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3/11/2009
Our Green Selves
Our Green Selves

When it comes to plants and people, we have a lot in common. Because of this similarity, we talk to each other. A lot. Through our special, two-way communication with nature, we are able to understand what plants are telling us and use these messages for our health and well being. Skin in particular is in constant conversation with the world. Like the whole body, it shares a special connection with plants. Because of this inherent bond, a plant and each of its parts can care for the skin in special, specific ways.

All plants are alive with information and nutrition, experienced by the human senses and used by the body—including the skin. Imagine a rose. We can see its rich pink color and textured green stem and leaves; feel its silky smooth petals and prickly thorns; taste its sweet buds and nectar; and smell its harmonious and intoxicating aroma.

A plant is brought to life and guided by the healing warmth of sunlight. Each day the sun follows a daily rhythm, and plants do, too. As the sun rises, most plants awake, and as the sun sets, they close their flowers to rest and regenerate overnight. A plant’s growth processes also follow a cyclical pattern—developing from a seed to a complete plant with roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruits. At its final stage, the flowers and fruits hold seeds—the life beginnings for continued renewal.

“Whether we eat plants via our mouths or our skin, they feed us with information, rhythm and sunlight,” says holistic esthetician Karen Hilton. “Synthetic ingredients cannot offer these things. I see this in people’s skin. Rather than helping to guide the skin to a state of balance, they inhibit its functions.”

Through close observation of plants in their natural environments, 19th-century philosopher, natural scientist and founder of Weleda, Dr. Rudolf Steiner, explored the relationship between plants and people. His work revealed the healing qualities of specific plants and showed how each of their three parts is symbiotic with the human body and skin, the body’s largest organ. This concept, which he called “three-fold,” provided the building blocks for Weleda’s holistic skin care and medicine products.

Three parts to people:

According to the three-fold image, the human being is made up of three core systems: the nerve-sense, the metabolic-limb and the rhythmic.

The nerve-sense system is made up of the brain, spinal cord and nerves. Although a quiet and cool environment, it is responsible for taking in every impression, thought and experience. At the system’s center, the brain has the special responsibility to sort through all the information it receives and give the body the important messages it needs.

Everything that comprises the human body below the diaphragm, along with the arms and legs, is part of what Dr. Steiner called the metabolic-limb system. Unlike the brain, this environment contains a tremendous amount of movement and warmth. Within this area of continuous development, the body’s reproductive organs can be found. Also residing here is the liver, the warmest part of the body, holding a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Using all its energy and heat, it can quickly reproduce cells and regenerate itself.

Between these two key areas of activity lies the body’s third system, the rhythmic. With our lungs, we breathe in and out. From the heart, blood flows to the entire body, carrying oxygen to each part. Through the harmonious beat of the heart and the continuous flow of inhales into exhales, the rhythmic system keeps the whole body in balance.

Three parts to plants:

Like humans, plants have their own three-fold system. For a plant, however, the system is turned upside down. While in a human the nerve-sense system is found in the head, Dr. Steiner theorized that in a plant, it is the other way around. The roots or “bottom” make up its nerve-sense center. The metabolic-limb system of a plant is also found opposite of that in humans, at the top of a plant in its flowers, fruits and seeds. At the center of a plant, home to the stem and leaves, lies the rhythmic system.

Roots must store information and direct it throughout a plant. The fine network of root capillaries that make up the plant’s nerve-sense system work their way through the cool and dark soil, finding and taking in the water, nutrients and minerals needed to support development.

The blossoming petals and fruits of a plant open under the bright morning sun. Here, in the metabolic-limb system, heat is stored, making the flowers and fruit a plant’s warmest part. The reproductive organs are safely nestled within this region of the plant. Pollination from bees, insects and birds takes place here. From seed to soil and back to seed, a plant develops from one cycle and life stage to the next.

Leaves, along with the stem that connects them, guide the plant’s rhythmic processes. They breathe for the plant, regulating its life flow and keeping it alive and active from moment to moment. The leaves also take in and collect energy from the sun. Through photosynthesis, the sunlight activates the development of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants used to make carbohydrates. From this process the plant’s life development begins.

Three parts to skin:

Skin has three layers: the epidermis, dermal and subcutaneous. Dr. Steiner showed that the skin, like the whole human system, is organized by the three-fold system. The skin’s outer layer, the epidermis, represents the skin’s nerve-sense system, while the middle, dermal layer is its rhythmic system and the lower, subcutaneous layer functions as the metabolic-limb system.

