(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 27, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
Hand Creams of Yesterday and Today
Hand cream has been made using the same techniques throughout history. People used the resources handy to them, and sometimes imported special ingredients from far away places. We can choose to use our local resources, order from catalogs, or purchase online from Internet companies. The commercially produced creams have the same ingredients as our homemade creams, but are loaded with preservatives and fragrances that our bodies, or our noses, find objectionable. I purchase my ingredients from local resources for accessibility, and support of my local community. I choose herbs from my yard and garden to incorporate into my hand creams for their alleged medicinal properties (see blue sidebar information, below right.)
Finding a Hand Cream Formula
I searched the Internet and books looking for a basic formula for making a good all-purpose hand cream to help moisturize my dry hands, relieve soreness, and possibly heal bug bites, and superficial wounds, after a rough day's work in my yard and garden. I found many unique recipes for particular conditions, but no multipurpose solution. I determined that making hand cream was subjective, no right or wrong method or ingredients. However, I did find there were common basic components: solid oil, liquid oil, binder (emulsifier), and water. There are various optional herbs, fragrances, and preservatives that could be included according to preference.
I broke down the main ingredient into relative proportions (parts), for a formula that I could change as needed. I can add herbal infusions, or decoctions, in place of the water. I can make herbal oil infusions to replace the liquid oil. Infusions and decoctions take a little time to brew, depending on the desired strength, so there is advanced preparation to consider (see sidebar information).
Making a Gardener's Hand Cream
Although my basic home-made hand cream, using coconut and olive oils, does wonders for dry chapped hands, I am experimenting with various herb infusions. An infusion of comfrey leaves makes a good all-purpose cream for healing scrapes, bruises, and bug bites. Be forewarned not to use comfrey for deep wounds, as it will heal the outer layers of skin, trapping bacteria in the wound, and possibly causing an abscess. I have found lavender essential oil is inexpensive, a preservative, bug repellent, and adds a nice fragrance to my creams.
My good friend Pam (DGer pdhickey) has found that a strong comfrey leaf decoction helps with arthritis pain and fades spider veins. She has had great results using lemon balm for clearing skin rashes and repelling bugs while gardening, too.
Please refer to the information on the blue sidebar for general herb uses and definition of terms that I have used in this article. I hope you have as much success using the 1-2-3 Hand Cream Formula to make your gardener's hand cream as I have.
The following list is a sampling of herbs that can be used in a hand cream formula. Check herbal references, Dave's Garden PlantFiles, and other articles for additional herb information.
* Added after publishing.
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