of stigma and psychological distress attached to this condition.
Saying that, herbs are incredibly effective at preventing herpes outbreaks. We are lucky to have a vast array of anti-viral and immune-supporting herbs that keep the virus at bay, including but echinacea, astragalus, withania, Siberian ginseng, Korean ginseng, cat’s claw, pau d’arco, liquorice, St. John’s wort and lemon balm.
It is usually possible to pinpoint the triggers for an outbreak, such as menstruation in women, stress, particular foods or following a cold or flu when immunity is low. What is often not appreciated is the influence of high arginine foods, which stimulate the virus to replicate. Avoiding nuts, especially almonds, walnuts and peanuts, certain seeds, cocoa, coconut and other high arginine foods can go a long way to prevent recurrence even without herbal treatment.