A person comes into direct contact with his or her world through the epidermis. Nerve endings living here give the skin its sensory abilities to feel warmth and coolness, pain and pleasure. As the cells in this part of the skin lose life, they naturally become dense, dry and flat. Nonetheless, they remain essential, helping to hold in water and protect the skin layers below from becoming dehydrated and vulnerable to foreign substances.

The skin needs warmth, protection and energy. The metabolic-limb system, found in the skin’s lowest, subcutaneous layer, holds the skin’s fat cells and provides the skin with food for healthy development.

When skin is balanced, it shows! The middle, dermal layer of the skin mediates between the others, keeping the entire organ in a constant rhythm. Collagen, elastin, blood and lymph capillaries can all be found here. Each supports the essential exchange of oxygen and warmth throughout.

Making a difference:

Real health and beauty come from the inside and the outside. In its natural state, the skin is healthy and balanced. But its condition can easily slip when other factors come into play, such as internal and external environmental elements, a change in lifestyle or a transition to a new life stage. The result could be a type of inflammation, such as acne, or a state of inactivity in the form of dry, prematurely aged or eczema-skin.

At this point the natural world can help heal. When skin becomes hardened and dry, it loses movement and development. Oils from the flowers, fruits and seeds of plants such as almond and wild rose bring warmth and energy into the skin. On the other end of the spectrum, inflamed skin is characterized by an overabundance of activity. The root of a plant, such as the rhizome of an iris, quiets and regulates the skin.

A plant’s power:

Many plants harbor special healing powers. When searching for these, Dr. Steiner focused on what was unique about a plant. He discovered that when a plant does something in a different way than others, it reveals a special healing quality. In this location, where the special features can be found, the plant’s energy is visibly concentrated.

For example, the sweet almond plant creates its precious oil within its seed, known as the almond nut, thus showing itself to be a soothing plant with a sensitive side. “When the almond begins to grow, it is like any other fruit,” explains holistic skin care expert and esthetician Lilith Schwertle. “Its kernel or seed is inside, and it is protected by an outer shell and fruit. At a certain point, however, this development process stops. Whereas in most plants the energy would continue to move upward, into the fruit, in the case of the almond, all of the plant’s strength is sent into the seed, where it is stored in the form of vitamin- and essential-fatty-acid-rich oil.” This oil is warming. It contains the light, movement and development processes of the plant. Like a person with sensitivities, the almond plant must care for its inner self—protecting from the outside and strengthening from within. Sensitive skin can benefit from the nurturing support that the almond provides.

Inside the perfect product:

Plants and their parts can be taken in by the skin in a multitude of forms, depending on the plant’s properties and its purpose in the end product. Oils, plant extracts and essential oils are vehicles for delivering a plant’s healing properties and their messages into the skin.

Oil from plants, such as rosehip seed, peach kernel, plum kernel, sea buckthorn, sunflower and sesame seed, feed the skin. The skin’s fat cells are made up of fatty acids like those in plants, so the skin can easily take in and use all that they provide. Oils rich in essential fatty acids, such as those used by Weleda, are especially compatible with and well received by the skin. They nourish it with a nutrient-dense cocktail of vitamins and antioxidants, which support cell-regeneration and long-term health.

Plant extracts—which result when the purest and freshest plants are combined with a mixture of water and alcohol and left to naturally blend—easily transfer information and health benefits into the skin. Water and alcohol act as the messengers. “The alcohol, in partnership with water, takes information out of the plant tissue and delivers it into the skin more effectively than water can on its own,” says Hilton. “Many are concerned that alcohol will dry out the skin,” she explains. “But the opposite is true. In a small dose, such as that found in plant extracts, it helps water hydrate the skin. What’s more, the alcohol helps to preserve the end product.”

Essential oils have many key roles. Their fragrant, therapeutic properties go beyond the physical to care for and heal the whole body. They are also known for their circulation-supporting, wound-healing and anti-bacterial effects. Even further, like alcohol, they have special preservation properties that help to keep a product alive and fresh.

When these caring, nourishing, healing substances are brought together in a bottle, a rich blend of beauty is captured. The living qualities and rhythm in plants perpetuate within us. Through plants we move closer to a place of balance and, quite naturally, beauty.